So often we get caught up worrying about what other people are thinking about us. We obsess about playing accurately in tune, playing on the finest instrument and bow, and playing with impressive technique. For so long the classical violin world has been dominated by virtuosi, each one trying to out do the other. Where is the love of music in all of this?
Very soon I will be taking a much needed break. I will go to the desert to contemplate this issue. It is easy to lose oneself if the focus is solely on technique and performance practice. When playing in an orchestra violin section, one can also fall into “keeping up with the Jones’s.”
There is beauty and artistry in violin technique. A very long time ago, my teacher at New England Conservatory called it “craftsmanship.” In case unfamiliar, “performance practice” has to do with industry standards in performing classical music. It is a form of socialization, musical etiquette, and ethics we learn as students. It is our common language. Technique and performance practice together engender the classical music idiom.
Recently I spoke with a very talented colleague about the Dvorák violin concerto. I could tell that even though for her it didn’t have the strongest musical content compared to his other works, she loved playing the piece. However, there is playing the violin and then there is playing music which may not always be the same thing.
As a young person I was drawn to and studied the compositional aspects of music before I really had the skill to play the violin masterworks. When I made the decision to pursue a career in performing music, it was a struggle to catch up with the level of playing of my peers. In so doing I mostly had to let go of my interest in composition and musicology.
At this point in my playing career I feel ready to move beyond the constant pursuit of elite violin technique. Not performing for 18 months shined a light on what I had given up so long ago. Teaching music in public school over the past two years has also made me long for focusing more on private instruction with far fewer students.
The advice I have for my younger self would be to not abandon the love of music. Working so hard to get more technique may simply result in playing uninspired concerts unless a connection with the energetic and emotional content of the music is ever present. The good news is that one can always change course. For me it is high time to return to loving and playing the music.
The Inspiration for Violinists card deck
This “Joy of music” card is part of a 50 card deck. Every card has a unique image and text inspiring musicianship, mindfulness and spirituality.