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Vice vs. Verse

Colin Mitchell

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Published: December 5, 2014 at 3:07 AM [UTC]

I am a violinist. I am a violinist with an addiction to nicotine, and quite possibly the simple act of blowing vapor from my mouth. It is a hard balance to strike between the two. On the one hand, violin is immeasurably enjoyable... When I put my mind to it. On the other hand it is also immeasurably enjoyable, and easy, to sit back on the couch and puff for an inordinate amount of time. Time I could have been making progress on the violin.

I am only a beginner violinist, at just over a year into my studies, while I have been smoking for over twenty years. I find it quite difficult to substitute one for the other. I, instead, have to make time to practice, while I find it easy to vape for no apparent reason. There are idioms in my head of a nature which say.. No great violinist these days uses anything addictive. They're all great role models.

I love the violin! I love music! I am unfortunately perplexed by a need to do something which is very easy to me, although mildly costly, and dedicating my whole day to practicing a piece I have been working on for around two months now.

it is difficult for me to 'sing' with my instrument. I hear the nuances in the play along cd version I am supposed to sound like. It is the believing I can do those nuances. I question whether I am deep enough emotionally to 'feel' the necessary emotions which, the current piece I am working on evokes. Some of the passages seem quite painful. While sitting on my couch puffing seems pleasurable. How can I talk myself into being enough of a person to put aside my hedonistic sensibilities for pleasure, and commit to the piece at hand.

I mean honestly, they do seem related. This shallowness of person who can't quite express a deeply meaningful phrase, and puffing. As far as I can tell, it only gets in the way. On the other hand, when I do feel more in the game, puffing is a nice break from routine, keeping me from becoming obsessive about practicing. The only thing is, I'm not sure that's what I want.

I have to be careful about how often I try to quit vaping as well, as failing to only leads to a downward spiral of emotions which are difficult to practice through. I want to be a great violinist. I want to play in an orchestra. I want to be a soloist! This requires much practice. The side of me that has smoked for twenty years, however, doesn't seem to care.

So I have a few questions for you from this... One.. Do any of you know any successful classical violinists who vape/smoke? ... Two ... Is it normal to have trouble emoting some of the more emotional passages of music we come across in the music world? ... And three... Is it really healthy to practice five to eight hours a day if your lifestyle allows for it?

just trying to get a life in order, and would appreciate any supportive insight you all may have to offer!

Posted on December 5, 2014 at 5:43 PM
Dear Colin,being from Europe,I know many musicians that smoke and/or drink . perhaps many of them started playing before they picked up their other habits . About your next question-, I am a professional violinist, and I have practiced 8hours only once in my life, for few days before a really important exam. However, I think with good concentration 4-5hours are plenty.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 5, 2014 at 8:26 PM
"No great violinist these days uses anything addictive. They're all great role models" --- this might be a bit of a misconception! But I'll add: I don't know any people who ever regretted it, when they quit smoking. btw I like your headline :)
From Mark Ashley
Posted on December 5, 2014 at 9:57 PM
Wow! A lot of admissions! In the rock music world, addiction seems to go hand in hand with virtuosity - in the classical world less so. This may be due to the more 'free' nature of rock music; as violinists the pressure is there to perform a piece to a standard that meets a certain pre-ordained level.
Of all the instruments in the orchestra, violin is one of the hardest to learn, love, and play well. Cut yourself some slack. You will 'click' with your instrument, regardless of whether you smoke or drink. Just allow separate time for both. I've been playing for 35 years; but I know not to even pick the fiddle up after 2 glasses of wine; they're just not compatible. Don't beat yourself up, play, enjoy, if it doesn't work then do it again tomorrow.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 12:46 AM
This may not be what you wanted to read, but here goes:

You referred to how often you try to quit smoking, which more than suggests that you genuinely want to quit. Still, as long as there's anything attractive to you about the habit, it's really hard to break the addiction.

So think about the long-term effect of smoking on your health. I don't doubt you already have, but do it some more. Nicotine is a poison, and my one brief experience with it was enough to convince me that my system doesn't need it.

When I was almost 12 y/o, I tried to smoke -- and became violently ill as a result. Fortunately, I recovered the same day. To me, there was no longer anything attractive or appealing about smoking.

About hours of practice: As a kid, I was a practice geek -- my parents didn't have to tell me to practice. Instead, they had to remind me when it was time to wrap up. I worked my way up to 5-6 hours of practice in one day by the time I was 15 y/o. That one experience also put me out of commission for one day -- though I didn't become violently ill, as I had from my juvenile attempt at smoking. This time, I became drained of energy and lost all appetite.

Now my parents were really concerned that I was overdoing the practice, but I got things better in balance after that. These days, I practice and play up to 3 hours a day. Different players have different needs and tolerance levels -- one size, or practice schedule, won't fit all. FWIW, I'm not in the music business.

Hope this helps -- if not right now, then maybe down the road.

Posted on December 7, 2014 at 4:49 PM
Thank you Colin for sharing your insights. I have been learning violin for years (started as a adult), missing a few years in and there, but still enjoying it. It is always interesting to hear what is the real life behind a musician, struggles and emotions to ovecome in oder to achieve your dreams. Mine are more modest, still trying to get better every time I pratice.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 8, 2014 at 5:35 PM
I don't smoke, but I've also been thinking about how to get over other bad habits, and where the violin fits into that.

In my case, I'm trying to get over some anxiety-related habits: stress-eating, and surfing the web aimlessly. I've been tracking myself to figure out the triggers, and what I notice is that I do both of these when I have difficult social interactions, too many decisions to make, or both. There are also some very specific things that make me anxious that probably only apply to me, but I'd guess we all have our things. I've also been told by friends who wanted to quit smoking that one of the reasons they smoked was that they found it calming and/or relieved anxiety. So I think there are parallels.

In these anxiety-provoking situations, I really want something to do with my hands, and playing the violin can serve as that. Certain composers are better than others for this, I find: the Bach family, lots of fast 16th notes, some baroque short notes, some Mozart (the overture to the Abduction from the Seraglio in particular seems pretty good--also as running or exercise music). Beethoven.

You don't want to perform anything this way, but in the privacy of your own practice room . . . I sometimes just come to the end of a practice workout with something fast and furious, and I feel tired, but better, and the anxiety is gone--as is the desire to stress-eat or web surf.

Also, make a playlist of go-to pieces that you can listen to when you feel the urge to smoke. It probably won't all be classical (I've got the Ramones in mine, mixed in with Handel), but again, I think that this music, and the process of playing the violin, can provide you with ways to safely handle that anxious feeling if you are using smoking as a way to self-soothe.

I also have my violin hanging on a hanger (e.g. so that I can take it down and just play it for 5 minutes rather than do something like get a snack or just check my email that can lead to something even less constructive.

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