Am I even good enough to keep playing?

This past week, I bravely decided to take on a challenge and sign up for a violin audition in February, which was a difficult decision to make… Let me elaborate:

In case you don’t know, I have a long and complicated history with the violin that dates back to when I was 4 and 3/4.

my first violin recital! I got to demonstrate my bow hold.

When I was 4 and 3/4, I felt like violin was my calling, so I begged my parents for lessons. I was determined to sound awesome and play the violin forever.

holding up my bow

The thing was, violin was more difficult than I thought it would be. All the people who played the violin on television made it seem so easy! I wanted to sound like them, but when I practiced, I sounded much, much worse.

The thing was, violin was more difficult than I thought it would be.

By the time I was six, I was determined to be that good. And being good requires a fair number of practice hours. Needless to say, getting small child Alex to practice for more than an hour a day was extremely difficult, if not diabolical.

My last time playing before I quit- in a Suzuki festival at Carnegie hall

I quit at age eight, and vowed never to pick up the violin again.

I had decided that I wasn’t good enough and that I wasn’t willing to put in the practice time anyhow. But secretly, even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I still wanted to play.

But secretly, even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I still wanted to play.

And so one day in middle school, I decided to join the orchestra, where I discovered that I wasn’t half as bad as I thought I was. In fact, I got to play at Disneyland with my orchestra and got an A on all of my three-octave scale tests (even F major… eek!) in eighth grade.

But even throughout high school, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue playing and practicing. Even when the 2nd violin section leader complimented me on my playing my freshman year, even when I finally stopped working out of the stupid Suzuki books and started working on more difficult pieces like Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro my sophomore year, and even when I got a solo part at the winter concert in my senior year, I felt wholly inadequate.

But even throughout high school, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue playing and practicing.

I won’t lie. I still feel that I am a mediocre violin student. I still feel like I will never be that good. And I definitely still prefer to evade the camera man whenever possible at church for the fear that he’ll catch me messing up when I play.

A small piece of me is still that 4-year-old though- a small piece of me still wants to be that good. By signing up and preparing for this violin audition, I feel that I am challenging myself to be better at violin than I think I am.

Secretly, even if I can’t admit it to myself yet, maybe I am beginning to accept that I am good enough to keep playing.

What I remembered in Winter

just after singing in church, about to go visit the old folks' home
just after singing in church, about to go visit the old folks’ home

I wanted to quit playing and send my violin up in flames after I messed up my song at the warm old folks’ home of forgetting.

fullsizerender-copy-29My mom tells me not to beat myself up over the imperfections and mistakes, which she insists, were entirely unnoticeable. She insists, instead, that they clapped louder than for anyone else and tapped their feet; she insists that I made them feel whatever warmth and comfort that I sought to convey in Vivaldi’s second movement of Winter. She insists that I helped them remember.

I’m not immune to forgetting, I realize, and playing for the old folks reminded me of this:

Sometimes I forget that I am no longer underwater and need not hold my breath. Sometimes I forget that mistakes aren’t fatal.

I try to create a tone that reminds me of warm tea.
As I play the first part of the mvt, I try to create a tone that reminds me of warm tea.

And now I remember. I remember being small and teaching myself the “happy song”. As I played hopscotch with the notes, I would close my eyes and imagine skipping out from each square, each measure, into the next, imperfect but vivaciously childish and joyful; temporarily blind to forced technicality; improvised and animated.

As I play the second half of the mvt, I create a tone that reminds me of a hearty vegetable soup.

I remember that I can feel what had once been forgotten. As I remember this, I find myself back in the old folks’ home from the other day: I realize that in spite of all my errors, the piano plunks out rain and my violin blazes in a fiery spirit. My eyes close, fleetingly content to hear the warmth of the sound.

lines from a sonnet written to correspond to Vivaldi's 2nd movement of Winter
lines from the sonnet written to correspond to Vivaldi’s 2nd movement of Winter

 

You can listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons here

 

 

a day at track practice

I start at the back of the pack during warm-up.

And then comes the last lap.

Coach blows the whistle, and then I morph into a bird flying fastest. I speed up, and up some more, until I am flying down the back straightaway catching the boys. I swoop in around the curve.fullsizerender-copy-15

I feel my legs burning up with the heat of work. More force, more distance, more work.

But I do not slow down.

More work, more focus. I speed up and catch the boys at the finish.

 


During drills I keep my arms placid at ninety and stay up on my toes.

I spell p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e while doing skips to the rhythm of lift-up-down-lift-up-down. lift-up-down, my legs work. lift-up-down, lift-up-down– to every drill, a different rhythm.


Then come the strides.

I leave stillness for another day and step forward fast and far, but with smoothness, each step a silent sound.


During the workout, I run within myself; I am my own timekeeper.

With each repetition, I forget more and more that there are people running next to me, and I begin counting in my head when I get tired.

With each repetition, I feel more and more tired. I sweat and I smell.

With each repetition, I push harder and harder, and I keep a steady rhythm going so I know my pace.

With each repetition, I try to focus more on my form. Arms at ninety, up on my toes, I pretend that I am a seabird- nimble, resilient. And so I imagine flying above the waves of an ocean, for miles and miles on salt, water, and air.


As I cool down, I imagine that the wind is still salty and that I am swooping down onto the shore, back to the track.

My feet hum from the tiredness of my work, and I am reminded that I am human, and that the bird is a fantastical illusion I had momentarily fled to in my concentration at a transient tempo, a time whilst running that I have never been able to define.

p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e, I whisper. I will fly again tomorrow, and then maybe, maybe, I will become the timekeeper once again.

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