How are you doing on fulfilling your ambitions?

April 25, 2018, 1:25 PM · Lots of people come to 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?

Replies (58)

April 25, 2018, 4:25 PM · 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.

In other boring news, my pianist friend has taken a turn away from Haydn and Mozart, so we might concentrate on tango for a while. There is a lot of really cool tango music out there, so why not?

April 25, 2018, 6:25 PM · 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.

I completed a degree program in violin performance. This included some heavy-duty training for the orchestral profession with a training orchestra affiliated with one of America's major symphony orchestras. It was a great experience; but at length, I decided, about 7 months from the end of the degree program, not to do any more orchestra playing. I already had the required semester hours in orchestra by then. By turns, I came to see that, as for ensemble playing, small-chamber playing better suited my individualistic personality -- it was a good balance, for me, between individualism and teamwork. Solo work also appeals a great deal to me.

Around the same time, I decided not to go into the music business after all. But if you asked me if I would have changed my major if I could turn back the hands of time, my answer would be no. The musical training and development I gained -- I wouldn't want to be without these. They have carried over well to other areas of my life. And they keep paying dividends for me as a serious amateur player, no longer an aspiring professional. So, although my goals have changed, the music-making goes on. I've just found other avenues for it than those I had preconceived while growing up.

April 25, 2018, 7:06 PM · My goal was to play in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Today I teach middle school orchestra in Oklahoma.
April 25, 2018, 9:31 PM · 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.
Edited: April 26, 2018, 1:30 AM · 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.

The "realistic" goals were to get into a community orchestra capable of performing symphonies, and to learn the Telemann viola concerto. I blew right through both those goals by age 23, but plateaued at that level for years afterward.

I had two "pie in the sky" goals that I thought I had little chance of accomplishing in my lifetime, but I kept shooting for them anyway, because why not keep dreaming?

One was to perform as a soloist with an orchestra. I accomplished that in 2014, playing the Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra with a community orchestra that I had just joined as principal violist.

The other was to learn the Walton viola concerto -- that was the first concerto I ever heard for any instrument, and I heard it the first time I ever saw string instruments in person, at a concert I attended when I was 12 or 13. And, well... last October, after joining a new community orchestra as principal violist, I found that a member of the section had just started learning a movement of the Walton concerto, and thought, if someone seated behind me could learn it, then I could too. I bought the sheet music, read through it slowly and found it eminently playable, and started working on it in earnest in February.

So I've already accomplished one of my "pie in the sky" goals and I'm on track to get the other one done by the end of the year. After that, I'm in totally uncharted territory as ambitions go.

That's why (in other threads) I've mentioned the goal of being competitive in a professional orchestra audition by age 45. That's not a goal I started with at all. My technical ability started improving rapidly again in my late 20s, and around 32 or 33 I started to toy with the idea of shooting for a spot in a part-time professional orchestra at some point in my life. By that time, I was already playing alongside professionals on a regular basis, in an orchestra that straddles the line between freeway philharmonic and community orchestra. (By that, I mean: short rehearsal cycle, about 1/3 of the string players are professional, over 2/3 have music degrees, and all seats are competitively auditioned.) Still, I didn't consider it an even remotely realistic goal until the last six months, when I realized the Walton concerto was no longer over my head. Even now, it's an "in my wildest dreams" goal, but it doesn't seem totally impossible any more.

April 26, 2018, 2:15 AM · 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.
April 26, 2018, 4:38 AM · 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.

This time around, I set the bar low enough that I was in danger of tripping over it. When I picked up the violin for the first time just about a year ago, my immediate goal was simply to stick with it for 6 months without getting frustrated and quitting. I also had the short term goal of getting a grasp on the fundamentals, so perhaps in a few years I could play some chamber music (and then join the Wiener Symphoniker when I retire from my day job).

Unfortunately, the teacher I originally chose was one who focused on getting his beginning students to play the right notes with little concern over how they did it. I have a good ear and a M.Mus already, so I didn't need someone to point out when I played a wrong note; I needed someone to correct my bowing and hand position. Try as I might to prompt him for advice, he'd just take a moment to watch me, say "That looks okay", and move on. It wasn't working.

A few months ago I had to take a break due to some surgery, so I took that opportunity to leave that teacher and recently found a new one who fits me much better. She immediately spotted a couple of bad habits I was already falling into and has worked to correct them, and it's improved my playing already. So I've achieved goal 1 (not quitting) and am actively working on goal 2 (learning fundamentals). I'm expecting that call from Vienna in a few months.

April 26, 2018, 7:28 AM · I find that time and energy are the enemy.

Last year, I decided that I would do a freeway philharmonic audition in the fall. I started in on the prep, and then got distracted with other stuff, both violin and non-violin. Now I'm thinking about whether or not I want to make the preparation attempt again this summer, but I ask myself, "To what end?" I don't really have the time to take on another musical commitment, so to a certain extent it's, "Prove to myself that I can," but I think I'll put it off another year.

April 26, 2018, 8:34 AM · 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.
Edited: April 26, 2018, 8:57 AM · 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!

After a year and half, it looks to me my original goal is increasingly achievable, but it may take, depending on how much I practice, at least another three years.

Beyond that, my next goal would be to study solo repertoire typically studied in a respectable conservatory at the undergraduate level. That would take at least another 5 years. I would like to get to a point where a middle tier conservatory graduate with a BM would be (minus the orchestra/ chamber music experience and courses on counter point etc) before I am 55.

April 26, 2018, 1:18 PM · 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."

What do you mean that you play this stuff like an amateur? That's fully-professional, and in the case of Ernst, virtuoso repertoire. You might not be playing it like Heifetz, but being able to play it at all suggests, at the very least, conservatory-level skill. :-)

April 26, 2018, 2:44 PM · 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.
April 26, 2018, 4:06 PM · 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.

Probably, I'm good enough now (in my early 40s) to audition for a conservatory or music major...and _not_ get in. :-) However I'm just excited to be able to play this level of music at all. Eventually it seems that working on the more advanced or more violinistic stuff helps me get the somewhat easier stuff truly solid.

Part of it is probably that I never had the patience to play enough scales, so when I got into Paganini D major, suddenly I was playing a lot of scales in thirds, three octave runs, and arpegios (that a more profesionally-minded student would have been doing seperately all along). What a surprise, my technique improved fast!

April 26, 2018, 5:24 PM · My ambitions are all over the map and I've made little progress.

I think that the truth is, I'm unclear on which goals are reasonable for me and even where I stack up as a player. It's weird–I was looking back through old practice journals and notebooks from my lessons as a kid and realized that I did a lot more than I remember doing...and that I consistently must have aced auditions as a kid, considering my placement in all-state/summer camp orchestras/youth orchestra.

My performance anxiety these days could best be described as crippling and auditioning might be my least favorite thing to contemplate. I don't remember what it was like to learn a piece inside and out and perform it. And yet I used to do this, regularly. I guess, at a minimum, I'd like to get back there. (I was playing at what we'd describe as an advanced intermediate level...but petered out senior year in high school as academic pressure and college applications heated up. I haven't had consistent lessons since then.)

But I digress. I think my goals, expressed in various places in these discussions, are:
–to play without pain.
–to (re)gain technical facility and even out my weaknesses.
–to learn more solo Bach.
–to become sufficiently skilled to play romantic era piano trios with my husband such that someone would actually want to listen to us.
–to get good enough at chamber music to play in St. Lawrence seminar with a solid amateur group.
–to get over aforementioned crippling performance anxiety.

Problem is, I don't have a theory of change–in other words, I have a rough sense of the status quo (but could use some perspective) and I have a vision of where I'd like to be–but the biggest hurdle to getting there is (say it together: finding a teacher!) I know one skilled teacher in the area; in fact, she taught me for a year in high school (and she taught Lydia!) But we have become friends and she won't accept me as a student.

I had a failed attempt at lessons with a different highly regarded local teacher a couple of years ago and at this point I'm honestly scared of rejection.

Also, like Lydia, I struggle to carve out the time to practice (especially when I'm not taking lessons). Trying to teach myself with Simon Fisher's books is an exercise in frustration.

Finally, I have an 11-year-old son who needs more attention from me and sometimes I think I shouldn't even think about lessons and serious musical study until he's out of the house. Several of you have made significant progress in your later 40s and 50s; maybe I won't be completely toast by then? Sometimes I think the greatest gift I could give myself would be to relax my desire to do all the things, really well, all at the same time. :-/

April 26, 2018, 5:26 PM · (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.)
April 26, 2018, 6:03 PM · 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.

If you're spending a lot of energy on your son, have you considered accomplishing two goals at once by getting him lessons? I think one of a number of variables in my recent progress was taking my daughters through lessons - not only did I revisit the basics by playing their daily practice with them, lots of little tips their teacher gave them proved quite helpful to me as well. It's amazing what I either never was explicitly told, or more likely was told ten times and forgot. Most of my recent progress (from somewhere around mediocre Mendelsohn mvmt 1 (sic) to hopefully-less-mediocre Tchaik and some caprices) started after my older daughter began lessons.

One other thing that I think helped was that her teacher is a proponent of 100-day sequential daily practice charts, and when she started one, I eventually realized I needed to set a good example and started trying to play something, anything, every day.

April 27, 2018, 6:38 AM · 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 also found that it is amazing what you can get done in small, semi-interrupted chunks of time, as an adult, when you know that's all you have. I've made more progress in 15 minute chunks with multiple interruptions than I did as a teenager when I sometimes practiced (badly) for 30-120 minutes. Consistency in terms of playing almost every day seems to be very useful even if it is sometimes for 5 minutes. If there is a set of type of short pieces you like, setting a sort of minimum definition of a practice such as "one movement of any s&p, and one etude" might help - though the other thing I found to help is to simply identify the next hardest spot in any given piece I am working on, which I tend to mark with a * in the music, then the next day if I only have a couple minutes, I just play that part (often only 1-2 measures) but with a mental focus on figuring out what makes it tick and a way around it - new fingering, emphasis, etc. If each day, you spend only 5 minutes, but spend it making the current hardest measure in some difficult piece easier, it doesn't take all that long for the piece as a whole to become playable - how many "hardest measures" are in a typical medium length piece? Maybe a dozen?

April 27, 2018, 8:31 AM · 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!
April 27, 2018, 10:26 AM · 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.
April 27, 2018, 4:11 PM · Lydia, the more I think about your question, the harder my answer becomes. But I’ll give it a try.

Goal vs. Way of life

While having goals are useful and even inevitable, taking goals too seriously can ultimately lead me to dissatisfaction even unhappiness because when I succeeded in reaching one goal, it makes me anxious to get to the next; when I failed to reach a goal makes me miserable. All the time, goal-oriented approach makes me feel like a gerbil on the wheel, not a very meaningful existence.

Eventually, I changed my approach to treat violin playing as a way of life. I start to focus on creating and improving some sort of system within which I can grow in a healthy way with violin as my dear partner. In such a system, I have goals but they are merely means to ends: like deadlines, they are arbitrary set to get me engaged and give me concrete results.

Goals are future-oriented and inherently rigid (i.e., they aren’t friendly to frequent modifications) but system is ever-present and it can be constantly modified but goals. For instance, I have this system since my retirement last year: in addition to weekly private lessons, I also joined our community conservatory orchestra and enrolled in a college performance diploma program with 60% of course load, which keeps me busy and still have enough time to practice and do other things important to me, such as, travel, knitting, etc. This summer, I’ll be spending three weeks on conservatory’s intensive summer string program as well as one week of chamber workshop.

I can modify this system by adjusting priorities and even opt in and out of some commitments when necessary, depending on how things goes. I made this clear to the head of the department that I don’t need a diploma nor achieving any “millstone” in music education. All I want is to be with violin and the music environment that gives me the energy, support and inspiration.

You may wonder, why don’t I talk about my progress? Well, I’m no longer so much goal-oriented. I’ll explain.

Professional vs amateur level

Like many others, playing so called “Professional level” reps was a very appealing goal to me, and since my returning to violin 10 years ago, I’ve been paying a lot of attention on building repertories and constantly thinking about what’s the next piece before “finish” (whatever it means) the current one. 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.

For instance, last week I played the 2nd mvt Allegro of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy in a masterclass. The coach told us that, although this is a beautiful piece, it is rarely performed by professionals and it is sometimes called “scratch frantically” for good reason. Part of me said, wow, now you are playing something the pros shy away from, but did I scratch frantically? Sure. That’s not ideal, but it’s educational…

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that that being a good violinist is like a being a fit person: being good/fit is super fluid in that, we need to accept the idea we can’t always be in good shape at all time. For instance, even professional concert players would tell me that at the end of summer they usually were not on top shape and have to work their way back. So setback is normal and we can always get better/more fit, but we’ll never get “there”, whatever it means because being a violinist is a way of life.

April 27, 2018, 7:10 PM · 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.

Brahms Concerto
Schoenberg Verklarte Nacht
Brahms Symphony 1 - almost got to play this in the community orchestra I play in, but my schedule had some conflicts unfortunately.
Dvorak 9
Mendelssohn Octet
Tchaikovsky 5

April 27, 2018, 9:44 PM · 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.

By the end of junior year, I've learned the Lalo, Bruch, and Mendelssohn.

Now, my goals are a whole lot bigger! Back in my early years of high school, I wasn't exposed to a whole lot of 20th century rep. Now, my goal is to be able to perform either Ravel's Tzigane or the first movement of Prokofiev's First Concerto with my youth symphony, paired with acceptance to a decent music school that won't put me into debt for the rest of my life. Also, since I've grown into a much more avid chamber music player, I want to be able to play the entire quartet cycles of Shostakovich, Bartok, and Schnittke.

April 28, 2018, 9:38 AM · 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.
April 28, 2018, 9:39 AM · 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.
My lessons and technical development stopped at age 22 because of a medical condition. I had a non-music day job for most of my life, while playing part-time with "freeway-phil." level orchestras. Now, at age ___, the long decline has started. I have noticed that now I need to practice some of my 2nd violin parts, which I used to just sight-read. Now I really enjoy being in audience at the San Francisco orch. and opera. ~jq
April 28, 2018, 11:42 AM · "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."

This is a really well articulated explanation of an excellent point, and is perhaps one of the most significant differences between professionals and amateurs. 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. Even though I would be playing it at a much higher level than the typical amateur, it wouldn't be at what I would consider an acceptable level.

April 28, 2018, 1:56 PM · 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).

I'm really enjoying it, my technique is way more advanced than it was when I played this 15 years ago, and I can focus more on the musicality of it rather than just getting the chords in tune.

Edited: April 28, 2018, 4:39 PM · “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.”

I think some amateurs mistakenly believe that one can “get good” by attempting the most challenging rep. IMHO, one advances by doing what professionals did to become pros. The pre-professional curriculum is well developed and well known.

Edited: April 28, 2018, 4:59 PM · 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.

Chuckle, regarding Last Rose, the only real reason I tried to learn that was to make other pieces seem easier. To that degree, it actually worked - the relatively extreme stretches of tenths and the control needed to even mostly play some of variation four really did make some other things such as Caprice 6 drastically more playable. I've actually found that a number of times - learn something hard (level N+1 from where you want to perform, or N+2), and easier stuff actually becomes solid enough to be safe - provided that the stretch pieces are close enough to your ability that you can actually grow by working on them. (I've overstretched in the past, and while it did no real harm, it also did little good.)

Edit, because David posted something related while I was writing this. I certainly don't suggest trying things "at" professional level in order to get there. I do however find that there are sort of two levels of piecees, the ones you work on to advance yourself technically, and the ones you work on to perform them soon. The latter have to be well clear of your limits, so your performance is reliable. And pieces more than a bit beyond you won't advance you - as I discovered when I tried to play the Tchaik finale at 15 (oops). But there is a value to stretching yourself by working at least a bit beyond your level. I tiled at Ernst because I wanted to make Paganini Caprice 5 seem easier. Did it work? Not really, because Ernst developed tenths, left hand pizz and harmonics in combination with legato playing, none of which are the problem with Caprice 5. But they helped with a bunch of other Caprices. (Now if I can only find something that helps with controlling the string crossings in Caprice 2.)

I have two recordings of Last Rose that contain no errors I can detect, but don't actually make the music really listen-able. That's true to me for some of the caprices as well - most of them are just sort of auditorily overwhelming when listened to as music. I am pretty sure the meaning of "Caprice" in most of the 19th century was just "etude" - something you learn to develop technique, not a concert piece. We have no evidendce that Paganini performed his caprices AFAIK, and that is presumably not because he couldn't, but because that's not what they were for. So I work on this stuff because I like a challenge, but not because I expect to ever perform it except for friends and family. The only caprice I really think works musically really well is 24, and I just love the sheer shock and awe value of 5 because my inner 15 year old boy is still in there, grinning and going "OMG, I almost _played_ that".

I've only ever heard one version of Last Rose that really made the music shine through, which was a live performance on youtube by Hilary Hahn. She has a real gift for making "technical" pieces have a shimmering, translucent musical structure, and in this case she really emphasizes the "polyphonic" in "Polyphonic Etude #6".

To get back a bit to the original question though, how have folks' goals changed over time? I used to have a goal to play Tchaik, and a couple of years ago (after plowing my way slowly through Paganini D major concerto for well on a year, which had an unbelievable effect on my technique) I discovered that I could actually basically play it, so I lifted my eyes higher, to Caprice 5 (which at the time was the flashiest thing I had ever heard). I learned the notes in about 2 months of fairly hard work, and rapidly discovered that the bowing was 100x harder than the notes. Over two years later, I am still working on getting a stable combination of bow, speed, entrance of the Agitato section, etc, that I am satisfied with musically but that is safe enough to be controllable.

I still tilt at that windmill regularly. In the meantime, this year I started to think about some of the musical (as opposed to technical) ground I have passed by, and started learning the rest of the s&p (not just the d minor partita), and trying the first movement of the Beethoven, which I never really had enough musical maturity to be interested in much before. Now it's starting to seem fascinating.

I'm still not really very interested in Brahms. I suppose someday something will click and I'll want to play that too. (Right now it just looks like piano music to me.)

But I guess overall, since about 36 when I suddenly discovered the ability to move forward technically again, I was focused on gaining techincal ground since I suddenly realized I could. Now that I am almost out of new virtuosic technical ground that I'm motivated to cover (though there is a lifetime left of polishing all the corners I cut, heh heh), I figure I'll spend the next 35 years getting the musical part right, and studying the "deeper" stuff, like getting the ariculation of Bach and the infinite layers of mood and sound in the Beethoven.

April 28, 2018, 4:57 PM · 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.

Ernst is beyond what I can manage comfortably myself, and that is probably not ever going to change. :-)

I think once you get to a certain playing level, the "pre-professional" curriculum is a lot less clear. After students get beyond Bruch, say, you see a lot more variance in what's taught, and in what sequence. Also, different players have different strengths and weaknesses, and that may also determine in what way their studies go at that point.

Edited: April 28, 2018, 5:09 PM · "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."

Thirty years of having students (new to me, or someone else's students in an audition situation) tell me that they are playing XYZ followed by them butchering XYZ has left me deeply skeptical about anyone saying that they are playing anything. I never assume.

Editing to add that I also don’t assume they can’t play it. I am agnostic about violinists I don’t know.

April 28, 2018, 5:09 PM · 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.

Sadly, I'm all played out tonight, as I spent it polishing my Tchaik, which I am fairly sure _is_ up to "adult amateur playing in their bathroom for fun" level, along with some of the second set of caprices.

THat said, we're getting distracted from the original and much more interesting topic of goals and their evolution. As an amateur who plays only for myself (my career is tech), I have the luxury of flexible standards, and pursuing whatever I feel like. Until recently, for me, that was mostly technically focused, but I am starting to shift more to musical expression. How to find the right sound for Beethoven? How on earth to manipulate tempo like Ysaye? (And how to play solid Mendelsohn finale that sounds like his? Wow.)

April 28, 2018, 7:58 PM · 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.

To Mary Ellen's comments... As someone who has butchered an otherwise stable-seeming Tchaikovsky exposition under pressure, I can only say that things that I think are fine can collapse entirely when I'm nervous. I imagine that's true for quite a few other people as well.

As time has gone on, I think I've gone the opposite way from my goals when I was young -- going from trying to climb technical summits to trying to be a better performer. One of those things involves trying to lessen the delta between what happens in the practice room and what happens under performance conditions. That's especially true for the physical effects of nervousness, for which the "real" answer is probably beta blockers, but which I can't take, so need to be solved some other way.

My goals have also increasingly become short-term: Get through this sequence of tightly-spaced concerts, juggling the amount of repertoire that needs to be learned, balanced against things that I need to do to improve my playing in general... and oh yeah, survive the adventures of a toddler and a demanding job at the same time, both of which can take planned practice time and heartlessly drop it into the void.

I actually really love the balance of things I'm doing, though (concertmastering for a community orchestra, playing and performing chamber music, and giving a few solo performances in recitals generally shared with professionals). It does mean that I need to prepare anything not learned strictly for pedagogical reasons to a performance standard, though.

Perhaps broadly phrased, I want to sound professional, even if I'm unpaid. (For my Tchaikovsky, for instance, my goal is "good enough to win a freeway philharmonic audition with", which is a different level of attention to detail than bathroom playing, so to speak, even if I don't end up eventually taking an audition.)

April 28, 2018, 8:38 PM · 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.
Edited: April 28, 2018, 9:49 PM · 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.
April 29, 2018, 12:46 AM · 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.

Maybe it's because I play viola, but I don't see pursuing top-tier solo repertoire as being at odds with pursuing excellence. The viola's solo repertoire, by its very nature, values musicality and attention to detail over fireworks. (Which isn't to say viola concertos are lacking in pyrotechnics... but I feel it's much harder to hide behind scratching frantically in viola solos. The viola is too awkward an instrument for scratching frantically anyway.)

I rarely feel tempted to move on to the next piece before I've prepared one to my satisfaction. I think my present situation with Walton, where I now feel it's playable, is the first time in my life I've jumped ahead to a new piece before finishing what I was working on, and it's a totally unique situation. That's because the Walton viola concerto is literally the first concerto I ever heard in my life, for any instrument (also the first time I heard string instruments in person), and the piece that inspired me to pick up violin and viola. The fact that it's considered the Everest of the viola repertoire is just a nice bonus.

Edited: April 29, 2018, 7:16 AM · 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.

I gave my copy of the Walton viola concerto away to a music school and I'm told my fingerings were pretty good. However, fingerings are personal so I don't really know how useful they were.

Edited: April 29, 2018, 4:47 AM · 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.

·" 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."

Thanks! Get through the music at all is probably a fair description :-) but I'm having a great time.

April 29, 2018, 7:03 AM · Go ahead and record the Ernst next time you're fresh. I'll believe that when I see it.
April 29, 2018, 10:44 AM · 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.

Anyway, on the subject of the journey: The nonlinearity of it is something I've learned to accept. I don't have the technique of my youth, for example, nor the control. Or the ability to learn music as quickly -- my memory isn't what it was (I've found this to be true professionally and other areas of my life, too). But progression comes in the form of better musicianship, little tricks and knacks for doing some stuff better, and the like.

April 29, 2018, 11:53 AM · 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):

Year Zero(age 12)
Goal 1: To play Tchaikovsky Concerto in two years
Result: Still didn't happen
Goal 2: Become Heifetz
Result: Didn't happen
Year One
Goal 3: To play Paganini Caprices and Mendelssohn Concerto in two years
Result: Didn't happen
Year Two
Goal 4: Become Sarasate and play Gypsy Air
Result: Nope
Goal 5: Have someone donate me a Strad
Result: Nope
Year Three
Goal 6: Become a professional
Result: Unlikely, but still trying
Year Four
Goal 7: Get first place in any competition really
Result: Came really close twice :)
Year Five
Goal 8: Get first place in an international competition
Result: Did play at an international competition, and did get first place if you count from bottom up.
Year Six
Goal 9: Continue the Hungarian school of violin playing that started with Joachim and included Szigeti and the like
Results: ?
Goal 10: Retry Goal 1 once more

April 29, 2018, 1:55 PM · 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.

What struck me about that answer was that she chose something far below her level, but more likely to appeal to her audience. That's something that amateurs often forget, I think- it really is all about the audience!

April 29, 2018, 2:40 PM · 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.

Chao Peter Yang, your "goals" comment just above Julie's was one of the best things I've read in a long time. You have a bright future in front of you--don't know if it's in music, but with a good attitude and a sense of humor like that, you'll go far. :-)

Edited: April 29, 2018, 5:11 PM · 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.

Well, in the spirit of doing what I offer (or threaten to), here is an honest to goodness, one-take, unedited video of my bashing my way through Ernst (and I do mean bashing, this piece is very far from even my amateur performance standards):

Please let me know if you are able or unable to view it at all. Bonus points if you can stand to watch the whole thing! :-) (Edited to replace a slightly clearer-sounding second take, whose faults are largely the same.)

All I claimed was that sometimes when I played this, others could recognize the piece, and that I started at the beginning and arrived at the end. If I met those claims, you be the judge!

As usual, rolling video has the same exact effect as performance for me - anxiety, speed, whatever - parts of this are representative of what I can do playing it for myself, parts represent the areas I still need to work on a bit, and parts are the kinds of things going wrong that would go wrong if I ever had the gobsmacking hubris to attempt this monster in performance.

April 29, 2018, 6:10 PM · Chao Peter Yang, I had a good laugh. Thanks for that. :-)

Francis, thanks for being brave enough to post that!

April 29, 2018, 8:37 PM · Lydia, I can handle non-linear. It's when progress is non-monotonic that I start to wonder ...
April 30, 2018, 8:26 AM · 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.)

Now that I have freed myself from the bonds of concertos, I am learning a lovely short (7 pages) violin/piano piece by Saint-Saens with the hope of being able to play it how is should be: with depth, color, and ease. Those are my goals now - it doesn't really matter what the music is so long as I want to keep returning to it to keep improving, refining, etc. I am also still working on the Telemann Fantasias, which I really love. I hope to be finished with the second one that I am learning (no.10) and on to a new one soon.

Having more time would be great, but right now I am happy to be playing as it is!

Maybe a goal can be to increase my lessons from twice a month to three times a month - that would help my progress along quite a bit!

April 30, 2018, 8:51 AM · What is the Saint-Saens piece? Is it the Triptyque?
April 30, 2018, 11:52 AM · 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.

Why isn't this piece played more often??? It's quite a lovely piece.

May 1, 2018, 7:29 PM · 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.
Edited: May 2, 2018, 5:26 PM · 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.
My goals for my pieces are to polish both of them up (Intro + Tarentelle and Meditation from Thais), and do Saint-Saens B minor concerto and after them, do Intro and Rondo Capriccioso and Monti's Czardas, along with the Glauznov, or maybe one of the Vieuxtemps. Then I'm going to do Carmen Fantasy, and... I'll find something else, and the Sibelius, or another one of the Vieuxtemps - I can handle (Handel lol) a lot of memorization, so maybe I'll do more than one.
And in my senior year, I'll polish up all of those (short pieces, maybe the third movement of the Saint-Saens) and enter the Manhattan Music Competition with all of the Sarasate and Saint-Saens pieces. Oh, and learn the Mendelssohn, I wanted to learn that last because I need time to find my style of playing. I don't want to play it "the usual flashy way" as someone on here said - I want it to be personal and be beautiful and be me. Also, I love the Mendelssohn.
I also am going to learn a baroque concerto or two, because I plan on doing a soloist training camp that I need a baroque concerto for. I need some suggestions; as you could see, I was pretty heavy on the Romantic-era pieces... If you have suggestions, don't hesitate to say something!
I don't know how it'll work out, but I'll keep on practicing for many hours to get where I need to be.
Thanks Lydia, for asking this! It helped me see my own path a little.
May 3, 2018, 3:22 AM · 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.)

If you want to hear a cool version of the Mendelssohn Finale, check out Ysaye's recording.

Edited: May 3, 2018, 12:40 PM · Thanks Francis! It's hard to get what you want when you don't know what you want.
The concertos (except Saint-Saens and the Mendelssohn) are subject to change though.
I've been assaulting the forums with questions about obscure repertoire in the search for a rare gem.
Okay, I just found out that you have to be enrolled for lessons AT NEC to be ellegible for their concerto competition. *facepalm*
I take lessons from another music school. Crap.
May 3, 2018, 6:56 PM · Nina, how much of your vision for the future have you discussed with your current teacher?
May 3, 2018, 7:32 PM · 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.

This year, I made it into all-state orchestra, and I became Assistant Concertmaster in my large school orchestra. I performed the Corelli Christmas Concerto with my school orchestra and two other soloists in front of around 500 people this December, which I never saw myself doing. Right now, I'm finishing learning the 1st movement of the Kabalevsky Concerto, I'm working on Clair de Lune ( and the Sarabande from Bach Partita No. 2, and I'm getting ready to start learning the Bruch this summer. I've also finally corrected two years of left hand tension and gotten to where I can play fast passages without pain and cramps, which has made playing much more enjoyable.

I don't plan on making a career out of music, but I'm very happy with the progress I've made in a relatively short amount of time. I hope to continue playing through college, and if I get to a high enough level, perhaps play in a semi-pro quartet or give some pro bono lessons in my spare time.

May 3, 2018, 7:38 PM · 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?)

May 4, 2018, 2:53 PM · 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.
May 4, 2018, 3:00 PM · 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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