I'm 27 years old, and I'm certain that performing violin - in some capacity - is my calling. While I fully accept the risks of pursuing my passion, I often wonder if the risk is too foolish given my background.
I had my first violin lesson at 5 years old, and after just a few weeks, it ended.
At 12 years old, my passion for classical music was pretty clear, so my parents let me have lessons - this time by my own choice. I excelled at the violin, and was eventually accepted by a well-known teacher. She told me I had a lot of natural talent, but that I needed to practice more. And that was the issue.
At 14, another excellent teacher - a former student of greats, including Isaac Stern - took me on as a student for free, in exchange for gardening work. When I simply didn't practice enough, she rightfully let me go. At the time, I couldn't figure out why I didn't have the concentration, energy, or motivation to practice more than - say - a half hour. And this problem was not just with the violin.
At 18, I sounded pretty good, but I was far-behind technically. To my surprise, my no-name state university offered me a spot in their violin performance program. The head professor told me that I sounded great, but that my technical skills needed a lot of work. Two years into the program, my violin professor 'let me go' due to not practicing enough. Again, I felt terrible, but understood her decision. What I couldn't understand was my lack of motivation; I simply did not have the frame of mind, focus, or presence of reason to plan out a practice session and go at it for three hours (w/ breaks). This lack of desire and motivation - almost a numb, fog-like affect - had been present since I could remember. It felt normal at the time. I didn't think that it could be anything but normal.
From 20 to 24, I rarely picked up the instrument, and then there was a breakthrough. During a check-up, my doctor insisted that I get evaluated for mental health issues. After several intensive weeks evaluation, I was diagnosed with 'atypical clinical depression.' I resisted the diagnosis, because to me, there was nothing I had known different from my own thoughts. I couldn't imagine that there was anything that could improve my lack of concentration, energy, and poor mood. But I was wrong. It would be an understatement to say that treatment (medication) changed my life and gave me an identity. I think most people who are treated for depression go from no identity to some identity. I would later find out from my parents that a psychiatrist had diagnosed me with depression when I was 11, but declined to prescribe me medication because he thought I'd grow out of it.
After learning about the author David Foster Wallace's death (which had occurred just a few years prior to my diagnosis), I asked my doctor to put me on Nardil - the same medication that had allowed Wallace to be so productive for many years. Nardil is a powerful anti-depressant, and studies show it is more effective than SSRIs. The problem? It's powerful and creates very serious allergies to certain kinds of food (but it's really not a problem - it's just over-hyped that way...). But it works, and it literally "cured" my depression - an imbalance in my head that I was completely unaware of. It's a strange feeling to suddenly experience "normal," because you kinda feel like you've missed out on living. But the treatment works so well, you put that in perspective, too. It's probably like being blind your whole life, and then suddenly being able to see colors. That's the analogy I'd give.
I went back to practicing violin at 25, and actually had the new-found ability to practice, and stick with it. I was still only good at Book 5 - maybe 6 of Suzuki, but could play what I knew well enough to (1) do weddings (2) play at a restaurant and (3) busk regularly on campus. Grad school and pressure from parents shaved off a lot of dedication I had to the instrument from 24 to 27.
So here I am, now free of school, done with the degree, and more independent... and still certain that I want to perform. I have good form, but intonation issues are often obscured by my vibrato. And the Vivaldi Violin Concerto in A (movement 3) is too technically challenging for me in parts... strangely. That's a sign of technical issues or gaps.
The below link is how I currently sound (no augmentation; the echos are in a real room).
Given my background and current ability, would it be realistic for me to pursue a professional career by around 37 - in ten years? I currently practice 3+ hours per day and have been doing so for the last year without issue; the improvement has been dramatic. I'd like to think that if I choose this route - as opposed to a normal career - that in 7 to 10 years I could possibly audition for a very good orchestra, or maybe even go solo for small, community gigs (or, not?). And please assume that my mental health issues are in full remission.
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.