V.com weekend vote: Is there joy in your music-making?

September 24, 2023, 1:19 PM · Playing the violin - or any stringed instrument - takes a lot of time, devotion and tenacity, for a student but also for a seasoned player.

That effort can feel exciting, for example: when you really love the music you are playing, when there is a performance to prepare, when one feels part of a group, or when you make a breakthrough and can now play something that once felt impossible.

happy violinist

Or it can feel like pain and frustration, in the midst of pressure to perform, or auditions, or criticism from others, or just a failure to meet your own expectations.

This week I have been working on an interview with a violinist/violist named Crystal Boyack,a teacher herself who was doing Suzuki violin with her young daughter. One day, she realized it was all work and no joy, so she came up with an entire curriculum called Wee Violin to help return to that joy with her daughter and her students - check this week for that interview.

Her story made me think about the fact that sometimes this happens, the joy is just not there. It's important to acknowledge this when it happens, so you can do something about it. While the violin requires a willingness to do difficult work, it's important to also seek out the joy in the music and to keep that fire burning, even if that means finding new directions - a new project, different genre of music to play, different people to play with, a more challenging goal, etc.

Please participate in the vote and share with us your experiences, with coming to a place of dejection with playing and/or with finding new joy in playing and new inspiration to do the work. Where are you at this point?

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September 24, 2023 at 10:39 PM · Like a lot of things in life, when there’s a chronic reduction in or total lack of joy/meaning, one must try to change IT, one’s approach to IT, and ultimately, ONESELF.

September 25, 2023 at 12:56 AM · In Nov. 2022, I picked up a fallen branch with my left hand and felt things pop in it. Most of the pain went away, but the tip of my 1st finger can no longer bend to it's base. No problem for single notes, but attempting a G-Bb chord near the end of a Kayser etude I've played since high school reminds me of what may be permanently in my past.

September 25, 2023 at 10:26 AM · "Time, devotion and tenacity" yes, "pain and frustration" none that I recall. Music-making for me isn't like climbing a mountain or running a race but enjoying a feast. Occasionally the standard of cooking leaves something to be desired.

September 25, 2023 at 04:27 PM · Well, maybe not "pain or frustration" but let's be honest: learning (and even just maintaining) a skill as complex as violin playing can not be achieved without setbacks. Call them "disappointment" if you don't like "frustration" but they do happen.

Plus there is "joy" and there is "frustration" but there is also a wide intermediate range: Things are more or less ok, not bad enough to be angry or sad but not good enough to be joyful either. Like most of life a lot of my musical practice comes that way quite often. And maybe this is how it should be: The joy is reserved for true high points in life and gains value exactly by not being around at all times.

September 25, 2023 at 05:18 PM · Long past performing, overcoming a variety of maladies, I still find joy in playing if only for myself, my wife and Ronnie the cat.

Much of the joy is the joy of accomplishment. Not unlike mastering complex equations, formulas, and other skills. Few of us get applause for doing something that is difficult. Rewarded but not applause.

Despite the problems I do find joy at maintaining skills. I can still claim to be a musician. Making music for myself is sufficient.

September 25, 2023 at 06:56 PM · Albrecht, I suspect our difference is purely a matter of definition. "En-joy-ment" can be obtained from as little as getting a phrasing exactly right.

September 25, 2023 at 08:54 PM · This evening I'll be playing quartets with friends. I'm the violist. The program includes Schumann Op. 41 No. 3. I'm terrified. I've worked on my parts, but the ensemble for this piece is so hard! Everyone else in my group has played it before. But ... its going to be a joyous evening. Everyone is forgiving and we take same tempos, and the program is wonderful. The other piece is Mozart K589.

Update -- we had a blast. Our first violinist nailed all the stratospheric stuff in the Mozart and we took sane tempos in the Schumann. And then there was wine and cheese afterward with plenty of laughter and, of course, gossip!

September 26, 2023 at 11:31 PM · I hope I don't sound too Polyanna-ish but I experience joy every time I pick up my violin...

September 27, 2023 at 09:29 PM · I voted “Yes, most of the time.” Being intentional about practice sessions - e.g., “I will start practicing today by 5:15 PM” - helps a lot. It also helps if I don’t practice any one item into the ground but, instead, intersperse practice drills with recreational playing - e.g., creative noodling or old rep already mastered. Additionally, I like to set a reasonable time to wrap the day’s session so that I still have good energy and motivation left for the next day’s effort.

I majored in performance, having had the ambition since childhood to become a symphony player; but near the end of the degree program, could see that orchestra playing really wasn’t the kind of music-making I wanted to fill my days and hours after all. The long evening hours for rehearsing and performing - and I’m NOT an evening/night person - were diminishing my enjoyment in making music. At 21 y/o, I abandoned the orchestra routine - and, indeed, abandoned the whole idea of doing music professionally. This lifted a big weight off my shoulders.

I’ve never regretted the decision. Doing chamber music and solo work as a serious amateur suits my personality and temperament better. Now, as an amateur, I get a lot more enjoyment out of playing and listening to music than I did as an aspiring professional.

September 28, 2023 at 08:46 PM · I can't even imagine playing music professionally. The pressures must be crushing. I'm a happy amateur - always trying to improve, but enjoying the trip along the way. Yes, it takes a bit of pushing to practise, but usually I'm working on repertoire for our community orchestra's next concert, and I easily get caught up in the music. Orchestra music is a lot of work, but when it all comes together the payoff is wonderful.

My other musical genre is bluegrass. This is totally informal - a bunch of us get together and jam, and it's amazing what pops up sometimes. In most circles there are tunes that everyone knows, and if not, many of them are simple enough that they're easy to pick up. There's a lot of improvising, which makes it more interesting. And if there are lyrics and some of us add some vocal harmonies, it's the ultimate in joy.

September 29, 2023 at 01:07 PM · I'm an amateur too, and playing the violin is almost always a pleasure.

Whether or not I experience joy, however, depends on the music. I tend to soak up whatever emotions the music carries, and the process feels almost medicinal.

It certainly helps that there is no pressure involved, and that I have only myself to please.

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