October 2004

October 29, 2004 18:06

I'm getting to one of those pinnacles in my career as a violinist. I'm playing Danse Macabre for a Halloween classroom presentation.

I remember the first time I heard this piece, and actually it was a soloist with piano accompaniment, not orchestra. I was with my dad in the truck in high school, listening to the radio station. From the first notes, I was mesmerized, and I knew that someday I wanted to play that piece. I tracked down the sheet music and dabbled with it for a bit before putting it away, realising I wasn't ready for it. It wasn't until this year that I actually thought perhaps I could pull it off.

Well, I've got it mostly. Something happens when I get in front of people, and I just sieze up. Sometimes, it's just from trying to get the emotion out. I practiced the arpeggios alone at least a half hour a day to perfect them, but every time I get to that part at the end, I am so compelled to take the accelerando and just go mad, and I mean, perhaps I should have a little restraint, but not at that point. I could maintain speed and shoot for accuracy, but then the meaning would be lost. So, I hope I will get to dance for the students, not just perform, and let the notes fly, and say to heck with accuracy. Once you've logged in the hours of slow practice and drills, it's time to throw caution to the wind when you're on the stage. Hope it works.

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October 25, 2004 18:20

I was practicing diligently, and the clock hand slowly made its way to dinner time. I became more and more alerted to this fact by my ever-persistent stomach, who has this way of governing my mood and actions and concentration much more than I would like. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had an instant memory recollection, and a voice in my head, as clear and precise as reality, said, "Let's eat!"

Of course, I'm alone at home and nothing is cooking, and I will probably be eating cold meatballs or a bowl of cereal, but that voice, where did it come from? It echoed down the hallway of my memory--and up the stairs in my childhood home.

I was perpetually into my little hobbies upstairs in my room, as I had only one friend due to my shy and unsociable tendancies. My two brothers were fine companions from time to time, but I was happiest in my room, either drawing, making music, or getting lost into some other weird project. This would go on every day after school, as Mamma fixed dinner, and my dad came home from work. It became the tradition along the years that when it was time, Daddy would stand at the bottom of the stairs and holler in his familiar, comforting way, "Let's eat!" Then, we would scramble to untangle ourselves from our activities and tumble down the stairs in a landslide, eager to fill our bellies.

I hadn't thought about this in years, I'm certain. I have no idea why this memory came back with such vivid recall, without my summoning. It made me smile, though, and I was glad to be visited once more by the voice of my dad, who is now some 5,000 miles away.

It astounds me how memories are packed away in some kind of haphazard, yet tight-knit fashion, and recall doesn't always happen in alphabetical order. Sometimes, it's a funky smell, or a color in the air that's a little different, and suddenly a ghost from the past makes its entrance. Music is one of those triggers. I can remember things from my ancient childhood, pre-reading and pre-kindergarten, that are very specific only because of the songs I heard on the radio, or the tune my mom played on the piano at night as I went to sleep. I hear the Bee Gees and will always associate disco with that smokey bowling alley my mom took us to when she was in the league. I remember crying in my room during rest time because the radio station wouldn't play my favorite song at the time, a disco rendition of Star Wars. Every time I hear that song, I can remember the exact color of my walls, the bedspread, the little knob on the top of my yellow lampshade.

Music unlocks associations. We feel certain ways when we hear certain chords or instruments or voicings because they are ingrained in our being, filed away right next to our earliest cognitions. I'm so thankful that my dad played classical music on Saturday while we cleaned the house or played upstairs. Now, when I listen to Grieg, I can remember the things I imagined in my room as I pretended to be a unicorn or a princess. Vince Guaraldi's jazz will forever be Charlie Brown holidays. The Nutcracker will always keep me in touch with my childhood excitement over Christmas.

The sound of my violin as I practiced somehow unleashed that memory of my dad standing at the bottom of the stairs. I am so thankful for this bit of magic that music is, that it will always be connecting me back with myself and with everything in my past that makes me who I am.

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October 23, 2004 04:33

I've put off starting a blog for so long. It seems as though if I were to write for all the world to see, it should be something worthwhile and meaningful. Yet here I am, at 3 am, making the attempt I've thought through so many times, about starting my very own weblog, with absolutely nothing important to say. I guess, I figured it would never happen if I waited until divine inspiration gave me profound words of wisdom to impart on the masses. I have no musical prowess, no degree or authority, no resume. I am simply me, Emily Grossman, who used to be Emily Steele, an aspiring young violinist, who drifted off course, wandered nomadically, got married and finally settled like a storm-weathered bird in a no-name town in Alaska, of all places. Yet it was here in the frozen wasteland that I discovered my roots again and dusted off something I thought I had lost for good in the rites of college study: a dream of music.

I guess I have one important thing to say this evening after all. I had the opportunity to speak with a high school cellist who was in the area for the weekend. In our brief dialogue, I vicariously relived my own high school transition into college and thought about the decisions she soon would be making.

Teenagers ask the wrong questions when pursuing an educational degree. They think about its usefulness or what would be most responsible of them down the road. Don't you know, the work will always find you, and responsibility has many forms. More importantly, ask what it is you really like. Seek to find a way to do what it is you like, and sacrifice anything you can to live it.

For my husband, he says it's retirement. So, he tries to stay as retired as he can and goes hunting and fishing while he's young and can still keep up with his dog. And to pay the bills, he cooks good food.

Me, well what did I do? I bought into an idea that I should only get a degree in music if I planned on using it, which, to me, meant being a professional musician, practicing eight hours a day, and starving as I tried to become famous. This did not sound appealing to a nineteen-year-old with lots of venues to explore. Instead, I got a degree in education which eventually I vowed never to use, went into the "real world", and spent five years trying to "find myself". As it turns out, I'd left myself back there with my buried dreams.

Who says you can't be a musician, that selling your artwork is a pipe dream, that these are not careers and that you need a 9-5 job in order to be responsible? I spent 5 years being depressed and angry and unfulfilled because I couldn't find a way to fit into that stereotype. So when I finally settled into a lifestyle I liked and moved into an actual house with running water, the only piece of furniture I bought was a piano. This was the best thing I could have done, because it reconnected me with my roots.

Young people, I ask you, how can you devote your childhood to music, spend your hours dreaming on your instrument instead of going to parties or football games, striving and accomplishing, and then leave that part of you behind as you enter college? If you are a helpless slave to this passion, don't weigh the practicality of your options as though you know what the future holds. Do what it is that you want to be doing right now. Play music. Take some classes. Even get that music degree. Don't worry about if it's useful or not. I have this perfectly useful education degree now, and I could care less. It doesn't do a thing for me. I teach lessons, perform, and sell artwork for a living. And no, I'm not starving. I don't have much, but I'm happy now, doing what I was created to do.

Good night, and sweet dreams.

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