Is it useless sometime?

July 2, 2007 at 02:04 PM · Does it happen that sometime playing violin seems to be a useless activity compared with all the concrete problems which can find in our life especially for no professional violinist?

Replies (28)

July 2, 2007 at 03:11 PM · well not for me, it isn't. and i think experts agree that playing music is very beneficial for our soul/mind or something. i have to admit that there are times when i think that i should use my "violin time" for something else (like improving my driving!!! my goodness i'm 17 already and until now i actually never drove faster than 60 km/hour!).

but then again, i'd much prefer to play the violin if i have the choice, because it keeps me sane haha. though sometimes i wonder why there's only 24 hours a day, not 28 or 32 or something. hm.


July 2, 2007 at 03:51 PM · It seems to me that some of the most important things we do in life are not practical or even necessary. In a discussion about this very topic a few years ago, one of my colleagues asked, "What's so necessary about getting married, or having children, or playing a musical instrument?" The question probably should be, is it something meaningful and fulfilling and important to us? To violin playing (as well as marriage and children), I give a hearty "yes."


July 2, 2007 at 05:37 PM · When I lived in New York City and was studying voice weekly and having 2-3coachings a week, the arts seemed to me a matter of life and death. Now living in Tampa Bay where i hear performances that frequently feel as though very little has been risked by the performers I've developed a different perspective. What we do may seem important but it is still play as compared with the rest of the world. I usede to think art was a matter of life and death I no longer am so sure.

July 3, 2007 at 05:36 AM · This is a great question, as it has touched not only on the issue whether it’s meaningful or beneficial to play the violin, but a fundamental question why we play the violin RATHER THAN doing something more concrete or tangible or more meaningful. When we pursue something necessarily we are giving up doing a whole lot of other things that might be more worthy – an intriguing question for any reflective person.

If one looks at it as an activity, then as Milstein said, it’s kind of silly for a grownup to spend a lot of time scratching the violin. The same can be said about other artistic and academics activities. I think the answer has to come from action and experience. Go out and do a whole bunch of more "concrete" activities, such as save people's life, help the poor and needy and save the world in whatever way strikes your fancy. A lot of us did that but come back to violin with great certainty and commitment. I personally know a few classically trained musicians went off and never come back, but are leading a happy and fulfilled life.

Another way to look at it is a relationship -- a relationship between you and the violin, somewhat like a relationship with a close friend or a lover. If the violin is a "keeper", then the meaning of the activity of playing it instead of doing something else should be obvious.

July 2, 2007 at 07:17 PM · I asked myself this question as well, when I was younger,because of course, everyone wants to be very usefull in life, to try to find the sense, and get as much as you can out of it, bringing out something new, but when I listen to Rachmaninov, or Prokoffiev, Ysaye and many others, in different interpretations, perceptions about life and the spiritual dimenssion, I realise it is the most useful thing,it has in it, at some level, all the states of mind and spirit, that others lived, geniuses,maybe not even they knew, but they left us what was difficult to bring out, made it easier for some can live at another level, much more superior, and ....hoping that one day you will be able to understand everything, but actually , I guess, in looking lays all the magic. But that doesn't mean you cant do other things as well.....even giving them much importance...I think sometimes it is more important to live, to be able to play very good, or understand music better.

July 2, 2007 at 08:03 PM · It would take a long time to give real answer, but I think if you're satisfied with something, then you think it's the most important thing. Violin-wise, I think there are two kinds, those who earn a living with it and those who don't. In the former case, it really is the most important thing, in the second case it's an imagined most important thing. But it's vital to have some pleasure it life, so whatever does that for you. If you fall into the second category, don't let it limit your interests, or impinge on your other abilities, because it really isn't an important thing, to you, in terms of what you can do and produce and understand.

July 2, 2007 at 07:59 PM · The thing about art is it has no purpose, no function. For the average person it doesn't feed or cloth us, it doesn't cure violence or hunger, it cannot cure cancer or shrink a tumor.

The thing about art, any art, it is a means to communicate beyond all verbal or written language. It encompasses the human condition in all its pain and joy. It is art that enhances our existence, maybe because it doesn't have any function or purpose in a strictly utilitarian world.

I've been playing for 10 days. I sound like a cat on fire and I don't care. I know if I put in the time on the violin that eventually I will not sound like a cat in heat. I want to play because it is beautiful (or might one day be) and by virtue of the fact that I breathe in and out, I deserve to enjoy beauty.

July 2, 2007 at 09:39 PM · Compared to what most people do most of the time in modern society, it's not that much a waste of time (especially when I can play a 1-hour wedding and make $100).

Just consider: playing moronic computer games for hours a day. Sending text messages with little real communicative value. Watching moronic "reality" tv. Playing golf. Watching golf on tv. (or any other sport). Reading paperbacks with embossed covers that you got at the checkout line. Spending hours getting the perfect lawn. Waiting in line for an iPhone. Picking a wardrobe for your avatar. Watching anything with Will Ferrel in it. Yes, I'd have to say there are worse ways to waste your time.

July 2, 2007 at 10:01 PM · Scott,

point taken.

Thank you

July 2, 2007 at 10:22 PM · Psalm 106:12

Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.

To separate music from the great mystery of life is somewhat misguided. When we are hungry we eat. When we are tired we sleep. When we are sad or happy, or hungry or tired, we sing.

The image of music for me begins in several places, some noble, some not so noble. Indeed, the power of music in our lives is the reason in my mind that music and the liberal arts in general are such both part of the harmony as well as havoc of life. "Stop using Sex as a Weapon"(Madonna)

Nonetheless, that Lullaby, the ancient Lilt, the drum, the dance, are all part of the initial dichotomy that music and rhythm shares with our reflection then expression of our world and beyond while we are alive. Many many creatures hear.

The existential value of music, incorporates all the layers of music in the moment. And the Platonic value of balancing our lives in whatever medium, attempts to mediate that personal compelling desire to express; not because that desire is superfluous, but because it is recognized as part of the whole.

And there are those parts of life that use music as an ends to it's own means. If we are talking about those specialized forms of music, the discussion takes a specialized direction. Music however of itself, is universal.

Van gogh or even Joyce, are not the precedence for the average musician I think, even as compelling as I have personally found violin. So setting that kind of spirit on the question of whether or not violin is meaningless, is like putting an eight cylinder engine on a child's tricycle.

Focusing on more concrete things, though I routinely mix a little myself, misses the point in my mind I think.

July 3, 2007 at 03:43 AM · Look to the natural world for the reason for violin. It's colorful, isn't it? Why is the world colorful, and not black, gray, and white?

Why is the sky blue? Because it is beautiful and nice, and encouraging. That is why people (and birds, and other animals) sing. It's like when my sister brought her (then) 2 year old daughter, my niece, down to the garden outside my room once, where I was practicing the violin. They pottered around in the morning sunlight, doing gardening outside the door. I heard my niece say to her mother "Uncle Jon is singing a song!".

That little comment warmed my heart.

July 3, 2007 at 07:19 AM · Penny,

when i first started i probably sounded worse that cat on fire. for more than 10 days. haha we've all been through it, i guess. good luck and keep fighting!


July 3, 2007 at 04:57 PM · I dug up an old home video of myself learning...YEESH! I was playing one of those eight note songs where every note is an open half note...I can't tell you how badly that reeked to listen to, and I pity my mom-- she's put up with my playing for 10 years. At least it's improved...

Anyway, back on the original question:

Is it useful?

Well, it's definitely more than a hobby for me. I help out with the music every Sunday at church...other parishes envy our ensemble with its great repertoire and involvement-- plus we play every week; music is something that the church just down the road might get once every other month if they're lucky.

I also have earned some money playing at weddings with the quartet. I'd like to think we've made their weddings better by providing the best music we can.

As morbid as it sounds, funerals are also money-makers.

I also help out with musicals occassionally.

So yes, for me, the violin is a VERY useful skill. Its use: to enhance masses, weddings, funerals, and help make musicals possible.

As for playing in the jazz band...that's more of a hobby!

July 3, 2007 at 07:21 PM · Hi Antonio,

You sound like a very thoughtful person so perhaps you heard of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. According to his theory, someone who has managed to satisfy the basic human need for survival will seek something beyond themselves. Those of us who feel that we have a secure existence will want to be stretched. Thats me on a good day.

On a bad day, when I feel that I'm at the bottom of the pyramid, playing the violin is a distraction from my really stressful job. We all need some useless re-creation.

July 3, 2007 at 10:18 PM · What's useless about bringing a little more beauty into the world?

July 3, 2007 at 11:01 PM · This is a fascinating topic, and when I have more time, I'll read through the whole thread and come up with some semblance of a coherent post. Until then, I leave you with two of my favorite quotes:

"The Artist is the bearer of the Beautiful." --Franz Liszt ("the Beautiful" = the Divine, in Liszt's opinion)

"Beauty will save the world." --Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Hmm, eh? :-)

July 4, 2007 at 02:07 AM · "What's useless about bringing a little more beauty into the world?"

What if we play and play but still feel that we are not bring the beauty into the world?

Also, I think the original question is more thoughtful than some have assumed. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not whether playing violin is in and of itself useless; rather, the question is, given that there are other more concrete things to do in one’s life, is playing the violin a useless (or less worthy) activity comparatively speaking? It’s a question hinged on rationality and justification for one’s choice of action of and commitment to X instead of Y or Z.

I used to be much more involved in charitable activities, and together with others, we helped a lot poor and needy people. But since I started to play the violin again, I have been much less involved in order to have the time to practice. Playing the violin is something I really want to do, but morally I have a hard time to justify this compromise. It's a tough question.

July 4, 2007 at 02:06 AM · I'm dithering around deciding on a path to take (a luxury no doubt, but it doesn't feel like one): make more money but have less art and interest in my life? Or try to keep chasing the ephemera of some kind of arts 'career' on less money? I've really almost no idea how. I'd like to write for money but what a joke. I have a suspicion nagging at me that the arts world is somehow less important than the scientific/engineering world. I know it isn't true. There's a boom on in geology at the moment and I can jump on board if I want, but it means going back to the outback and dust and lonely starlit camps. I've had so much of that.

July 4, 2007 at 01:56 AM · concur with yixi. it is a matter of relative worthiness.

will you spend more time per day trying to perfect a piece instead of spending the time helping your kids with homework?

helping spouse with chores?:) what if the spouse asks you to consider a second or third job to improve the financial bottom line?

this pursuit of far is too far in face of other obligations?

how to draw the line between being commited to violin and being addicted to violin?

if you think you are competition level material but never reach the height you dream of,,,what is next?

not for the faint of heart, a journey with no roadmap.

so rock on!:)

July 4, 2007 at 05:55 AM · It's not useless at all. Look at the great German violinists (like Schneiderhan) who unhesitatingly stepped up to the plate to create beauty and take the jobs of the Jewish concertmasters and section players who were kicked out and murdered. "Beauty will save the world." --Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Beauty uber alles, ja?

So, creating beauty is at times not useless at all. It can be infinitely worse. Without courage of a grounding in our common humanity creating beauty is using the notes of great composers to generate the sounds of hell.

July 4, 2007 at 06:10 AM · I agree, in general. There's nothing more barbaric than golden haired, strong-chested uber menche soldiers marching beautifully in step to the strains of wonderful music while they are murdering real men, women and children. That takes all the color out of life straight away. I have no idea of the facts of Schneiderhan or anything else specifically to do with that history.

I always thought Schneiderhan was Jewish.

July 4, 2007 at 06:33 AM · Excuse me? What does my Dostoyevsky quote have to do with the Holocaust? Have we just proved Godwin's Law yet again?

July 4, 2007 at 07:10 AM · Whoops. Err, I'll just back off out of the room I think. I didn't realise Alan was making a reference to Maura's post.

July 4, 2007 at 08:00 AM · I disagree that there is no tangible benefit from playing. I took two years off playing, and now that I've started again, I noticed a HUGE improvement to my memory skills. I can remember names and faces that before would fail me! This alone is motivation for me to continue :)

Of course, the real reason I play is for the beauty of each small step of progress I achieve.

July 7, 2007 at 02:19 AM · All the problems in the world will not go away, but your music can help ease the burdens of the people who are going through difficult times. Music is not just a cultural activity, for which there is no real need. Music soothes the soul and calms the spirit, even in the midst of a tragedy. It helps.

July 8, 2007 at 07:17 PM · Hear hear!

July 8, 2007 at 07:56 PM · What is the use of a glorious sunset?

Is there utility in a poem?

"Listen to the song of the reed flute, singing of its separation from the reed-bed."

The utility of music is ineffable. It is one of the most evanescent of the arts, and depends for its real effect on the interplay between the musician, the auditors and the music itself.

It has been used to generate powerful emotions, and to influence masses of people in concert. (It is no mistake that "concert" has more than one definition).

It can promote healing, and tear asunder. It ain't something to play with. (Yes, "play" has more than one definition).

Music may predate human speech.

July 8, 2007 at 08:55 PM · Well spoken! I won't try any more Liszt or Dostoyevsky quotes, but you just summed up pretty well a lot of my feelings on this issue.

Music is part of what makes us human. Sure, you can't eat it, you can't keep warm by it, it won't halt invading armies or turn a psychopath into a saint, but music, art, poetry, dance and storytelling are simply an integral part of what separates Man from Beast, life from mere existence. Without culture life would be pretty boring: eat, sleep, reproduce, eat some more, hunt food, escape predator, sleep some more.

Also, it could be argued in some cases, although music and art are not essential for our survival as living organisms, they can be essential for maintaining our sanity and humanity in the face of hardship or trauma. One of my favorite examples of that concept is in the movie "The Pianist", which is based on a true story: Adrien Brody plays Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist of the 1930s and 40s. When the Nazis invade, Szpilman loses his home, his family and all his wordly possessions, and only escapes being sent to the camps by a lucky twist of fate. He spends the duration of the war in hiding, relying on the help of the few friends who are still alive, and eventually he ends up completely alone, just trying to cheat death for one more day. In short, he loses everything--except Chopin. He keeps his sanity and his will to survive by silently practicing Chopin on tabletops, windowsills, the floor, and anything else he can find, by mentally going over his repertoire and remembering how to play. At the end, he runs into a German soldier who ends up saving his life--although they can't even talk to each other (language barrier), they make a connection through music.

To sum up this rambling commentary, one more vignette: Maxim Vengerov has done a lot of work with Unicef and various humanitarian groups, traveling to impoverished and war-torn regions of the world and playing music for and with groups of kids. No, he hasn't freed any child soldiers from their army commanders, he hasn't found a cure for malaria, but he has--however temporarily!--brought happiness and joy to people whose lives are otherwise miserable and near-impossible. With possibilities like that, can anyone really say that music is "useless"?

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