Memorable Positive Feedback

March 3, 2012 at 02:29 AM · Those of us who have played violin for any substantial length of time know what a long, steep learning curve this instrument has -- and the dedication and consistent practice it requires.

I can remember, from the early lessons, the coaching pointers of my teachers -- comments like "Use more bow," "Use flatter hair on the bow," "Dig in," "Don't move the right wrist so much, "Keep the fingers down." Always room for improvement.

At some point come the breakthrough moments when you know you're improving -- solving one problem here, another there. Then a friend or neighbor -- or family member -- says something like: "Oh, it sounded so professional. At first, I thought it was a recording."

So what have your hearers said to you along this line that you'll remember for a long time -- something that helped you feel really good -- and you knew you'd earned it? As OP, I usually go first; but this time, I'm going to hold back a while and let you tell yours first.

Replies (26)

March 3, 2012 at 08:27 AM · Feedback from non-musician people - at least in Brazil, where no one knows anything about classical music - is always like "OMG you're awesome!" "It sounded so nice!" even if you play something really bad. Perhaps the best feedback I've ever got was "You've got talent" by Marcello Guerchfeld, who studied with Galamian, even though I got this feedback in a bad situation - I was in a masterclass with him and I tried to play a piece that was way far from my level. I think that in that case, most other professores would have destroyed me, but he didn't. Instead, he said me that. Maybe that's why it was so remarkable for me.

March 3, 2012 at 04:19 PM · why do I only remember the bad stuff?

March 3, 2012 at 05:16 PM · Three that I'll never forget, all from professional performers -

"It's okay to sound sh*tty as long as you're trying not to sound sh*tty." (That was less a compliment of my playing and more a compliment of my clear desire to want to improve.)

"That actually wasn't as bad as you think it was."

"You catch on quickly. Very quickly. But you want it much too badly."

March 3, 2012 at 07:51 PM · From my teachers:

"It sounded like a piece!" :)

"With that vibrato, you can trade jobs with me!" (It was a gross exaggeration. ;))

March 3, 2012 at 08:22 PM · The most famous "positive" feedback I've ever heard about was by Brahms, who was in the audience when Eugene Ysaye performed the Brahms Concerto. Afterwards, the two met, and Brahms said, "So, it can be played that way, too."

This was about as positive as Brahms ever got about anything. He was once in the audience for a performance of one of his string quartets. Afterward, the violist asked Brahms if he liked the tempo. Brahms replied, "Yes, especially yours."

March 3, 2012 at 10:03 PM · Frieda: ""You play as if you're better than you actually are.""

First thing that comes to mind is what an idiot (the commenter, not you ;) ). You must be the kind of person that blossoms in performance, and the commenter doesn't seem to be aware of the possibily. You are as good as you play and thats that.

I got a great one: I recently asked a teacher, who has become something of a mentor (and we have a lot in common), what my potential was: she said "you have it all, just apply it". Blew me away and I am truly inspired. Oh, I suppose I should mention that that was about my ballroom dancing not my violin :D

For the latter I'd be happy with 'you've got the 10%!'....

March 4, 2012 at 02:49 AM · I had two very memorable experiences at auditions this past winter..

The first was at a solo and ensemble festival that also served as an audition for a regional music festival. I played the Bruch Romanze for viola. When I was finished and getting ready to leave, the adjudicator asked to talk to my accompanist (also my teacher). I waited outside for at least five minutes. On our way home, my teacher told me that the judge wanted to know what my plans were for college, and whether I was looking at going into music (I'm a senior, and I am looking into education and/or performance). He wanted to make sure that I was getting proper support from my parents and teachers, because in his words: "A career in performance is a strong possibility".

The second happened after an All-State scholarship audition a little while after. I was playing the same piece, this time from memory. The day didn't start off well; I didn't get to the location as early as I'd hoped, my accompanist was running late, and I had a college audition in Boston the next day that was weighing heavily on my mind. I've always had problems performing from memory, but if I'm able to play right before I perform, I do ok. Well, even though I'd warmed up when I arrived and played through the piece a few times, the auditions were running about 20 minutes late. When I started playing in the audition, I started having memory blanks in the easiest parts. For some reason, I could play the hardest parts just fine. I managed to keep it together in the audition (the judges didn't give any feedback there), but lost it when I got back outside. Luckily, I had a good friend there to console me. Despite my memory slips, I knew that I had played well in the parts that I did remember, so that helped to cheer me up a little.

When I got my results back a few weeks later, I found out that I didn't get a scholarship. This wasn't a surprise, and a good violinist friend of mine from orchestra had gotten one, so I was mostly happy. Looking at my scores, I had gotten very high marks in just about every category except memorization. However, the most encouraging remark was a comment from one of the judges. They said that I had "the most passion for my instrument than any of the students we've seen so far". This is probably one of the most inspiring pieces of feedback I've ever gotten. To know that someone recognized all of the hard work that I had put into preparing for the audition, and to be able to see past my mistakes.

I always keep scores and feedback from auditions, but these scores are probably the ones I've looked back on the most... they never fail to give me inspiration when I'm feeling discouraged:)

March 4, 2012 at 04:24 PM · Sorry to report that the best I ever got, repeatedly, from a teacher, was, "That was almost good!" That was when quitting violin started. :-)

March 4, 2012 at 05:31 PM · Best I've got from my teacher is "Now lets play the violin!" as if I wasn't before. Another one is "Now you're a violinist!" as if I wasn't already. I guess she was saying that I sucked and finally I'm starting to play good, not sure.

March 4, 2012 at 06:09 PM · My teacher usually likes me to criticize my own playing in depth immediately after I've played a piece and to make my own suggestions what I should do about it. Then she'll add her own comments and suggestions – invariably on some point I've either overlooked or was unaware of. It's a process, Socratic perhaps (?), that seems to work quite well.

March 4, 2012 at 07:08 PM · Okay, it wasn't positive, but it was so very funny, and so very like my former teacher's talent for articulating himself, that I've got to share. To paraphrase, as I don't recall the exact wording:

"Your sound is like that of a chicken as a (circus) geek bites its head off."

The thing is it's not unfair or untrue. I'm just a shade away from being unacceptably shrill for a violist. I am what I am, I have the instrument that I have, and I do what I have to to cut through to be heard.

March 4, 2012 at 07:37 PM · One time, after a high school musical performance, someone told me that a violinist from the Tulsa Philharmonic had been sitting in the audience and had peered into the pit during intermission, wanting to know who the professional violinist was that they had hired to cover first violin for West Side Story. It was just me down there.

March 4, 2012 at 10:17 PM · Jim - you're tempting my ego very much, and I'll try to resist for at least a while!

Meanwhile, a couple of back-handed compliments that I've heard about:

1. This is the famous story about Mischa Elman's attendance at Jascha Heifetz' debut. After the 1st number, Elman shifted around uncomfortably and said to his pianist friend, Godowski "it's rather hot in here." Quipped G. "not for pianists!"

2. Years later, Elman attended Oistrakh's Carnegie Hall debut with another friend. Elman didn't comment throughout the whole recital. At the end his friend asked him "so Mischa, what did you think of this Oistrakh fellow?" "He's alright," allowed Elman, "but even Jascha is better." Even!

3. I just finished Lang Lang's very interesting memoir. At Curtis, he studied with Gary Graffman. For further developement Graffman had recommended a professor friend of his to tutor Lang Lang in literature and culture. The professor was also an amateur pianist and told Lang a story of how not long before, he had played a Schubert piece for Graffman and asked him for an honest critique. Said Graffman "there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that had Schubert been alive, you would have given him a heart attack. But the good news is that it would not have been fatal!" The professor took that as a great compliment!

4. Not long ago I attended a brilliant recital of Eric Silberger - Tchaikovsky laureate, and a prize pupil of Glenn Dicterow with whom I had briefly studied years ago and have kept in touch with. After the concert I turned to Glenn who was just a row in back of me and said "Eric did a great job!" But then, purposely repeating history, I tugged at my collar and said "You know, it's rather hot in here!" Immediately getting the reference, Glenn laughed and then said with amazing modesty "for all of us"!

Emily - brava! I know from personal experience how tricky that part is!

March 4, 2012 at 11:37 PM · I played the piano once (in the mid 1980s) for Marian McPartland and she said, "You are a fine player." Such generosity I have seldom known.

Emma's entry reminded me of an experience I had in high school at a Solo and Ensemble festival. My brother (flute), my father (piano), and I (violin) played the "Aria" by Jacques Ibert. No, it is not virtuoso material -- but we just wanted to play something nice and enjoy ourselves. After we finished, the judge looked at us with his hands folded in front of him and said, "Will you play it again?"

March 6, 2012 at 09:24 PM · Thank you all for your input. Two of my favorites:

One summer, when I had just finished high school, Jean, a friend of the family, commented to my mom in an adjoining room, following a musical session: "Oh, Jane, I'll bet you just sit around and listen all day."

Mom replied, "I'm tempted to sometimes."

For context, see original post at Playing for Kids.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When I was 20, two fellow-students chipped in to get me a sweatshirt with two words custom-printed on the back: STRING POWER.

These were two of the players I got together with for chamber music sessions. For many weeks, I provided the transportation, and they wanted to show their appreciation.

A few years later, when I had left my parents' home and was out on my own, I had just washed the sweatshirt and stretched it out on the line. When it was dry and I went to take it down from the line, I found the following handwritten note, which I've preserved. One of my new neighbors had taped it on the collar:

"Dear 'String' --

"We enjoy your playing

very much! My husband and

I are also musicians --

he, clarinet and I, organ

and conducting. If you have

a minute some day and are

of the inclination -- drop

over. We're at __________.

"Anne & Michael __________"

Very soon I did stop by to see them and had a great visit. Michael was completing his degree program in clarinet performance and was a member of the CSO's training school, as I had been not long before. Small world.

March 7, 2012 at 01:29 AM · Greetings,

I sometimes use the following pattern when it is rather predictable what the response will be:

Buri: Did you like what you just played?

Shy student: Mmm.mmm.mmmmno.

Buri: Well, that`s your problem. I did!



March 7, 2012 at 01:58 AM · from a teacher: you're doing great! (i didnt even mind the bad grammar) earlier this teacher had said 'you're just bashing thru suzuki'. as a history teacher i once got a compliment from a student: 'you took a fairly boring subject and made it fairly interesting'. i just take any kind of praise from wherever i can get it.

March 7, 2012 at 02:12 PM · People react to compliments in different ways - and not always nicely:

I know a certain violinist who, I believe, suffers from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder - or more accurately, makes other people suffer from it. Everything is coming to him as his due. He expects everyone to praise him to the skies, and he collects compliments the way other people collect stamps. It's almost impossible to talk to him for more than a few minutes - and after a while, why would you want to? - without him saying "Do you know what so and so said to me? He said 'Mr.X', you are the greatest, you are incredible, nobody plays like you!"

Some respond with humor, or an anunexpected twist. I heard someone give the pop singer and pianist, Michael Feinstein, a big compliment, to which he responded "you're entitled to your opinion".

Some great violin virtuosos have responded very tactlessly or ungraciously. If someone would tell Heifetz that they had no words to express themselves at hpw much they were impressed, etc. he could be heard to say "that's your problem". Once H. went on tour with a pianist and a page turner. The page turner was very shy, and for a long time never said more than "good morning, Mr. H." or "good night, Mr. H." But once after a certain concert he was so blown away that he came up to H. and said "I just must tell you how incredibly impressed I was". Said H "so, I finally played something you liked?"

Mischa Elman was known for his big ego. Once a certain violinist met him on the street and said "Oh, you're Mr. Elman! I'm such a huge fan of yours! I have almost all of your records!" Said E. "what do you mean ALMOST all of my records? Why not ALL of my records? Do you have my latest one?"

This may be apochrophal, but here is a story of how Heifetz and Elman got their come-upance. They were having lunch somehwere and someone handed an envelope to the maitre d', inscribed "to the world's greatest violinist". Whom to give it to? The maitre d' discretely placed it exactly inbetween them, and got out of the way. H. said "Mischa, this must be for you". "No", said E., "it must be for you, Jascha." They went back and forth, and finally, H. was prevailed upon to open it. The note began "Dear Nathan"!

Once Joseph Fuchs, who was still performing past 90, gave a recital late in his career. His colleague, pedagog Raphael Bronstein, came backstage and complimented him on how well he played and how remarkably he kept up his playing. Said F. "Bronstein", I gotta hand it to you - you know a great artist when you hear one!"

We are often our own toughest critics, and sometimes have trouble accepting a compliment, especially if we feel that we didn't do well. But backstage, we should never argue with someone who pays us a compliment, and accept it graciously. The first celebrity I ever met back as a kid was Yehudi Menhuin, after I attended a concert he gave. I went to the greenroom to get his autograph and heard many people compliment him. His answer was always the same - a simple, gracious "thank you". A good lesson for all of us!

March 7, 2012 at 03:05 PM · Another Elman story. Apparently, after a concert, in the green room, he was signing autographs and going on and on, talking about himself. Finally, somewhat self-consciously, he stopped and said, "My psychiatrist tells me I shouldn't talk about myself so much. Tell me, what did you think of my playing tonight?"

A woman came up to Sir Thomas Beecham and said that she would be honored if he would be the Godfather to her child. Beecham said he'd be delighted, "But why bring God into it?"

March 7, 2012 at 03:27 PM · On my first day when I auditioned for my teacher she said "you are going to be better than me, and everyone at this university by the time you're twenty...

March 7, 2012 at 10:54 PM · I am an adult beginner and have been learning the violin for four months now. Some weeks ago I was following instructions trying to do something seemingly impossible with my left hand. After many tries, I almost got it. My teacher remarked: this would have been perfect, if you had bowed the right string. I thought that was a very funny compliment.

March 7, 2012 at 11:01 PM · A Heifetz pupil showed the master a bow he was considering, and wanted Heifetz' opinion. Said H. "very good bow - for pizzicato!"

March 7, 2012 at 11:35 PM · This might not sound like a compliment to most people, but I've been playing fiddle without a left hand for 26 years. Naturally I attract some attention from strangers. A couple of years ago a fellow fiddler sitting next to me said, out of the blue, "You know, if people didn't see you play, they would think you were just another fiddler."

To me that was high praise, because that has always been my goal.

March 8, 2012 at 01:54 PM · Lyle - bravo, truly.

I told a story of this gig in connection with hickeys. Here's another aspect of the time I was hired along with a number of other violinists to back up Tony Bennet in a commercial for MTV in its early days.

We were there just for show. The music had already been pre-recorded by a synthesiser, and that's what they were going to use. But we had to play the music anyway and co-ordinate it to Bennet, etc. So we had a quick rehearsal before the 1st take. The producer said "Hey, that sounded good! It sounded as good as our pre-recorded track!" Some compliment! Like saying that a real flower looks as good as a plastic one!

March 9, 2012 at 10:04 PM · Raphael: That's what is known as a "left-handed compliment" - a compliment that's not really a compliment. Like the following:

"I've never heard a violin played quite like that."

"Very interesting."

"You managed to make that passage sound really in tune."

"Did you change your regular practice routine?"

"How come you never hear Milstein play like that?"

"Well, you did make it look easy."



March 9, 2012 at 10:22 PM · I know. But the thing is, I don't think he realised the irony in what he was saying. But we all did. Nobody said anything, but a few of us looked at one another with an expression as if to say "how about that? We managed to sound as good as a machine that was built to sound like us (to say nothing of replace us)!"

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