A Talented Young Violinist Talks About Mental Health & Changing Career Focus from Music

August 7, 2023, 12:43 PM · I heard this podcast episode played on the radio today, and I recognized the name of a violinist that I remember soloing with The Aurora Symphony, playing a really stunning rendition of Saint Saens 3, when I was a goofball in the 1st violin section about 13 years ago.


It's a really interesting talk about someone that works incredibly hard and then deals with really challenging performance anxiety, dissociation and the perfectionism and other factors that surround it. I think it's an interesting listen that young students, parents and many others can probably find some resonance with.

I believe she was a student of James Maurer, who was Laurie's teacher (IIRC). Of all the students that soloed with the orchestra while I was there, she seemed to have "it".

I guess you never know what people are going through, and it's cool to hear that she seems to be thriving and finding ways to integrate the various selves she has been, is, and might be; Not all precocious players seem to get through their existential chasms.

Replies (7)

Edited: August 12, 2023, 7:26 PM · Interesting... How generous of her to share her journey.

You do remember correctly, Christian, James Maurer was my teacher, very supportive and kind.

Edited: August 13, 2023, 10:32 AM · In general, motivation has 4 elements. It is probably helpful to get objective opinions and to introspect to determine which one or more of these apply to any individual.

Elements of Motivation:

1. GOAL. It's more than just a "goal" (e.g., "I want to play well"). It is a true "vision." Can you anticipate and "picture" (or "listen") in your mind what you want to sound like when you have reached your ultimate goal? It's not just what your teacher wants; it's what you want. Can you "see" it and "hear" it? What's the long-term ultimate goal, and can you get a sense of actually achieving it?

2. INNER DRIVE. This is your emotional inner force. It's not just enthusiasm (i.e., you can't rely on enthusiasm alone; it comes and goes). What's the emotional force driving you to learn and perfect such a difficult goal as learning to play or improving to a superior level? What's the emotional component?

3. STRATEGY. That's usually what most talk about and focus on. It's all the technical detail and the specifics of practice, performance, time management, handling any relevant relationships with others (e.g., teachers, students, fellow musicians, etc.).

4. ACTION. It's not enough to have a specific plan. You need to DO IT. So what's your actual action plan? What are you actually going to do? And if you don't do it, what's getting in the way? Are there any potential roadblocks? And how would you handle them?

So, if you can identify the specifics of these separate elements, it is more likely that you can derive the motivation to figure out what you need and want to do and then actually do it.

I hope that helps.

August 13, 2023, 10:38 AM · I think at play for Natalie (the violinist) was a more existential concern that presupposes any of the elements that you listed, Sander.

What does an adult do with a set of values that they more or less unquestioningly followed from early childhood, and that seem to actually bring pain instead of joy? How does one question the very basic premises that are at the core of the sense of of self, what is the difference for the student who quits or keeps going, and what does one do when success and sanity seem at odds?

August 13, 2023, 12:16 PM · Christian: Yes, good point. I just think that those philosophical and spiritual values can be listed under "inner drive." However, yes, there is an sense of meaningfulness that is an overarching issue.
August 15, 2023, 5:58 AM · One does not pursue art as a career for monetary remuneration. However, it is increasingly difficulty to even perform professionally. This seems to be what Natalie discovered. She studies for years, pract7ces, etc. Her audition for a concerto competition at Harvard goes very well. However, she did not win. I assume she took this to mean that she does not have enough skill to make a career of music. The standards are so high for the dwindling number of positions.

It is a very sad situation. In most instances music requires an ensemble. Not being able to express yourself artistically on account of not making the cut for an ensemble is tragic.

There should be a better way. But that is not how the society organizes itself. There seems to be an exponential curve. At the top there is a disproportionate amount of money.

Edited: August 16, 2023, 7:18 AM · Professional artists obviously require patrons in order to afford to live. The technology and business model for commercial music (of any genre, including classical), due to recordings and mass media etc, concentrate attention and rewards on a tiny set of superstars, leaving most other highly skilled musicians to scramble for gigs and find students. Of course the rest of us, who in pre-electricity days would have been satisfied and beloved porch musicians, are now intimidated out of even trying to learn, since the ubiquitous superstar level comes through every soundspeaker everywhere, and of course "I could never do that." I've observed for decades a perfectionism in classical music culture that contrasts greatly with the live music culture of the Grateful Dead scene where I spent my formative years, accepting that some nights are better than others and live musicians are always better than reference recordings.
Edited: August 16, 2023, 1:37 PM · I think that there is a large missing middle in the world of classical music. It's nice that Natalie seems to still play and finds opportunities to connect and make music. I wonder how much of that is classical and how much is more pop oriented or in other traditions like bluegrass; it would be great to have more organizing of music-making for the very talented that don't decide to try and make pro careers in music.

People certainly put together recitals here and there, but more dedicated spaces and societies for classical music without the pretension would be nice. I'm sure some of these organizations exist in bigger cities, so I may be describing something that thrives in many places. I have a hunch that the competitive aspects of music at the highest level make a certain kind of solidarity more difficult than need be.

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