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Mendy Smith

Taming the Viola Garden

April 30, 2011 at 6:56 AM

When I  first moved to Houston, I got involved in the local amateur music scene with a vengeance from day one:  private lessons, two community orchestras, performances at church, pit orchestras, concerts in the park.  You name it, I did it.  At the time it was a good strategy.  I made several new friends and never had a moment when I sat on the couch wishing I was back on the West Coast.  It was a great way to make Houston a "home" and not simply a place I was living in at the moment.

Two years later, I'm finding myself in a situation where I'm having to cut back.  The weekends where I used to spend my time doing household chores and practicing throughout the day developing my skills were quickly filled with driving back and forth between lessons, rehearsals, and concerts.  The fire was burning itself out.  It turned out to be too much of a good thing.  It is difficult to say "No" to the various activities and events, however I'm learning to do it.  Lessons are being moved from the weekend back to a weekday.  Chamber music is a priority over orchestral music, and I'm playing in one pit and one pit alone over the summer.  Interlochen is still a summer vacation priority - I wouldn't miss it for the world. 

With my weekends reclaimed, my viola garden is tamed.  Goodbye to a stand overgrown with pieces that I never have enough time to master.  Goodbye to shelving all the etudes and scales that I really need to be working on to improve.  Hello to a few hours outside in the garden each weekend.  Hello again to the luxury of time to really work my technique. 


From Corey Worley
Posted on May 1, 2011 at 4:43 AM

 I really need to look at taming my viola garden as well! Saying no is one of the hardest things for me to do. It makes me feel, "famous" or "wanted" for ensembles and it makes  my little ego elf on my shoulder very happy. Great post :)

From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 1, 2011 at 1:41 PM

 Good for you for your successful pruning! Not an easy task. I see how I overcrowd my free time, and it's all with stuff I like, and thus hard to trim things out, so I just try harder to squeeze it in, in less time, and this, as we all know, is not the best long-term solution. So, I very much admire your pruning success!

From Christina C.
Posted on May 2, 2011 at 3:23 PM

 I swear you & I are living in parallel universes in different time zones (you are 1 hr behind me!). I'd say you're close to where I was about 2 years ago when I started cutting down on my orchestral activities, doing more chamber music , and restarting lessons to work strictly on technique rather than pieces. I still do my yearly pit gig & another small orchestra both of which only rehearse a couple of weeks leading up to the show/ concert & I love not having the week in & week out of having to go to rehearsal. If you'd like a glimpse of your potential future, I can tell you that I do miss the social aspect of orchestra & am less in touch w/ some of my orchestra friends than I'd like. I'm also missing out on some pieces that I'd like to play and just the whole experience of being a part of these huge wonderful pieces. Not quite enough to make me go back, though.. chamber music is infinitely more fulfilling & rewarding. This time of year tends to be crunch-time for orchestras preparing for their last concerts of the season and instead,  I'm very happy to have already put in a lot of work on the pieces I'll playing for my summer chamber music workshops.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 2, 2011 at 4:24 PM

 Mendy, this is very symbolic, and I think it's a cycle that many musicians, professional or amateur, can fall into. Free-lancing is much the same game. The problem is that if you say "yes" to everything, your life is no longer your own. 

From Amy S.
Posted on May 4, 2011 at 2:10 AM

Great post, Mendy!  This sounds so familiar -- I feel as if I could have written it.  I think I have fallen into the same trap myself.  I've had to drop out of a few groups recently - due to injury - which should probably be telling me something!  Hoping I'm back in good shape for Interlochen...

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