Written by Daniel Tan
Published: November 13, 2014 at 1:03 PM [UTC]
Ok this isn't really a lesson on taking compliments, nor can I profess to knowing very much about it, but what I do know is that in the past, I have struggled greatly with simply accepting them.
There comes a point in your violin (or other passion related) pursuit whereby you realise that you're never truly going to be happy with anything you produce. A performance will always have a technical flaw that you worked for weeks to fix only to have it fall apart in performance. Or a phrase that didn't speak musically the way you want it. Or perhaps a passage where intonation was that tiny bit doggier than it usually is. However, at the end of the day, we still put our work out there in the hope that it may mean something to the people who come to experience it, and that they may enjoy it.
The problem arises when your standard of expectation clashes with those of your audience members. Often you are playing to a largely uneducated group of people (in comparison to yourself) who have no idea about the true intricacies of what you are presenting. In reality, I actually find this quite liberating. I don't mean so in the sense of lowering the standard of what you present, or not trying as hard. Rather, it is liberating because they are there to enjoy themselves. People who try to enjoy themselves don't come searching for flaws, and mistakes. Even when you are playing to an educated audience (as I often have to in university), they don't always know that you've struggled with trying to relax your shoulder, or tension in the thumb. So in reality, if the left shoulder gets tight does get tight in the performance, they are certainly not going to magnify it as a problem in the same way you do.
The thing is, at the end of it all, often people will pay you compliments, many of which you may not feel were warranted. As a performer, I feel like this all the time.
"How could they possibly enjoy themselves if my bow arm was as tense as it was."
When put like that, it does seem quite ridiculous and hyperbolic in nature (and I have exaggerated here) , but in reality, it is a thought process I used to go through all the time. How could these people possibly know what good playing sounds like. Who are they to determine if they enjoyed something or not?
I've over time learned to take compliments graciously without feeling guilty about it and not to be so quick to add my own personal thoughts and perspective to the discussion. Because the more I think about it, the more I believe that it's rude to disagree with someone complimenting you. It says, 'you can't possibly understand this enough to make a sound judgement,' it says 'you don't know what you're talking about,' and most alarmingly it says, 'my opinion of this is more valid than yours.'
That's not to say you're not allowed to express disappointment in yourself or have a strong sense of self evaluation later. However, a compliment means that you have actually achieved what you have set out to achieve even if you don't feel like you have. It means someone enjoyed what you offered up. It means they were moved. It means the music you played, or the work you created spoke to them. Isn't that what we as musicians want? Isn't that what we do this for (beyond intrinsic benefit and enjoyment)?
After all, we are our own worst critics, and as such, terrible judges of how the music we presented affected others.
After all, these people have made the effort to tell us about it.
After all, they were able to enjoy your performance, despite your bow not being straight. They probably didn't even notice.
Compliments are the best opportunity we have to connect with our audiences and the people who support us. It doesn't help if we stop listening.
Save the critiques for lessons and competitions. I can enjoy a mediocre performance as long as the performer(s) are enthusiastic and having a good time. Don't put so much pressure on yourself. My kids also had to work through this and thankfully they now realize performing is a gift to your audience and even if you flounder and play the movements out of order, no one is going to care if they look relaxed and carry on like that mistake was done on purpose. Musical interpretation is at the players discretion after all. :)
When you perform for an audience you are entertaining. Go out on the stage and give them what they want and expect...a violin performance by a player who loves the instrument and the music they are about to perform.
I titled the email with a quote from the article. It was written to my violin instructor who often sends links to articles in this site.
A copy of the email follows:
"you're never truly going to be happy with anything you produce."
I am sure you read this, but I think your students, especially me, could benefit from reading this article. It is about taking compliments, but I saw it from the perspective of skill and perfection. Its hard for me to accept what I sound like knowing others sound so much better playing the same piece.
My cousin Ian once listened to my wife, my daughter and me play a piece. It sounded terrible, but he thought it was really great and enjoyed it.
You know I am really scared about others hearing how bad I sound. I am still nervous and cannot play with you in the room as well as I can when I am alone. I imagine that with time, I'll get over it. But in the meantime, maybe I need to be reminded that even the pros have the same feeling about their imperfections: they just don't let it show.
In reality, as you get better with time, your conception of 'bad' vastly improves. Hence, what you used to think is good, is now your 'not as good' and that's the process of improvement and progress that makes violin and other similar pursuits so enjoyable!
I am by no means a professional yet, but my teacher (who I distinctly remember flawlessly playing a double stop passage from the Brahms Violin Concerto in my first lesson) often talks to me about how she has to deal with all the same things everyone else does. You would never tell that she shakes, or gets nervous from the way she performs, but she's learned to deal with it effectively, as I hope to some day too! It's all a process. One of which everyone is at a different stage in.
So whilst we don't want to get complacent, also take great courage from the people who enjoy your music!
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