February 2006

Managing expectations down, down, down

February 27, 2006 11:05

I became impatient waiting for my violin to arrive from Hungary. Which is ironic, since I've gone decades without a violin. Plus, I'm an adult. Surely, I'd be able to wait a few weeks.

Not at all.

When I found out that I was still weeks away from an instrument, I made a quick phone call, hopped on the F Train, and found myself renting a servicable (somewhat heavy) violin with a sledgehammer bow and the ubiquitous thermoplastic case. I'd have it, I reasoned, for just a few weeks, and it would slow my rapid descent into insanity as I waited.

I hadn't fixed on a teacher yet, but I needed to do SOMETHING, so I told myself I would work on long tones and other seemingly innocent endeavors.

I don't believe I'll ever forget that first night.


The fulfillment of a lifelong dream?

An epiphany?

Not so much.

Actually, it was a revelation. Of sorts. I was utterly amazed by the (unbidden, unwanted) tension in my left hand/thumb. I mean, WHOAH!!! All I had to do was try to place a low-2 in first position and my thumb would try -- no matter how much I WILLED it not to -- to crush the neck of the violin. Actually, it was quite painful. My second finger refused to go where I was telling it to go, and my thumb muscle didn't care that I wanted it to be slightly less hard than a diamond.

I asked my 10-year-old daughter if she ever felt tension in her left hand or thumb.

She was delighted to tell me that she never ever felt any tension -- and proceeded to show me how utterly relaxed her left hand was as she played.

So, clearly it was possible to play that way. I tried again. No good. After she went to bed, I snuck out her 3/4 instrument and tried it again. Whew! Thankfully, on this smaller instrument, my left hand didn't transform into stone or feel any pain. Actually, it felt comfortable. I was encouraged and allowed myself to believe that I wouldn't feel that way forever on the full size. I told myself I was using muscles I wasn't accustomed to using, stretching things that likely hadn't been stretched in decades (if ever) and I would be well advised to take it slow. I reminded myself that sitting in on someone else's lessons for six years, watching six years of daily practice could engender unrealistic expectations about progress and my "knowledge" of the violin.

I also decided to get a teacher post haste.

Over the next two weeks, while I researched teachers, I focused on posture and removing the tension in my left hand and elsewhere. I did the exercises in Fischer's Basics. They weren't easy at first. I eventually began to notice a real softening of my thumb muscles and the finger's insane grip on the neck.

Even the smallest progress, I've noticed, is absolutely thrilling. So I've managed my expectations down, way down, but it doesn't matter. I'll take these small victories.

I can now play in first position with a (largely) relaxed left hand and thumb and no pain.

I could not do this two weeks ago.

5 replies | Archive link

The big leap into lessons...

February 7, 2006 08:26

It started innocently enough. About six years ago, my daughter saw someone playing violin on TV and asked for lessons. She began her studies at age 4. She’s 10 now and attending a specialized music school. My second daughter requested piano lessons and, at 8 now, is going strong. It’s been gradual, but somehow we have all become, as a family, subsumed by music.

I’ve happily attended every lesson – and practice -- of both girls over the years. Her first teacher asked me to be part of the process, and that’s how it continued. Now, for my older daughter, I’m actually working with her instructor on phasing myself out of both lessons and practices, and allowing her to take full ownership of her musical development. It’s going well – actually, better than I expected.

For my part, six years of observing lessons and daily practice sessions (including theory and ear training), have left me with a good ear, the ability to read music better than ever (I’m even pretty good at coming up with fingerings), to sing in solfege (no voice to speak of), to tune the violin without a reference pitch, to change strings, and to understand intellectually (which is to say, in an utterly useless way) every technique my daughter has studied. I’ve read books and lurked on sites like this one, but…BUT… I can’t play.

Whenever people would ask if I played the violin, for reasons that are a mystery to me, I would quickly say “no!” as if the very notion that I would play violin was ludicrous.

So I’m not exactly sure when my own desire to play first announced itself to me. I only know that it did, and that I promptly ignored it, I suppose, for the typical reasons – I was too old, it was a massively difficult undertaking, it was my daughter’s thing, I’d never be any good at it, etc. I advised myself to play guitar or piano as I'd had a little experience with both…but no. Great instruments, sure, but not…well, not the violin.

And then, recently, I realized I’d made my decision: I was going to learn to play the violin.

I have now ordered a violin, bow and case. They should arrive in a matter of days. I’ll soon have a teacher.

I’m thrilled about what lies ahead. But, and this is most surprising for me, I’m more than thrilled. The prospect of this adventure is strangely momentous and filled with entirely unanticipated and complex emotions that I can’t even begin to disentangle; I must admit, they’ve caught me unawares.

Last Saturday, at a restaurant after my youngest daughter’s piano recital, I leaned over and whispered to my mother that I would soon be starting lessons. I could see that she was thrilled but then I noticed that she looked upset. She held my arm tightly with her hand and confided to me that I had asked her repeatedly for violin lessons as a child (I have no specific recollection of this) and that she’d checked into the local conservatory but had been unable to afford lessons (money was always tight growing up).

Funny. It seems I've been ignoring my desire to play the violin for much longer than I'd thought.

I told my mother that if I’d been ready for lessons then, I wouldn’t have shut up until I’d gotten them. I told her that it didn’t matter – that I was ready for lessons now.

And I am. I’m excited, and slightly embarrassed, and determined … and about a million other things. For some reason, I’m hesitating to do the lessons at my daughter’s school (in addition to a regular music school, they also have a community music school where I could take lessons).

I suppose I should have known it would be this way. After all, it’s no small thing to set off, at long last, on a journey I’ve been waiting to take my entire life.

14 replies | Archive link

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