The Violympics Trials: A New Adventure

May 4, 2020, 11:47 PM · Monday was Day 1 of the Violympics Trials, created and masterminded by Nathan Cole of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Violympic Trials has also become a support group for violinists and violists struggling to find meaning and motivation in their music during this global crisis. Technique bootcamp or emotional support or both, I’m really glad to have found it, and to be part of it.

The truth is that I’m struggling here in this pandemic reality. I am the private violin teacher to 27 amazing students, ranging in age from 1st graders to adults. Since this all hit the United States, I’ve thrown myself into converting my studio into an online one, convincing my students’ parents that online lessons can work, supporting other teachers at the community arts school where my studio is based, redesigning summer programs to an online platform, all in addition to just dealing with the shock and trauma and horror of it all. My life has been a blur of conference calls, panicked emails from parents, and technology struggles. Teaching online is exhausting and frustrating for a number of reasons, and one of the hardest for me is projecting that positivity and confidence through the screen to my students, even as I frantically try to reconnect if we have a dropped call.

I am glad to be there for my students. I am honored to be one of the constants in their lives when everything else is uncertain and changing. But it has been hard. And I am tired. And I have had three performances canceled, including my first solo recital in three years, what was meant to be my opportunity to connect to music, and there isn't anyone on the other end redesigning things for me. And this has been emotionally crushing. From what I’ve heard from friends and colleagues, I’m not the only one who is burned out. I haven’t practiced for myself in weeks. I haven't *felt* like practicing in weeks.

Goal: practice

(I feel I should say something here about being very aware of the serious life-and-death issues that people are facing every day, and that not feeling like practicing violin is really low on the list when we look at the devastating impact this pandemic is having on our world, which is literally falling apart. However, this is a violin blog about the Violympics, not comparative suffering in the age of Coronavirus, so that's what I'm focusing on here.)

Last week, I saw a Violinist.com blog post about the Violympics and was instantly intrigued. I’m aware of Nathan Cole’s work from his posts on here and his YouTube videos, but wasn’t really sure what this involved. I knew I needed something - anything - to help me get back into shape. Someone else teaching sounded like a great idea, too. So, I signed up, before I could talk myself out of it. (Then Laurie asked if I’d be willing to write about my experiences, so I was really committed.)

I am a self-described pedagogy geek, so I may have actually squealed in glee when I received the welcome email with the detailed practice journal. It felt like such a relief to have the planning be done by someone else for the week. I felt the mental burden of having to decide what was happening and create it lift as I read through it. And the joy of receiving a list of practice assignments on Monday morning, with specific directions about what and how to practice, was something I hadn’t felt in awhile.

Being part of the Facebook community around this project has been uplifting, even after just one day. Everyone is so grateful and relieved to be there, and to have this project to do, with the guidance of a great teacher and support of like-minded peers. It’s also slightly terrifying, as there are people who’ve already embellished the Violympic Theme with their own extended techniques, and completely color coded their music.

I, uh, followed Nathan’s practice list, played a few Sevcik octave exercises, watched the YouTube live, taught six violin lessons and called it a day. I wasn’t just being a smart aleck when the first thing I wrote on my practice “intentions” in my journal was “to actually practice.”

I haven’t actually practiced, with a real goal, and a structured plan, for months. The irony, of course, is that I help my students create those structured plans and strategize ways to reach their goals on a weekly basis. I just haven’t had any energy left for myself. Having someone else provide structure, strategy, and instruction, even just for five days, is life-giving.

I woke up Monday morning and was excited to practice. I practiced again after I finished teaching for the night, something I rarely do. Do I hope I have a chance at winning the spot in the Violin Olympics this summer? Of course I do. But, irony of ironies again - I have students scheduled during two of the live sessions, which automatically puts me down 10 points. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to be brave enough to share a video of me performing this weekend. There are few things more terrifying to me than a roomful of violinists with opinions on my playing, and I’m honestly not sure if I’ll be ready to handle it emotionally. We’ll see where I am in a few days, I suppose.

After all, as I frequently tell my students (and their parents), violin isn’t about points. It’s not about winning. It’s about the journey, and the music, and who we discover we are along the way. I’m hoping I’ll reconnect with the part of myself who is a violinist. She's in there somewhere, buried under the teacher/amateur therapist/writer of too many emails/online summer camp director/not at all qualified technical support person. I hope I find her this week.

Good luck to all my fellow violinists undertaking the challenge this week - it’s wonderful to be doing this together!

* * *

If you are interested in signing up for Nathan Cole's Violympics, a 12-week program that starts in late May, click here to sign up. Signing up through link partially benefits Violinist.com.

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