September 2013

Grad School After 40: Breaking Bad...

September 11, 2013 16:37

Habits, that is.

Breaking bad habits.

Going back to graduate school at “my age” is a very humbling venture. As I sit in solo class each week and scan the room, with the exception of perhaps my professor, I’ve been playing the violin for longer than my classmates have been on the planet. Here’s some perspective…I’m even older than my professor! Not by much, but still. Even among the graduate students, many are fresh from undergraduate programs and have very little life experience behind them. I have already done many of the things they are aspiring to do.

However, in spite of the advantages that life experience, age, and wisdom have given me, there are some disadvantages to longevity.

One thing is clear: I still have much to learn.

One of the disadvantages to longevity is that bad habits I’ve developed over the years are much more deeply entrenched, and therefore much harder to break. Take my bowing for instance. I learned how to hold a bow when I was 10 years old, as a 5th grader first learning the violin. Yet, here I am, over 30 years later, revisiting bowing techniques, strokes, and grips that have gotten lazy, stiff, or sloppy. Another bad habit is lack of discipline. I have had to learn once again how to practice on a regular basis. I can no longer go any significant length of time without touching my instrument. I’ve revisited scales and etudes that I’ve not looked at in years. I never stopped playing violin after getting my undergraduate degree in 1993…in fact, I’ve played constantly; in orchestras, doing weddings, church gigs, even around the world. But there have not been the kinds of demands placed on me like there are now that a higher degree is at stake. In many ways, I feel like I’m learning the violin all over again, going back to pick up things I missed, reinforcing things I always knew but just never implemented, digging into uncharted territory…

…and breaking bad.

Habits, that is! Yeah!

It truly is an adventure! But I am loving every minute of it. Even the parts I hate, I love…if that makes any sense! I don’t believe this journey would have meant nearly as much to me at any other time in my life before now, which goes to show at least one definite advantage to being older: appreciating the opportunities and cherishing the joyful moments that life brings, milking them for all their worth!

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Grad School after 40: Second Semester Update

September 7, 2013 08:36

My 2nd semester as a graduate student is in full swing! I am well on my way to earning a Master of Music in Violin Performance in December 2014. I started in January this year, and it took all of Spring Semester for me to just wrap my head around the idea of being a student again, grasping technology (which has changed quite a bit in 20 years) and musically getting back in shape to meet the demands of a graduate program.

Now, it’s time to get to work!

This semester I am taking another full course load. Two classes are pre-requisites to the actual graduate-level courses: Musicology and Music Theory review. Before I can tackle the grad-level courses in those subjects, I have to essentially cram 4 years’ worth of Music History and Music theory review (that I studied TWENTY years ago) in one semester. Yikes. So far, so good…I got an A on my first theory exam! But I have a ways to go. Especially in remembering what those Roman Numerals and superscript numbers are for. V7 of what? Neapolitan II6 who? Subdominants, cadences, progressions, oh my! I have not seen roman numeral analysis since the last theory course I took two decades ago. And I hope I never see it again after I earn this degree! I love history anyway, so that ought not be a problem. I can appreciate it more now since I myself have an actual personal history…something I did not have much of in my 20s. I can appreciate how things change with the passage of time. *grin* Fortunately, I (finally) passed the Ear Training diagnostic exam, so that’s at least one thing I can put behind me!

I will be writing a paper this semester for a course called “Special Topics in Performance”. My chosen topic is Overcoming Performance Anxiety in Violin Playing. This is a topic I look forward to digging into…something we all deal with, but nobody really talks about. I wish this had been addressed more openly in my formative musical years. How can we incorporate techniques of dealing with nerves in our training of young violinists? How can we as performers learn to manage the troubling symptoms of “nerves”? Why do we see having performance anxiety as a sign of weakness? Let the dialogue begin!

On to my performance courses:

*There’s the University Symphony Orchestra. We are preparing for a concert very soon, and the program is: Triumphal March from “Aida”, Prelude to “Die Meistersinger”, and Dvorak Symphony No. 8.

*Chamber Music: I am part of another string quartet this semester. New personnel, and new repertoire. I’ve traded in Brahms C minor for Beethoven’s “Harp” quartet, No. 10 Opus 74 Eb major. We haven’t even read through it yet, so not much to report there so far.

*Studio Orchestra…lots of good band/jazz/contemporary music, which equals quite a few whole notes for the strings with the occasional impossible lick thrown in…but still a fun class.

*Orchestra Repertoire…The two excerpts I’m working on this semester are from Brahms Symphony No. 4. My goal is to audition for the local symphony in about a year, by which time I think I’ll be ready. Right now I just want to hone my craft and focus on school.

Last but not least, the “main course”:

*Lessons and solo class. This is, by far, my favorite part of the graduate school experience, and the whole reason I’m here…because of the teacher and the lessons. I really, really like my professor and I have a great deal of respect for him as both a colleague (we actually used to be in symphony together) and an instructor. Right now I am still working on the Khachaturian (continuation from last semester), and Vitali “Chaconne”. Eventually I will add in the Debussy Violin Sonata, and we’ll see after that. In a years’ time, I will have to do a graduate recital. Eek. But for now…

My ultimate goal is simply to become a better violinist, and I am confident that I am on the right path to achieve this goal. It is so important to find the right person and program to get you on that path, and I think my teacher and my university is exactly what I need right now. It’s amazing what bad habits one can develop over many years’ time…habits that are not so easy to break, but my teacher hones right in on them and seems to know just what to do. He has high expectations, demands excellence and builds up, which to me is a sign of an excellent teacher. I have noticed a big difference in my playing already, and I’m not even halfway through the program!

I believe the best is yet to come!

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