Weird kinda funk

November 15, 2019, 6:58 PM · It's time for me to be working harder than ever... with post-secondary auditions coming up and all. I have a lot of repertoire to prepare and I know I can "easily" do it, but for the last couple of weeks I've been feeling a funny mix of burnout, isolation, and disorientation when it comes to music that's been keeping me from doing my best.

It all started with a big orchestral gig I was hired for a few weeks ago. Lot of tricky repertoire, had to cram to learn it all. The concert went well and I had fun, but afterwards I had this unusual and overwhelming feeling of the whole music thing being so lonely. Like it wasn't playing beautiful music with friends anymore---the whole experience felt indescribably cold and I have no idea why.
It's not like it was my first time doing this sort of thing (about as far from it as you can get, actually), but nonetheless I felt like an alien in the midst of all the other musicians.

Since then, I've been having trouble getting excited to play the violin. I still practice several hours every day as always, but I get frustrated too easily and I feel like I'm at a total loss when it comes to moving my performance forwards. Progress seems to be totally random or nonexistent, even though I'm being meticulous and deliberate in my practice.

Not really sure what to make of it.

Replies (13)

Edited: November 15, 2019, 7:17 PM · There is much stress out there lately- maybe some rest is what you need. Don't down play the "incubation effect"- sometimes a breakthrough is really only a mental and physical release away, but incubation needs a moment of time to occur.
November 15, 2019, 7:56 PM · The coolest thing about being human is that we get to be conscious and intelligent, and thereby gain the ability to introspect and answer questions about ourselves as nobody and nothing else can, though it might be appealing to try to consider external views as somehow more valid due to a difference of perspective and bias.
Edited: November 15, 2019, 8:57 PM · The feeling you describe is very common when a combination of education and avocation starts to evolve into a profession. You've got all this soulful creativity, collaborative energy, humor, and other wonderful qualities to offer, but what the orchestra manager who signs your check needs more than anything is for you to show up on time and play the damned notes in the right order. After rehearsal nobody wants to go for a pint because they've got parenting to go home to.

I experienced this a little when I transitioned from graduate school to the professoriate, which essentially boils down to a transition from the lab to the office.

November 16, 2019, 12:15 AM · What Paul said. In summary: Welcome to adulthood.

Even if you love your job, there will be days that just come down to, "Show up. Grind through. Earn your paycheck."

November 16, 2019, 4:18 AM · You've gotten great advice already, to which I want to add a couple of thoughts.

1) find an aspect of violin playing and music that is special to you and not part of your professional path. If orchestral playing is what you hope to pursue, try to find joy in fiddling or playing jazz, some aspect of music which is personal to you.

2) consider that making music is a great way to earn a living, compared to being a steel worker or a dishwasher in a restaurant or a telephone tech support person working in a sea of essentially cages, answering phones for angry and frustrated people. Look around you at other jobs you see people doing and that might help you find more joy in what you're doing.

3) realize that you're not the only person feeling that way at any given time and in any given ensemble. A job is a job is a job -- sometimes we love what we do, sometimes we wonder about the futility of it all (am I really making a difference in the world?), sometimes we all simply have to do as Lydia says and simply show up, grind through and earn our paycheck.

4) Get out the pieces you first learned, even if it's Suzuki book 1, or whatever method book you were taught from, and play the music again and try to remember the joy at discovery and achievement you felt in those early days. Music is still magical but sometimes when we're in the thick of things it's easy to forget that. We're doing something that has been important to human beings since before recorded history and that is something that very few people get to do and earn their livings from.

5) in a more practical way, think about your diet, your daily schedule, and other aspects of your life which might be having an affect on you. Food and drink can definitely affect our moods without our realizing that's the cause. I'm not saying that's what's causing your current funk, but it might be. Sugar especially can be a large factor.

Good luck working your way through this -- I can't speak for everybody but most of us have been through this at some point or other (and for some of us, multiple times) and at least for me I always come back to how special making music is and how special opening up students to the wonders of music is and I realize how lucky I am to have been able to earn my living in various aspects of the musical world for the past 43 years.

Edited: November 16, 2019, 9:31 AM · I'd like to follow up on David's excellent points No. 1 and No. 3. Very often, what people do outside of their paid jobs is how they make a difference in the world and build meaning in their lives. Very often that includes family, volunteer work, sports, arts, clubs, hobbies, church, etc. The job is thereby a means to an end. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Edited: November 16, 2019, 11:33 AM · given that you're gearing up for college auditions, it might be worth taking a long hard look at whether this funk is your subconscious telling you that it doesn't want to go into music. One of the problems with music as a career is that the time commitment required to be competitive when you're developing your career, taking auditions, freelancing, improving your playing etc is so overwhelming that it's pretty much impossible to have much of an outside life as Paul discusses above. If music and the process of practicing, improving, performing isn't enough to light your fire by itself, you're going to have a very unhappy decade or so ahead of you.

Being a professional also means that you'll be spending a significant amount of time playing music you don't necessarily enjoy, sometimes with people you don't enjoy. Amateurs are lucky in that they get to focus on the music they want to play; professionals play what they're paid to do.

It's possible this is just a funk and you'll snap out of it, but I've seen way too many people go into music because they were good at it, they were one of the top players in their area, their teachers / parents / life coaches told them they had so much talent. Almost all of them have moved into different fields, even the ones who were internationally competitive in their teens.

Edited: November 16, 2019, 2:07 PM · OP, every job has its ups and downs. David Bailey gives some good advice. David's #5 is more important than you might think. Also, keep up with family and friends on a regular basis, in person. It's very easy to get socially isolated, and that can do strange things to the mind.

"their teachers / parents / life coaches told them they had so much talent."

Are life coaches a thing for students now?

November 18, 2019, 10:18 AM · Professionally, maybe you can find a steady group, or form some kind of chamber partnership (of course you may not have time) and getting to know the people might make a difference. If you feel socially isolated, maybe there is stuff outside of music that you can do, as Paul suggests. Maybe you start a small meditation practice and find a group that meditates, or find some religious institution. It could be a temporary thing, or you could be recognizing some kind of existential need. And of course, there are usually very low cost therapy options connected to most universities (for students and community members as well).
Edited: November 18, 2019, 12:51 PM · If a working pro's only environment is as an orchestra section player, it can get surprisingly isolated and frustrating, it's not for everyone. Violin is such a versatile instrument; there are multiple national styles and genres outside of the mainstream classical, with small ensembles. If you had all the technique you needed, and didn't need the money, what would you really like to do?? Another clue would be; what do you listen to most often?
Edited: November 18, 2019, 4:24 PM · Wonderful and varied responses above. Those feelings and reactions can, of course (as has been pointed out above) occur in any occupation. But in the arts, your "job" isn't a day-to-day "grind," but something where the expectation is that every performance is ideally emotionally compelling and meaningful. That's a tough thing to do on a day-to-day basis, even for a short time (let alone over a period of years).

I don't know how helpful this suggestion is, but how about trying out a few different perspectives. Pick out someone in an audience who you can assume has never heard the particular piece. How do you want to play in such a way that they will experience the piece the way you would want them to?

Or, pretend for the moment that you are Paganini, or Joachim, or Heifetz, or Oistrakh. How would that violinist approach the music?

Anyway, I hope you resolve what is actually an existential dilemma, an issue of what is meaningful.


PS. I'm reminded of a famous Jascha Heifetz quote: "You think you've got problems? I have to be Heifetz every day."

Edited: November 19, 2019, 11:35 AM · On reading this thread I am reminded of my late cello teacher who, I now suspect, probably ran into similar problems. During WW2 he was a musician in one of the regimental bands, and received a very high level of training in clarinet and sax, as well as further training in his main instruments, the cello and viola.

When WW2 ended he was recommended by someone for a post as cellist in the BBC SO, so went along for an interview. At the interview he turned down the offer only for it to be upgraded to deputy principal, which he turned down. The BBC response was to make a further offer of principal cellist, which he also turned down.

You may well ask, why did he turn down the offer of one of the top jobs in the British symphonic world? Many years later his widow explained. He had become disillusioned by the unremitting regimentation of music in the armed forces, despite the excellent training he had received, for which he was grateful. It seems that he had no wish ever to be a regular member of a pro symphony orchestra - possibly because of a subconscious association with military conflict - and saw his future life in music as a free-lance.

As a free-lance he was very successful. He worked with the BBC Concert Orchestra which was located in his home town in the years following the War, and was in demand as a deputy cellist or violist for visiting pro symphony orchestras. He was also the local secretary for the MU, so got to know everybody.

His greatest gift to us lay in his teaching, in which he was outstanding, although he had an aversion to the regimentation of the grade exams and music competitions in general - I had to change my teacher in order to get my grade 8 on the cello. He conducted a regional youth orchestra for several decades, and was a peripatetic cello teacher for schools in the local educational authority.

He capitalised on his woodwind training in the military by setting up his own trad jazz band (clarinet), and his own dance band (sax), both of which were successful over many years.

Arthur Alexander was a greatly loved, respected and influential person in the music world, and is still missed by all who came into contact with him.

November 22, 2019, 3:37 PM · Cotton, et al.,

I was chatting with a fellow violinist this morning in Starbucks and she was remarking about her change of community orchestra where she plays. Her description of the former orchestra was similar to your description.

As with all human organizations you have a dominant personalty in just about every group regardless of it's purpose. Some are simply fun places to be, others are intellectually stimulating, and some are simply work.

Your description sounds like one of those workplaces where people come, do their job, and go on to the next part of their lives. Camaraderie, bonding, networking, are not part of the organization.

That isn't saying that they are bad people, just people who are "workman like" do what they do well but it isn't a social group. They are pretty common but you probably have never experienced one before and if you are a really social person they feel pretty cold and impersonal and could easily leave you feeling "funky."

If/when you become a professional you will find all kinds of organizational structures, some warm and welcoming at one extreme and others cold and impersonal at the opposite end of the scale. One word of warning: organizations do have immune systems that roots-out those that aren't like us.

Now, go find a friendly group and play and be happy.

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