Reflection and Triumph: Violympics Trials Wrap-Up

May 11, 2020, 12:38 AM · I did it! I completed the final assignment of recording myself performing The Violympic Theme by Nathan Cole and posting it in the official Facebook group. I even shared it publicly on social media. My feelings about my playing couldn’t be more different from the beginning of the week.

I honestly didn’t feel like a violinist at all when I started this challenge, the Violympic Trials, in which hundreds of violinists spent all last week learning Nathan's technically challenging piece, with help from his videos. In fact in the beginning, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt as a person. But here, seven days later, I feel a little closer to the violinist part of my self, and that's an amazing feeling. I might even sign up for the rest of the Violympics (here is the sign up, if you are interested as well. Clicking through that link partially benefits Violinist.com.)

One of the surprisingly difficult assignments was determining images/emotions/concepts to each section. As I said earlier, I am a technique junkie, and I have trouble letting go of the idea that my technique isn't developed enough to be musical. I found myself thinking about hand frame, finger angles, soundpoint, etc and ignoring the concepts I’d created. After preparing for the recording and feeling frustrated with the conflicting points of focus, I decided to drop the octaves.

Throughout the process, Nathan has done a fantastic job of encouraging violinists of all levels - offering options within the piece to make it more playable, especially in the time constraints. I’ve been awed and inspired by those who were able to pull off the fingered octaves this week. I've also been impressed with the modifications that some violinists have created to customize the piece for their particular skillset. For myself, it came down to realizing that my physical discomfort with octaves, fingered or regular, was taking away from my musical imagination and phrasing in that section. It was also throwing me off for the rest of the piece.

I did two recording sessions, one on Saturday night, and one on Sunday night. On Saturday, I found that I simply couldn’t play the ending. Managing the energy approaching the section was a challenge, and my fingers just lost control. I got quite a few takes where 75% of the piece was acceptable and the ending was a disaster. I also found myself distracted by seeing the image of myself playing on the computer screen while recording.

Finally, I realized that I was tired and a better take wasn't going to happen. I decided to go back to the musical concept, rather than the technique. I pulled out one of my favorite things - researching the composer and their intent. I already had a recording of the piece being performed by the composer, and five days of coaching from him. I also knew that Nathan created this whole challenge, and the upcoming summer Violympics experience, based on the Olympics. So, I went to YouTube and searched Olympic montages from the past Olympic Games.

I decided on the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London as my theme, for personal reasons. A friend of mine and I spent a very happy vacation there a few years ago, and my husband and I were supposed to be in London last month for our honeymoon. The trip has been indefinitely postponed, but I could still use the excitement, sights, and enthusiasm for everything British I had inside me for this.

I redid my recording plan with images, and went to bed. When in doubt, sleep on it.

Sunday, I tried to keep things as simple as possible. I warmed up with strategic parts of Warming Up, and practiced each section of the piece slowly with the new images in my mind. I noticed that I was tensing several areas of my body when I was nervous about a technique - my jaw, my neck, and my knees. I played each of those sections encouraging myself to balance my head, release stiff muscles, and use more bow. I gave myself permission to take more time between phrases and to play it slower.

And then I did three more takes. The final take was the one I chose to share, which you can see (if you really want) in its entirety on my Facebook page.

When this started, I wasn’t sure I would share any of my playing at all. I didn’t think I would want to. But, the encouragement and cheerful support of the violinists in our group, the collective spirit of determination, and Nathan’s patient, structured, and highly effective coaching got me to a place where I’m proud of what I accomplished. My goal at the beginning of this was to actually practice, and I'm very happy that I accomplished that.

Is this the best recording ever of this piece? Absolutely not. There are some amazing violinists in the group whose playing I’ve very much enjoyed listening to, not to mention Nathan’s original recording that we’ve all been inspired by. However, this represents seven days of focus, determination, and will that I haven’t had in my life for a very long time - at least, not in the violin playing part of my life. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I know that I will always want to grow more as a violinist.

Thank you to everyone who’s been involved in this project for your enthusiasm, energy, effort, and inspiration, from Nathan and his team to Laurie who asked me to write about it to every violinist in the group who has been brave and vulnerable and generous with their time and talent.

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

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