August 15, 2009 at 10:56 PM
Have you ever taken a break from playing the violin? And if so, how long was it?
As the summer winds down here in the northern hemisphere, I've noticed a number of different approaches to the violin vacation. Some people take a conscious break; others slack off and feel tremendously guilty, wanting to flog themselves like Dobby the house elf.
As for me, I just had a happy reunion with my fiddle, which sat in the violin shop for a month while I drove around the United States with my family, and a mandolin.
I actually enjoyed delving into the mandolin, practicing frequently until my fingers burned (if you want serious callouses, take up the mando). The book that helped and inspired me most was Sam Bush Teaches Mandolin. Applying my Suzuki preaching to myself, I listened frequently to the CD that went with the book.
Of course, this was Bluegrass ("New Grass"?), and I made some interesting discoveries on this musical journey. For example, if I simply read the notes on the page, the result sounded nothing like music. Somehow, after all the scales and Kreutzer, square playing on the violin doesn't bother me, but on the mandolin, it sounded absurd. Not just absurd. I couldn't listen to it, I couldn't play it. Those eighth notes on the page are just a rough guide, and if you don't swing it, slide around a little, add some extra notes, noodle some...well, why bother? It's totally unsatisfying.
So I endeavored to swing and slide and make things interesting, all on an instrument that's new to me, if familiar (it's tuned the same way as a violin). I was really too occupied with all this to be missing my violin, or even thinking about it very much. And though I didn't become the next Sam Bush, nor did I expand my violin repertoire, I do believe that I shook myself out of a rut.
When I returned home a few days ago, I suddenly wanted my violin back, NOW. I wanted it like I want a drink of water after running three miles on a sweltering day.
I went to the shop, without calling ahead. "I don't know where Barry put your violin," said my friend in the shop, "just look for it while I get your bow." So I started looking at the dozens of violins hanging on the wall, sitting in alcoves... looking for my familiar friend and partner, like I was seeking the familiar face of a loved one in a sea of strangers at the airport or train station. I was just beginning to feel dismayed when she emerged from another room, "I found it!" I took it home with new strings, new hair on the bow, even new rosin ("Andrea" = "Tartini" resurrected)
My violin! It sounded loud, right there against my ear, unlike the mandolin. But this reunion was like those reunions with the best of friends: no scolding for the long absence. We were just happy to be together. Somehow, I knew I would play for a very long time, and I would not be playing any scales, cracking an etude book or getting out the metronome. I ignored the prissy super-ego voice inside, telling me to warm up.
I've been warming up for 32 years; today I'm going to play!
Your vote and comments below:
I couldn't play when I went through basic training in the Air Force, or Air Force tech school. So my longest break was about 6 months.
One week and a few days a few times.
One week in New Orleans.
I found a lovely violinist playing outside a coffee house playing a pretty black painted electric violin near the town square by the river. She invited me to play hers but I got self consciencous. Also I felt very guilty that I did not bring my violin with me--I have in the past took it with me on vacation and practiced with a "mute" on my bridge.
I'm now Prioress of a small contemplative monastery. Violin is my primary instrument; but there have been long stretches in my life when I've been busy with organ, singing, and composing, to say nothing of my other community responsibilities, and the violin has languished. I find that when I come back to the violin, my technique may be a little rusty (lots of the repertoire I studied in my youth would be over my head now), but my overall musicality and sensitivity has often grown and deepened through the intervening experience of other media --- and probably just general life experiences. I played a performance yesterday on the basis of two days' practice after an interval of maybe a year and a half, and a number of people came up to me remarking on how beautiful it was.
I had an involuntary break of about 6 years, starting in 1994, when I developed severe chronic hand pain that rendered it impossible to practice enough to maintain enough form to perform in public. I thought at the time that I was all done with playing the violin.
Late in 1999, I decided to go on a low-carb diet, mainly to be supportive of my wife, who was going on low-carb in order to better control her diabetes. One of the things that I did was to cut back the carbs gradually, and keep a detailed diet log. Not sure why I made that decision, but it enabled me to make several significant discoveries, the most important of which was that I am gluten-sensitive. Three days after I eliminated all grain from my diet, the hand pain suddenly and completely disappeared. It only recurs if I eat a substantial amount of gluten-grain food. (One other significant side-effect of the low-carb diet was the loss of a little over 100 lbs, which I have now maintained for 10 years)
When the hand pain went away, I returned to practicing, but a 6-year deficit is tough to overcome. I did resume teaching, and I have had a very nice and enjoyable side-income from that for about 5 years now.
the family and I flew to New Zealand (south island, Akaroa/Christchurch) for a 6 wk vacation in 2005. The thought of being away from my violin that long scared me so badly, so I packed up one of my cheaper fiddles and grabbed a few etude books just to keep in shape.
My longest break was four months, which wasn't a choice in the survey, so I rounded it up to 6 months for my vote. It was following neck surgery three years ago (doctor's orders!).
My longest break was 10 years! Sounds a lot but after the birth of my first child we moved interstate. I had no contact with other musicians and although I had my instrument with me I had no real desire to play at that point. 10 years later when my youngest child was about two we had been back in our home state for a while and someone I'd studied at the Conservatorium with rang me. They were moving to another part of the state and asked if I could take on a couple of their students. I was a bit dubious, thinking I'd probably lost all I'd learned, but in the end said yes. It would bring in a little extra cash. What happened as I gradually got back into things was quite remarkable. The more I taught, the more I remembered. And this surprised me a lot. I think the hardest thing was knowing in my head what I wanted my fingers to do but not being able to do it as well as I knew I was capable of. I can't say when I really felt truly proficient again. It took time and patience, but it DID come back! I feel I played much better after the break - more maturely and more intelligently. That was probably due to life experiences as well though. You don't have four children and remain the same!
On the whole I think having a break is a good thing (though I'm not advocating 10 years for everyone!). As a child I rarely touched the violin over the summer break and on returning I would be able to play easily pieces I'd found quite hard previously. I think there is something that happens between the ears during a break - and it's good!
I took a 3 week long vacation in June and first week of July, both to rest my shoulders which had started to hurt often after playing and I also went to London with my gal pals and I was hardly going to take my violin along with the 5 of us sleeping together in room and none of them but me likes violin ;-) I am finishing a 10 day long break right now since I was finishing work and then went abroad. To me it felt good to rest from my violin and I felt really restored when I began playing again. I of course sounded not perfect when playing firts after my break and it took a while to tune my violin but it was like reuniting with an old friend and I discovered that my bowing technique in spiccato had improved and my A Minor scale sounded good :)
Summer of '85, when I was 15, I fell off a horse and cracked a bone in my left hand. Three weeks in a cast. Bleh. No long term damage, but I did give up riding.
it was literally the most depressing 2+ years of my life. so much going on internally and I couldn't sort it out. playing the violin helps me process life in such a subtle way that I never noticed I needed to play until I had stopped. I will never do that again. I mean there were other circumstances (nothing happens in a vacuum, right?!) but I firmly believe that not playing exacerbated my depression.
blecch. gives me shivers just thinking about it.
I voted two years, but that was after I quit school to go back to work. I was discouraged and exhausted and ready to give up. Unfortunately My playing really suffered,; I lost a lot of technique suring that time. But I had another longer stretch when I graduated fro, high school to get married and start a family. I didn't have much time for playing during thos years, though I did try, but for the most par my violin sat untouched for something like 17 years! By the time I picked it up again, I was a beginner again!
A friend of mine who is a well known concert artist once told me that he usually took a month away from the violin each year and upon his return, in a few days of practice was back to his usual top form. That was never my personal experience since even a couple of days effect my playing.
3 months of being in the hospital when I was in high school, and more recently, 3 weeks to allow an injury to heal.
Interesting how many concert violinists took breaks from the violin, ranging from taking a day off every week (e.g. Menuhin, Heifetz), to taking month-long breaks or more.
"....Even Lovers Need A Holliday, Far Away......From Each Ooooooooother!".....Chicago (I think?)
One week and a half for final exams in college... It KILLS me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I sweared to myself nothing would ever make me stop though even the toughest studies! My violin is the most important (no 1) in my heart and will always remain...
Two months when I broke a bone in my left hand last year. My doctor had to threaten me with never being able to play comfortably again if I didn't let it heal!
Laurie, have you tried transferring any of your mandolin tunes over to your fiddle? I'm curious about whether your new-found swing would transfer as well.
My siblings and I decided to do a practice everyday contest and see how long each of us could go. By highschool, I had made it up to about 6 1/2 years of practicing everyday. Unfortunately, I forgot one day driving to a music camp (of all things) and didn't remember until I woke up the next morning. I was pretty upset about it. I think my camp roomates thought I was really crazy for being upset about not practicing.
I quit violin at age 12, played it (reluctantly) 3 years in college (age 19 to 22), quit at age 22 until age 32, practiced hard until 38, quit again. Started playing popular music at age 42. Been playing it steadily since then. (20 years).
I teach, so I rarely take a full break, but there have been times where practice gets pushed away for a while. It's a mix....I lose all my technique, which is no good b/c my formative years were NOT good technique so I really have to work to get the right stuff back in. but every time I come back I feel like I'm building up again with more insight into my own playing, technical and musical. Of course, that does no good if I let life get back in the way before I get built up into actual forward progress.
Every couple of years, two weeks while away on holiday, having left my fiddle at home.
Doesn't stop the earworms, though, nor the working things out by moving my fingers.
And if I can find a violin shop, I am in there trying fiddles.
Good blog, Laurie. I am glad that you two close friends are reunited. I have a question, though. Since I am an amateur violinist, why leave the violin with the violin shop? Did you leave it there for a sound adjustment while you were away or just to keep it safe and cared for? I just wondered.
I voted two weeks, but it's really been ten days. I was on a trip in which I played viola every day. So, I did play a similar instrument every day. It was so hard to get back into playing violin, though.
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