May 17, 2013
It's been a lousy week. What with all that buildup to the recital, and then the recital itself and the associated letdown, along with an overabundance of free time alone, I've let myself wallow like I haven't wallowed in a long time. Little stuff became big stuff, and big stuff became Tragedy. So I keep going back to this, which keeps me doing something, which I still believe is better than doing nothing.
May 15, 2013
I need to remember
I need to remember that the biggest reason to do recitals is it makes me work on a piece until it's finished. Or finished enough, anyway. It makes me work in a way I never would if I didn't have to play it in front of people.
May 14, 2013
What a strange experience that recital was.
You spend all that time working on the pieces, to get up and play them - for better or worse - for utter strangers. Then, five minutes later, it's over, and then no one says anything to you about it and it's like it never happened at all.
Did it happen? Did I play all the way through? Did I stop? Did I shake? Was I in tune? Did I curse? Was I there? All that work, all that time.
I could have picked any corner downtown, played the pieces and walked away.
Such a strange experience, and in a way, a letdown.
May 13, 2013
well, that pretty much sucked. I didn't play horribly, and I wasn't even all that nervous, but my bow arm shook. A lot. In fact, it's all I remember now about the whole performance, even though at the time I wasn't too upset by it.
What made things slightly worse was that I was the only one who had no guests there with me. Not that I would want to put anyone through that. But afterward I stood around feeling awkward, having nothing really to say to the other students (kids) or their parents. A couple people thanked me very politely for playing. I tried to be a good sport but I felt like an idiot.
I wish that someone, anyone, who has witnessed me beat my brains out about this for the past couple of months had been there to see and hear and give some kind of objective feedback. "Yeah, you sucked" or "so your arm shook, it happens" or "I know you can do better" or "nope, you really can't do any better." But there was no one, no feedback at all except for two very polite strangers, one of whom gave the most awkward compliment I have ever heard - (to my teacher) "everyone played so well," (turning to me) "even you."
May 12, 2013
day before the recital
the great disconnect between the imagined and the reality: I keep thinking about the Bach - in particular what I want to do with it and how I will do it - but when I actually go to play it, whether I actually hit all the notes (in some semblance of rhythm and tempo) is a total crapshoot.
This morning I performed my "cold concert" (playing absolutely cold, with no warmup) for my husband instead of my dog, and I actually 1) blanked on the piece, 2) stopped, 3) said "shit" (which my teacher has absolutely forbidden me to do at the recital no matter what, since there will be parents there and all).
And yet here I sit, hours later, after lots of playing and a lesson and lots more playing (in front of my long-suffering husband, even), thinking about what I want to do with the piece and how I will do it. As though there's a chance that I will get through the piece at all during my one shot at it tomorrow evening. Ha.
May 9, 2013
beating a dead horse
After my lesson on Sunday, I was so depressed about my playing in general and this recital in particular that I emailed a good friend about it. Besides being my bandmate for years, this friend happens to be a really well-trained (classical) pianist and a very good teacher, and she suggested I come over and play the recital pieces for her.
I went to her house yesterday afternoon, made a bunch of pre-emptive excuses about how bad it was going to be, and launched into the piece I know best (the Tchaikovsky). It was a little tentative and shaky, but after the first run-through we started talking about the music was doing and what it should sound like, and within 15 minutes it was like old (pop-band) times again, and I was able to play with her and make music, and even make different-sounding music, at will.
Then I played the Bach, which was a total disaster :-) Too fast for my nerves, too shaky, too sloppy, and I stopped a a couple of times. I think I even looked at the ceiling and said "this should not happen." So I played it again, much slower, and this was a little better but noticeably tame. We ended up talking about damage control; since the Bach will be first, I shouldn't let it ruin my nerves for the second piece.
We also talked about other practice techniques, like rehearsing in the same clothes and shoes I plan to wear (my teacher will think I'm insane if I dress up for the final lesson, but I might do it anyway), also playing the pieces completely cold. This last idea is intriguing, and I tried it today: after an early wakeup and a 12-mile run, I ate some breakfast, then took about 30 seconds to sort-of tune my viola. I then walked into the living room, bowed to my dog who was sleeping with her back to me, played the Bach, bowed again, nodded to the invisible teacher at the invisible piano behind me, and played the Tchaikovsky. Bowed again and left the room. It was bad, of course - shaky and sloppy, especially the Bach - but not miserable. Of course, there were no people there. But it made me think that if I could play it that "well" completely cold, I might be able to do better with a little warmup, plus whatever progress I can make these next several days.
May 8, 2013
Apprehension about the recital has become full-blown terror.
The past several mornings, I've woken between 3:30 and 4:30am, thinking about the recital pieces (how to fix, a "new" way to play them, etc) and unable to go back to sleep. I play the pieces all.the.damn.time - when I'm supposed to be warming up, when I'm supposed to be playing scales or etudes or whatever. I play through the pieces at least once an hour (I work from home, so I can do this) and make new mistakes every time. I am beginning to hurt in places I don't usually hurt, and this suggests that I might be bringing a wee bit (a ton) of extra tension into my playing.
I hear and hang on to every mistake, and yet I don't seem to have the focus to avoid making the most idiotic ones, like plumb forgetting what note to play. I become my teacher, hearing and pointing out all the unmusicality, and then go back to being me, embarrassed at the sounds I am making.
I think that from now until the recital, I'm going to set aside time to work on the pieces, but not just go around randomly all-the-time playing through them.
May 6, 2013
why is it
- that the minute I turn to look in the mirror, my bowing goes to hell?
- that I wander too close to the bridge too much of the time?
- that I cannot control the stupid bow to save my life?
May 5, 2013
maybe sometimes no practice is better than practice
At today's lesson we went over (and over, and over) the two pieces I'm going to play at the recital a week from Monday. I practiced quite a lot this week, and hoped to play passably well in front of my teacher, but it was not to be. I made dumb mistakes, yes, but worst of all, he made the same comments he's been making for months about the tone and (lack of) musicality, which means that despite working on all of this for months, I haven't changed a thing, haven't improved a bit. Ugh. I was so frustrated I felt like crying, which I never do. I am so frustrated that the minute I got home, I bludgeoned my way through the Bach and then poured myself a drink at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, which I never do (drink in the middle of the day, not bludgeon Bach).
I get so mad at myself. Why can't I do better? What am I doing wrong? I don't play well, and I often feel like an idiot for even trying. If I didn't care about feeling like an idiot, would that make any difference? Right now I feel like a huge waste of time and space.
April 28, 2013
head, meet brick wall
My husband is never one to bestow false compliments. In fact, he's one of those people who lie so poorly and awkwardly (and rarely) that you instantly know when he's doing it. He's pretty honest, especially with criticism. He does, however, have a habit of trying to lighten his criticism by making jokes, which has resulted in some of the following:
"that wasn't too horrible" (after my very horrible, first and only viola recital)
"that was the most excruciatingly embarrassing thing I've ever sat through in my life" (after a 1-act musical-theater performance where I played bass in the backing band)
"you're so musical and you've been trying to learn viola so long - why aren't you any better? Do you think maybe it just isn't the instrument for you?" (after I mentioned I'd been playing viola for 4 years)
"uh oh" (as I came out to the living room for the nightly "performance" of my recital piece)
I certainly don't expect blind adoring support. During all my years as a semi-competitive-age-group runner, I grew to despise the whole "well, at least you're getting up off the couch, getting out there and doing it!" sort of back patting. And I'm pretty sure I'm not terribly thin-skinned; not everyone has to like what I'm doing or the way I'm doing it. But when I spend hours upon hours trying to get a good sound, play a right note, accomplish anything (and yet accomplish nothing), my husband's levity is not what I want to hear.
I know damn well that I'm not good. At this point I'm just trying not to quit. And I hope I can get through my lesson today without breaking into melodrama.
April 27, 2013
I can't make a nice sound no matter what I do. Sometimes it just seems so hopeless.
April 24, 2013
A question for anyone: when you can narrow a problem down to its smallest increment, and you practice that little bit for a while, how long do you need to work on it? I'm not talking about time time, like minutes or hours, but progress time. Until it's perfect? Until it's a lot better? A little better? Hardly-even-noticeably better? I wonder if even that last option will have some good effect later, if not right then.
April 23, 2013
the angry violist
When I was sick a few weeks ago, I had no desire to drink coffee (or anything at all) during the worst of it. By the time I felt better, most of the caffeine-withdrawal symptoms had subsided, and I thought what the hell, let's see what life without coffee is like. Well, that lasted about 2 weeks. The other day my husband brewed some coffee and it smelled so good I just had to have a cup, and the effect on my world was immediate. Oh my lord, what I had been missing! So I decided that I can have a cup of coffee on days I really need to stay awake or focus or whatever.
Today was one of those days - two lousy meetings scheduled for the morning, one in the afternoon, and the final orchestra rehearsal (for the orchestra that is over my head even when I'm prepared, which I'm not). So after the first lousy meeting I brewed some espresso and then practiced viola during my lunch hour like always. Boy, did I have some arm weight! Boy, did I have some bow speed! Boy, was I loud! And when I played something I didn't like the sound of, I went back and played it over and over again until fixed that sucker. Boy.
April 19, 2013
Tonight we went to see the orchestra perform the pieces I saw them rehearse on Wednesday. Wow. Beautiful. I was afraid this would sell out, so I sprung for mezzanine seats, where I happened to have a bird's-eye-view of the viola section. Wow. Beautiful. And I noticed this: quiet upper arm. No flapping chicken wing, no high elbow, no visible tension whatsoever (in all but one violist). Meanwhile, the violinists - including the concertmaster, especially the concertmaster - were really working the right arms. I guess that's one of the subtle differences between the two instruments. It's not a big violin, folks.
April 18, 2013
Last night I went to an open rehearsal of the local professional orchestra - the one my present and former teachers, and the Make-A-Wish ChamberFest celllist, play in. It was lovely. I sat practically alone (in fact, after a while I was alone) in a huge empty hall, and just stared, transfixed, at the viola section. I love to watch peoples' right hands. The principal violist has a very relaxed hand and arm; he holds the bow so far up on the stick that only his 4th finger gets anywhere near the frog. He makes it look both effortless and super-efficient at the same time. And the tone he gets, they all get, ah! What I wouldn't give to be able to do that. Or anything near to that.
April 17, 2013
still not enough hours in the day
I don't know where the time goes, but I certainly haven't had enough of it lately.