Sunday, March 24, 2019

there's got to be something different

I remember once after racing the Naples half-marathon and finishing far behind my expectations, I spent the entire 3-hour drive home grinding my teeth about it. At one point, my teammate (who’d ridden with me and had had a fabulous race) took a break from phoning her friends about the race and I just lost it, in typical Joe Positive fashion: What could I have done differently? I wailed. I did everything coach said. I took no shortcuts in my training. There’s got to be something different I can do.

Here I am a dozen years later, retired, all the time in the world, practicing more than 4 hours a day most days, doing the self-recording thing, doing the Deliberate Practice thing, doing scales and arpeggios every day even though my teacher no longer assigns them, for chrissakes. And I'm basically wailing the same thing: what am I not doing? There's got to be something different I can do.

Who can tell me what that is?

make up some sort of title

I am so very tired.

Just after the audition day was over, I called my teacher. Not that he had asked for an update, but because I was feeling a little bit low and wanted either to leave a faux-cheery voicemail (if he didn’t pick up) or a faux-cheery impression (if he did). Turned out to be the latter. Hey, it doesn’t bother me too much, Hey, I didn’t really think I had a chance, what with being an adult pursuing a non-professional degree and trying to get into an already-full studio. Boy, am I glad it’s over, onward to the next adventure, since of course all that we adult dabblers are into is adventure. Bucket lists. Playing fiddle tunes for the grandbabies. Anyway, the pretense was just that, pretense. He doesn’t like sad-sack adult amateurs moping through his lessons. So I made like my number one feeling was thank god this is over, I didn’t care anyway. The first part was true. The second part was not, and I am feeling it now. I do care, I did care, I blew it, it’s too late to try again. It’s all my fault, I blew it, I am a failure.

The fence-straddling necessary to maintain a game face when you are very upset inside is enough to split a body in two.

But that’s always been the danger of fence-straddling.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

and it is over

I came, I saw, I tried. I failed.

There were a few factors beyond my control: It was a chilly day and yet in true Florida fashion, the air conditioning remained on in the beautiful, cavernous music building. The auditions were running a bit late, so I had an extra few minutes' pacing-about time. The viola faculty was (unexpectedly) not on the panel, and I was really hoping he'd notice the improvement since the last time he'd heard me play. The room (a concert hall) sounded different than any room I'd ever played solo in.

But most things were totally within my control, and I just blew it. I didn't give myself adequate time to gather my composure and feel a pulse, just put the bow on the string and started in. From the first note, it wasn't right. A running dialogue started in my head. Hey, that wasn't as good as you're capable of. Can you salvage it? No? Where's the vibrato? It's there, but too stiff and contrived. SOunds like putting ketchup on everything. Oh, you missed that turn there. Did you hold out that note too long? Remember how that was a habit you had, that you worked hard to fix? When was the last time you checked on that to see if the fix held up? Oh, while you've been gabbing to yourself, you've lost track of where you are, you're on auto pilot. There's a shift coming, can you make it? Oops, that sounded pitchy. Where's the vibrato? Your dynamic is totally wrong here. There is no musical line I can discern. I wonder if this faculty (violinist/cellist/bassist) who probably don't know this viola concerto from Adam have noticed the myriad mistakes. Here comes a slight break between sections, will they stop me if I take the full two bars' rest? No, ok, mediocre trudge through the development section, no line, great holes between bow changes, get to the recap and start in the wrong position, oh crap and I hear the lead panelist's voice asking me to stop, let's hear a bit of the second piece. 

The second piece has always been the weaker of the two; I have never been able to figure out a compromise between what I wanted to do with it and what I am technically able to do.I recently opined on facebook that some people should not play Bach, and that post was inspired by me and this piece. I started the piece, and it actually went a little better than it has in practice lately (which has not been too good), but toward the end I missed some technical things that in turn undermined some musical things. End of the first half ended with a nice ringing chord, and the panel took that opportunity to thank me for my time. One asked "the viola faculty *has* heard you play, correct? Good" They smiled, they thanked me, I smiled back and thanked them back and that was it, fini, 8 months of work boiled down to about 5 minutes of nerves and wooden playing and failure.

it will be over soon

Last summer, I decided I wanted to pursue a nonprofessional music degree offered by my local university. It's a Bachelor of Arts rather than a Bachelor of Music (or Education), and I privately think of it as a Music Performance "lite" degree - something you might go for if you aren't good enough to do Performance and have no desire to teach public school. Perfect for someone like me.

There is, however, the matter of audition. After telling my teacher (with a fair amount of trepidation) what I wanted to do, we settled on audition pieces and I've been working on them in a disjointed fashion since October or so. The audition is in two weeks. I am not ready, I don't think. And I have a lot of baggage.

I was really surprised my teacher didn't shoot down the idea from the start. But he has definite ideas of what is and isn't proper behavior for certain stages of life, and he's pretty clear in his belief that adults don't really belong in music-student life. He also has a tendency to say whatever is on his mind, diplomatic or not. So some of our conversations about this upcoming audition have ranged from the irrelevant to the depressing. Like: kids at auditions are nervous because they're without their parents for the first time (irrelevant). Kids can get away with more [mistakes/omission/etc] in an audition because of their youthful charm (depressing). When is your audition again? You're not going for a real degree, are you? Why don't you just audit classes instead? (both depressing and irrelevant).

I tell myself that this doesn't matter, because getting into this degree program is important to me. What's important is that I play as well as I can on the day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Why I love Country Music

what happens when a poorly-verbal gets blindsided

Me, at music lesson: this phrase doesn't sound like I want it to sound. I want to play it better, but I don't know how.
Teacher: how do you want it to sound?:
Me, trying to find words: umm, well, it starts and then it rises
T (interrupting): where does it rise?
Me, not sure if he's asking which beat or which pitch or which eventual dynamic: the middle of
T (interrupting): the C? does it rise at the C?
Me, noticing there is more that one C in in the phrase: uhh
T (interrupting): where does it rise?
Me: uhh
T: sing it
(I sing the line, with exaggerated dynamics to make sure I'm communicating what I want. But the line is too long for me to hold without stopping to breathe)
T: you breathed there, why did you breathe there, did you really want a breath there?
Me: no, I just don't have the breath to sing it the way I want it to sound
T: sing it again
(I sing it again, same badly-executed way)
T: why did you accent there? Do you want an accent there?
Me: no, I told you, I just can't sing well enough
T, beginning to lose patience: ok, so you want it to start rising here, then what does it do?
Me: it stays until
T (interrupting): it stays? Really?
Me: yes, it stays until, um, well maybe it grows a little, until
T (interrupting): so it stays? hmm, staying sounds kind of boring. But ok, it stays, let's call it a trapezoid. So where does it end?
Me, happy to frame this conversation in geometric shapes, which I understand: um, at the 
T (visibly impatient now): where?
T (plays notes, one at a time): here? here?
Me: uh
T (interrupting, plays phrase the way I have been unable to articulate): like this?
Me: yes, exactly like that
T: oh, ok, so just play it like that
Me: but

(to be continued)

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.