Hopelessness?

June 4, 2009 at 01:40 PM ·

Has anyone ever watched a performance of someone and felt utterly hopeless inside because you know you will never reach that level?  Maybe even a pang of jealousy?  I know I have felt this way many times....especially after hearing Ray Chen and the other finalists of the Queen Elizabeth Competition.  Those people are just artists of a different caliber.....and I, as a person who works my butt off every day just to hit right notes can't help but feel hopeless for my future as a musician....haha.

I think this has a possibility to be itneresting.......

Replies (53)

June 4, 2009 at 01:43 PM ·

not true.  i have heard you play.  you have the stuff and you have time to work on it.  and, above all, you have the interest to better yourself. 

June 4, 2009 at 02:33 PM ·

I hope I'm not going out too far on a limb here (but probably am).

I felt the same way as you Brian. But the other thing I noted was how much the performers were catering to the judges, not to the audience. The playing was a little hollow to me. In fact, they all sounded a lot the same. Now, grant you, the tone quality was exquisite, the intonation inflappable, the phrasing clear as a bell. But there was a lot left on the table to me in terms of a true interpretation and communication with the audience.

I cannot overemphasize how much respect I have for all of the performers in the Queen Elizabeth or any competition. But after the performance is over and they can put on their own receitals without the nitpicking of the judges - that's ultimately the performance I'd like to hear. And that playing might be a little more inspiring, and give one less the feeling that they're a slice of beef on display.

...and might make one want to pick up their fiddle after hearing it, rather than put it down.

June 4, 2009 at 02:41 PM ·

Every day for the last week. I play piano and I'm in Texas watching the Cliburn competition.

June 4, 2009 at 02:45 PM ·

I am tempted to feel that a lot, especially when the person I know in real life, and especially a peer. I think I am very competitive by nature, so when there is a seating audition or orchestra audition I would want to get on top. But I've tried to change that. Instead I try to feel inspired and challenged when I hear someone who is better than me, and to try to rejoice when they win something and to use that to fuel my next practice session. And instead of feeling jealous (lik when I heard clips of the Queen Elisabeth Competition) I try NOT to think of their playing as a 'standard' or even a goal, but to appreciate very specific things about it (ie. nice tone, variant vibrato, good prasing...) but not to try to imitate it. And then work on getting better each day----instead of getting 'this good' in x amount of time.

Eh, hope that helps....

June 4, 2009 at 02:58 PM ·

As a rank amateur, I feel hopeless when I hear anyone play. If I may make a suggestion - Forget about comparisons with anyone else. At that moment - the moment that it is you up on that stage - it is between you and the music and the audience (judges or no judges). Keep your focus on being the best you that you can be. Don't become one of the judges and feel that your job is to judge yourself. Let them do that (that's what they get paid for), and whatever they decide is their business. Yours is to share your musical vision of what the music should be at the moment you are playing it. Do the best that you can do - no worse, but also no better at that given moment. No matter what you do in life, there's always someone who does it better. If you want to compare yourself to Oistrakh all your life, you'll always feel inadequate, and that is a burden not worth bearing.
I hope that helps.
Sandy

June 4, 2009 at 03:02 PM ·

Bravo Sandy!

June 4, 2009 at 05:18 PM ·

What Sandy said!

Do I feel as you do?  Every damn day.  But I look back at my last performance (if you can call it that) over a month a go.... and I played a song on my Eastman VL105 and a dear friend of mine whom if you ever heard him sing you'ed swear he had trained in opera... No Lie!!!  He was crying and said that he had never heard this particular song played so beautifuly and it was wonderful.  The same with a friend of mine's grandmother when I played one of her favorites, well she didn't cry but her eyes sparkled and came to life. I did what many of those competitors did Brian... I was able to make my violin 'live' and it sang.  Oh granted there's no way I can play at their level of ability.  But I made my violin do to two people what it's supose to do.

     There's no doubt that someone received your playing the same way, I'm shure it's happened.  They wont always come up and tell you.  I and my folks would fly to see/listen too you perform... one of these days when you are college maybe, if it's cool with you.

Your friend,

Royce

June 4, 2009 at 07:05 PM ·

June 4, 2009 at 06:36 PM ·

No.

June 4, 2009 at 06:57 PM ·

I attend a performance or watch something on youtube, and often have that thought--why do I even play? Sometimes the player is 12 years old. But the funny thing is I'll go and pick up my violin and start playing, and even be compelled to play the very thing I heard, if I have the music for it. And to keep the strangeness going, I'll feel really thankful after that.

June 4, 2009 at 07:51 PM ·

I thought people might find this inspiring. Go Ray!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yAYpsb3K3Q&feature=related

 I really like the part where he's playing on a park bench.

June 4, 2009 at 09:22 PM ·

I feel inspiration often. When I watched Leila Josefowicz perform Beethoven concerto I felt like rushing home and start practising. I was so motivated after I heard her to learn to play well so that I could maybe get nearer to being as awesome at violin as she is. I remind myself of when seeing others perform amazingly that I am still pretty neat at some things myself and to continue to better myself but take pride in my random violin abilities.

June 4, 2009 at 10:42 PM ·

I agree so much with Sandy and Ray!   No, never to this level but true communication with your audience unstead of "boring" performances.... yes absoluntly.   When you perform, you don't care about if it is only 20 people or...Carnagie Hall.  It is a misrespect to consider any audience as ch...  You can play at a student level but not like a "student" in any negative sense.  If you work on your expressivity, artistry, bowings strong contrast between the different dynamics to avoid "boringness" and always make the music pass first , the people will know it even if you do audible mistakes, they will be forgiven so much more easily.  There is nothing like having people (complete strangers that don't know you) taping at your shoulder or arm saying things like this was so beautiful, I felt such emotion, your vibrato sounds professional, such a sound, I don't believe it.  I had these 5 things told to me and when I am sad or think I'm only good to "twinkle" level, I think to this and say at least I succeded one thing (even if it would never come back again) which is the most important and difficult thing IMHO:  making people happy, comunicate with at least a few members of the audience who did not know me (because those who know you are always super impress... :)  For any musician, amateur or not, this is already so enjoyable and you don't need to play like Sarah Chang for this.  Of course one has to always try to do its best!  Just to say that you can be an artist on your own right even if not "the" artist!!!  

Anne-Marie

June 4, 2009 at 11:34 PM ·

Hello everyone. Here I am again, out on a limb...

I felt like the performers in the Queen Elizabeth competition were all extraordinary. But it was sort of like going to visit Street of Dreams houses. They are never architectural marvels because they are trying to cater to a broad audience. It's like they have a checklist that they need to fulfill in order to be considered a "luxury" home. Hardwood floors. Check. Granite countertops. check. Cherry cabinets. Check again. etc, etc, etc. Does it cohesively work as a whole - well, that's secondary. Makes everyone happy that we have all the elements.

The playing was always extraordinary but sometimes seemed a little chunked out in ways that weren't always artistic. Here's my precision intonation section. Check. Here's my long lyrical playing section. Check again. Range of dynamics are shown in this part of the piece. Precise doublestops section - listen now.

It seems like that's the nature of playing competitions. It's no different watching Olympic skaters.

That's why I'd love to hear all of the competitors in noncompetitive situations, making artistic decisions entirely based on artistry, and not catering to a panel of judges.

I can imagine that's why playing a new piece that noone knows at the end would be kinda fun for the Queen Elizabeth competition finalists. It's an opportunity to "let down your hair."

June 5, 2009 at 02:05 AM ·

Hoplessness coupled w/ intense drive to be just like that one day.

June 5, 2009 at 05:24 AM ·

Terry, that's so perfect! Here's I'm embedding it. "Smile from your heart," now what is dis-heartening about that? :)

 

June 5, 2009 at 06:16 AM ·

Speaking from the technical aspect, I will admit, as an adult beginner I feel slightly discouraged at times. Watching others play though, more often than not, makes me want to pick up, play, and improve like like no other.

It's okay to be inspired and to learn from the accomplished. The downfall happens when you start comparing yourself to them. It's like not paying attention to your lane on the road because your busy sizing up the Ferrari ahead of you on the lane over. You still have a view of your lane but the focus is not there. Worst comes to worst if your car breaks down on the spot and you're still paying attention to the Ferrari as it drives away.

I focus on my drive to succeed and it propels me forward.

June 5, 2009 at 07:31 AM ·

Even if you lived in the middle of nowhere and you were the only violinist around, and you seldom watched or listened to anyone else, you still couldn't escape that feeling.  Not unless you substite it with periodic delusions of grandeur, of course.  (I'm only speaking from personal experience.)  These are the rules of the game for those born with an unsatiable competetive spirit.  No matter how hard you try, you will never be good enough.  Ever.  Never ever ever.  So put your instrument away and go fishing until you find another reason to play.  Don't worry, I bet it won't take long.   

June 5, 2009 at 04:16 PM ·

Hi Brian,

As a mathematically inclined person I would like to draw your attention to a fallacy engendered by this competition business: the fallacy of one-dimensionality. The ranking of participants in competitions suggests a yardstick by which a violinist can be measured. A violinist of six feet would be better than a violinist of five feet six inches, and so on. That's ludicrous, and so is the idea of "I'll never measure up to so-and-so".

As David Oistrakh was the world's one and only (herefore best) David Oistrakh, you are the number one Brian Hong.

Best,

Bart

June 5, 2009 at 05:10 PM ·

i don't know precisely what brian has in mind for his musical future.  if the prevailing school of wisdom is that take it easy, as long as you love music and music making, then you will be happy and satisfied with your journey in the end, there is also another side to it:

may be brian deep inside has this dream of one day also winning such competition.  or do even better. be a great one.   in that case,  i am not sure how helpful it is for amateur players to provide guidance to brian who is already quite outstanding.   may be taking it easy is the last thing he should consider.  i think brian is at the age where some serious career planning is perhaps in order.  one way is to stack himself up against other talented players, to be inspired and believed by the best teacher that he can find.   the journey may not be pretty, the training may not be that intuitively meaningful during the process.  sometimes it is tough to tell the top 10 players apart.  other times, there is a huge distance between the top 2, both in effort put in and in performance delievered. 

June 5, 2009 at 05:32 PM ·

Good point!

June 5, 2009 at 06:18 PM ·

I used to feel that way.  I hated listening to From the Top because I would think "Those kids are the same age as me and they're playing like a million times better!  Grrrrr!"  I was so jealous!

I had to continually remind myself that the performers I was jealous of all worked very hard to get to where they were.  Now, instead of feeling resentment, I'm happy for them.  When I watch Tianwa Yeung at age 12 or whatever on Youtube playing the Paganini Caprices faster and cleaner than I probably ever will be able to, my reaction is that it's awesome that someone out there can play such ridiculous music that well.  When someone plays a rapid passage with fingered octaves immaculately, I'm like "YES!"  To use a cliche, it gets me pumped.  I may never be better than them, but who cares?  I know I work hard.  I'll get where I get.  

June 5, 2009 at 08:10 PM ·

I was just watching the Ray Chen clip, and suddenly thought, if Ray Chen was still in Taiwan (or South Korea,. for that matter), he would probably be in National Service. He might never be what he is destined to be.

June 5, 2009 at 08:24 PM ·

I think he is studying in the U.S. and is from Brisbane, Australia????

June 5, 2009 at 08:31 PM ·

He is born in Taiwan. His family must have migrated to Australia.

June 6, 2009 at 02:16 AM ·

Yes, my advice was general rather than directly adressed to Brian.  Sorry since it is him that started this thread! Bigger fish is true for all but Brian, you are much more a bigger fish than many many many people!!!

Good luck!

Anne-Marie

June 6, 2009 at 06:58 PM ·

I've certainly felt pretty depressed at my own playing after hearing/watching certain really fine violinists..  But I think the key thing is to be realistic and after the initial "Oh, I WISH I could play as well as that!" feeling, I always try to use the excellent performances as inspiration to my own much less lofty violinistic ambitions.

On the other hand, I've met some amazing violinists who have - in my view - given a wonderful performance, and then come off-stage shaking their head saying: "I was total rubbish tonight..."  so I guess it is all relative how one regards one's own playing.

Anyway I always thought the best thing about violin and music-making is that there's always something to improve or work on, whether you are playing through a book for beginners or Paganini's Caprices.

June 6, 2009 at 07:29 PM ·

Rosolind- I agree!

June 7, 2009 at 12:26 AM ·

Oh, have I ever....
I just started learning to play the violin a year ago @ age 22- even though I've always wanted to play it growing up. I did pick it up quite fast (i'm at Suzuki 6) but I still find myself resenting the fact that my parents never enrolled me in violin lessons with a 1/16 violin when I was a little girl. Maybe I wanted to be a child prodigy too, didn't they ever think of that?? Geez...
I very often feel hopeless because I would love to have a professional solo career one day but what are the chances of that happening when I'm competing against former child prodigies? And do you know how depressing it is to hear myself play after listening to Heifetz and Itzhak perlman all day on my MP3? Not only do I lack in skills but the sound of my $200 student violin in comparison to their Strads makes me wanna burst into tears every time.
BUT, I keep myself motivated by the progress I've made so far because a year ago I was barely able to squeek through twinkle twinkle little star. I think we need to stop comparing ourselves to the virtuosi out there because that will only discourage us. However we should continue to be inspired by them as that will aspire us to push ourselves for the better.

Oh, and I just got my degree in Psychology yesterday and one of the few things I remember learning in the past 4 years is that there are two main types of stresses: Eustress and Distress.

Eustress is a positive form of stress that keeps us motivated and productive by giving us just enough anxiety to perform our best.

Distress on the other hand gives us overwhelming amounts of anxiety that only decrease our performance level and keep us feeling low and incompetent.

So try your best to benefit from the other talented violinists (with eustress!)rather than letting them discourage you!
Best of luck, everyone! :)

-Jen

June 7, 2009 at 06:53 AM ·

Jen,

Congratulations on getting your degree!

Have you ever, favourably or otherwise, compared yourself to famous psychologists?

Just curious,

Bart

June 7, 2009 at 03:09 PM ·

Hello Brian

Twenty-five years ago or so, I heard Alicia de Larrocha play a solo recital in Seattle.  It was stunningly brilliant and affected me deeply as no one had before (including Rubenstein and Horowitz).  I was so depressed I did not touch the piano for two weeks (completely out of character for me).  However, I missed music so much that I began to practice again with a renewed vigor, deciding that if I could not play quite like "her" I could certainly play exactly like "me."  I eventually went back to graduate school (twice) and have a busy schedule teaching, accompanying, and sometimes soloing.  In short, I have a very happy life, with a wife who is madly in love with me, and a teenager (a remarkable violinist by the way) who thinks I am funny.

Summary: Work hard, make good decisions (not always easy), keep a positive attitude, be humble, and treat others like you want to be treated. 

p.s.  I seem to recall a thread where you wanted ideas for camps this summer.  Where will you be going?  Sincerely, Art

June 7, 2009 at 03:45 PM ·

Brian, I just wanted to thank you for raising such interesting conversation topics. Keep it up! Terry

June 7, 2009 at 06:57 PM ·

Jeewon -- and Brian --,

Ole! What a gift. Thank you!

Bart

June 7, 2009 at 08:24 PM ·

Haha, just to reply to Bart...

Come to think of it, I've actually never compared myself to famous psychologists. And I've never been a perfectionist or an overachiever-that is until I started the violin!

I think once you fall for the violin, you become so hypersensitive to the most intricate details of music that often violinists become obsessive about achieving perfection. We'll never be content with our own playing this way! 
Let's face it, violin is hands down one of the hardest instruments to play, let alone master, so let's be proud of our skills rather than being critical!

And just remember...compared to the general population, you guys are all pretty freaking talented ;)

June 7, 2009 at 09:08 PM ·

I tend to get the most, learning-wise, out of listening to people who are moderately--maybe just an order of magnitude or so--better than I am.  They're not that difficult to find.  People like my daughter's teacher.  She's very good and I can learn a lot from her, just sitting in my daughter's lessons.

But when I listen to famous people with recording contracts, or "the greats," something kind of clicks off and I listen differently.  I still enjoy it, but the idea of comparing myself with them seems so ridiculous, I almost don't think of them as playing the same instrument. 

June 8, 2009 at 05:35 AM ·

And how interesting-- today I went to sit in on a recital. The kids were OK, some could be really good one day; but I felt they were all playing pieces much harder than they should have been, with the result that hardly anyone's piece really sounded that good. I thought I'd come home and be inspired to play much better, and granted it was late in the day already and maybe my blood sugar was off, but I could not play well.

June 8, 2009 at 06:05 AM ·

I don't feel hopeless, but it may be my way of looking at the universe. I feel thrilled and moved when I get to hear something with a soul.

I feel frustrated when I play, and find that I am not as good as I was a month ago because I did not practice enough, or when I find I can't get my wrist around far enough because I don't work on limbering well enough, or a thousand other reasons, but I never feel sad that I cannot do what some other fiddler or violinist can do.

I only compare myself to myself; others may have skills and talents I do not, and I enjoy that about life. Everyone is unique, anything else would make life boring.

June 8, 2009 at 03:09 PM ·

Hi, Everyone here, look to the video that Jeeron sent with Elizabeth Gilbert.  It is a must for any violinist of any level.  I was totally hooked and what this woman says is so true!  Please, take the 20 min it requires and it will be one of the most important 20 min in your life and for your mental health as a violinist!!!

Not many people could say better than her, truely worth listening!

Anne-Marie

June 8, 2009 at 05:27 PM ·

I'm kind of worried!  Brian hasn't posted anything after the initial post.  I hope he's alright?

June 8, 2009 at 07:30 PM ·

 Thank you, Jeewon!  I loved that video.  Ole'!

June 8, 2009 at 08:32 PM ·

Hah, thanks for all the posts, guys!  I've just been very busy with finals and recitals, and lessons, gah!  Finally coming up for a breath of fresh air.

Thanks for the responses.  I mean, I was never depressed, I'm actually pretty much a sunshiney kid.  I always try to practice a lot, and I always have a goal.  However, my goals are not like "Win the Queen Elizabeth" (yeah, right, like that'll ever happen :D).  My goals tend to be renewed frequently, and in doing so, I can make smaller ones, like "today, I will get the articulation done right HERE".  And, if I get that quickly enough, I can make more goals and do 3-4, or even more goals in one day, and that makes me feel great about myself.  But the posts are incredibly insightful and a joy to read!

And Maestro Faina, do not worry I am okay.  Haha just very busy and I am dousing the fires from school final exams with much needed, relaxing practice time!  Hope you're well!

Brian

June 9, 2009 at 01:34 AM ·

Whoa!  Thank God!!!!!  :^)

June 9, 2009 at 02:11 AM ·

Brian,

Nice job on the Bruch.  I work my butt off and am no where near as good as you are -- leaves me feeling kind of hopeless, and perhaps a bit jealous :-)

June 9, 2009 at 02:51 PM ·

I think several of us are jealous......in a nice sort of way?  But.... we're all proud as peach of him and glad he posts here!

June 9, 2009 at 03:00 PM ·

royce, i am as jealous as little kids being labelled as prodigies as you and fellow others being addressed as maestros.

defend your title please. :)

June 9, 2009 at 03:57 PM ·

 Everytime I play, or practise I say: Never again! As I improve my (poor) playing I feel I have more and more to leard, and as a complete amateur it kills me.

But then my father comes to my house to hear me and allways says the same: "I would love to play just as bad as you do".

That keeps me on for a couple of weeks or so.

June 9, 2009 at 05:21 PM ·

al ku- It's all in fun. ;)  And..... sometimes there's a little masters wisdom in someones precociousness in either something they played or said that was just brilliant.  True mastery in it's own right that to that one receiving it most others will or may not because it touched someone in a way that only that one can appreciate.  Think of it as when a Buddhist brings palms togeather and bows to you..... to the enlightened one inside you or me even though we may be far from being that enlightened.  it also acknowledges and encourages that person I refer too as Maestro, their potential....... I just saw a glimpse of it, and I try to think of the other person as supirior to me to keep me humble.  That's a personal on going battle I hope to win.

But mostly it's all in fun, but also to honor what is great about that person's own bests.  and, honestly, I wish I could grasp the concepts and points that you do and your abilities to elaborate with the virtuosity here...ways that I cannot!........ Maestro Ku.

June 9, 2009 at 06:26 PM ·

"Like snow upon a river a moment white then gone forever." I don't know who said it but I always think of that when I see a great creative artwork or performance. It captures the catharisis that can come from great art. If we see music/art as a spectator sport or technical feat we may indeed forget the life we can put into it from your own experiences. I suggest art is not only about measuring who is good. Much of music is like a sport these days with the contests and Youtubes. It clouds the creative process and pushes it over to the side. Some artists are great competitors and some are not, but some are both or neither. In a competitive world it can't hurt to like competing and be good at it. If you can bring a little joy along the way good for you too, but not everyone is a good competitor or creative or care to even go there. Art is a creative process but some might argue that.

Brian, before you become too discouraged, I suggest when you look at these videos make sure you understand the social construct behind them. I for one have seen a huge swing toward technical perfection at the expense of artistic freedom in many cases in the past decades.Technical perfection is very admirable I think. We all respect it. Much of classical music in our current decade reflects this obsession with technical skill and amazing feats much like Hudini amazed people in his day. How do they do that? This might be due to the digital age. Now that things can be measured so precisely, everyone goes around measuring things. .Micheal Phelps won his gold medal by a .01 second because of the ability to measure at that level of precision. 

When you hear or see something really creative versus really technical it is impossible to compare the two. When you get both it is extraordinary indeed. Contests  re-enforce a "status quo" of the times. The selected winners affirm whatever status quo the sponsors set (explicit or implcit). Judges affirm their own life choices and the politics of their own experiences and reputations. So it is a mobius loop that is self affirming on a variety of levels that are not always relavent to what is important to ones own artistic process. Oh the tyranny of the interesting!

June 9, 2009 at 08:19 PM ·

Maestro Faina, "Maestro" doesn't necessarily mean skill in whatever you do.  I call you that becuase you always have such an incredible way of making everyone feel good about themselves, and putting them in the right perspective, an incredible gift in itself.

And, J, thanks for the post.  I appreciate it.

However, guys, I'm not depressed, haha.  Some of you make it sound like that; nor am I looking for sympathy.  I'm not like that.

June 9, 2009 at 08:26 PM ·

Brian- Thank you so very much!

No I don't think that you are depressed, and I'm shure that others know too.

So Maestro Hong; Your conclussions and what are you planning for the summer?

June 10, 2009 at 09:54 PM ·

Thx. I didn't think for a moment you were depressed. It is just perspective that can motivate us. If you think of it as a numbers game the odds are with you. To win a a contest maybe a million to on. To practice 50% odds. You practice or you don't. Play.

June 13, 2009 at 12:32 PM ·

Brian,

After reading all the cooments about your question I can only say " Each one of the greats you mentioned all must of had someone's playing in mind as they played from their SOUL, that is why they are great and have a sound and style of their own." I would also venture to say as you play bluegrass and jazz you are doing exacley that,playing from the soul. (Because you have to)

Translate to classical and forget what other peole do, you are great!

Charlie P

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