Today I went to Viola Day, a day-long event sponsored by ASTA and devoted to viola. The guest-clinician was the associate principal violist at the Met, and the schedule included performances and a master class, as well as a few all-comers activities.
The day started with a play-in (sight-reading session), which used to strike terror into my heart. Somehow or other I have become a better reader, so this was actually ok, kind of fun even, for a while. I have also learned to follow a stand partner when I get lost, a skill which came in handy as we played through more and more difficult pieces. I reached my limit, though, when the clinician decided to share our stand - even though he was very nice and not at all critical, nerves took over and my brain just shut down at times, usually during a change in clef. So we did actually reach and surpass the point of demoralization, and I spent the rest of the morning beating myself up for not playing well, and beating myself up for beating myself up.
The afternoon started out with a concert of works by Richard Lane, a composer who wrote a lot for viola. Among the performers were people I know: my former teacher; her colleague who also ran a chamber-music workshop I participated in a couple of times; one of her former students who is now a superstar about to go to grad school in viola. Also performing was a famous professional violist I had only heard of (he has retired to this area). I'd never heard of the composer, had never heard the pieces before. The performances were beautiful, for the most part. And sitting there in this gorgeous chapel, listening to these beautiful viola ensembles, it hit me: what they were doing bore no more relation to my "study" of viola than, well, anything. We exist in separate universes, as performers. I will never, ever be able to play the way I hear. It is too late. I started too late.
As this dawned on me, I wondered whether it is defeatist or freeing. Should I quit, or should I just accept that I will never perform what I consider to be real music in a real way, and quit stressing about it? Does this make me look stupid that I have been taking it seriously? If so, how stupid does it make me look? I am truly grateful that I can hear music and love it and try to make sense of it, but what I actually do is not music, and will never be. There is this can-do-ism, at least in this country, that applauds any effort, no matter how futile. I suspect it is tied to capitalism. As an adult, I am a cash cow; just keep telling me "it's never too late!" and I will buy an instrument, attend your camp, take lessons from you, donate to your orchestra, whatever. But you know what? Sometimes it is too late.