Tuesday, May 15, 2018


This morning I went out for an hour's walk and podcast-listen. My mind would wander a bit and I kept coming back to the question "does she always sound like that?", which is what my teacher told me that this other student asked about me (concerning the recital). I kept turning it over and over, to see how many ways it could hurt. Does she always sound like that? Does she always play like that? Always? How many ways could I put the pebble in my shoe? Believe me, I made sure to let it irritate me every way possible. It's kind of amazing to realize that you can go out of your way to be offended. 

The few lame snarky responses I came up with...

  • Well, adult student, you hear me play every week in string orchestra so why don't you tell me? Do I always sound like that?

  • Well, teacher, why do you so often talk to your students about your other students? What effect did you think it would have to tell me how poorly this student thought I played at the recital? It's not like I can do anything about the performance or her opinion of it.

It went on like this for a little bit and then it occurred to me I should just let it go. 

Maybe my anger is justified. 

Maybe I'm putting words in peoples' mouths. 

Maybe they are in fact having a poke at my expense. 

Maybe there's more to the story, or less. 

But I can't do anything about it, and it doesn't matter except in that it can make me miserable if I let it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

hardly getting over it, I guess.

I've been relatively free musically for the past week. Oh, how I'd looked forward to it. No stress, nothing to perform or learn for a week or so. If I wanted to, I could take a real vacation. I couldn't quite bring myself to do it.l My regular teacher will be leaving son for the summer, so I try to pay rapt attention to every remaining lesson.

Today's lesson: some discussion of PAMA concert (upcoming, one-off for a Perfoming Arts Medicine conference) and the spectre of an audition for a good community orchestra at the end of the summer. I am green green green to the audition process, and my teacher told me some things about auditions in general that made me think I was not quite ready for that orchestra, and he couldn't help me because he'll be in Vermont, etc. He didn't ask for Sevcik so those hours of hated practice went to waste. He liked the Palaschko better than last week but still found things he wanted fixed. All valid, but there were some references to my alleged brain disorder where I sometimes can't seem to coordinate between my eyes, ears, mind and arms. Is this so rare? I can't believe this is specific to me, or to adults, but whatever...On to Bach, which he liked better than last week but still I have much to learn. He only asked to hear the first half even though I'd worked on all of it. Lots to talk about, lots to fix, mostly right -arm. Then some general discussion. I asked in as general a way as possible for him to give me something to work on this summer (at the workshop and beyond). I was looking for simple, basic, viola-centric stuff, like "fix your right arm" or "learn spiccato". He said maybe three things would be better than one, and gave some good suggestions. Mostly tone/right-arm stuff. Talk began to devolve into the "always": you always default to a too-intense sound, you always fall apart when asked to back off, you always don't know how things sound to the room compared to under your ear. And he mentioned the brain thing again. This time I did ask is this such a rare thing? He answered diagonally: it's a rare thing to take up viola as an adult and be so interested in it, listen to so much music and do so much research and read so much and do so much on one's own. I began to feel a little freakish listening to him talk about it.

And then it finally happened, after all these years of him talking (unsolicited) to me about his other students: he told me (unsolicited) something another (adult) student had said about me, particularly about the recital. My playing sounded "closed", the student had said. Does Karen always sound like that? the student had wondered. The teacher added that he never thought this student even paid attention to such things. Well, bully for her; I am happy for her increased perception. I don't dispute what she said, and I'm well aware that I didn't play my best at the recital but I didn't think it was *that* bad. Yet here's someone with no reason to lie, saying it was. And here's teacher, relaying this to me. I'm trying to put it behind me. But I know, I know I'm gonna chew on it. I wonder if my teacher was just barely starting to have a little confidence in me, and then I let him down. Still, there's nothing I can do now.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


I have no relationship with my mother. I think she is still alive. I last spoke with her ten years ago, after a 17-year silence which came after a period of 3 or 4 years during which she drifted out of my life. 

We had a difficult time relating to each other when I was growing up; we were both difficult people. We lost touch somewhat after she and my father divorced; even more so when when I was too poor to have a long-distance phone carrier (remember those?). I couldn't call her and she never called me, and neither of us were big letter-writers (letters...remember those?). Later, after the internet became a thing and I was able to make a decent living from it, I wondered enough about her to pay for occasional internet searches (find anyone for $39.99!), but her digital footprint seemed nonexistent. I didn't even know what name she was going by. 

In 2004, an online search service provided me with a phone number I'd not seen before. I dialed, and someone picked up and spoke, in my mother's voice. I hung up, because I couldn't think of anything to say. I didn't want her to think I was trying to disrupt her life, or that I wanted something from her. She was alive, and that was all I really wanted to know.

A few years later, I reconnected with my brother and, at his behest, called my mother. The conversation was strange, and long, and not about anything at all. She wanted me and my brother to come visit her in South Carolina (improbable, since he was in England and I was in Florida). She promised to call the following week, and I was unsurprised when she didn't. Two weeks later my brother warned me she'd started asking for money to cover a previously-unmentioned medical condition . I was not working in IT at the time, and had nothing to give. We never spoke after that. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

back to the grindstone.

I took most of last week off from practicing; rather, I practiced much less than usual, and did not use the practice time wisely. I did run more than 50 miles, and socialized more than I have all year.

Since I'm planning to play the concerto in a master class at a workshop next month, I played through it exactly once last week and was amazed at how much had leaked out of my head. What remained did not sound very nice. I tried to remember particular things about the recital, and could not. Did I have any memory slips? I don't think so (more about that in a second). Did I mess up this or that passage? I can't remember. Intonation? Tone? Did it sound whiny? Did I tighten up and ruin the fast passages? Can't remember. 

What did happen: I was confident enough with memorization that I began to worry that I would magically forget something, everything. It was like a little devil on my shoulder, saying you think you know this, well, do you really? People much, much better than you - professionals, conservatory students, that awesome soloist in string orchestra this semester - all have memory lapses and no one ever thinks it will happen to them. What makes you think it won't happen to you? What if you walk into that room with those bored parents and just draw a blank? What if? You think you know this, but do you? Do you really? So what happened next was I played the piece, not forgetting anything but worrying that I would, and I was much less expressive than I was capable of, until I got to the cadenza, and somehow shook loose that little devil on my shoulder and played more freely.

My stand partner from orchestra came to the recital and sat in the front, about three feet away, with a birds-eye view of both my hands. She is a good violist and has played more advance repertoire than I, and I wondered what she thought of the technical portions of this concerto. I also remember the accompanist (my teacher) making some slight goof and tsk-ing audibly (my husband could hear it from the back of the room), which I smiled at because I thought it was funny. I remember looking at someone's mom who was sitting five feet away from me; she seemed like she was looking at me but late in the piece I finally dared to look at her and she would not meet my eye.

Anyway, it's over. I regret that I didn't play as well as I know I can, but I'll just keep trying. At my lesson today, my teacher seemed about as philosophical as I. Meanwhile, my chamber group is about to wrap up for a bit, and I have no obligations until the end of this month. So at today's lesson we continued on with the Palaschko etude, and the courante from the first Cello Suite. And I must say, both sounded pretty sucky. I was all about the left hand and my sound just plain sucked, and it made the left hand suffer. We talked some about what was wrong, what was needed. I think mainly I need to listen to the sound I make. It makes such a difference.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

the only thing I dislike more than haiku is a string of haiku.

studio recital
4 months of preparation
done in 8 minutes.
the first time ever
movement played from memory
twas better last night.
oh well, the cadenza
was somehow self-redeeming
here's a glass of rye.
on to the next thing.
maybe ready for Bach now.
then again, maybe
not. O, Cremonus
were the scales and drills
not enough for You?
never have I heard
an accompanist tsking
at his own mistake.
I wanted to play
like I meant it, which I did
though I played not so
well as last night or
today all three times or all
hundred total.
nothing to do but
go on and start the next thing,
try again. next year

Thursday, April 26, 2018

taper time.

Two minutes ago I was happy that I had played through the recital piece at a good tempo (faster than I ever thought I'd be able to, all those months ago when I started learning it), with no memory slips and pretty much as well as I'm capable of playing it. 

And now here I am thinking what if it wasn't good enough, what if it really isn't very good at all, what if I am celebrating nothing.

But that's not the point. Of course I won't play it like a professional would, or like a conservatory person would, or like a good high school student or insanely-talented tween or a child prodigy or

I can only play it as well as I can play it. And I did. So I know I can. That's what I have to understand and be happy about.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

like ants

Some anxiety continues to creep in, like ants. I played cold (no warmup, no nothing, unfamiliar room) this morning and had more memory slips than usual. Later, I played to the recording, twice, and was sloppier (and had an outright memory slip) at the slower tempo. Faster one was better. During practice I let little things annoy me. Found myself trying to tweak rather than solidify. I think, at this point, I just need to solidify. 

 By 5:30pm I had convinced myself that a crumb of xanax would help. It hasn't, yet. I mean, I'm not as anxious (good) but not particularly happy (bad). I keep thinking about my first studio recital with this teacher, 5 years ago. He and I had not yet butted heads as we seemed to in later years, and I trusted that he had given me appropriate pieces for the recital. And I fell on my face. I am trying not to draw parallels this year. Sure, we haven't had any unpleasantness this year (except one freak argument about the Vaughan Williams piece a few months ago), and I do trust that this piece is appropriate for me. But I think I'm in better shape to get through it convincingly, and better shape to handle falling on my face, if indeed that happens. Drawing parallels seems superstitious, like asking for trouble.

My first year at Apple Hill, a group was playing one of my favorite pieces, Brahms' G Major Sextet. The night of that performance, I happened to be eating dinner next to the first violinist (who was a fine musician) and I asked her how she was feeling ahead of the concert. She said "I'm not really nervous; I just hope I play as well as I know I can." I thought that was interesting and oddly humble, that a conservatory student or pre-professional (I can't remember which) would have any doubt about playing up to her ability. Now I know a little better what she meant, and I am in the same boat. Sure, my ability is low, by comparison; I can only play how I can play. But for better or worse, I do hope that on Sunday I play as well as know I can.