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What a difference an attitude makes.

November 7, 2009 at 4:14 PM

 This is concert weekend for me, and we are doing a great program.....Beethoven Violin Concerto, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughn Williams,  Prometheus Overture and the first movement of Schubert's 7th Symphony.  It is a violinists program (though I am playing viola for the Vaughn Williams) and may be one of my all-time favorite concerts to play. 

I've re-committed myself to the orchestra this year.  The last several years have been stressful, with my mom's illness and death and a few other life events.  Because of all the traveling I was doing, I've only played about half of the concerts of the last few seasons.  At the same time, the symphony was making some (what I consider) bone-headed decisions involving the musicians.  I had gotten to the point where I was disgusted with them, feeling taken-for-granted (we are a volunteer orchestra, except for special events) and going to rehearsals and concerts had begun feeling burdensome and stressful.  So, my anger and stress was being carried into my experience of music-making.

As I've mentioned in other blogs, another result of my juggling major life events was that I found I hardly had time to really just play.  I teach both piano and violin, but most of my violin playing time had been reduced to the time I spend in the studio with my students.  When I did play concerts,  I was just coming in for concert weekend, with no regular rehearsals under my belt, and I was usually sitting at the front of the section in a relatively small group, which was stressful in its own right.

This year represents a new time of life for me, and I had decided (upon being put on blood-pressure meds) that it was time for me to do somethings for me.  I have a newly-empty nest, and newly-retired husband, and have gotten through some of the rapids.  It felt like a good time to re-write my life choices, and include some 'me' things into the mix.  I decided that I had lost myself as a player in the last few the 'just getting through' times of juggling major things, that was a ball that got dropped. 

I remember being at one of the those 'last minute' concerts last year.  We were doing the Tchaikovsky Symphony #4, which I love.  As we were playing along, I was swept away by the experience of being a small part of the large whole, and of being a part of something amazing.  It felt like a priviledge to be there.  

I also remember when I first began playing.  I picked up the instrument at age 36, with no prior string exposure.  I had played with the same orchestra as a clarinetist years ago, but my goal was to come back as a violinist.  I played my first concert with them 2 1/2 years later.  At the time, that was the highest goal I could be able to play in the 2nd violin section of the orchestra.  I worked hard and loved every minute of it.

So fast forwarding to now....  when I came back to the orchestra this year, it was with a spirit of gratitude and enthusiasm.  I vowed not to let myself get caught up in orchestra politics, or resentment, but rather I wanted to remember every time I play how lucky I am that I get to do this.  Not many adult beginners are able to have these opportunities.  I am not only welcome in the group, I am a vital part of it.  So, I want to embrace that part of myself that is blessed to be able to identify myself as a musician and as a violinist.  

Which brings me to joy...  this year, I find myself becoming excited about each rehearsal.  Nothing has changed about our orchestra or the people in it.  The only change is in me, and in my open-arms approach to the experience.  I started playing the violin because I love music. I love playing the violin.  I love the freedom of having gotten to a level of playing where the notes can dance off of the string, and the bow has become my friend.  This is a blessing and a gift.  

My attitude of recent years was a result of the inevitable choices that I needed to make while going through 'the valley'.  In that regard, I excuse myself, but I choose a different thing now.

Last night, there were 2 distinct moments in the rehearsal that almost brought me to tears.  One was in the Vaughn Williams, in the climatic 'big'  section near the end.  I was playing viola, so had cellists on one side of me, viola on the other and could hear all the other violin parts surrounding me.  While I was playing triplet arpeggios for all I was worth, there was a part of my brain that was, maybe even blown away at what we were all doing together.  Oh my word.....Heavenly.  Loud, intense, emotional and so beautiful.  I almost wanted to cry...I did grin. 

Then later in the Beethoven Concerto....  at the same time I was marveling at the beauty of the piece and the player, I became aware of who was around me.  Behind me were two students age 13 and 14.  One of them  I started on violin in 3rd grade in a school program where I taught for 3 years.  The other I had in that same program, but have also taught privately for several years since.

Sitting over in the first violin section was a student of mine who just started studying at the university level.  I'd had him from the beginning until this year.  His stand partner is a woman in her 70s who had a stroke a few years ago. MY stand partner is a very well-known luthier (who just won a gold medal a few weeks ago in Cremona).  There is a woman in her 50s fighting cancer.  It struck me again how the music made peers of us all.  We are all equals.  It was an overwhelming moment, but I was struck with a sense of gratitude again.  

We get caught up in the details, schedules, demands of being musicians.  But we are lucky people....  so lucky.  I'm trying to bring gratitude and blessing back into the character of making music.  

From Amy Jean
Posted on November 8, 2009 at 5:23 PM

Wow. That is the most interesting and best article i've read so far. When you talked about getting caught up in your schedule and not having enough time to practice or participate in a concert, I understood where you were coming from. I'm a senior in high school and right now my schedule is very hectic. What with applying for colleges, studying for the SAT, keeping my grades up and not slacking off, I barely have time to practice. I participate in my school's string ensemble and I am a first violin. This year I moved up to the advanced class. We have a concert in December(the winter concert) and we have a six page piece called Bailes Para Orquesta. It's not that hard but you do need to practice. So this weekend I brought my violin home and today I am going to spend at least 3 hours practicing. Thats why I am really happy I did most of my hw yesterday=)

From Malcolm Turner
Posted on November 9, 2009 at 1:14 AM

What a lovely post. Yes, music is the great equalizer. It's the only area I know where it's REALLY true that if you're good enough, you're old enough, and where everyone IS equal. I started in a local youth orchestra and amateur orchestra, run by the same people and with the same conductor - a wonderful guy called Denis Clift. In his day, he was principal trumpet in the LSO, and had recorded the 2nd Brandenburg with Menuhin back in the days when nobody could play it. And he was on first-name terms with all of us youngsters. One of my colleagues there had some gigs with the RPO at the age of about 14 - yes, he was that good!.

The experience I got there was useful when I was lucky enough to get a job in a professional orchestra, and now after a career change 25 years ago, I'm back playing with the current local amateur orchestra, where again we have a complete range of ages and experience (, if anyone's brave enough to listen to us). It's interesting that, apart from the music teachers in the orchestra, 2 professions seem to dominate - medicine and engineering, which matches what I found in the student orchestra at university in Bristol.

Conversely, when I was playing professionally, musicians seem to have the widest range of outside interests of any group I've come across, and are usually good at whatever they do - maybe it's all to do with setting standards for yourself?

What I do know is that playing in an orchestra is possibly the greatest fun you can have in public without risking arrest!


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on November 9, 2009 at 11:21 AM

 I love that Vaughan Williams piece, it's lovely.  At different times I've played 3 of the violin parts (1st, 2nd, and 2nd in orchestra 2) but never the viola part.  It is inspiring, the kind of piece to make you love playing with a group of strings.

Our volunteer orchestra too is made up of many different walks of life.  In this area there seem to be a number of scientists and health care professionals, so I fit in ;)

But we have this old rule that you have to be 18 to play in the orchestra.  This rule is the reason that our longest-running member has only been in the orchestra for 75 of its 76 years.  The first year she wasn't allowed to join because she was only 17 :-(  But she still plays, at 92, and her granddaughter (who is about my age) also plays in the 2nd violin section.

The afterglow from a good concert lasts a long time!

From Ann Miller
Posted on November 9, 2009 at 4:31 PM

I started as an adult beginner at 40 just a few years ago.  Your post gives me hope that my love for the violin will continue and grow.  Thanks!

From Michael Divino
Posted on November 10, 2009 at 3:08 AM


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