How are you doing on fulfilling your ambitions?
Lots of people come to v.com and ask for advice on progress and the next step -- on whether to go on to conservatory, on whether they can career-switch into music later in life, on how far they can progress as an adult beginner, on where to go to school, and so forth. I'm always super-curious what happens to those folks. I'd love to hear updates.
More broadly, for all readers: If you had a violin-related goal, how well have you been progressing towards it? Have your goals changed? Has the journey itself changed you, or your future ambitions?
I haven't posted about it (because I'm working with someone in real life) but starting last September, I decided to sort of rebuild some of my basic technique, starting with a new bow hold and then moving on to some left hand stuff. It took all fall/winter for the bow hold to really become permanent but it was worth the effort, paying off in terms of control and tone. Now I'm working on my vibrato (I'll be 60 in a few years and already have arthritis, so my vibrato is getting a bit stiff), trying to find something that will be sustainable into the future. I had a good arm vibrato when I was young, but for the last decade I've used mostly hand/wrist and I'm thinking about going back to mostly arm. We'll see.
I had the ambition from childhood to become a professional symphony player. I had been hearing symphonic music at home before starting elementary school and had always liked it. When a pro orchestra played at my elementary school, this motivated me to take up violin. Piano was actually my first instrument, but I didn't get far with it, because the violin muse grabbed me quite early, and I made the switch.
My goal was to play in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Today I teach middle school orchestra in Oklahoma.
My original ambition was to play "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" with an orchestra. I first wanted to be a musician when my mother took me to hear an all-Mozart symphonic concert. I was a little boy, fifty or so years ago. So far, I have yet to play Mozart with an orchestra. I guess that's okay; I've played a lot of other music with small ensembles.
Since I started late (age 16) and self-taught (with the benefit of 12 years of piano lessons and having played low brass in school bands), my ambitions were pretty simple to start out with. I had some "realistic" goals, and some "pie in the sky" goals.
Sadly, my goals switch every single day, and each day I wake up, it's as if my goals from the previous day become totally irrelevant. Eventually I cycle through the goals and come across some of my previous ones, but sometimes it's weeks or months before an old goal reappears. This makes it very hard to pursue anything in a linear way or have any sort of meaningful progression. Still, I do seem to have improved significantly despite practicing maybe 2 hours per month (average) in manic spurts.
Having already been down this road on another instrument, and having started at a more mature age than most, I knew what to expect. In my teens and twenties, I played trombone professionally, with the goal of landing a job in a major symphony orchestra. Instead I was a free-lancing, living hand-to-mouth playing music I would despise having to listen to. I earned a M. Mus, in Composition, but then noticed that there weren't any job listings for symphonists in the Help Wanted ads. So those ambitions were quickly dropped.
I find that time and energy are the enemy.
My first real ambition was to be able to play the Tchaik. Started hacking on the finale of my own at 15. By mid thirties, could basically play it (at an amateur level), several instruments and bows later. Then I moved on to other goals... Caprice 5, still working on controlling the original bowing. Paganini d major was actually instrumental in getting control of the Tchaik. Currently working on Beethoven mvmt 1, Ernst Last Rose, and various Bach s&ps. I figure that will probably take me the next 40 years. I can now play most of the music I used to love a kid, like an amateur. I hope to keep working on it and gradually get it all better. I have more patience for working at it this way than the way I probably should, perfecting easier pieces in order.
When I first came back to the violin, my goal was, once my former ability was regained, to get to a point where a high school graduate who is preparing for conservatory auditions would be. That is, be able to convincingly perform an outer movement of a major concerto, a major movement of solo Bach, and some Paganini. I would NOT actually go through with the audition!
Francis Browne wrote: "Currently working on Beethoven mvmt 1, Ernst Last Rose, and various Bach s&ps. [...] I can now play most of the music I used to love a kid, like an amateur."
Well I wish I'd been able to improve more than I have. Not sure exactly why, probably just not very disciplined practice habits. But with my work and family responsibilities I'm kind of transitioning more to an enjoyment phase. Still taking lessons and maybe I'll be able to dedicate more time to it once our oldest is off to college.
Lydia, that's certainly professional repetiore, I just mean that I can play it the way an enthusiastic amateur would play it - meaning, on a good day, a not-real-discerning listener might mistake me for a recording, but on a weak day, the tempo and some of the rougher notes aren't quite there, so I certainly can;t play at my limits with the kind of consistency of a pro who played those pieces.
My ambitions are all over the map and I've made little progress.
(I should mention that I can still play everything I learned in high school and could theoretically bring it back to performance standard if that were a goal. I have never really *stopped* playing–just stopped working on solo literature and practicing the way one should, with studies and scales and etudes every day.)
Katie, if you haven't dropped it completely, and are more or less where you were, you're probably fine - I was around there from about 22-35, at which point I had a significant upward progress (for a variety of reasons, which I've noted a bit elsewhere). It is definitely possible to make progress in your 30s, and apparently, even 40s. I read someone here saying you could do this at least into your 60s, and in some cases, further.
Hey, Katie - just realized that since I've been plodding through making some progress as an adult (without a teacher other than benefiting from my daughters' tuition), I might have a few other helpful hints to pass on in terms of at least noticing what worked for me. While I didn't get along real well with the one Simon Fischer books I tried to read, his video Secrets of Violin Tone Production is wonderful (because it shows the exercises and tells you what to do and why) for right arm tone production. I also found Ricci's Secrets of Left Hand Technique book to be fairly helpful in terms of opening my eyes to different ways to shift and hold the instrument.
I have always been amazed by adult amateurs who can, on their own, learn the VCs of Paganini, Tchaik and Beethoven; Ernst’ Last Rose! That is just fantastic!
Well, as I noted above, I certainly don't claim to be playing them all _well_ (yet). Just starting at the beginning and ending at the end, such that my family at least can recognize the pieces from recordings. Also, I had lots of lessons, just many years ago. I had lessons from age 4 through college (at which point I could play a mostly-passable Mozart 5). Since then I've been intermittently charging ahead on my own, other than as noted above - lots of help from my daughter's teacher, folks on this website, youtube, and various books and videos.
Lydia, the more I think about your question, the harder my answer becomes. But I’ll give it a try.
Well, this year has been a great year for my ambitions. Since I was a sophomore, I've wanted to solo with an orchestra, learn the Kabalevsky Concerto, and go to college for either music education and/or violin performance. All of these have been achieved this year. I performed Mozart 3 Mvt. 1 with my schools orchestra and played the solo 1st part in the Corelli Christmas Concerto, I learned the whole Kabalevsky concerto, and I got into the college I wanted to go to for both education and performance. Now there are a ton of prices I want to eventually learn.
In my freshman year of high school (when I began getting serious about playing and performing the violin), my goal was to perform the Mendelssohn E Minor for my senior concerto.
My goal/ambition is rather modest: keep improving. That will take me wherever it will, and as long as I am enjoying it I will keep doing it. I just love playing. It’s a rather disappointment proof goal in a way. I was never very much of a goal oriented person and never felt a need to achieve a set goal to remain motivated. I just enjoy whatever I do, and do it the best I can, always trying to improve upon what I did, but that in itself is a goal I suppose. There is no limit to what I do where I say I reached my goal.
My goal was to be in a full-time pro. orchestra. The closest I got was second place at a viola audition for a major league orchestra.
"Working more closely with professional violinists and pro-professional young string players lately, I start to notice that, when we reaches a certain “advanced” level, we become more aware of our strengths and weakness; therefore, it matters less what one plays or how hard a piece that one chooses to play than how well one can execute a piece. I noticed that, playing clearly, thoughtfully and musically of any piece is not an easy task, even for professionals, who usually knew this so well that they wouldn’t even try something that amateurs like myself consider totally doable."
I was looking for a 20th Century piece to work on. I had a ton of life stuff going on, so I had to put my violin down for a while. I'm back in the game now and am working on Bach a minor fugue (which I hadn't finished- or played particularly well when I played it years ago).
“For example, "Last Rose of Summer"--I've seen amateurs on this site discussing it, mentioning that they've played it--I have never played it and have no intention of ever doing so.”
This is a great discussion! It's inspired me to start polishing up some of the weaker bits of my Tchaik, so I can put fewer disclaimers on how much I play it. It was basically only my ever real goal.
I've normally assumed that anyone who says they're learning Last Rose is actually able to play it, even if not with the kind of reliability that a performing pro might want. Just being able to play it at all is a tremendous feat of virtuosity.
"I've normally assumed that anyone who says they're learning Last Rose is actually able to play it, even if not with the kind of reliability that a performing pro might want. Just being able to play it at all is a tremendous feat of virtuosity."
Heh, I should probably record a one-take video of me hacking away at Ernst just because that seems to have given a lot pf people pause (probably imaginging I was asserting much more than I meant to), and it might cause the people who think an amateur can't possibly play it in a way acceptable to a listener to be satisfied in the realization that they're correct. :-) I did say I played it "like an amateur" and that I would have failed an audition with it.
Francis, I have a solidly-developed technique (if admittedly no longer at its teenage peak), and I regard just about all of the Caprices as very hard, and Ernst as functionally impossible. So thus far I'm impressed that you're managing to get through the music at all.
This is really off the subject, but I feel compelled to say that there is a huge difference between someone who is nervous and falls apart in performance, and someone who is simply not ready to play a certain piece. Any competent musician can tell the difference between nerves and inability. The nervous performer will still likely not pass the audition, but generally elicits sympathy from the judges.
No matter how well a piece has been prepared, I always rushed during a performance and it effectively fell apart. The teachers/coaches said to me in masterclasses or after a performance often started with "You can play it..." followed with all sorts of advices ranging from breathing, visualisation, move around, etc. I think they just try to be nice. Nerve is the biggest obstacle for me. I could take beta blocker, but I don't see the point since all I am doing is to experience and to learn. If I make a fool of myself on stage, so be it. I am learning from some young players not to take myself too seriously.
I think my attitude toward goals is actually not too difficult from Yixi's. I mostly set ever-higher goals because I've tended to set very conservative goals in the past and kept running out of goals.
Although I played the Walton viola concerto a lot, for auditions and suchlike, I actually prefer the Bartok. On the other hand, I love the Walton violin concerto, and the cello concerto too, but especially the violin concerto.
Lydia, if you ever got to play Tchaik in front of anyone, that's awesome, no matter how you think it came out! I'm jealous. I totally understand the balance thing - I'm in a similar situation to you, and just learning new etude repertoire at home is tough to fit in, and I'm not even in a community orchestra anymore, let alone concertmaster. Yixi, I totally have the same problem, always too fast during performance. The most technically advanced stuff I've dared to play in public recently has been the Allemanda of the D Minir Partita, Biber's Passagaglia, and some easier faux-period Kreisler, all of which more or less came out as I wanted (and the Biber was a bit of a calculated risk). There was a really good comment on here on a post about Zigeunerwiesn a couple of years ago that talked about different levels of difficulty of pieces that I found really helpful in explaining this.
Go ahead and record the Ernst next time you're fresh. I'll believe that when I see it.
Francis, the Tchaikovsky was my go-to audition concerto as a teenager. I ended up playing the exposition for a community music school placement audition (for chamber-music match-ups and whatnot), last year, and made an unbelievable hash out of it. Still have no idea why -- got nervous all of a sudden at the beginning, in circumstances that shouldn't really have felt pressured.
My goals have changed constantly since I picked up the violin 6 or so years ago; here is a brief breakdown (mind you, even if most of these look ridiculous, I took them completely seriously at the time):
One of the most interesting posts I've read on this website was one of Mary Ellen Goree's. I think the post was one of those 'what should I play' posts. Her answer: When someone asks me to play, I often play Czardas.
Thanks, Julie, and it really is about the audience! Playing for the residents at my mother's assisted living center several times a year keeps me mindful of that.
Ditto to that, Chao Peter, those goals were totally awesome! I don't think I had enough taste to even have any of those goals until more than 10 years of playing (let alone achieve any). Also, if you even got into a competition, that's awesome, and there's something epic about coming in dead last in the company of superb talent.
Chao Peter Yang, I had a good laugh. Thanks for that. :-)
Lydia, I can handle non-linear. It's when progress is non-monotonic that I start to wonder ...
When I first returned, my goal was to be at the Bruch level within a year of returning - I met that goal, then realized I really did not want to learn the Bruch concerto at all. I've heard it a grillion times, and I would rather spend my time learning something that has a small chance of being played how it should be (ie solo rep, violin/piano vs violin/orchestra) as I don't have the time to devote to a community orchestra with the hope of being able to play a solo piece. Another goal was to learn the Roumanian Folk Dances, which my teacher "passed" me on the other week ("passed" as in I have learned it, can play it well, and am now free to keep playing it on my own to really put myself into it - we are going to bring it back into the fold at some point.)
What is the Saint-Saens piece? Is it the Triptyque?
It is Mary Ellen! I LOVE it. Am supposed to prepare the whole piece before my next lesson sometime this month, and, er, I need to find more practice time.
Older beginner at age 60 after years on trumpet, guitar, and piano. Came to viola as a late life challenge really. I am a physician and am aware of info that keeping mentally sharp tends to ward off dementia. What better challenge than an instrument with new technique and a new clef to learn. My goal was to be playing simple melodies at 1 year, which I have done (courtesy of a good teacher half my age) and I plan to continue lessons to progress with technique. I actually have no desire to perform viola in public--this one is totally for me. I have played trumpet in symphony, church and jazz band and done solo and group guitar performances. Public recognition is all behind me at this point.
I'm much younger than most people here, and I have enormous dreams. I'm 13 and want to be a soloist. My current goals are to get into the NEC (New England Conservatory) Youth Philharmonic, maybe do the Chamber Music Intensive Seminar with them, do their Concerto Competition, go back to Carnegie and play Introduction and Tarentelle for the Cresendo Competition.
Wow, that's quite the specific plan! Cool. For a baroque concerto, if you can play Introduction and Tarantelle already, you might consider Tartini's the Devil's Trill. Can't go wrong with Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and the Bach Concertos are standbys. (I always loved the A minor.)
Thanks Francis! It's hard to get what you want when you don't know what you want.
Nina, how much of your vision for the future have you discussed with your current teacher?
I started playing 3 years ago with no prior experience (18 now), and I was convinced that I would never be able to play at a very high level because I didn't start as a child. My original, realistic goal was to be able to play the 1st violin part of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. I played Eine Kleine in a low-rate string quartet gig last year. My reach goal was to play Tartini Devil's Trill Sonata, and that's looking like it's within the realm of possibility.
I was noticing, Nina, that the pairings you've got are strange -- Intro & Tarantella with Thais, I&RC with Csardas. Does your teacher normally assign pieces in pairs like that -- i.e., one piece at your current level, and one piece vastly below your current level? (Are you currently working on I&T simultaneously with Thais?)
Yeah, I finished Thais already, I just needed a contrasting piece for my NEC audition - a slow, lyrical piece, and a fast technical one. Also, I picked pieces I enjoy and that have different challenges.
How much input does your teacher have in choosing your pieces? I'm with Lydia, those are some very unusual combinations.
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