Creativity in a Vacuum

December 31, 2020, 11:56 PM · 2020 has been a strange year indeed for all of us: suddenly thrust into online learning, working, and everything "remote," devoid of one-on-one human contact.

online violin

For musicians, this has been especially troublesome. While Zoom and other like technologies has worked well for many industries to collaborate with others, it fails spectacularly for collaborative musicians. The "lag" over the net makes it impossible to make music with each other in real time (though there are a few platforms that are making headways in this regard, they are limited).

My private lessons migrated to FaceTime. This has been surprisingly successful. Without in-person contact with my teacher, I have been forced to learn how to improve my own playing through self discipline, with the guidance of my teacher. In other words, learning how to practice on my own.

The singular goal my teacher had for me this year was to correct my bow hold. Even though it took months, it was something that was easily addressed remotely through observation and verbal correction. It was sometimes frustrating, but over the course of a few months I was slowly able to develop a more relaxed and responsive bow hand. By reducing the focus of my lessons to things easily observable over the net, I was able to focus on one thing and "fix" it.

A decade ago I had a goal to learn all the Bach cello suites to some degree of competency before I turned 40. I achieved that goal January 16, 2010. Afterwards I thought about tackling composers A-Z. That was a goal I soon gave up for a lost cause for various reasons.

This year my goal became more like that of a decade ago, but with no time limit: learn all the Beethoven Quartets. The quartets are heavily relied upon in my annual summer chamber music camps. I have studied many but not all of them over the years. What better time to learn the rest of them than now? Rather than start at the beginning, I'm starting in the middle with the Op 59 quartets. Why? Why not?

There is nothing but time on my hands to take on such a challenge.


January 3, 2021 at 01:17 AM · Thanks for writing this, Mendy. After 10 months of online viola lessons, I have finally begun to see the progress they've brought about. It was rocky going for a long time.

Without my string quartet to guide my practice, I haven't had a real goal to sink my teeth into. The Bach Cello Suites are something I'd really like to start. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be ready for the Beethoven SQ's for a long time. (I do love the Rasumovsky's.)

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