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Rosita Hopper

The Life of the Adult Amateur Player (3)

June 6, 2012 at 3:06 PM

Not long ago I heard on the radio an interview with Princeton religious scholar Elaine Pagels, during which she quoted the Book of Thomas. Theological illiterate that I am, the words she spoke sounded completely fresh to me, and I was so excited by them that as soon as I got home I rushed to jot them down in my journal. Their central idea seemed to so beautifully express what it was that made my viola studies empowering.

The quote was: "If you bring forth what is within you, then what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, then what is within you will destroy you."

Hyperbole? Perhaps, but repeating the words now, I feel again that wonderful sense of connecting to something essential, something wholly reinforcing my conviction that being a viola student is one of the most important journeys I will ever take. And yes, it is also saving me.

When I discussed the quote with my sister and my brother-in-law, my sister ventured, "What if you don't know what is within you?"

Indeed. As an adult amateur player, my gift then is not necessarily musical talent. It is an even more wonderful gift, and one which I think might be far more common than musical talent: it is the gift of knowing that within me lives a longing to play, and play seriously. Do you too have that gift? And if so, do you know how lucky you are?

I firmly believe that for a large percentage of the population, a longing to play is likewise within them, although only a fraction ever bring forth, proclaim and honor their wish. In fact only this morning a colleague confided to me that at one time she had wanted to and tried to play violin.

So what stops adults like her from starting/continuing to study music? I suspect that it is primarily fear of failure. Inevitably they find other more superficial excuses such as lack of time or lack of money, but in fact those excuses generate the surface noise that drowns another voice insidiously whispering, "You would never be any good, so why bother."

Which leads me to assert finally that as a beginning or maybe by now even an intermediate violist, I am definitely not yet as good as I want to be, but after five years of applied study far better than I ever thought I could be!

But does it matter how good I am? What matters is only the richness that studying viola brings to my life... unqualified, intense richness. The musical and anatomical awareness with which playing fills me is like some inner river of vitality, inspiring and comforting me no matter what else goes on. I play for no one but myself, answering an inner call that is far more important to answer than the call to please an authority figure, or the call to be anything simply because it is approved of, or expected!

If you are reading this blog, you probably play. I hope what I write makes you appreciate that you do so, no matter your skill level. And if you don't yet play, what are you waiting for? Carpe diem!

From Shannon Gray
Posted on June 6, 2012 at 6:47 PM
Great post. This is me to a "T". I started violin at the age of 8 and continued regularly until my sophmore year of college. That's where it ended for many years in favor of theater/vocal arts, marriage and kids.

Now at the age of 41, I answered that "what could still be" feeling and joined my community orchestra and am toying with the idea of taking lessons again. I was good once and feel that I could be "good enough" again someday (if my battered rotator cuff will allow) if I could just do vibrato and overall technique is weaker, my violin needs a good luthier to give it a once-over, and I just need more time in the day to practice. It's not out of the realm of possibility. I do it because I love it and it is a part of who I am even if it wasn't always front and center in my life.

From Emily Hogstad
Posted on June 6, 2012 at 7:55 PM
There are many wise words here. You know more about the music than a lot of players who are technically superior to you ever will. Best of luck with your travels through Violaland!
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 6, 2012 at 8:23 PM
I can relate to your sister who asked, "what if you don't know what is in you?" I struggle with that question. I quit playing violin twice, for prolonged periods of 7-8 years, and (surprisingly, to my current view) I didn't particularly miss it either time, while I was without it.

Both times when I started playing again it had to do with a personal relationship: the first time when I broke up with a boyfriend and moved out and into my own apartment, and the most recent when I wanted to help my daughter. And then it took on a kind of life of its own. It felt like reconnecting with a part of myself that had been lost, or dormant.

I don't think I'm ever going to quit again.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 6, 2012 at 9:18 PM
Another heartfelt and thoughtful blog, thank you Rosita!

“Indeed. As an adult amateur player, my gift then is not necessarily musical talent. It is an even more wonderful gift, and one which I think might be far more common than musical talent: it is the gift of knowing that within me lives a longing to play, and play seriously.”

To me, what you described IS a musical talent. A big one in fact! I can’t imagine any good musician can get somewhere without this kind of passion and clarity about their chosen instrument.

I think what stops adults from starting an instrument could be fear, led by a whole bunch of false assumptions about adult’s ability or flexibility in learning. I’ll let neuroscientists explain how our brain works, but I just simply refuse to buy into any stereotyping of older people. I’d like to prove people wrong sometimes:) As I mentioned in my previous comment on your previous blog, be aware of self-fulfilling prophecy. One can’t make it if one believes so. So the strategy I’ve been proposing is to never self-talk down within and to, as it were, pretend (or act as if) that I could when I’m fear for something I’ll fail. The kind of noise "You would never be any good, so why bother" is a challenge and it’s kind of fun to prove people wrong on that. As I said it’s only a strategy, not a delusion, just in case people think I’m overoptimistic.

“But does it matter how good I am?”

I think this is an excellent question and no one can answer for us but ourselves. It is a loaded question too because what do we mean by “good” and,if it does matter, to whom and in what sense? For me, anything that I've seriously committed to do will become meaningless if it doesn’t matter how good I’m doing it, but to be good (in whatever sense)is nearly not as interesting to me as to be better.

"I don't think I'm ever going to quit again."
Me either;)

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 6, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Very good blog! I'll write that down for myself too!

In fact, I agree that what prevents many adults from playing is fear...

They do not have more time to spend on facebook, yet they do because it's easy : )

It takes a huge passion and some humility, lots of humbleness to be an adult beginner.

I still remember how stupid I felt as a teen beginner in the midle of tiny kids better than me. But the joke ended when I started to catch those kids up. Today, I'm no longer worst (I'm talking of average musical kids, not prodigies of course!) and am happy to have done these sacrifices. I hope I will be able to manage through my studies without too much dammage and take it back more seriously as when I was a teen again!

Thanks for your refreshing blogs!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Hi, I've seen that yesterday and found it soo inspiring too...

"If you want to have something you never had, you must do something you never did" (unknowned source)

We must not be afraid...

From marjory lange
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Do you think it was maybe easier to be an amateur (adult, beginner, otherwise) when there weren't so many fine performances recorded and readily available?

It's so easy to say "I'll never be as good as so-and-so" and use that as the reason for not being as good as one can be. That's the 'fear' I see most often among my friends who used to play, or are just beginning again. When there were fewer yardsticks around, I hope/believe each person more easily reached her/his natural stature with less onus?

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Talking about words of widsom adult players should always rely to...

I found these sentences on this beautiful video (equestrian sports) but it is true about any serious discipline! (epic music, I highly recommend it after a crazy day at work and before practicing :)

Here is the translation:

Without errors, victories would not exist

Without training, no accomplishments

Without trials, no hope

Without weaknesses, no progression

Without efforts, no pride

Without challenges, no goals

Without devotion, no passion

Without confidence, no chance

Without courage, no success

Without feeling/intuition, no team work (with our instrument)

That's what we are... we are violinists! (they say equestrians of course in the video)

If that doesn't inspire one to play, I don't know what will : )

From Eileen Geriak
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 12:52 AM
I started playing violin at the age of 39 ten years ago, with no musical background. Someone handed me a violin...a teacher became available and....much to the horror of my family I took off and ran with it. I'm still leaping those hurtles...and dodging the projectiles as they head in my general direction...unfortunately, the lessons only lasted a year, but it was a great start ! I don't think I would have continued if I had tried to figure all that out myself at first. Once I got started, there was no going back. It helped that the violin that had landed in my lap was, and is, quite lovely.

I've gotten better than I ever thought I would, but oh so far from where I want to be. For me fear wasn't an issue....rather, it just wasn't reason enough NOT to. I still can't believe I ever had the get up in front of people and play this "Public" ! YIKES!!
But I do...frequently....whether they enjoy it or not!.....because for me there's just no backing down. I HAVE to learn this and do it well...I have no idea why.....

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 12:56 AM
I also have to say something about this comparison thing, which I’ve being given quite a bit of thoughts lately. While of course we have to compare to discriminate and to survive on this earth, comparison among different people and performance has brought us way to much useless pains and suffereing. It is utterly meaningless to compare our playing with recordings (no one plays like what's recorded), or with pros or talented kids. Unless in competition that one is putting oneself to be ranked by comparison, most of the comparison made between individuals does not help one to improve because we are all different individuals. But the problem is we do compare because we can and because it is a deep habit. We do this all the time for all our life, at home, at work, with friends, by oursleves.... But look closely what in fact do we compare with? Only the surface most of the time and often the oranges and apples kind: amateurs vs pros, adults vs kids...

The only comparison is useful is to compare different stages of our own progress. Sometimes I'm not even sure about that, as even a machine has it's good and bad days.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 5:50 AM
What an eloquent blog. I always assumed that what kept adults from taking up an instrument is that they have no idea how to go about it. When I decided to start as an adult, I had to face where to buy the violin, who I could go to for advice on buying a violin, and how to find a teacher. (Not to mention where to hide the violin from my husband until I could give him a coherent story!) Someone who has never studied an instrument may not even know what puzzles there are to solve, let alone figure out how to solve them. Thank goodness there is, but not everyone might find it. Maybe one of us should write "Violin for Dummies".
From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Ever notice how children sing? Even if they're out of tune they sing for the sheer joy of it. The concept of self-consciousness hasn't kicked in yet. Somewhere, somehow in the time line to adulthood the singing stops - unless the individual has a nice voice or is taking voice lessons.

I think that same hesitancy translates into adults wanting to take up a musical instrument. Which is a shame, really....

---Ann Marie

From marjory lange
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 1:11 PM
@ Francesca--There IS a "Violin for Dummies!" (the information on how to link didn't show up, so I couldn't make it 'nice.' Sorry.)

From Karila Rolling
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 4:43 PM
@ teacher and I just had this discussion last weekend because I had played at my sister n laws wedding and made a tiny mistake and pretty much beat myself up for it the rest of the day and unfortunately my sister n law made a bit of a not so nice comment to me- and My teacher who always wants to protect us :) said with so much access to classical recordings or any music via MP3 that people have forgotten what a live performance is like and if they expect it to be just like the recordings they hear. She said no live performance is perfect and if a bride lets say wants it perfect she should use a CD recording- lol She also mentioned to me when she teaches her kids at school that some notes on the violin are even digitized on recordings where its not even a real note on the violin so she cant show them on the instrument what "note" is actually being played. Interesting stuff.
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 4:57 PM
Francesca -- "Violin for Dummies" is what got me through the four or five months of independent study until I found a teacher. It IS very helpful!

Rosita -- I find myself looking forward to your blog posts in the same way I look forward to the arrival of "Strings" magazine in my mailbox every month. Thank you for expressing so well what so many of us are thinking and feeling!

Today is a very special day for me. It's not only my 32nd wedding anniversary -- it's also the 2nd anniversary of the day I started violin lessons. I'm celebrating both with a new (actually used, but new to me) violin. I've had it for less than a week, but I can feel improvement in my playing already! It's so amazing how a little bit of wood and wire can possess so much Soul -- and how it can impart so much joy!!!

From Esther Rogers
Posted on June 7, 2012 at 6:38 PM
I teach at a camp specifically designed to help beginning and adult amateur string players to grow, be inspired, have courage, and learn! Its a great place to play in an ensemble, take lessons, go to sessions on technique, inner fears, etc. Check it out: it is currently in many locations in the Eastern US. Many of the camps are small with Rochester being the biggest-deadline is passed for JULY 2012 but they would make an exception if you saw this post and wanted to come!

From steven su
Posted on June 8, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Great article!
From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 8, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Ann Marie, so true about children and the singing!
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on June 8, 2012 at 5:06 AM
Thanks for those of you who mentioned the real "Violin for Dummies". I took a look at it on Amazon and realized how ambitious the book really was. I'm glad people are finding it useful.
From marjory lange
Posted on June 8, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Yes, I've found the "dummies" books in general anything but. They are great basic references, with a title to not scare people off.

wish I was on the east coast--the camps sound fantastic.

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