When I was in school, something happened to me at the end of every single school year. I would walk out of that final class, turn in my last assignments, play the last notes of my jury, close the book on my last exam, walk outside, and immediately fall ill with a terrible, terrible cold. For the two weeks after the semester ended, my violin would sit in its case, the television would turn on and stay on, and tissues, thrown half-heartedly toward the trash can and landing instead on the floor, would accumulate into little white fluffy piles. Without fail, this happened at the end of every single semester of college and grad school.
This biannual descent into ill health had, of course, less to do with the title of this post and more to do with a younger version of myself re-routing time needed for self-care and sleep in order to manically study and spend extra long hours in the practice room. But that which came after the sickness, when the coughing ceased and the sinuses cleared, was the worst of all.
Sun shining, children laughing. Happy families picnicking in the grassy knolls of local parks. Surf and sand and hot dogs and pool floats. Magic and laughter and butterflies landing on the extended fingertips of soprano-voiced fairy tale princesses. And, for me, an unrelenting, dark, heaving sense of guilt for not wanting to practice my violin.
The traditional, formalized study of a musical instrument is a very goal-based practice. We are taught to be working, improving, and achieving at a steady rate as we tackle new repertoire and advance through extended techniques, all the while polishing the basics, the living structure upon which all new techniques must rest. Psychologically, I think this does a lot of good for musicians. There are obvious links between hard work and success. But music demands so much more than technical precision, and there is much about artistic success that cannot be measured. And when practice becomes a chore, joy is quickly dissolved.
The school year was a time of total artistic immersion. Surrounded by talented colleagues and under the influence of some of the most impressive musicians I have met or will ever meet, I would take on as many projects as possible. My classes required me to spend endless hours in the presence of the masters of my art, through books, videos, recordings, and live coaching. Teaching violin part-time at a private school for girls gave me a unique view into the lives of some of the hardest working and most successful people in DC, and forced me to search for newer, better, smarter ways to teach every single week. Parties with friends often quickly turned into readings of chamber music, heated arguments about theory, etc. etc. I was surrounded by inspiration. Hours spent in the practice room felt either mandatory or rewarding, and often were both.
I'm no longer in school as a student, and my time with my teachers is short and precious. Most of my friends are musicians, but life happens, and we aren't together all the time like we were in school. This means that to feel inspired to work, I need to actively look for inspiration. It's so much harder than it was when I was in school! But feeling that itch to pick up my violin and practice, full of fuel and fire, makes taking time to find inspiration totally worth it.
Some of the ways I can bring myself out of a funk are by spending time on youtube, watching videos of my favorite violinists (Hilary Hahn, Gil Shaham, Anne-Sophie Mütter...), getting on the phone and talking with my friends about what projects they have going on in their lives, searching for new music and listening to experimental groups like the Kronos String Quartet, or recording improvisational music on my computer. I also love to discover new visual artists, dream about multi-genre collaborations with artists I admire, or create visual art myself. If all else fails, I can rely on my most fool-proof (albeit expensive) method to spark the urge to practice: putting on a brand new set of strings. That'll definitely do it.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Music is typically considered to be a creative field. Traditionally, musicians have been placed into the category of creative types which also houses visual artists, dancers, and other members of the visual and/or performing arts communities. For myself, the act of creation did, at first, lay the foundation for my interest in music-making. As a toddler, my Mother tells me I would spend long stretches of time at the keyboard; delighted by my discovery of the correlation between the pressing of the keys and the resulting sound waves, as most children discover when seated at the piano bench. But what really captivated and held my interest was composition. Stringing a few notes along together to create a melody was easy. As I grew older, harmonizing those melodies with additional strings of notes became fascinating. Making something out of nothing. Writing, composing, creating.
As an adult, now, composer is not my job title. Though I do write and arrange, the vast majority of my work centers on performance. Instead of stringing notes together, I voice the passages strung together by other musicians. Instead of harmonizing melodies, I study my scores to bring out the intricate harmonies in my performances of other composers' works. Am I creating a new work? No, I'm not. So... what am I creating?
A close friend startled me a few weeks ago by admitting that he did not think of instrumental performers as artists. At first, I was offended by this notion. After so many countless hours of my life spent carefully and critically constructing performances and refining techniques, how could my work not be considered art? After some time in thought, I can see the point he was trying to make. Having good technique does not make me an artist. It makes me, by definition, a technician! Having beautiful sound and pulling long, spinning, singing tones from my violin does not make me an artist. It makes me a violinist! The sounds I am making aren't new. The nuances in my performances, no matter how personal or unique they may seem to me or to my audience, exist solely still within the parameters given to me by the composer of whichever work I am performing. Am I Michelangelo, brush in hand, body hoisted to the roof of the Sistine Chapel? Or am I a bored kid in the 90's painting-by-numbers? Are my performances more than just a skilled reproduction of someone else's masterpiece?
Let me be sure to say that there's nothing wrong with a good reproduction. Good art reproduced can still be good art, regardless of whether or not what you are looking at is the "real thing." For instance, though I have not seen the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel myself and may never in my lifetime get the chance, I still know what it looks like, and can see in great detail the beauty and skilled craftsmanship of Michelangelo's work without ever laying eyes on the ceiling itself. How? Because those images have been reproduced, copied, photographed, and made available to me.
Performance of musical art differs from that kind of visual art in that it is alive and changing, because the subject of the art falls into the unique hands of the performers which choose to perform those works. If Hilary Hahn, Jascha Heifetz, and Gil Shaham each performs J. S. Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, will each performance be the same? No, of course not. But is it still Bach? Yes. However, if I am to take to a canvas and do my best to copy Michelangelo, will it be considered the work of Michelangelo? Definitely not.
So what does it take for the performance of art to be considered art in itself? Can art exist in the uniqueness of personality, the dazzle of technical prowess, and the musical understanding and support the performer lends to the vision of the composing artist? Or is it still a reproduction, no matter how skilled? I don't think I have an answer yet.
This has been a really fun fall semester for me for many reasons- being back in my hometown, reconnecting with old friends and new ones, playing music with lots of different people, and a wonderful start to the symphony season. Also, at the beginning of the fall semester, I was brought onto the music faculty at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, FL!
My first semester at NWFSC saw 7 students in my studio. I have been teaching violin lessons privately for almost a decade so far, so teaching itself isn't new- however this was my first chance to do it as a college course.
One fun aspect of teaching at the college level is that the students are older than what I typically have in my studio. There's a lot more joking around (if you know me, you know I can't go very long without cracking a joke- I come from a very humorous family- can't help it) and communication happens a little more effortlessly. That being said, don't get me wrong- I LOVE teaching beginners and children! My youngest students at this particular moment are 4 years old, but I've had students as young as 3. I'll get into that more in a future blog entry.
Teaching for me is an ever-evolving experiment in which I am constantly looking to grow and expand my own teaching techniques to provide my students with experiences that continually enrich their abilities and expand their minds. Music, and more specifically, violin playing, is an extremely sophisticated study in that it combines an endless number of extramusical disciplines and ideas at every moment. When I talk to my students about the way their bow sits on the string, we are really touching on subjects of geometry, relativity, and velocity- like I said, sophisticated stuff! But if I am doing my job well, the student won't be overwhelmed, rather, the violin will simply be a model, a tool to help us absorb those sophisticated ideas in an accessible, practical way.
Have I lost you yet? Wait... Come back!
Let me simplify. Our brains are very powerful pieces of hardware. Think of Music as software that is so powerful, once it begins to be loaded in our brains, it can actually strengthen and re-order the hardware that came standard when we were born, making it work more easily, more cleanly, and for a longer amount of time. The possibilities are endless! Oh, and music is beautiful and fun and everyone loves it. I forget about that part sometimes. (Just kidding.)
If you are in the Niceville / Crestview / Shalimar / Ft. Walton Beach area and are interested in taking violin lessons, please click the button below. Lessons are not limited to full time students and anyone who is interested can and should get in touch with me. The spring semester begins in January!
I'm so happy to have a new website! Thanks for stopping by. If you've read through my bio or checked the media page (or know me in person), you will notice that most of the projects and concerts I have participated in over the past few years have been in and around Washington, DC. I am originally from Pensacola, FL, and came to the DC area in 2011 to complete my masters degree at the University of Maryland, College Park. UMD is a fabulous music school that really changed my life in a myriad of ways, and I'm so grateful I had the chance to study there. However, school ended a little over a year ago, and my husband William and I have been trying to decide what is next.
After my graduation in 2013, we stayed in DC for another year to try it out, and though I love my teaching jobs and the many collaborators and awesome gigs I have stumbled upon up here, there are many things we want in life that are difficult to achieve up here. We have decided to move back to Pensacola. In many ways, I am sad to leave DC and the friends and colleagues I have gained in this area. However, it seems ever more frequent that I am reminded of just how small the world really is, and getting smaller every day. It is in that vein of thought that I carry my hopes that I can bring some of what I have learned and experienced in DC back to Pensacola with me.
I have enough work started in DC that I can't escape the area totally- I will be back and forth a bit during the year. William and I are excited to start a new life in a place that feels new to us, even though we grew up in Pensacola. We will be returning to the panhandle at the beginning of September. I am very excited to have been re-contracted by two of my favorite symphonies, the Pensacola Symphony and the Northwest Florida Symphony. Those gigs along with a teaching position in the works will ensure I am busy enough not to notice the change in scenery too awfully much.
Thanks for reading-