April 16, 2006 at 12:59 AMI’m in a slump. For the first time since I started playing the violin nine months ago, I don’t have it in me to practice. And that’s freaking me out.
I’m hoping to cast the blame on April Syndrome. I knew the month would be like this, because last April was, and the April before it. The month carries with it such stupefying over-socialization that I’ve dubbed it “little December.” Alongside my Easter preparations and choir rehearsals, my husband, son and father all have birthdays during the first week of April. This year there were weekend parties in Kansas to fly to, parties in my house, overnight visitors, parties on weeknights, parties with too many little boys running around shrieking, and yet more visitors. And lots of singing happy birthday.
Oh, the happy birthday song. It makes me cringe when I play it poorly on my violin. My fingers don’t like the song and my ears don’t like the shaky, thin result I produce. But last week I dutifully played happy birthday to my dad, to my husband and son, and then pushed my way through the shrill, jittery sugar-induced gaiety and events of April.
I thought I was over the hump on Thursday when I bade goodbye to the last set of visitors and swept up the confetti and stale cake crumbs. But the funniest thing happened—the violin practice that had sustained me during the stressful period suddenly got lethargic. Just like me. We’re talking seriously lethargic, as in, wondering how you’re going to drag yourself through the motions of each day. But I had work to do for my next violin lesson, so I studied my assigned piece from a new lesson book. A new arrangement of the blasted happy birthday tune. Great.
This one has a catchier beat that keeps my fingers moving more quickly. And, to my dismay, I’m having trouble with it.
Yes, you read that right. I can’t master the happy birthday song. How’s that for humbling? This, alongside my failure to master the snake charmer song, even after a month of practice. My fingers can’t successfully negotiate the route from C natural to E with the fourth finger. My middle finger seems too pudgy to hit the C natural correctly on the birthday song. I recognize both songs are good to practice—they’re targeting what’s not working. I know I need to play them in order to master them. But I hate them. They’re for little kids. And they hate me in return. And now I dread my practice time.
I’m calling this funk “the happy birthday blues.” Thursday, I gave myself permission to stop practicing after twenty minutes. It had been the end of a tough two weeks, after all, and my intonation was simply tragic. Friday, I found 101 good reasons to do something else besides practice. Finally, when I did, for thirty minutes, I suffered once again from my terrible lethargy. Happy birthday has never sounded so pathetic. Never have I felt so glad to walk away from my violin. Today, well, here I am, and the terrible truth is that I don’t want to practice.
Is this just fatigue, or the sign of something worse? Does this signify the beginning of the end? Will I eventually cut my losses and give up on this violin endeavor? The thought frightens me. I need this love affair to last. It colors my world, creating a pleasant diversion from the junk of daily living. I need music, art. But, then again, what I’ve practiced in the past two days does not fall into either of the above categories.
The world won’t come to an end, I recognize, if I skip a day or two of practice in order to rejuvenate. I should be focusing on the music I’ll be singing for Easter mass on Sunday, anyway. Maybe the mass I’ll be attending will be balm for my blues. They say Jesus rose on the third day (recognizing here that not everyone believes what They say). Maybe my sagging spirits will do the same.
I hope so. I’ve got a love affair banking on it.
For heaven's sake, you've gone this far in your violin career and are only just now feeling this way? You've done good, so pat yourself on the back. From my personal experience, I can tell you that you will feel this many times, and that it does come to pass. It's okay to not want to practice every once in a while. I don't always get much done when I'm in a slump, but I make a point to play something I like every day until I feel the next surge of self-discipline. This way, I can keep up my enjoyment and keep in touch.
Let us know how it goes. Having musical friends to draw inspiration frm helps, too.
I was searching for some pieces that you could suggest to your teacher other than happy birthday and twinkle tinkle (pun intended!) - Bach has some very simple pieces great for a beginner - March in D major and Menuet in G major, and the Do Re Me song from Sound of Music is a fun way to do scales, and Eidelwise (sp) also from Sound of Music. Greensleeves should be OK also. Some of these may be a bit challenging for you now, but they would hold your interest alot better and have something to aim for.
Mendy - enjoyed reading about your practice and its challenges. And Edelweiss! That's got me interested in trying to pick out the tune right this minute, but as it's 6:30a on a Sunday, hubby is sleeping, and I'm off in 35 minutes, guess it will have to wait.
I don't know about that C natural/E interval either--I have a very hard time getting it in tune too. Or how about a roll stroke with B flat and D on the A string and G on the E string? Try that! Seriously, though (and that was), there are certain tunes that have little passages that are REALLY HARD...but it's encouraging to really work on them, and then a month or two later, discover that you can actually play them in tune. I'm hoping that will be the case with something I'm working on right now in A major (I've never liked anything in A major before, and I'm having a really really hard time with intonation on all the arpeggios--you know, just A C# E A C# E A--ought to be simple--I guess I know what I need to work on, eh?)
So maybe work on other things in the meantime...
...be very very kind to yourself. THis endeavor of learning to play an instrument as a Mature Person, is the best lesson in humility. It renews my faith that people CAN learn things, even very very hard things.
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