Moved to tears?

August 19, 2011 at 07:58 PM ·

I just sat and watched "Speaking in Strings" profiling Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Not saying that the artist's playing is what induces the emotion (except in my case, it invokes tears of frustration), but that the emotion is inspired by the message behind the music, and is unbridled and so strong it cannot be contained.

I realize NSS may be unique in this regard, but it got me thinking... Has there ever been a piece that, when you play it (rather than listen to it) you feel the welling of emotion almost to the point of getting teary-eyed?


Replies (24)

August 19, 2011 at 08:19 PM ·

haha, the worst is when the player is crying and none of the audience is crying... 

August 19, 2011 at 09:25 PM ·

 Not to tears, no, but recently I was playing a backup line to an astonishingly beautiful soprano, and the combination was ethereal--made a frisson run up (down?) my back.  Unusual feeling.

August 20, 2011 at 12:39 AM ·

Not sober

August 20, 2011 at 02:57 AM ·

I had an E string pop and hit me in the face once...was a little teary eyed.  J

August 20, 2011 at 05:59 AM ·

To Ausar;

I think it's worse when your teacher is crying and you're not.

August 20, 2011 at 12:23 PM ·

 I've been moved by the music itself.  One time I remember that happened recently, I was playing in a quartet arrangement for the opening of the 1812 overture.  Often the violins don't even play this part, but this arrangement was for string quartet and the 4 principals were playing.  For the first few run-throughs, I couldn't keep back tears, from the music and what emotions it was bringing up for me.  Fortunately my part wasn't that difficult so I didn't noticeably mess it up.  It wasn't the sound of my playing in particular that was so moving, it was somehow the *act* of playing that did it.

This happens to me more often when I'm singing in church.  I'll tear up during a hymn or even a chorus performance and have to stop singing altogether. The Sunday after 9/11/01 our congregation was singing a hymn based on the tune of Sibelius' Finlandia and while I'd been dry-eyed since the towers fell, during that hymn I started crying and couldn't stop.

August 20, 2011 at 12:50 PM ·

When I play I can hear the neighbor's cat crying. That's how I know it's time to stop.

I have a hard enough time technically that I don't have time for music! But I hope to at least understand the emotional context of a piece as a player. My goal isn't to move myself, but the listener. It doesn't do any good to feel a piece if there's a disconnect with the audience, right? I'd want to avoid the situation where the audience experiences the emoting above the music.

Karen, I've had that happen in church too, many times. Usually it's when they sing my late wife's favorite hymn; I can't help but get bleary eyed. A couple times I've had to leave.

Hope I didn't bore anyone to tears with this post. :)

August 20, 2011 at 01:02 PM ·

As players I think we are supposed to act as the conduit or pipe through which the emotion flows to the listener. Obviously we need "understanding" of what we are expressing but beyond that, I'm not so sure. Some people seem to be able to tear-up whilst maintaining control - that is impossible for me! 

August 20, 2011 at 01:49 PM ·

@John, you'll be disappointed!  it was a simple piece, "Panis Angelicus," where  I was subbing on the second, canonical line for the missing mezzo.  I think the soprano's voice and the situation combined (I love supporting good musicians as they soar, you see).  My fiddle blended with her singing in one of those evanescent moments, that's all.  That we hadn't rehearsed made it more special for me, but that's entirely personal.  

And I agree, it was being the conduit that gave the frisson, not anything I had achieved as a violinist. Not expressing this too well, but I'll post it so y-all can hack at it.

August 21, 2011 at 01:37 AM ·

I know this site is for players of which I am not one, and I know your question is regarding emotions while playing, not listening, but I can't help but let you know that one can't help but be moved to tears upon hearing Rachmaninoff's Vocalise and especially, Barber's Adagio.  Hell, I even teared up when I first saw that NSS, the most passionate player ever, would be performing the Adagio in San Fran last year.  I Emailed her to please record it...and she did.  It's one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever, by the most moving, emotive musician ever.  Her heart bleeds for every note.  You can see the CD on her record label at  And buy it on 

August 21, 2011 at 02:49 AM ·

I had a moment at the very end of the Brahms G Major Sonata where I'd put all of myself into the performance, and couldn't quite manage the last two chords because I got choked up.  I'm hoping the audience forgave the intonation/bow wobble.  Generally, tears don't add good things to your performance. 

August 21, 2011 at 04:10 AM ·

Part of being a performing artist is understanding that you don't get to have the experience of having the music sway you to the emotional limit, to the point that it affects your ability to play.

It's a sacrifice we make in order to create art for others to enjoy. But that's why it's important to attend concerts and hear others play, and not just perform all the time.

August 21, 2011 at 07:46 AM ·

While I've had the occasional old lady reduced to tears by some tearjerker solos that I always have ready, I've never achieved the performance of making myself cry. I Imagine you would have a hard time continuing to play if you were sobbing violently.

And I consider it an extremely selfish thing to do: crying at your own playing. What, are you suddenly better than Menuhin?

August 21, 2011 at 09:39 AM ·

 Disappointment, yes; tears, no.

August 21, 2011 at 10:52 AM ·

interesting - none of the examples above are of tearing up (sincerely) when playing solo.  They seem more reactions to the piece being played rather than one's own playing.  I've never done it, I wonder if it ever happens. 

Though I've had my moments after the performance :-\ ...

August 21, 2011 at 12:44 PM ·

  John raises an interesting distinction.  I've had the honor/sorrow of playing solo at the funerals of three people whom I dearly loved, and, although I left the congregations in tears (serious tears at one) I didn't weep.  When I am recreating music/being the conduit for music that is where all my feeling focuses.  Maybe not 'distraction' so much as a different consciousness?  I came home from those occasions and slept so hard I was comatose.  Very different from any other performance experiences I've ever had.

August 21, 2011 at 06:19 PM ·

You may want to check out the responses from this earlier thread:

August 22, 2011 at 01:12 AM ·

for the most part, what i play is non-churchy, medieval/renaissance dance music so ... no.

i do tap my toes, however

August 22, 2011 at 03:49 PM ·

Ronald, thanks for the link. I think that discussion covers it exactly.

It's interesting that someone in that thread mentioned Hilary Hahn and Bach... I just finished listening to her Barber, and the second movement brought me to tears. Of course Barber just does that to me anyway; Adagio is simply astounding.

In Speaking in Strings Nadja says she could never say with words what she can with Vocalise. She talks about playing as an opera singer singing an entire passage with one breath. Then I heard her rendition of Vocalise and must say she captured it. Simply amazing.

The discussion turned to that of performers suffering from depression, and maybe there is something to it. Is that a possible mark of a great talent? How many wonderful musicians have had suicidal tendencies? Much like brilliant minds who are socially extremely awkward, there seems to be a possible connection between phenomenal talent and emotional abnormalities, to one extreme or another. Surely not all great talents suffer this, but perhaps the presence of one extreme tends to upset the balance so to speak. Interesting study, but perhaps a bit off-topic so I apologize. :)

August 24, 2011 at 04:26 AM ·

Seriously, I have never cried at my own playing, have jumped up and down afterward saying "yeah me!!!";DDD

I have been moved by the importance of the music though, the genius of the composer, thinking about the people who have place those same notes etc. Music is the only real thing, the thing that lasts, the thread that connects everyone.

August 24, 2011 at 10:34 AM ·

 All the time...tears of frustration.

August 24, 2011 at 12:07 PM ·

 Embarrassingly yes!  But I blink them back  (it happens a lot)

August 26, 2011 at 02:27 PM ·

John, I tried that when my dear wife passed, but I just couldn't play anything at all so back it went. But I have done it sometimes after a friend or loved one had passed. Usually my own poor rendition of Amazing Grace or Londonderry Air.

August 27, 2011 at 01:05 PM ·

My own playing moving me to tears?  Mostly when sight-reading.  It's definitely my playing, and it's not a good thing.

I've been told that when I'm playing well, I either have a look of concentration or a smile -- enjoying the music itself.


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