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Emily Grossman


October 18, 2010 at 5:16 AM

"Way to go, you passed, Aulden! You get a sticker."

Aulden chose a blue smiley face and superimposed it onto a caricature drawn at the top of the page. It was sideways. "Here, I'll fix it," I offered, as I lifted the tiny sticker with my fingernail. These things are important, you know. Only a teacher who cares would include sticker adjustments as part of their tuition coverage. I'm one of those.

As I carefully replaced the sticker, I thought back to the art review published in the local paper on Monday: "I think Grossman would do well to allow the organic aspect of drawing to trump the mathematical and left-brained aspects in her work."

She called my work "trite." Trite. My continual obsession with meticulous precision had only earned me a disparaging label this week, no sticker. Although she published these words probably in smug self-assertion, her favorite piece, 'Fibonacci', happened to be my most left-brained, mathematical composition of all. Fibonacci was a sheep I'd composed using two interlocking golden spirals. The sheep smiles, like Mona Lisa, pondering the secrets of the universe.

I'd stuck my gum in that review before tossing it out, but the words wouldn't leave the sole of my shoe when I tried shaking the dust off. There was an element of truth in it, after all. Hanging my artwork is like hanging a piece of myself on the wall.  When I see it, I often wish it weren't so careful and controlled, and obsessed with detail. So... literal. But this is who I am. We must discover these things about ourselves, and then sign our names at the bottom: I own this. This is me.

Self doubt does not work wonders for Sarasate. At the dress rehearsal for Friday's concert, the nerves had gotten me so bad that my knees turned to jelly and I was unable to finish the arpeggios at the end of Caprice Basque. A year is far too long to go without performing publicly, and I wasn't used to the audience. "You just gotta go for it," they told me after I finished.

Go for it. Own it. Three hours a night, I'd worked on each of the variations and drilled those stupid arpeggios. It drove me to madness. It propelled me to new mad skills, that's what it did. I could just about play every note perfectly forward and backward; yet, each time I got in front of somebody, or even thought about getting in front of somebody, I got sheepish, and all the false harmonics and arpeggios fell apart.

I spent the rest of the week doing battle with the demons of doubt, bracing myself for public humiliation and shame. I called Maria and asked her if we could cut out the last page altogether, roll out a cadence of chords, and call it good. "I really think you should keep the arpeggios," she said. "The high notes sound so good..." I thought about it. Really? I highly value Maria's opinion. In fact, those words meant so much to me that I decided to take a risk and go through with it after all.

It was the Evening of Classics. All the local performers waited their turn back in the nursery and Sunday School rooms. As I warmed up with my practice mute, I couldn't help but notice the notes were all still there like I'd left them. I was up next. Did I tape my pages together right? Were my strings clean? Oh, rosin! I saw my hands rubbing the bow hair with the cake, but couldn't feel a thing, as though the hair was freshly washed; in a panic, I rubbed harder. It was time.

From the moment I took the stage, I acted like I owned it (though really I was frightened like a little girl), and I played the audience a little with a suspenseful slide. Suddenly, things were okay again; I was in front of my friends, and they were loving it. I may botch the end, but I wouldn't let it spoil the rest of the piece. The left handed pizzicato was certainly fun, and the chord section, well it rocked. And the arpeggios? Well... let's just say I made it through okay. What happened after I scrambled to the the top of the fingerboard for the ending really surprised me, though. The audience, actually...  roared with applause!   I must say, I felt like a rock star.

It is so good to be loved and admired by your hometown audience. No one really knew how much I'd needed them to tell me I was great, even if I wasn't perfect.

Way to go, you passed, Emily! You get a sticker.

From Vernon Kirby
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 10:15 AM

This really put a smile to my face!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 12:58 PM

Great post.  Give yourself several stickers.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 2:18 PM


This is an amazing experience!  I love this peice very much! 


Nice sheep... I like realistic paintings as I like melodius music.  Guess that mean's left brainer? ; )

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 3:40 PM

I used to get that sort of thing too (too careful, too square, too left-brained), about my violin playing, when I was a teenager.  Ugh.   I don't think people realize how hurtful those types of comments can be.  (Or maybe they do realize it, which is even more disturbing, in a way).  Good for you the way you pushed back and broke through the negativity.  That's worth even more stickers!  And Fibonacci is lovely.  What a clever blending of artistic and intellectual creativity!

From Janis Cortese
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 5:33 PM

Careful, square, and left-brained are what teenagers ARE, though.  Especially ones in the "make one mistake and you're out" world of competitive classical music.  That culture prizes the theoretical universe of no mistakes, and then acts shocked when their students (and the adults they become) internalize that message.

If teachers want kids to play with more feeling and humanity, then they'll have to start including creativity (composition, improv, music from outside the classical sphere without the air-quotes around the word) in the curriculum.  If classical music trained kids fear making mistakes more than they fear an insufficiently inspired performance, they don't get it out of thin air.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 7:35 PM


I played with much abandon as a teenager because I didn't know any better. 

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 7:58 PM

Gold star for Emily!  A very inspiring blog-post.

P.S.  I love the sheep.

From sharelle taylor
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 8:14 PM

 Clever. And good. I like your sheep.  I'd probably like your Caprice Basque too, if I heard it.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 11:37 PM

Good point, as an amateur and someone who has not the most clever coordination skills on the planet (lol...), I sometimes feel lucky to indeed not be that good technician.   Sure, it is no fun to have to work harder and longer than average to do technical requirements in peice x... but if forces me to take my time and to think about it.  It forces me to "attempt" to make music and "attempt" to produce a good tone.  Not saying it's perfect but If I was very quick technically to catch things, I would be far beyond what I'm now but I'm sure my playing and tone would be even less musical than how it is now.   

But I guess that for those with huge talent, it must be so difficult to say "I want to take my time to make music and find my individuality" when they are pressured by the big sharks of the industry...

Emily, I agree with Karen and bravo to not get baddly affected by these comments!  How can one play violin with no discipline anyway?  Behind what sounds like wild abandon are hours of struggling and disciplined practice...   Maybe she forgot that : ) 



From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 19, 2010 at 3:59 AM


I think they have a lot of sheep in the Basque country.  Most of them are no-brain oriented.   It makes the grass taste better.



From Emily Grossman
Posted on October 19, 2010 at 4:10 AM

That was ba-a-aad.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 19, 2010 at 11:20 AM

 shear cheek?

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 20, 2010 at 6:27 AM


From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 24, 2010 at 4:27 PM

Congratulations, Emily. That sounds like a win to me!

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