Practicing...for what?

January 28, 2019, 2:30 PM · I am thinking about coming back to violin after a hiatus of almost two years. Just before I gave it up, I was working on Corelli's La Folia with my teacher, along with Mazas etudes.

I used to practice like a fiend, all with the goal of playing chamber music on violin. I had just started venturing into it when I got to the level I described above (early intermediate?).

My foray into chamber music was a complete letdown. I tried through multiple venues (local music school, workshops, ACMP, and even a weeklong festival for adult amateurs). I found that the ad hoc groups through ACMP always fell apart (inevitably, at least one person would flake out after a meeting or two) and the playing level in the more structured groups was quite low. I became discouraged, stopped practicing, and eventually sold my violin.

I've tried to make myself practice piano, because it doesn't depend on other people for a complete musical experience. But I'm just not that excited about it. Recently I played for a few minutes on someone's violin and I can't stop thinking about it. I want to play again...but for what? I learned the hard way that I can't depend on others for a satisfying chamber music experience. My primary (wind) instrument will always be my choice for orchestral playing. I don't know of any teachers in my area who hold recitals for their students (I "interviewed" probably 5-6 when I was searching for a teacher a few years back), so solo performance may not be a viable goal either...

Do others play without the promise of performance opportunities? Should I just stick with piano and see if I can make myself like it someday?

Replies (25)

Edited: January 28, 2019, 2:42 PM · I don't know if you are religious, but you may be able to find a pianist at a church that is down to have someone to play with, and if you aren't religious, you might be able to find some Unitarian/ humanist kind of place that has some music, although a good bet might be a Lutheran Church.

I've been able to find some people that I can play with here and there. Another possible idea is to email piano teachers in the area and see if they have any higher-level students that are interested in chamber music. It's going to be easier to find one pianist than three other willing string players.

Another option is to join an orchestra.

January 28, 2019, 2:41 PM · It really sounds like the violin is more satisfying for you than the piano. I understand! I use my keyboard chops in recording (mainly) but it doesn't satisfy me like playing violin. I am working on the Bach S&Ps for exactly your reasons. I mean, maybe at some point I will play this stuff in public probably, but it's not ready now. I don't have to rely on anyone, though, and it is very satisfying and completely absorbing to work on. I give it an hour or two every day. You could start on the easier movements and work your way towards the fugues and the mighty Chaconne.
January 28, 2019, 3:12 PM · My guess is that you may need to get to a higher technical level before you are able to play with partners that you'll find more satisfying.

The repertoire level you were at is barely adequate to manage easy 2nd violin parts. We can't guess at how well you were playing for someone at that sort of level, but many students playing La Folia and working on Mazas do not yet have a really great tone, vibrato, intonation, or the technical tools for great musical expressiveness. A group that accepts a member playing at that level will likely not be particularly accomplished themselves.

Ad hoc groups are what you do while you're trying to meet people to form a more permanent group with. In general, the way that goes is that you will meet individual people, and you will eventually invite those individual people into a group that is hopefully relatively like-minded. The entire pick-up group that you meet through ACMP or Meet-Up or whatever is unlikely to survive more than a session or three.

Edited: January 28, 2019, 3:31 PM · Emily, I gotta say, you sound kind of impatient to me and that may be inhibiting your enjoyment of your chamber music experiences.

I have found some of the following factors influence one's ensemble experiences:

1. Dedication - you really, really have to want to do it and be willing to put yourself out there where the other players are to be found.

2. Level of playing - if you are good enough many people will want to play with you --- but you may not want to play with many of them. It is nice and instructive to play with people who are better than you are, but there are also rewards if you are the best in the group, but only if the others are also good enough.

3. Availability - how much time are you available to play and how many other players of appropriate skill do you have access to.

4. Flexibility - how many of the kinds of instruments in your ensembles can you play. For example, I can play any of the 4 parts in string quartets, quintets, sextets, octets, etc. So we can usually play something no matter who is missing. One group I play with twice monthly started out 2-1/2 years ago as a String Serenade ensemble with the full complement of 13 players (to cover up to 13 parts) - but over the months we have shrunk and sometimes can barely muster a trio. Any less than that and we don't play. as long as we know what is going to happen when we get there the right instruments and sheet music will show up too.

5. Orchestra - I agree with Christian on this - join an orchestra for the personnel contacts. Every continuing chamber ensemble I have played in over the past 60 years (save one) has resulted from my orchestra contacts.

6. Pianists - playing chamber music with pianists can be a wonderful experience (re. Christian, again), but they have to be really, really good. For every pianist who can sight-read well enough and maintain a tempo there are probably 100 who cannot. I have been fortunate enough to play long term with three such over the last 40 years or so in piano trios and sonata situations. But anyone of lower piano skill is torture for the string player.

January 28, 2019, 3:26 PM · I went a long way playing with a chamber orchestra and choir that play both religious and secular music. We have really great occaisonal vocal soloists and I play quite a few solos myself from time to time (I used to be last chair—I joined when I was about RCM level 2). Though I stopped getting anything out of it technically a long time ago, it's still fun to play and tour with them.
I found that group through the church, and it was no problem joining. If someone as cruddy as I was THEN can find something, you can too. Just gotta look around.
Edited: January 28, 2019, 4:58 PM · I second the suggestions to join an orchestra. Even if you don't especially enjoy orchestral playing, it's the quickest way to meet a lot of other string players. Other than summer chamber music workshops, almost all of my chamber music playing comes from orchestra contacts, and I know several people who joined orchestras mainly in order to find chamber music partners.
Edited: January 28, 2019, 5:55 PM · What about finding another violin player who is about your level and play duets? There are lots of violin duets out there for your level.

You could persue duets by Pleyel, Mazas, Kalliwoda and many others. You could explore Bartok's 44 Duos for 2 Violins, well the first part of them. They are progressive, the first ones easy, the last ones very advanced.

January 28, 2019, 6:42 PM · Mozart and LeClair too!
January 28, 2019, 7:09 PM · a lot depends on your location... here in Toronto we have (are blessed with) a really active amateur (avocational) music life, with many musicians on all possible levels. One of the groups is called "Rusty musicians" and I visit them occasionally to meet my friend and just have some fun. My own groups are quite serious about studying music together and performing a few times per year. There are many, many more groups with different levels of commitment.... plus there are community orchestras.
Having said the above, keep looking until you find like-midnded musicians who are at the same level, or just a bit above, to motivate you to keep practicing. social dimension of music making is a reward in itself and you will meet a few more great friends along the way. Check out Meetup dot com and if you do not find a group, start your own!
January 29, 2019, 4:03 PM · Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I look forward to getting back into playing, but am trying to set goals that aren't as dependent on external performance opportunities. As those arise, I'll take them, of course, but I'm trying to find ways to motivate myself to keep practicing even when those opportunities are few and far between.

Paul Smith - yes, solo Bach was always another goal of mine besides chamber music. But I was terrified to touch it! I figured that was much more out of reach than, say, the Beethoven Op. 18 quartets. I still feel that way, possibly even more so because my skills are rusty. But I guess it's something to aspire to.

I'm curious to hear about people's approaches to learning solo literature, if you're not giving public recitals. What do you do when something is performance-ready? I've thought about just hiring a pianist to play through things with, but I don't know if that's a weird thing to do.

January 29, 2019, 4:27 PM · Emily,

Many decades ago I also tried to create a chamber music group. Failure after failure and I was depressed until a friend suggested that I read "The Ill Tempered String Quartet." It is a funny book and cautionary tale.

In the interim, I did find success in duets when I started playing in nursing homes - not primarily the classical literature, show tunes and pop-songs with some classics interspersed. I found that people making the commitment for shut-in's worked.

Unfortunately my physical maladies put an end to performing as I get intermittent spasms that lock-up my left hand that can come at any point while playing. From a duet comes perhaps a trio, then a quartet - just know that whatever you form it will be a variation of the ITSQ.

January 29, 2019, 4:45 PM · Consider performing in retirement homes, hospitals, and the like, for free. It's usually low-pressure. Yes, hiring a pianist is totally normal.
January 29, 2019, 6:13 PM · There are the Beethoven violin-cello duets (which were written for clarinet and bassoon, but they're nice).

Piano trios? Start with Frank Bridge!!

January 29, 2019, 6:17 PM · There are some nice Stamitz duos for violin and viola if you can find a violist -- intermediate level (as long as you're comfortable with double-stops), quite satisfying.
January 30, 2019, 1:46 PM · I play without the promise of performance opportunities, and just made my own by hosting a recital with a fellow adult learner. We hired a pianist to play with us, and my favorite part of the recital were the rehearsals leading up to it.

Otherwise, for what reason am I practicing besides a simple love of the instrument? I work on improving and expanding repertoire/skills - so that I can get a teensy bit closer to replicating how I want to play a piece of music.

I prefer either solo violin or violin/piano works, so it seems reasonable for me to hire a pianist to play with every so often, or organize another small recital, or play at a retirement home, etc...

January 31, 2019, 11:54 AM · Great suggestions, everyone! Now, to get my hands on a violin again...

George Wells, that book looks like just what I need to read next - I'll definitely track that one down.

January 31, 2019, 1:14 PM · I agree with "love for the violin itself". No point otherwise.
Edited: February 1, 2019, 2:32 AM · As Rocky says.
Different instruments bring different levels of social life.
Guitar and piano are lonely.
Fiddle and uke are social. Groups and orchestras are what I crave.
I use to paint in oils, but it's too lonely and I haven't done it for a couple of decades. The easel and the plan-chest are still there and driving my gf nuts, but I don't want to get rid of them!
Some like to spend their lives alone. The lonely hobbies can be meditative, but they're not for me.
February 1, 2019, 5:18 PM · Mr. Fryer,

There's lots of "loneliness" in the violin repertoire! It just so happens to have more social opportunities than most. Still, I love solo, unaccompanied violin works.

February 1, 2019, 5:34 PM · I read the above and they are great ideas - a lot of which I did too as a returner. There are two more:

1. Find out about summer camps and festivals - in particular ones where they accommodate and encourage adults. An ideal one at your level would be Summerkeys in Lubec Maine. They advertise it as a 'playing holiday' and it is both but you can be as serious as you choose to be and they also encourage performance - you will find that there are plenty of people that are less advanced and a full run up to really skillful players. There are also chamber music camps but, as Lydia said, this is probably too early for you - these camps can be intimidating if you are the weakest player as people expect to sight read parts.

2. When you select a teacher (coach, mentor, professor hehehe) - as you really must - try to find one that hosts periodic recitals. My current coach does so that performance is built into the learning experience and you have something concrete to work towards.

As you improve chamber music opportunities will reappear and you will know if you are ready for them if they invite you back ;)

Go well :)

Edited: February 1, 2019, 11:03 PM · I was at a string quartet performance last night, at an excellent performance in an experienced audience, reportedly one of the best audiences in the city, and found myself thinking that the environment wasn't quite as quiet as I might have liked, to be more free of the extraneous noises and distractions caused by the audience, and thought that, if I was among the musicians, and played at their level with as much sensitivity to the music as they did, that I might feel the same way, and prefer the complete silence of a practice or recording studio with a group of like-minded individuals, for the music. But of course I'm happy that they decided to share that with an audience.
February 1, 2019, 10:06 PM · I agree with Elise about summer camps. I'll bet that Maine location is beautiful. How do you get there? Do you fly into St. John or Bangor? I don't like tiny little planes ...

The camp I want to do is Bennington. But yeah that's not for beginners. You get the music well in advance but still I think there is an expectation of good reading skill.

February 2, 2019, 1:13 PM · Lubec (the most westerly location in the USA) is stunningly beautiful - a run down fishing village extending into the bay of Fundy. The bridge to Campobello island (with the Roosevelt compound and Canada)is within walking distance just south of the village. Family members that came with would certainly not be disappointed. It was primarily a piano camp originally but now accommodates a wide assortment of classical instruments (and more). They have three violin/viola teachers that alternate to cover the whole summer - but the level of tuition is up to 'intermediate', not much more. The OP can contact me if she wants any more info on that or other camps (I researched it quite thoroughly a few years ago - there is also a topic here).

To get there? I think you need a car, its really quite out of the way - but a lovely drive.

February 3, 2019, 3:57 PM · It is hard to be motivated when you are learning in an isolated environment.

I actually don't look forward to performance. My motivation is more about mastering the violin and make it able to do what I want to do. My love started with Canon in D then Czardas. I was eventually able to play them so my current goals are breaking to the major concerto level with a proficient command of double stops.

If performance is your goal, then finding a teacher that hosts recital might be your best shot.

February 3, 2019, 4:25 PM · One of the small delights of being a neophyte FIDDLER......

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