Adult returner with medical issue
Good morning everyone!
(I have been lurking for so long, I want to write greetings!).
I am an adult returner at 47, never really stopped playing, but after university, the violin always had to take a backseat to job, kids, life, and the lower hanging fruit of choir singing. That’s “lower” for me - in choirs, I can function at an advanced level without much practising, but that’s not true for my violin playing.
I stopped having lessons and doing regular practice on graduating high school at probably advanced intermediate level. I had just done Bach minor and Bach double, and my teacher had assigned the Beethoven spring sonata, presumably to segue me into classical and romantic repertoire, but I couldn’t really get into it and then I graduated.
I think I did keep advancing somewhat, though not in any structured way with the university symphony orchestra, which did a lot of the standard classical and romantic symphonic repertoire, Mozart, Dvorak, Mahler etc. Looking back I think it was pretty good for a university that didn’t have a conservatory attached at the time, just a school of musicology and Music ed, so no virtuosi, but lots of competent ensemble musicians, sort of like me.
I kept making music after graduating, but it was mostly singing, with the occasional chamber music gig, Christmas at the office, friends ’ weddings, that kind of thing, putting together ad hoc ensembles, arranging, conducting etc,, and now practicing with my two older kids who learn violin.
My oldest won’t let me in the room any more when he is practicing, and is way beyond the standard baroque repertoire that I could easily play with him, but I now play a lot with middle child, who is in a Suzuki program, and about to learn the Bach Double.
During the pandemic, I’ve begun to arrange chamber music for the family, because it’s the only ensemble playing my kids are going to get for a while, and we and another Suzuki family are getting good enough that we are getting booked for church gigs where singing is still prohibited and the congregation is desperate for some variety.
My history means that I am a much better musician than I am an instrumentalist, which is a source of great frustration to me!
14 years ago, I needed cervical surgery, and the residual nerve damage means I have a constant low level cramp and pain and sensitivity issues in my left hand and forearm, which messes up my intonation and and fingering (I have a hard time stretching and placing my 4th, or conversely my 1st), also shifting and double stops. Oddly, vibrato is fine.
Reading an interview with RBP on cheap baroque bows and HIP, with lots of open strings and first position and focus on virtuosic string crossings rather than 4th fingers and complicated shiftings, I had a revelation, got myself a baroque bow and the Bach S&Ps, and am very pleased at how my Gm presto and E prelude are coming along, I do find that the cramping in me left sort of infects my body and makes me tense up all over, nor can I entirely avoid using 4th fingers! (All those a and e flats...at least they’re flat...).
I should like to get back to “competent ensemble player”, perform the Bach double with my middle child, and be able to move ahead with my middle child as she gets assigned more romantic pieces from the BB books. Her slightly more advanced friend just did the Ave Maria, so I expect that’s up next for us after the Bach double, and so nicely suited for church gigs, too!
Do any of the knowledgeable people here have tips for me how to compensate for, get around, maybe even improve my issues?
"cervical surgery, and the residual nerve damage means I have a constant low level cramp and pain and sensitivity issues in my left hand and forearm,"
I'm a returner too, and my kids play (violin and cello). So we have something in common, except that I'm about 10 years older than you are. My violinist daughter is in college now and she plays in the orchestra. One thing I suggest -- trying to be as respectful as possible to your sovereignty as a parent, but also based on my own experiences -- is that you consider backing away from so much involvement with your kids' musical instruction. Let them advance with their teacher and with their peers and develop their independence in practicing and performing. It would be much better for your child to perform the Bach Double with a peer than with you. I also play the piano, and for a while I was accompanying my kids' performances, but after Book 7 or so, my skill was no longer up to the task, so I hired accompanists and that was much less stressful for everyone. Currently, I take my younger daughter (cellist) to a nearby city to work with a professional accompanist for an hour every other week. That is working out very well, especially because the pianist is also an excellent cellist herself, so she knows the repertoire. While they are working, I take a nice nap in my car.
I would second both the physical therapy and the Alexander Technique suggestions (and I agree on the yoga). A good teacher would help you out, but even a good teacher is unlikely to know much about working around your condition.
I agree completely with Paul.
Lots of good advice. I blew out my rotator cuff last summer, probably by sleeping asymmetrically on a pillow. PT and a very good sport massage person have got rid of most of the worst effects, which included neck pain so bad I was getting splitting headaches and having to sleep much of the afternoon.
Thank you so much everyone for your advice!
I remember the time when I felt my life consisted of a sofa! Immediately checked out LA-Z-BOY and they appear currently unavailable where I live. I am trying to not be on the sofa so much, and be more active. Summer helps, too.
I also recommend finding a physical therapist who specializes with musicians, and/or a chiropractor with long experience with various soft tissue release techniques.
All the 6 Handel sonatas are great. I and IV (A major and D major I really liked). You can try one that looks ike it does not tax your limitations.
I agree with Andy Victor about the A and D sonatas, they are very beautiful pieces. Look for a lovely recording by Hiro Kurosaki, in which one or two of them are accompanied by organ. Gorgeous playing. There is a church in my town that has a loft organ with a small seating area and I have always wanted to do a little recital of Handel and anything else that's playable (for me) that would work well with organ. I don't know any local organists but I would presume to start with the staff organist at that church for a recommendation!
Alfons is a hoot! I have done two lessons already. I love that you’re allowed to be kind to yourself, not just suffer for the good of your body. It’s bad enough having to listen to my neck creak.
I have lovely, graceful, comfy French made recliners on my little patio which help me relax like nothing else. I can’t wait for sunny weather again. With a sheep skin and a blanket, they have worked even during a sunny spell in February.
@Catherine Kostyn, I have had a level C5/C6 vertebral fusion. If there is anything specific you can tell me about that helps you with this, I would love to hear it. Most exercises and techniques focus on functional issues, but irreversible damage is harder to compensate for.
There were no negative outcomes from my C4/C5 fusion, indeed I am very thankful the fusion was done. That being said, the rest of my neck is very arthritic (but stable for now), and I've mentioned my shoulder issues.
Just ordered Suzuki books 6 and 7 - middle child will need them at some point anyway and I can check out the Handel sonatas. I’m good at ignoring any odd bowings and fingerings in the Suzuki editions I don’t like.
I'm sort of surprised that the E major Prelude isn't causing pain for you--especially with all the 4th finger extensions and the broken chords in the middle of the second page... I was working on it for a while about a year ago and I stopped and decided to return when my hand was more flexible.
@Jocelyn, everything is causing pain. :(
@Buri, there are a lot of bowings in the Suzuki Vivaldi editions I simply refuse to do. Ahistoric and amusical. It’s really my major quibble with the method, the quasi religious obstinacy in that respect (and don’t get me started on the mistranscriptions of German folk songs. Would it KILL them to correct “O come, little children”?)
I know! I need to switch to the Violincello da Spalla!
If your fingertips are oversensitive, you might consider seeing if a trick used by musicians with fingertip cuts might work for you. Coat the fingertip with a small amount of superglue, or with liquid bandage. Make sure it has dried thoroughly. The protective layer might help reduce sensitivity.
Thanks, but it’s rather a lack of sensation I am feeling. Not having a good sense of where my thumb is in relation to my first and second finger, a lack of automaticity in intonation. As if that ear-finger connection has been cut, or rather disturbed - it’s not like I’m warbling out completely unrecognisable notes.
I played with a cellist who had to relearn left-handed after a road accident. But I like the "spalla" idea!
For the nerve pain, has your doctor put you on pregabalin?
I have cervical injuries and pinched nerves. Left hand numbness became a real issue. My solution was to learn how to play my viola vertically on my lap, like a cello. No more pain now, no more numbness. It's a steep learning curve at first but you can re-train your brain to do it.
@Aaron, I have tried neurontin, to no effect.
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