Monday, May 27, 2019

so long, and thanks for all the fish

Today, not long after Towel Day, I had the final lesson with my viola teacher of 6+ years. That's longer than I've held any job. For all this time I've lived in awe of his playing and his high standards which, for all this time, I felt I've never lived up to. I am an awkward person, and a poster child for impostor syndrome, so you can only imagine what happens when a tightly-wound high-achieving adult sets out to learn a difficult musical instrument from a perfectionist who is something of an awkward person too. I do believe that sometimes we brought out the worst in each other. We've had some not-so-great lessons; we've had flat-out arguments; both of us have lost temper during lessons and crossed over into personal insults; I have cried over (or even during, dear god) lessons at least once a year. I went through a particularly tough time three or four years ago, was an asshole to many people; during the worst of that time, I saw every lesson as a referendum on my right to exist (as a musician and a person), and took a lot of shit personally. I'm pretty sure that's when I wore out his patience for good. 

Yet I was allowed to stay, and look where he brought me. I never thought, 6+ years ago, that I'd get into the good community orchestra or the viola studio at school. As an adult. Who started learning this instrument at age 45. Never, not ever. And yet, look where he brought me.

Today's lesson was like many we've had the past few years. He'd forgotten what he'd asked me to prepare; instead he had me play stuff I hadn't worked much on. I screwed up, sight-read through a lot of it, owned my shortcomings, listened to his suggestions. We got to stuff I had prepared, and there were shortcomings and suggestions there too, which I owned and noted respectively. A little chatter about various violists, about orchestra playing, about a student of his who had gone to conservatory, and that was it, bye. I wanted to say something: thanks for everything, really, I can't thank you enough but I am an awkward person and when I sense someone is keeping me at arms' length, I will not cross that line. I've heard that teachers like to hear good things from students. So I went home and composed an email and hit Send before I could edit it to death. That's all I can do. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

catch me if you can

When I think about all that’s happened this past academic year, I just shake my head. 

I must be the luckiest person in the whole world, to have hoodwinked so many people, to have landed myself in so many situations. Just out of sheer luck. Luck + showing up. I got into the best non-professional orchestra we have, just by being in the right place at the right time, saying Yes to an opportunity, and then showing up. No matter that I am the absolute worst player, the lost little lamb of the viola section; I show up. I got into USF by showing up for a lesson with the faculty and then showing up for the audition. Maybe they were aiming for a special sort of diversity; maybe they don't realize that at 3x the age of the average music student, I play about 33% as well. 

I just showed up. 

Someday, someone’s going to find out. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

there are three kinds of people in the world

there are three kinds of people in the world:

  • people who never think they play out of tune
  • people who always think they play out of tune
  • drummers

It's funny that the week I found out I'd been accepted to music school was also the week I played the three worst rehearsals I've played in my entire life.

Tonight's rehearsal was the worst of the three. I won't go into the bloody details except to note that sightreading implies sight, i.e., you have to be able to see the music to read it. Tonight I got to experience sightreading without being able to see the music that was on the stand. The resulting sound will be left to the imagination of the reader.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

well, you could just about knock me over with a feather

A couple of days ago, out of nowhere, I got an email from the viola faculty accepting me into the studio next fall. Literally unable to speak, I forwarded the email to my teacher and a friend/former teacher, texted my husband, and then continued rushing around because it was the middle of a really long and busy day.

It's taken a couple of days for this to start to sink in (well, duh). And it's only just starting to sink in. USF still hasn't formally admitted me to the college proper (they're still evaluating one transcript they evaluated 30-odd years ago when I went there for engineering school). Assuming that gets wrapped up, I need to register for classes all quick-like. And I have to think about how I'm going to pay for this. Still, it's just...wild. I was so sure I didn't get in, never had a chance, was chasing a pipe dream.

I emailed/messaged former teachers and coaches to let them know, and to thank them, because they all had a hand in this no matter whether I had a hundred lessons or just one. They've been really kind in their responses, and happy for me, and that is just lovely. The one exception is my current teacher, who has not responded at all. I saw him last night at string-orchestra rehearsal, and he said nary a word to me all night except to ask if my stand partner was going to be late. Contrasting with every other teacher’s reaction, and taking into account the very strained relationship that we have at lessons and string-orchestra rehearsal, I can only conclude that this teacher dislikes me intensely (gee, ya think?). This makes me immensely sad, because I actually really like him, and he is more responsible than anyone for what I've been able to do. So yeah, that sucks. But I need to not let it ruin this.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

let some more time pass

A few hours' respite, but now the anxiety is creeping back, making my stomach hurt.

I can’t believe how stupid I was, how gullible. I really thought I played well enough to get into a school like USF. I really believed, since no one has ever flat-out told me “you suck,” that I truly didn’t suck. I find it amazing that over a dozen people have heard me play and been in some position to teach or coach or critique and not one has ever said, “you know, this might not be the instrument for you. You might want to find something else to do.” Why? I used to have a job, and money, but certainly not all the money in the world and now I don’t even have that. Could I just have been unlucky enough to know the dozen or so people in the world too polite, or too chicken, or too something to tell me?

It's probably best to go to bed, let some more time pass.


Today aches so much.

Es muss sein

After dinner last night I played a little. Practiced, even, though I didn’t break it out into regimented chunks of time and I didn’t track it. Surprise, surprise: I can play. All the work I’ve been doing the past couple of millennia on actually using the bow to make nice sounds that give ebb and flow to phrases - wow, I could hear that, I could notice it, I could do it when I wanted to, and change it up at will. And then I sightread something I haven’t looked at in maybe a year and which I never could read, and what do you know, I could read it? And the hard parts weren’t hard.Wow, not wow. I mean, so what. So I can do this, who cares? It doesn’t matter. It’s too late. It occurs to me that my teacher has not uttered one word about this bombing out of school thing. Not “too bad” or “tough luck” or “sorry”. I know, I know, he’s not that way - at least not to me. But I wish that just once he would acknowledge that I’ve worked hard.All this just made me more depressed, so I called it a night.


A night, a dream that they decided to amputate my right leg to make sure that the breast cancer never came back. I couldn’t bring myself to ask why, just asked if it had to be. Muss es sein? Es muss sein, they assured me. I went into the bathroom to check if the tub was clean (the amputation would take place there) and then found an empty stall and tried to hide. They were coming. I wondered if I could remain still. I woke up. It was still April 6.