Sunday, October 22, 2017

It's chaos; be kind.

The title: a friend just vagueposted it on Facebook, attributed to Patton Oswalt. I should know who Patton Oswalt is, but I don't, actually. I don't know precisely why my friend posted it but I have an idea. The idea below is not it.


The difference between "you couldn't manage to do the assigned etude" and "you're having trouble with the assigned etude; let's figure it out and fix it": this is the difference between a good lesson and a bad one, a good attitude about lessons or a bad one. How I would love to walk into a lesson and feel like I deserved to be there, like I could really play my instrument (or was well on the way, anyhow). What makes a good student? The ability to listen, to differentiate between what you hear and what you want to hear? I have that, to some extent. And then you try different things until you get the sound you want to hear? That, I don't have - not nearly often enough, anyhow. Some (most? all?) kids just do stuff without thinking; they "get it", they are the talented ones, they don't need to read extra books and do extra drills and walk around the neighborhood flexing their wrists or waving a stick like moving a bow. They don't sweat about walking into yet another lesson unable to perform a little children's etude. They just Get It.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Two obsessions

Yeah, I'm back. Miss me?

Lately I am obsessed with two things. One is hand frame. This comes from the Sevcik shifting exercises My teacher's been giving me. I've been shifting for years but not (apparently) with any idea of what my hand needed to look like once I got where I was going. The teacher has always said shift to a position, not to a note. I can mostly shift to a position (or up/down some number of steps, if I'm not thinking of the position), but the hand frame is only a guess, and I just throw the other fingers down and pray. The Sevcik is all in one key, so I have started thinking about how my hand can be prepared for all the notes. For example, if I am in 2nd position on the D string, what are the notes (in F major) and how must my hand be? When I take walks in the evenings I turn these etudes over and over in my head. And over and over.

The other obsession is connectedness, and for the second time in this entry I have initially spelled it "connected ness" (i.e., disconnectedly), which is a Freudian slip if I ever heard one. In most of what I'm working on at the moment, I want all the notes to be connected. Especially when going from up-bow to down-bow. It has to sound like the same note, or slurred notes; the dynamic has to match; vibrato cannot stop. I can't do these things. I often forget to make my bow hand loose and supple at the transition, so I get a small (or big) hole in the sound. For some reason I cannot fathom, I often stop my vibrato as I get close to the frog; this is a doubly bad habit because a slight increase in vibrato might help smooth out a bow change, so here I am shooting myself in the foot. (My vibrato is currently not controllable enough to increase at will, but that's another story). My left-hand technique is so sloppy that I can hear consonants in the notes I play. Even slurs have internal notes that begin with Ls, Ds, Bs (or BLs). Or maybe it's the right hand; maybe I am unconsciously changing the bow speed just enough to make it bumpy. It's driving me nuts.

I have been spending a lot of practice time lately on these two obsessions, trying to figure out what's happening, experimenting with fixing it, sometimes just noting that it seems really important and I am spending a lot of time on it. Am I mis-spending the time? I haven't fixed the problems yet, so maybe. It takes away from other things I "should" be practicing, so maybe. But then again, this might be something I live with for a while without fixing, but still something good can come of it.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

waving the white flag.

I am supposed to go to chamber music camp on the 28th of this month. I got the music assignment in late May and have been working diligently since then, but I'm just overwhelmed. Today I tried playing along with a super-slow recording of one of the pieces and...pffffffft. Although this camp assigns groups/music based on placement videos, I'm afraid these pieces are really over my head. There are some really good musicians in the groups, and I am terrified I'll ruin it for them (and generally terrified to play so poorly).

I have been practicing this stuff hours and hours every day. I feel guilty when I'm not practicing. I wake up in the morning to a sense of dread: I must practice. But it will never be enough. Nobody practices this much with so little result; I am sure of this. It's a lot of stress, mentally and physically. Heartburn, tightness in the chest, sour stomach, poor sleep, loss of appetite, headaches. Poor focus, brain malfunction, dread.

I have brought the music into lessons, shoving aside more lesson-worthy subjects, only to get shrugged shoulders and "ok, what do you want to do to fix this?" or "nobody expects you to play as well as you expect yourself to play" or some such. The one thing I've not heard from any teacher is "this is not above you; you can do this (or some semblance of it)". They say nobody doubts you like you doubt yourself, but I'm not so sure.

I've been going to this camp for a couple of years, but I have never before felt this apprehensive about it. Yes, there is almost a whole month left to work on the pieces, but I am not optimistic. I am on the verge of cancelling out, even if it means losing money I've already spent. This is supposed to be fun, and because I am the way I am, I've turned it into a job. A very stressful, not very fun job.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


I have good practice days and bad practice days. Today was not so good. It was also the day I decided to treat the Brahms to some "random, interleaved" practice: I would play each movement through without stopping to fix anything. 5 times. Randomly, throughout the day. Oh, brother, it sucks so bad. I mean miserable and then some. I ended up racing through the pieces because I just wanted to be done with them. I hate doing this, especially at this stage of learning (will I ever learn them any better, I wonder), but I figure if I really hate what I hear, I'll change it. But, ugh. I still have three more iterations.

Just to pour salt into the wound, while taking a walk I listened to a recording of a recent lesson. It was the lesson that prompted the "special needs" comment the other day. Again, ugh. "Special needs" notwithstanding, that man has the patience of a saint.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


A very few sips of rye can work such wonders. But it doesn't last too long, and defies being-chased-after, and it's not good for me anyway.

Today did not start well. I ran. 8.5 miles, under 10min pace (which, for me, these days, is an accomplishment). But I hated people and this country and the government and people and myself and people the entire time. Came home and had a leisurely breakfast/lunch, put off starting to practice as long as I could. Once I did start practicing, it didn't go poorly. I kind of decided not to be so rigid today, not to stress over camp music, not to commit mentally to 5 hours of practice after which I would assess my playing and determine that I don't sound like someone who practices 5 hours a day. And then hate myself. No, not today. 

Later, I had rehearsal. Arrived just before the sky opened up. Played better than last week, though still not well. We went over and over a section that we hadn't yet covered, that we all asserted we didn't know and were just sight-reading, but the other people are so much better at sight-reading than I am. They were actually learning and getting better with each run-through, whereas I was just making mental notes to go home and learn it better. I would actually see a clump of notes on the page and just think, "no, not now, I'll learn it at home, don't want to risk reading it now." Yikes. Thank god I am just the second viola. Hopefully they were all listening to themselves, and if they were paying attention to the group as a whole, they didn't hear the viola.

Regarding the country: I'm almost done. In yesterday's special elections, Democrats consistently lost. The people have spoken; they got what they wanted. The majority is happy with an idiot monster in charge. In this country, the majority opinion rules and we all must abide by it. I hope I outlast him.

Regarding people: I crave solitude more and more. The thought of having to speak to people - in person, on the phone, whatever - makes my chest feel tight. I really don't know what to do about this.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

special needs.

It's been a long week, capped by a 7-hour stretch at the rockshow last night, and I am tired. Today I was going to let myself be tired: I'd take a day of from running, practice before my viola lesson but maybe not so much afterward, and start hitting it hard again tomorrow. 

The lesson didn't start off well; due to time constraints I've been working on small sections of music, and the teacher seemed to zero in on things I hadn't practiced. I fumbled, got flustered, fumbled more. My tired brain threatened to stop processing written music. Gradually things righted the end of the lesson, he remarked that he was glad to have a student like me, especially one with "special needs" due to my age and circumstances. He said it's taught him a lot about teaching. He then added that he hoped that didn't sound demeaning. I know he often doesn't articulate well, so who can really say what he meant, but...sigh. I don't want to have special needs. I want to have the same needs as anyone else. 

I really hope I can let go of this remark, or at least not chew on it very long. It shouldn't change the course of anything. If I suck, I suck; if I can learn, I will learn. But I don't want to waste time feeling miserable about it.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

notes from my first paying gig.

(This was not classical music, but a tribute show in honor of Paul McCartney's 75th birthday. So, some Beatles songs, two as a string quartet and three with a rock band). Getting there at 5 for the soundcheck that didn't happen and then hanging out until nearly 11 does actually result in a non-warmed-up performance. All the vibrato that had been flowing out of my hand all week seemed stoppered up again. There was no opportunity to tune to each other, and my tuner app picked up all the ambient noise of the bands playing onstage, and wasn't reliable. So, I was really out of tune. Also, we stood instead of sat, which didn't really matter to me but was just an unexpected thing, and my poor vision made me stand way back of the other string players (to see the music) and I accidentally poked one of the violinists with my bow. Also, there really wasn't room for 11 people on the stage. Also, certain frequencies really came through the monitor and others not at all. But really all you can do is just smile through it all and try to look like you're having a good time. Because sometimes you are.