My daughter had a violin recital this past weekend. She has studied the violin for two years. Thank you, your sympathy is gratefully accepted. I am happy to announce that we ARE definitively reaching the stage where some music is happening and it is not always challenging to listen to. Bless her.
The violin is a tough instrument. It is exacting in terms of your finger placement – just the slightest bit off and you’re off pitch. It is demanding in terms of your bow action – this is the reason for the screechy scratching sound that so many young students demonstrate for so long. It is also tough because it doesn’t get a lot of play in popular music (Thank you Lindsay Sterling for bucking the tide), so it is difficult to “play” with in the ways that students of piano and guitar might do. The violin is the instrument that the family studies together because it is loud and takes substantial time to gain even enough mastery simply not to offend others. Am I laying it on a little thick? I am LOVE with the fact that my daughter plays this incredibly difficult instrument. I chose the easy ones and gave up on the violin in a few months as an adult. She really does seem to love it. My swooning over that fact makes the test of endurance possible.
Back to the recital. If you don’t have a child, niece, nephew, beloved neighbor for whom you’ve attended a recital, I would recommend that you seek one of these students out. Recitals are a wonderful way to experience some music, but also to see young people striving, learning, and growing. It can be really touching.
I’ve shared observations from my son’s piano recital and the community that exists in these events here and all of those same things are true in the strings community. I do have some fresh observations from this weekend’s event that I’d like to share.
- The Impact of Fear Diminishes with Experience. The biggest difference between the younger students and the older students was not just skill and difficulty of music as I expected, but the ability to perform without looking like you are going to vomit at any minute. My poor baby (who is 11 and still on the young side of this crowd) cracked nary a grin and really was kind of green by the time she was done, despite playing her piece better than she ever has. An older student complimented her playing and then asked if she was okay “because you looked like you were going to puke.” He was actually quite kind, and given the caliber of his performance, his compliment counted double.
- You Get to Decide How to Continue from Here. Accompanists always follow. When you are playing with one and you freeze or forget your part or foul up, they will wait. You get to decide how to proceed – whether you march forward or back up. Your accompanist will find you and help pave that road.
- Work and Artistry are Both Needed. When playing the strings it seems to me that one hand chops wood, the other turns it into art. The bow hand and arm moves almost constantly, for more advanced players that movement is fluid and doesn’t even necessarily seem to reflect the rhythm of what they are doing. The hand on the fretboard determines what the notes, and the quality of those notes will be. I know there’s a lot more nuance to this analysis, but this is how it struck me on this day. One hand chopping wood, the other carving the statue. It is critical to remember which hand is doing what AND to recognize that both must be done well for success.
- Doing It for Yourself. The performers that were the most enjoyable to watch barely seemed to notice the audience after their required entrance bow. They commanded the stage and the space naturally by doing THEIR thing. They allowed themselves to dive in and just play the music AND to experience the moment.
- Your Body is Part of Every Experience. Music is meant to be embodied. With experience and a growing comfort level, these students were able to leave the standing as a statue in an approximation of perfect string playing stance into one that allowed for a little more flow, a little more interaction, as thought the whole body was part of the production of sound.
- Creating Something Amazing Requires Leaving Worries Behind. No one is troubled by the wardrobe malfunction of a 17 year old violin phenom. One young woman’s blouse became slightly more revealing (not insanely so, but she noticed it and had a moment of concern) when she donned her instrument and began to play. Nobody reacted. We all just listened. No one would want to risk interrupting the amazing thing that was happening. I just wasn’t important in the face of what she was creating.
I admit that I thought that attending these events would be hard, and it is at times. It is a long to sit still for those of us who are not native sit stillers. But the joy in it for me is ALL of the things that are going on: all of the music, all of the learning, all of the growth, all of the opportunities to watch young people being afraid and doing it anyway. What a fine example of living.