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Kimberly  Simpkins

School Daze

February 15, 2013 at 4:02 AM

It has been a bit over a month since I started graduate school. (You can read that story here.)

Since then, my life and my schedule have been turned upside down…in a good way!

First of all, as you may recall from my previous posts, it has been 20 years since I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Violin Performance. Let’s just say that the college experience in 2013 is light years apart from the college experience of 1993. To accentuate this point, here’s some perspective: when I took conducting in the ‘90s, we used big, bulky VHS tapes to record ourselves. In the new millennium, we use teeny tiny SD cards. When I was taking said conducting class in 1993, some of my new classmates weren’t even born yet. I asked for a course catalog one day, and was told “we haven’t printed course catalogs since 2007. It’s all online now.” The last time I played a concerto (the solo part, that is) was for my senior recital. In the university orchestra, I could be my stand partner’s mother.

So, yep, it’s been awhile.

I realized the first week that I am way out of shape, and not just musically! Right now on our campus, a brand new, state-of-the-art-music building is being built, which is going to be fantastic. In the meantime, though, the School of Music is spread out in 3 different buildings, in 3 different parts of campus. The way this campus is laid out, one has to park in the back of beyond and walk. Not so bad…but this campus also happens to sit on hilly terrain, so to this 41 year old out of shape body, I feel more like I’m hiking than walking. Especially hauling a backpack (mine, not my 9 year old’s!) and a violin around. The good news is that hopefully with all this walking I can shed some of that plus-40 excess poundage by the end of the semester! Maybe I’ll even get off the beta blocker I take for high blood pressure.

Or not. *smile*

Then, there’s the music. Here’s the list:

*Khachaturian Violin Concerto in D Minor, 1st movement
*Bartok Romanian Dances
*Brahms C Minor Quartet, 1st movement
*Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (1st violin, a part I’ve never played even though I’ve done this symphony 3 other times)
*Orchestral Excerpts: Mozart Symphony No. 39 and Don Juan
*Studio Orchestra (which is more like jazz/big band/movie score type stuff)

Different kinds of music that require different kinds of playing.

It’s all just what I need, too! My professor picked the perfect pieces for me to work on. Not overly difficult, but challenging enough to get my juices flowing. I’m not used to playing 1st violin. In my teens and 20s, being in 1st violin was the Promised Land of the orchestra. But as I got older, I discovered that 2nd violin was really nothing to be ashamed of. I found myself to be quite content playing a supporting role, and to not have to count so many ledger lines.


I no longer have the luxury of hiding. My teacher purposely picked pieces that require me to “play out”. Quartet requires me to “play out” and “lead”. I’m getting reacquainted with the stratospheric ranges of the violin. I’m way out of my comfort zone…and loving every minute of it!

Graduate school is not without its challenges musically, but personally and even mentally it has been an adjustment for me as well.

At this point in my life I find myself parenting alone. Maneuvering schedules with a school age child takes some creativity. Thankfully I have an amazing support system, and I could not do this without my wonderful family. Financially, it is a challenge too. Graduate school is my full time job right now. Again, thank God for my support system. That, and a wonderful assistantship have definitely helped. I firmly believe in that saying “where God guides, He provides.” Our needs are met.

It has been a challenge to find time to practice. I have a healthy daily commute. I have a child to get ready for school, who needs to eat, who needs a mom. Life is definitely more complicated now than it was when I was 20 years younger. But, that repertoire is not going to just appear in my fingers. I grab practice time whenever I can get it, which means I go for quality over quantity time. I am discovering new meanings of “time management!”

My biggest challenge has actually not been the music, or the parenting, or trying to make life work. My number one challenge of being a graduate student right now is my epic battle with insecurites and lack of confidence in myself as a violinist. My biggest battlefield has been in my head. I’ve been hearing some feedback that I do not recall ever being told before: “You need to play with more authority! You need to play out more! Bigger sound! Don’t be afraid of the notes!” I could probably devote an entire post to the running dialogue that goes through my head when I’m playing, but suffice it to say that banishing the negative self-talk has proven to be the most difficult part of this journey. Fortunately, I am in a very nurturing, positive, supportive environment. I feel that I am around people who believe in me, which I really need to carry me right now until I am able to believe in myself more. By semester’s end, I believe I will be a different person!

From elise stanley
Posted on February 15, 2013 at 8:58 PM
You're my hero!
Going back to school to study violin is one of my fantasies - so fantastic to see you've done it. I listened to your auditoin piece (on the previous blog) and can see why they were so enthusiastic about havingyou back. You play beautifully with gorgeous tone.

The fear of failure as an older student is totally normal and can be self-destructive. I think the only thing that cures it is experience and the realization that yes, you really still are competetive. But it may help to also realize that because you are older and with all the 'stuff' that that life had endured, you have far more to say whan you play - people will pick up on that as I did with your Havanaise.

Good luck, fight the good fight - it will certainly help me if I ever pluck up the courage (and obviously can get good enough) to follow your track.

From Christian Linke
Posted on February 16, 2013 at 8:49 AM
I know this feeling. I have seen your video of Saint Saens' Havanaise, beautiful tone.

You know, I started to overcome those certain insecurities by approaching it the following way:

Whenever I am standing in front of someone, waiting for my performance, I keep in mind that I know the music piece that I'm going to play. I know that it's a beautiful piece, and that it brought so much joy to myself when I heard it the first time. It still does. The reason why I became a musician and learned those pieces is because I value them so much. They mean a lot to the human ear. Instead of thinking of it as a duty or an expectation to play it well, I see it as an opportunity. They are standing here, giving me their attention. They want to listen to something beautiful, and I can offer them this. Both the listener and the player have the same goal. There really is nothing to lose. If I mess up, they forget about it within a day. So how about I just try to give them the most beautiful sounding performance that I can. That's what I do, at least.

From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 16, 2013 at 11:18 AM
Elise, Thank you so much for your comment and compliments! If you want to go back to study violin, I say go for it! My main motivation was simply wanting to be a better violinist. That was actually what I was after when I met with the professor, and it turned into something more than I expected. You never know how it will work out when you just step out. I was truly pleasantly surprised, and I have no regrets. Go for it!

I wish you the best in your pursuits! :)

From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 16, 2013 at 11:23 AM
Hi, Christian! Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your kind words, and that is great advice. I can sometimes get so bogged down in trying to be perfect and have flawless execution that I end up playing anxious, robotic and timid instead of free and strong. But you are right, it is a wonderful opportunity to give the gift of beauty, and sometimes you just have to let it go. Thanks! :)
From Brecklyn Ferrin
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 1:45 AM
I am really enjoying your posts! I just finished my masters degree and am pregnant with my first baby. I'm hoping to go back one day and do my DMA, and you are an inspiration! I would be curious to know how you have juggled practicing and parenting.
From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 12:36 PM
Hi, Brecklyn!

Thanks for stopping by! Congratulations on your first baby! It is very tricky to juggle parenting and practicing! Right now the advantage I have is that my daughter is 9 years old, and I only have one child vs. multiple age children. She goes to school, so I can squeeze in practice in the mornings after she leaves and before I head out to campus. Also, I have some breaks between classes on certain days, so I use that time to go to the practice rooms on campus and saw away. When she was younger, especially really little, it was more challenging to find time to practice, but it was ok because my main "job" at that point was motherhood anyway. I've learned over the years to just grab practice as I can get it, even if it's only 10 minutes here and there throughout the day, or sometimes even week. It's better than nothing! But now with graduate school, that's no longer enough so I have to be creative. Looks like late nights and early mornings are my best times right now! Not my ideal, but it is what it is. Hope that helps!

From Cecille Gove
Posted on February 18, 2013 at 3:02 AM
I am so amazed at your musical journey. What a gift you have for music. You are so blessed by God about it. You not only are a good musician but a good writer. Thanks for sharing and keep us posted !
From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 18, 2013 at 4:57 AM
Cecille, thanks for stopping by! Yes, I think anyone who is able to do music is indeed blessed by God. And thanks for the compliments on my writing! I find writing to be every bit as therapeutic is playing violin.

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