WP article: 'I used to love playing violin. But mastering it broke my heart.'

December 3, 2016 at 08:42 PM · What do you all think of this article in the Washington Post?

I used to love playing violin. But mastering it broke my heart.

Replies (57)

December 3, 2016 at 09:39 PM · Is Arianna not a victim of cynical, even bitter, uninspired and uninspiring teaching? Every single note should glow, and scales should be like a rainbow!

December 3, 2016 at 09:54 PM · Yes, she definitely is! At least the way she experienced it, this year of exclusively etude playing must have been a torture...

December 3, 2016 at 10:03 PM · If practicing ruined your music making, you did not practice well.... and did not master this instrument.

Cry me a river.

December 3, 2016 at 10:40 PM · I would never give a student, particularly a child, scales and etudes only to practice. Students need to be making music all along. This article seems to me to be a teacher fail.

December 3, 2016 at 11:03 PM · As unfortunate as this story sounds, I cannot sympathize with her self pity. Blaming the teacher is an easy way to avoid the reality that she didn't have the chops (or luck) to become world famous. If that is one's definition of success, then you are setting yourself up for major disappointment. In the end, whatever the teacher prescribed got her into Juilliard. Perhaps it is exactly what she needed to attain the technical proficiency to "have a shot," but it still wasn't enough.

This story is a must read for anyone considering music as a major. If your goal is to be a world famous soloist, make sure you have a back up plan that will make you happy. Otherwise, you have a high probability of being disappointed.

December 3, 2016 at 11:41 PM · I came across this really enjoyable performance on youtube.

https://youtu.be/CzFvgcTIsxg

December 4, 2016 at 12:21 AM · Smiley reminds me of my other reaction to this article: her goal of being a soloist. The world does not have nearly enough room for every Juilliard- or Curtis-trained violinist to become a soloist. Teachers need to be introducing students to other paths, and students need to be seeking out other musical experiences as well--school or youth orchestra, quartets, community orchestra, etc. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had in a life like mine in music, though I'm no soloist and I'm not famous.

December 4, 2016 at 12:45 AM · Let's try to imagine a chef complaining about the number of onions and potatoes peeled, carrot sliced and diced, salad dressed, meals arranged, cuts and bruises and small burns... or just any profession where hard work is necessary to achieve a high level of excellence. Pilots clocking the hours of flight, simulating the loss of an engine, emergency landings...

Why would a violin player be an exception?

December 4, 2016 at 03:36 AM · Rocky makes a good point. There are a couple of other aspects to this story. First, one of the problems with career goals that are formulated at a very young age is that the person making the goals changes. The author of the article made the fateful change of teachers at the age of 11. That's the age at which change -- both physical and emotional -- is often very rapid and dramatic for a girl. Second, if she can direct her career into another area (writing, journalism, etc.), with the skill that she's built up she can really enjoy herself as a violinist, perhaps even more than a professional of comparable ability. Only if she feels her training is wasted would I consider her story to have a sad ending. And then it's her parents' hearts that will break, not her own.

December 4, 2016 at 03:41 AM · It's very sad. It brings tears to my eyes. Technique is important, but so is musicality and passion.

December 4, 2016 at 05:00 AM · Oh brother....

When I was young, my outlook was filled with joy in both the summer sunshine and even in deep New England snows.

I then grew up and realized I needed to have a job to be able to support myself, and later my wife and children. No longer were my days filled with carefree playfulness and footloose freedom to do as I wished. I was required to be at work and to get things done. Pretty cut and dried, no work, no pay, no food, no house.

My fragile inner snowflake was forever crushed. I had long ago put away my sled that used to bring me such joy....now relegated to the back of the shed collecting dust.

And then one day a big snowstorm hit. And instead of the usual dread of having to shovel out the damn car to be able to trudge off to work for yet another in an endless march of 9-5 days in the salt mines of the workforce, I let the car stay buried under the load of snow. I got out my snow boots, gloves and hat and blazed a trail out to the shed. "Cmon kids!" I shouted over my shoulder. But I was unsure if my legs would still be able to carry me to the top of DeathThrill Hill, the years of disuse weighing heavily upon them. Yet making it up the hill I did, and so did my kids. Those kids that I had traded my freedom and carefree lifestyle for. Those kids I toil away in Corporate America for.

Halfway down the hill as we all scream with joy at the speed and thrill I realize that the happiness has been there all along, if only I don't complain about growing up as being a burden of some sort like some whiny Washington Post reporter.

;^)

.

December 4, 2016 at 09:36 AM · Rocky, does an apprentice chef spend years only dicing onions etc?

December 4, 2016 at 09:37 AM · Flesch, Galamian, Fischer, Yankelevich all stress that technique must have a musical goal.

Arianna should have been shown how to practice, and how to enjoy practicing. It reminds me of Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Noble Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"..

December 4, 2016 at 12:46 PM · Wow. You guys are harsh. I think that she was not complaining so much as sharing her story. I think it was a good lesson on making sure that you continue to enjoy what you are doing and not to turn it into a mechanical, passion-less pursuit for the hope of becoming a soloist.

Her story and those like hers are a good reminder of why we need to pursue what we love for the love of what we pursue.

Everyone on here is so defensive it almost seems like they thought they were being attacked by her in some manner. Her story has little to do with most others story of pursuing excellence.

So...relax and take it for what it is...a reminder to make sure you enjoy the violin and that you encourage others to enjoy the violin.

Jessy

December 4, 2016 at 01:42 PM · If I recall correctly, Menuhin had a similar kind of experience, when, during a later point of his studies, teachers started to try to fix the things that were wrong with his technique. He lost a certain amount of his expressivity that he never regained.

December 4, 2016 at 01:57 PM · "Everyone on here is so defensive it almost seems like they thought they were being attacked by her in some manner".

I'm not sure I see that. I think stories like Arianna's are more common than we would imagine.

December 4, 2016 at 02:56 PM · Adrian,

no... my point is that some of us have forgotten about the old school when apprenticeship was an integral part of learning the trade.

When I was a kid, I told my teacher I was not sure I wanted to become a violinist, because one works so hard for only a few minutes on stage. He looked at me and asked: "How many minutes does a boxes spend in the ring?"

Watch a movie "Jiro dreams of sushi" and remember the master next time you are too lazy to pick up your violin!

R

December 4, 2016 at 03:16 PM · I don't think anyone here is complaining about hard repetitive work; but we need strategies to keep it "alive", and not lose sight of why we play in the first place.

December 4, 2016 at 04:35 PM · I didn't get the impression that she regrets the hard work. I think she is struggling to find meaning in the work beyond her own personal enjoyment.

It's interesting that she mentions improvisation. That's a big soapbox topic for me, so I'll try to restrain myself. But I think a lot of musicians are in her position, having worked so hard to train at something for which there is very limited demand. That isn't to say there's unlimited demand for violinists who are able to improvise (far from it), but it does open some different doors, both practically and mentally. It also offers a sense of being able to bring something genuinely new to the world, a refreshing antidote to spending so much time on standard repertoire that has already been perfected by countless other musicians.

Nobody knows better than musicians how competitive the industry is, but I do actually think it's possible to not be fully aware of how relatively limited public interest is for way too long, especially if one grows up in a musical family and is surrounded by other excellent music students. It's easy to think that everyone cares that much. Having come from a family completely indifferent to music (outside of being supportive of me), I've always felt I had a different perspective on that than most. I'm guessing the author came from a very driven, musically-involved family, and spent a lot of time in conservatories or conservatory prep programs from a very early age. Emerging from that bubble may have been a rude awakening for her.

December 4, 2016 at 07:11 PM · another example of toxic overdose on technical work, like taking too much of a drug, or an athlete doing too much weight training. Technical work, warm-up, exercises, etudes, should not take more than one hour, then work on the real music. Stopping repertoire work to focus on a technical problem should only need a few weeks. jq

December 4, 2016 at 07:57 PM · The main point is violin mastery is not something you do just for "a career" or to "compete"; one must be ready to marry to our beloved instrument for its own sake, as well as the privilege of music making of any kind-hopefully the type the performer likes for the most part. I disagree "mastering the violin" will undo's one's passion or musicianship-I believe the article's name is a bit of a click-bait, albeit non-traditionally so.

I believe this person could have been a wonderful musician with the right approach to her instrument and its modern "business trappings." She probably plays pretty good, and deep down must still love the repertoire. It's just not that teacher, much less "violin mastery", that derailed her from her initial, "musically innocent" course. She didn't need to be a soloist or Berlin Philharmonic member to be "fulfilled" as a "true career violinist."

Glad she is seemingly getting back to what should have been the draw in the first place-the violin and its immense repertoire and/or musical uses (whether improvised or not.)

(Nothing wrong with technique, unless absolutely overdone in a beyond-Sevcik manner. Even then, the individual violinist has to make a conscious choice to never let a means to an end become THE end, no matter what any teacher or competition panel may say.)

December 5, 2016 at 03:06 AM · Also, the environment has really changed at places like Juilliard, where they are now starting more programs in the business side of music. A number of people have shared that a certain point in the past, the sole focus was on having a solo career, to the exclusion of anything else, and that can be very suffocating to someone who is maybe headed down the right road (the pursuit of music) but finds it to be all "one way," not allowing them to branch out.

I didn't think she was being a whiny snowflake; she seemed older than that, for one, and also that's just kind of a BS hate term for millennials.

I don't think it's a foreign experience to a lot of classical musicians who have pursued this at an elite level, or even simply at the college level, that the constant drill and the constant pursuit of perfection makes it hard to let go and make music.

December 5, 2016 at 09:01 AM · I do think everyone feels frustrated and goes through certain growing pains during their musical development (which is a never ending process). Life is fair, because it is unfair to everyone at one point or another.

Lest we forget the true artists such as Bach and Mozart (among many others) who were impoverished and did not enjoy worldwide recognition during their lives. I'm sure this girl (like many of her Juilliard classmates and teachers), comes from a privileged background. According to her biography, prior to Juilliard, she attended Phillips Exeter Academy for high school. Tuition there is $36,110 a year. She also attended NEC. I'm fairly certain she has had many more doors opened for her than the majority of people reading this article. A successful person realizes when those doors are opening and walks through them. No one is owed a career!

December 5, 2016 at 09:26 AM · Over the years, amonst my students (middle and high-school level) the Happy Few, talent-wise, have varied histories. Of those who have kept in touch, two have become successful professionals; one gifted beginner was then put off by a very stupid teacher, but continued her piano lessons; and another, as I sometimes like to say, loved music too much to submit it to the Rat Race, but worked just as hard.

Music is not a discipline, it is an art which requires discipline; music is not a task, but playing it is; success has to be deserved, but joy is a grace; we point to the moon, and the idiot points to our finger; etc. etc.

December 5, 2016 at 05:04 PM · The problem as I see it is that joy comes partially from contentment, and some artists have banished contentment, either because they have become obsessed with achievements or have the wrong motivations. In the case of the article's subject... it seems to me that her motivations for playing music were not for the joy of music as much as she wanted a career in music and the things that such a career would bring.

I think every artist comes to understand at some point that they can be their harshest critic. The more a person critiques themselves and reaches for higher standard the more pressure they place on themselves to achieve something better. Eventually, they can come to only see what they perceive as their shortcomings. At that point they fail to see what they have already achieved and only what they have not.

The more seriously we take any endeavor, and especially when we place ourselves in a position where we must do something, we may diminish our love of it. I used to love computers, until I became a computer scientist and chose computing technologies as my career. I'm good at what I do, but it is no longer what I choose to do when I have time for myself.

December 5, 2016 at 05:59 PM · I see what Jessy is saying about "not being overly worried about becoming a soloist" as a young person (paraphrased). The problem is that if one *never* has that goal, then one will certainly not reach it. People do not become soloists accidentally. For better or for worse, the standards of technical perfection in violin playing have become so high that rigorous training cannot wait until college, and arguably not even until high school. And I cannot imagine any part of fingered octaves that could ever be fun. So if everybody follows the advice of just playing because you love it and not being worried about having a solo career, then in 30 years we will have no soloists. Ms. Rauch gets credit for at least trying to make sure that doesn't happen.

I also appreciated Nate's comment about privilege. Most of the families that I know where a child is taking serious music lessons are upper middle class families. There are exceptions, and fortunately some of the better-established studios can provide need-based discounts ("scholarships"). But violin isn't the only pursuit that requires expensive training and equipment.

December 5, 2016 at 06:13 PM · In the case of my professionals-to-be, their talent, sensitivity and commitment was coupled with an inner ambition which came from them, not from myself or from their parents. I'm relieved to hear that their subsequent task-masters were more than pleased with my work.

I am trying to train Ardent Amateurs in such a way that if they also have Ambition, their Success will still radiate their Joy.

December 5, 2016 at 06:36 PM · There's nothing wrong with aiming to be a soloist, but at every step of the way, there should be someone providing the student with an unflinchingly realistic assessment of her chances. Even if the odds are good (and hers couldn't have been abysmal, since she was able to make it to international competitions), the student should still understand that success is a long shot for everybody.

December 5, 2016 at 06:46 PM · I feel bad for her experience. I have often gotten the sense that conservatories (the conservatories and students I have experience with) set students up really poorly for the real world, and that a lot of students come out feeling like they have had their time wasted. It's so much work. It doesn't follow for me that getting to a really high level has to destroy your motivation, just that there are teachers that don't bother understanding their students' psychology, which, coupled with the power dynamics inherent in the relationship, and with a lot of students being pretty sheltered and vulnerable, can really kill a student's love of music.

December 5, 2016 at 07:26 PM · I definitely agree with Christian. The conservatory education, and even the pre-college prep bubble all seem a bit dated, and narrowly-focused to me. Teachers demand regimens, in which they expect nothing but blind belief and obedience, with any deviation requiring express permission, and perhaps some bureaucratic administrative maneuvers. Ah the joy of submitting applications or taking small gigs without "permission", and the backlash. These teachers also never seem to be interested, at least in my experience, in what kind of career the student has in mind until push comes to shove. Many of my classmates had neither academic nor entrepreneurial ability, nor long term goals, beyond being a professional musician in some sort of centuries old institutionalized way and following teacher's (and sometimes parents') orders. I think conservatories need to embrace the 21st century, and promote interdisciplinarity, business skills, long-term planning, and critical thinking.

December 5, 2016 at 08:47 PM · Interesting that improvisation was mentioned by the author. It’s true that many violinists find themselves at professional level and can’t play a note without music, whether that is playing by ear or improvising. I truly believe that not all work on technique sets you up to play anything you want and that certain ways you channel your energy can actually preclude other skills to the point where you don’t stand much chance to acquire them. Improvisation is one of the victims of this but I think certain channels of expression and spontaneity are also fragile. If you don’t explain musical ends to a student then studies can be dangerous things. If you tell a student to play all notes evenly you have to also tell them, ‘…but this is not how music works’!

December 6, 2016 at 02:13 AM · Even though I never achieved the level she did, and never achieved mastery, I related to the article. Partly because it validated my choice not to pursue the instrument at an elite or conservatory level. I hated the emphasis on technique and progress and getting better--just the whole obsession with talent and "making it" and with being "any good" that seemed to pervade the whole enterprise when I was a child. I found the joy again when I picked up the instrument years later as an adult and couldn't be happier as an amateur. To me that's what music is about.

December 6, 2016 at 01:01 PM · There are three chapters in Arianna's story; a blessed childood, an adolescence where her spirit was crushed, and a bitter young adulthood. There is no hint that she shunned hard work.

We can't do much about the Rat Race, but we surely can blame a teacher who corrupts the enthusiasm of an 11 year-old.

December 6, 2016 at 02:35 PM · Let's also not forget that once one reaches the level of career soloist (or any professional level, really), ones job is no longer just to love music. The job is to create a rewarding experience for the audience, which is not always wine and roses for the musician, as our veteran Nutcracker warriors can attest. Find me somebody who's been paid more than gas money to play music who's never slogged through something they hated or long ago grown tired of, and that certainly includes the rich and famous as well. Even top 40 artists get burned out on playing their big hits from 20 years ago, annoyed that they have moved on artistically, while the fans have not.

It is mostly a highly rewarding job, but it's still a job. It has to be understood that way. If you don't love it like you once did, well, welcome to work. Obviously, if you hate every second of it, then find something else to do with your life. But again I think we have an issue of expectations versus reality here.

December 6, 2016 at 04:30 PM · Lieschen wrote, "Teachers demand regimens, in which they expect nothing but blind belief and obedience, with any deviation requiring express permission, and perhaps some bureaucratic administrative maneuvers."

Well, I've never been to a conservatory nor even dreamed of going to one, but I didn't really understand this statement. What are these "regimens" of which you write? Are they scale practice -- seems to me the student would understand the point of that okay -- or are they requirements for how one should live one's private life? Would it be bad, for example, if the teacher said to the student, "I've learned over the years that I can save a lot of time and money and actually eat healthier if I am preparing simple meals for myself from whole foods at home rather than eating in restaurants or ordering take-out. Then I have more time to prepare orchestra music, sleep, exercise, etc."

December 6, 2016 at 05:10 PM · I think it starts right from the beginning where a teacher says 'don't play anything other than what I've set you'. The fear is that there will be bad technical habits. I tell my students to explore the instrument - literally play. You discover a lot by noodling around or you lose a lot by not doing this at all.

December 6, 2016 at 06:27 PM · Basics, then scales, and especially arpeggios, nourish our playing, provided we concentrate on tone and intonation. Studies are musical compositions, often of poor quality, which deaden the mind if we use them "mechanically".

My usual "regimen" is 1/3 basics, 1/3 studies or review, and 1/3 repertoire. The first 2/3 must have ringing tone and thoughtful intonation. This should be enjoyable, or at least satisfying in itself. Repertoire can take us to a personal, expressive zone.

The precise content of the lesson will depend on reading the student's expressions and posture as we proceed, as well as the actual playing. We have absolutely no right to do less for our student.

December 6, 2016 at 06:41 PM · I must again reiterate, there's nothing wrong with technique or technical "regimens"-granted they are intelligently prescribed, and never to the detriment of other musical pieces. I don't see her article as "violin technique" vs "musicality", which is an old argument that can't be proved (one can be both incredibly proficient in the instrument AND play musically-the goal after all!) I have also seen the ill effects of an "all etudes" approach in pianists, and it can certainly crush some people's morale. I don't recommend that. But to blame great technical facility to lack of musicianship is a common pitfall, in my strong opinion-you don't become more proficient to play less musically, but in order to express an immense, endless array of musical ideas with both the left and right arm.

You can't be musical without limits if you forgo technical proficiency. Avoid thinking that you are "musical" BECAUSE you lack certain technical elements-a more positive approach would be realizing your musical talent, but wanting to feel freer to express yourself even more, by dutifully working on your technique.

(Fingered octaves are fine, and useful when practiced right, BTW-no offense intended to those who eschew them.)

December 6, 2016 at 07:33 PM · Yikes, I just enjoyed the read and hearing someone tell a story about their arts experience. I don't judge any of it, or her. I thought it was a great read (but ended abruptly - for which I'll blame an editor who likely truncated it to reduce word count). It was her speaking her truth, and it resonated deeply with me. (More as a writer than as a student of the violin.)

December 6, 2016 at 11:02 PM · I sometimes wonder if detail-oriented practice, where you really truly listen to yourself, sometimes kills "musicality" because you are now listening to what you are producing, rather than glorying in whatever it is that is happening in your head.

Getting to the point where the audience is hearing the same thing that you wanted them to hear is actually a massive challenge, and one that can be very frustrating.

December 6, 2016 at 11:47 PM · I advocate enjoying sound and detail in technical practice, so that the lovely things in my head have something to work on when I leave my internal studio for the real thing.

December 7, 2016 at 02:18 AM · I'm new to the violin, so have much to learn from others here and very little to contribute with respect to playing the violin. However, I've noticed already that when practicing the quality of my playing tends to drop off the more I push myself, and at that point it can get frustrating and I lose my joy for playing. But the time periods in between sessions seems to be where my mind makes the real leaps, and where progress is queued up for the next session. Its also where I experience an increased thirst to get back to playing again. In short, I think there's something to the idea that pushing yourself too hard at anything can lead to a lack of joy, and being able to 'walk away' from it for a while is a huge part of maintaining joy and making progress.

December 7, 2016 at 04:48 AM · I think in a way the article's describing a trade-off that happens in almost every creative field - and probably some others, too. A good magician never reveals his secrets; when you've studied and worked and learned the technique and details and the nitty-gritty that go into every moment of every piece, it's incredibly hard to see it as something magic. You're analyzing it now, not just reacting to it.

This is probably something that affects professionals and those on the professional track more than amateurs, too - higher expectations both from themselves and from other lead to greater pressure, professionals will inevitably spend a large amount of time playing music that doesn't necessarily speak to them personally and have to fake it, and also just the outrageous numbers of hours you need to spend with the instrument to gain or maintain a professional career, from childhood on, can take their toll. It's not always an escape, it's often a source of stress, and that doesn't necessarily stem from pushy parents or strict teachers, it's just the nature of the field where one always has to be self-critical, self-analytical, and always strive for some unobtainable goal of the completely satisfying performance.

Some people decide that the tradeoff is worth it, that never being good enough is worth it for those brief moments where something clicks and you sense the sublime. Others decide that it's not and that they can be happier in other ways.

December 8, 2016 at 05:20 AM · I decided to write my thoughts about this article in a blog, here it is.

December 8, 2016 at 09:32 PM · Sometimes I think that something thought, spoken or written by someone at a certain point along their timeline of life is taken by others to be a declaration of "the way things are". In such cases, some see the thoughts as a challenge to their own cherished (comfortable) point of view of "the way things are".

I suspect the truth is more flexible. Sometimes, even a period of artistic doldrums, or a misplaced (shallow) ambition can be overcome. In fact, I suspect that on the road to mastery, each of us goes through this cycle again and again. Most of us "stay in the game" because we have learned how quickly our perspective can shift. After such times of disillusionment, we often find the joy of expressive music making again.

I think we should see this article not so much as a pronouncement of "how it is", but of where she is now (temporarily) on her journey as an artist. I truly suspect that when she finds the joy again, her expression will only be better for having moved through this period of the doldrums.

One other thought: I remember a conversation with a 95-year-old Orlando Cole (esteemed cello pedagogue from Curtis). Someone at our lunch table was bemoaning the rising number of great players, in the face of fewer and fewer places for them to go. His years of perspective shone through his remark: "I think there will always be room at the top for those who are good at what they do-- even if they need to make a new way for themselves. And if they get discouraged and give up--- well, then there'll be more room for somebody else! hehe"

December 11, 2016 at 05:52 PM · Here in France, folks often seem to be taught that you are either a professional soloist, or as a consolation prize, an orchestral player; the rest of us are failures and should stop wasting folks' time. And many choral socities find it "normal" to sing very flat. All the time.

Sometimes I feel a bit of a missionary.

December 21, 2016 at 01:30 AM · @Paul, I was talking more along the lines of repertoire and outside activities. In many cases, repertoire choice at a music school may be determined somewhat arbitrarily by dated jury requirements which correspond to the year of study, and only include the most well-worn warhorses. Some teachers strictly follow these requirements, instead of attending to the individual needs of their students, and no one really questions the effectivity of this. I had a teacher, and have known others to have teachers, where entering competitions, studying non-standard recordings ( none of my teachers ), and taking gigs outside of school is pretty much forbidden, and not to be rebelled against.

December 21, 2016 at 01:34 AM · I can see the value of individual interests among violin students, but if you're training a soloist, it would seem to me they need to learn the pieces that orchestras will expect them to have in repertoire otherwise they'll never get hired. So if it's a choice between Beethoven and Adams, I think that's a no-brainer.

December 21, 2016 at 02:02 AM · I would add to what Paul said, people auditioning to get into a professional orchestra are better off if they play a standard concerto. It is frustrating to be on an audition committee and a candidate launches into a piece I'm not familiar with and have no idea how accurate their rhythm is or if they're playing it stylistically correctly.

December 21, 2016 at 06:58 PM · Yeah, that's the thing about auditions. A warhorse is usually the only real option. I have seen multiple audition lists restrict the concerto selection to Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Sibelius or Tchaikovsky, and an excellent rendition of any one of those will serve you well at any audition. So it does make sense to ensure that your students leave with at least one of them up to snuff, if you are a music school purporting to prepare people for orchestra auditions.

On the other hand, Lieschen, I completely understand your argument: does it really make sense to keep training so many orchestral players when there are so few orchestra jobs? I would say not.

December 21, 2016 at 10:16 PM · Sarah - if people train less students, I would think orchestras would diminish because of the numbers - there are less professionals available because less students are being trained. And then there would be even less job openings. Maybe the system is fine the way it is.

December 22, 2016 at 04:25 AM · I read the article and the first image that came to mind is that famous story of J.S. Bach trudging on foot like 30 miles, manuscripts under his arm, from Leipzig to Lubeck, to study with Deitrich Buxtehude.

Learning anything is like laying bricks, like it is with any sort of house. I feel sorry for the woman that she had a crappy teacher that broke her spirit, but that happens sometimes, in all human endeavors, from professional sports to music. If its not at the end of the day fun, or challenging, why do it? You'd think someone with the opportunity and the support (and yes, the money) to devote her entire life would realize this. But that's the nature of highly competitive fields--gain the world, lose your soul. Burnout is a sign that you need a break. The world and society are often stupid and our sense of failure often reflects these irrational thoughts. We all can't be soloists.

I'm writing this from the perspective of a middle aged (48) adult who just started the violin. My idea of practicing is to practice my bowing, and a few scales and simple songs in the basement for ten minutes before I go to bed (these sessions often turn into half-hour to an hour sessions because I loose track of time). Soon I will seek a teacher, because laying bricks is something I'd rather not do alone for the sake of whatever house gets built. I'd commit murder to have a tenth of a percent of the competency this woman likely has.

I love to improvise. Baroque musicians regularly did so and were encouraged to, and that's the tradition that I identify with, rather than the stuffy conservatory one. It's also a big part of folk and bluegrass fiddling.

-

December 22, 2016 at 02:44 PM · Here's a recording of Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch playing Bach for a competition, round 1, which was apparently good enough to get her into round 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_9dCrKgsWw

In it, I don't hear someone who's lost her soul or any such silly claim - not someone without expressive ability and appreciation of the music, nor anyone who has much to complain about in her musical education for that matter. Unfortunately though, I do hear some technical imperfections, so to me her article positioning technical work as displacing music doesn't ring true, and I can see exactly why her teachers might have had her continue to work on technical details.

I don't think that one can blame anyone else or any process for their own lack of musical gifts. They can be and are awakened by exposure to others to some extent, but the awakening and development is of the self, and is not something which is really dependent on others.

December 22, 2016 at 11:35 PM · Sarah said: "Does it really make sense to keep training so many orchestral players when there are so few orchestra jobs? I would say not."

This is a big question which many teachers ponder, especially on the university level. I am reminded of a conversation my father had with Josef Gingold about this during one of my lessons. (I was fortunate to be able to study with Mr. Gingold in high School.

Mr. Gingold said that he realized that many of his students would never be able to make a living in music, but that many would go on to medical or law school, or figure out a different career path. He added that his mission with all of his students was to instill a love of music in them. In this way those that "made it" would enjoy their profession and those that didn't could possibly make enough money so that they would support their local symphony and arts organizations financially.

I have the same situation to a greater deal at a less prestigious university. However, I remember Emily who went to law school, Eric who went to Peabody to get a masters degree in recording technology, Nathan who went to medical school, Tim who is now a bow maker and repair person, Evangeline who is about to complete her PHD in early Christian studies at Notre Dame, and many others. I was especially touched recently by a previous student who said that he learned more than violin playing in his lessons, but also an approach to solving problems in his life and work.

I am also proud of the fact that every one of my music education majors were so well trained at my university that they were virtually assured a public school teaching job after graduation.

All of these people will help promote the art that we love.

December 23, 2016 at 12:20 AM · Inspiring post Bruce. You should keep doing what you are doing.

December 29, 2016 at 06:38 PM · I really like what David Russell wrote, that what the one said or wrote at a certain point along their timeline of life is not necessarily a declaration of "the way things are”, but rather, a story of a period of one’s life, which includes misplaced but correctable ambition or goals. It is the cycle of the life journey we must go through again and again. I take her story to be a positive one in that she went through the bumps and has gained new insight.

Loving violin and being able to put our fingers on some of the greatest masterpieces is a privilege few in the world can enjoy. Such privilege comes with all sorts of costs. At the end of the day, we have a choice whether to play victim or a victor. I think her transformation is clear and encouraging.

December 29, 2016 at 07:53 PM · I think it would do some good if more teachers inquired about their students' goals, encouraged them to ponder them early on, and steered them in a suitable direction rather than simply plunging in to lessons without a sense of the students' wishes. This is especially true at the more advanced stages of playing. Teachers also shouldn't act as if orchestra were the only thing to do in the professional music world. This is part of what promotes our "masterpiece syndrome", where living composers have little chance of breaking into the canon into the way Mozart and Beethoven have. This is part of why classical music, unlike many other genres, which constantly add new music to their repertoire, seems to be "dying." It is becoming increasingly important to be business savvy, and create one's own opportunities away from the establishment, and teachers, along with music programs need to get up to speed with this. It would definitely inspire some more people to keep practicing.

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