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Mendy Smith

Day 14 - Reality Sets In

February 16, 2009 at 3:35 AM

As audition time looms closer, I had to ask:  What in the world was I thinking of audition with the Bloch?  Could I somehow magically make up all those lost years on viola in a matter of a few months?   I am certainly trying to do just that with the time that I have available to me.  Am I nuts?  Probably.  What I didn't quite expect was the reply I got back from my teacher.  Normally I get a one-liner, but not this time, and all of what he said to me was entirely true. 

I'm behind on viola, and not by a little (at the age of 38 with a 20 year break in my playing, this does not come as a surprise).  I'm just now starting to truly realize what it takes to make beautiful music, and it takes years (plural) of constant practice - not mere weeks - to get where I want to be.  I need to realize my limitations going into this audition.  The time I've been putting in this effort might not be enough to win.   However he thought what I was doing was "cool", and said that the judges would be impressed with my dedication but probably would not realize what I had to go through to be able to play a piece like the Bloch (which is monumental in my eyes at least). 

This confirmed what I've been trying not to admit to myself over the past week - I have a slim chance of winning the scholarship audition.  I'm still going forward with the audition and keeping up my practice regime. Rather than continually trying to delude myself that  I can actually win this audition, my goal is now more realistic:  for the first time in my life, I'd like to stand on a stage and perform, focused on expressing the music and not my personal fears of making a mistake. 

If by some miracle I win the scholarship, all the better.  But no matter what happens in the audition, I will still win in a much more personal sense. In that regard, I have already won.  I've managed to stave off depression after being laid-off, and found a way to achieve personal accomplishments each and every day.  My music has become the benefactor of my suddenly free time I now have available to me.

With all this in mind, practice today changed in a way I can't quite explain - it became much more intense.  I started focusing on my tone production in a way that I've never had before, eyes glued to the bow for its sounding point and straightness, focusing on trying to maintain a continuous vibrato, clear tone, and really working on trying to reproduce that "dark chocolate" sound only a viola can make.  The piece is now memorized.  The notes are in tune for the most part.  I can now to put my efforts into those areas that make the music come alive. 

The question then becomes what happens next.   The way this economy is right now, it could be months if not longer until I get back in the ranks of the employed.  When I do manage to find a new job, my music will be regulated back to a part-time hobby and my progress will stagnate once again.  This is probably my one and only opportunity to make up for some of those lost years and catch-up musically while hunting for a new job. 

As my teacher said:  "Keep up the amazing work,  your enjoyment down the road will be all the greater, however and wherever you play your viola."

So very true....

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 16, 2009 at 3:47 PM

I've enjoyed following this journey so far in your blog.  It's been something that's stayed with me when I'm not on the computer, something to think about in off hours.  Probably because there are quite a few parallels in our musical lives--violas, technology jobs, community orchestras, long breaks from playing and picking it up again, electronic tuners ;-)

I've been musing lately that it's really too bad that music is, generally, not a career one can start in later life, when one has the benefit of wisdom and experience.  It's like you have to follow a certain path into a career in music, preferably starting at age 3 (or younger if possible), or not at all.  (But maybe you'll be one of those who prove that wrong)

I'm biased, but I think we as a society lose something in that process.  When you say you're "behind," of course you are behind where you could have been if you'd been playing your viola all that time you were doing computer science, and I guess you're also "behind" those kids who play elaborate concertos at age 11.  But I really want to say "so what?"  You did so much else during those years.  I mean, it's not as if the world needs yet another child prodigy playing a stringed instrument.  There aren't enough recording contracts, and audiences, for those who are already out there.

I agree with Joel (and you) that you've already won a great deal from what you've put into this, regardless of the scholarship outcome.  Like you, I feel like I'm just beginning to understand the lifelong rewards that come from an increase in dedication and skill, from trying to take my playing to the next level.  You'll get so much more out of playing, wherever and whenever you do it, the better you are and the more you can do on your instrument.


From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 18, 2009 at 7:33 AM


I'm thrilled that you are are enjoying this journey as much as I am, and I'm appreciative of the feedback you have given me informally.  It means alot to me to have a "comrad in lives and instruments" on the other side of the country. 

One thing I learned long ago is that if my music could just touch ONE person, in a very personal sense, then I would have accomplished something that most cannot.  I'm lucky to have done that at least twice now in my lifetime.  The amount of support I've recieved over the past few weeks have been amazing, from my teacher to friends such as you giving some time out of their day to listen to my music either live or through a recording to give feedback and advice. 

It is truly mind-boggling.   I just hope I can survive this audition without quivering in my own boots.

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