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The Process of Enjoyment

I think that sometimes, because I use this outlet to vent, that people get the incorrect impression that I am not enjoying my violin journey. Quite the opposite! I would not have stuck with it for over two years, paying out thousands of dollars in tuition and equipment, if I did not truly enjoy what I am doing.

I vent here, because it’s safe. If I have a rough practice, or a phrase isn’t shaping correctly, or I just can’t stand to watch yet one more miniature prodigy on You Tube, then I come here and complain. What I don’t often do is tell you what I love about playing this instrument.

As silly as this may sound, I love being able to say that I am a violinist. Sure, I’m not Anne Sophie Mutter, but I can play a pretty fair tune or two. When once I felt awkward even holding the instrument, now I’m doing fun things like double stops (chords), harmonics, and creeping my way towards the very far reaches of the finger board. The harder this gets, the more interesting I find it to be. And there’s nothing more gratifying than going back to an old piece and wondering what was so hard about it the first time. With this instrument, I’m always learning, always improving, and always have more to work towards. I can’t get bored. It’s simply not possible.

Sure, I mostly play for myself, and a relatively tolerant husband and children; but I dream of one day playing with a group of musicians. I want to know what it is like to be a part of a whole – one voice in a sea of orchestral sound, or a supporting role in a small chamber setting. Maybe one day I will even nail a solo in a group recital. I can’t possibly play worse than I did for that first ever solo.

For once, I can see measurable progress in something that I am doing, and it hasn’t stagnated. Other endeavors have not been so satisfying. Running was great at first, but after I ran several races, I stopped improving, and I lost interest because training for faster speeds was fruitless and exhausting. Knitting is just wrapping yarn around needles. There’s variation, but there’s tedium too. Of course I still knit because it’s relaxing, but it’s less interesting to me now.

Playing the violin is both relaxing and exhausting; but it’s also intriguing, exciting, sometimes tedious, always a welcome break from every day chores, intellectually stimulating, and blissfully frustrating. The extremely difficult nature of this instrument is the very thing that keeps it always fresh. Plus, there’s so much to learn that if you hit paralysis on one aspect of playing, you can attack something else and still make progress.

I don’t think I would enjoy the process as much as I do if I didn’t have the capable guidance of my teacher. He knows when to push me, can pick out and solve any problem, and reminds me frequently that I’m only human, that my struggles are normal, and that I’m still moving forward. My teacher provides that constant gut check that helps me refocus and direct my energies in a positive direction. Without that, I would lose my way, and playing would have a much less satisfactory return on investment of time and energy.

With my violin, I can sing like an angel even if I can’t vocalize. When the low notes reverberate through my collarbone, or the E string vibrates in sympathy with a well placed finger on the A, or a heart-stoppingly high note rings out perfectly in tune, you can’t help but feel joy. Joy-because the notes are so sweet, and joy because you made them.

The definition of enjoy is to have or experience pleasure or satisfaction in something. That’s what playing the violin is like – pure enjoyment.

On a serious note – there has been a huge disturbance in the Force. So much pain and misery have been felt, that it has begun to seep into my bones. I want to make things better for people, but I don’t have the fortitude, or the capacity to help.

In the violin world, I am discovering that I have so much left to learn that it may not be possible to do it at all. The very concept of knowing there are so many things that I don’t know is crushing. There are six year olds who have forgotten more than I have ever learned on this instrument. Their execution is so effortless and free, while mine is stilted and mechanical. I fear that I will be unable to make music.

Where once I was excited at the journey, now I feel defeated. Possibilities have begun compressing themselves as my limitations become painfully apparent.

It’s not as if I can’t progress. I am progressing at a steady and measurable rate. But that rate slows perceptibly as time goes on and I can see that some of the goals I was hoping to achieve will be all but unattainable.

All the “if only” things come to mind. If only:

-I had more time to devote to this.

-there was a group I could join. Playing with better players ramps up your skills.

-other people took me seriously.

-there was a tangible goal. Kids get exams, workshops, and orchestral opportunities. Adults don’t.

-I wasn’t so hard on myself.

Yes, I know that I am in control of this. I’m not sure what I expected when I started. Maybe I thought I could create something. Now I don’t know. I can’t seem to let go of wanting technical perfection enough to actually make music. Clearly, I have some sort of flawed approach to this. I just don’t know how to fix it.

On the Frizz

Today has been an exercise in frustration. I hit paralysis on a deal early in the day, which stuck until nearly time to go. Then there were multiple personal communication issues, not the least of which was missing my long anticipated hair appointment.

A short digression: My hair is unmanageable. When most people have a bad hair day, they might have a few flyaways, or limp locks. My hair is like electrified barbed wire on a good day. So when I found an amazing hair stylist a year or so ago, I swore no one else would ever touch my hair. He’s uber expensive though, so I only go four times a year.

Going so infrequently to the salon means that I walk around with pretty awful hair for the last three to four weeks before my scheduled appointment. My salon has always taken good care of me though, and made sure I didn’t miss my appointment by both tweeting and calling beforehand. Except this time they didn’t and I missed it.

I freaking missed my GD hair appointment! Do you know how far out I have to make an appointment with this guy? Like 10 weeks! I can’t go 10 more weeks without some hair intervention. I will seriously just die of embarrassment.

Please, somebody send chocolate and wine, STAT! Also a wig, because now I will have to shave my head.

A Door and Windows

I’m a couple of days into the new job and so far I like it a great deal. The office I’ve been assigned is shared with only one other person, and it has windows! OK, they are over my head, but I can look up and see the clouds and my plants will finally get some daylight, once I remember to bring them in. Also, there is a door. I haven’t had a door in four years.

As anticipated, there’s a bit of a learning curve, and this is a somewhat different pace and type of banking than I have done before. That makes it exciting, and I’m champing at the bit to master the software so that I can start really digging into the work. I’ve already been tagged for a nice-sized project which might indicate how my portfolio will shape up going forward.

With the new job, I’m having to up my wardrobe a bit. The ladies here wear much nicer clothes than we did at the old place. I’m even wearing makeup! It has been fun doing research on both. Ulta has been entered several times now and I bought myself a Naked 2 eye shadow palette as a gift. It is the best shadow I’ve ever used. In fact, it might make me into a makeup junkie.

As far as wardrobe goes, I’m holding off on buying anything new until the fall styles get into the store. It’s hard, but I don’t want to buy summer styles and then turn around and have to buy more clothes when it gets cool. I’m hoping to find the perfect grey wool dress.

I’ve done so much that hasn’t been covered here so this post is sort of a brain dump.

A couple of weeks ago I shared that I was looking for a mandolin. Well, I found one on eBay for a good price. It was listed as “mint condition”. What I received wasn’t exactly mint. There were several scratches and dings, two of which were unsightly on the front, and several non-professional fixes. The instrument was missing two strings, and the remaining strings were corroded and dull-sounding. But the worst part was the fingerboard, which resembled nothing less than an old wooden roller coaster.

Still, I didn’t pay much for it so I took it down to the luthier in Cary Town to see what he could do with it. He tightened the truss rod as far as it would go without breaking, which made the fingerboard, if not flat, then immensely improved and certainly playable. He restrung it, and polished it up. In the end, the cost of the set-up and new strings, along with shipping and purchase cost, netted me a beautiful Eastman 504 A-style mandolin with a delightfully clear, bell-like voice.

I also started running again. Sadly, with this last long break I have lost the strength and flexibility in my hip flexors. It makes it rather painful to sit, stand, or even lie down on my side. Several friends have recommended biking in the past as a good cross-training exercise. I’ve wanted to try it, but my big-box $89 Huffy broke within a few months of purchase – 13 years ago. When looking into the costs to fix it, I discovered that bikes have come a long way from when I was a kid. They have all kinds on the market now. I also discovered that the cost to fix the cheap bike were at least twice what it initially cost.

With that in mind, I visited a nearby bike shop with a familiar name from my childhood and learned everything I could about what I might need. I did some internet-warrior style research for a bit and made the decision to purchase a low-end (not cheap!) hybrid bicycle. It’s heavy, and has very few of the upgrades I might want down the road, but it was in my price-range and will suit the purpose admirably, with the added benefits of not falling apart immediately, and a relationship with a repair person not too far away.

Oddly enough, I have already had to take the bike back to the shop. On our maiden voyage, I blew the front tire. The repairman was kind enough to give me a whole new front wheel and tire, and installed a water bottle holder free of charge to make up for the inconvenience. He said it was his fault for not making sure the tire was seated properly before we left.

I went back out on the bike after dinner tonight and did maiden voyage part deux, going a different route entirely. Now I know why people wear those padded bike shorts. My lady parts are a bit bruised. Looks like I know what my next bike-related purchase will be. In other news, the temperature is still in the 90’s out there. If sweat is any indicator of effort, than I am a big damn athlete.

Interesting side-note: I love running uphill and hate running downhill. On a bicycle, it is completely the opposite. There are a lot of steep hills in this neighborhood. Just saying….

Being unemployed, I have lots of time on my hands. I had all kinds of plans for that time. There was going to be house cleaning, and calls to handymen and plumbers, tons of time spent on the violin and mandolin, and there’s even a brand-new puzzle just waiting for me to put it together.

Instead of all that, I have embarked on a knitting project. I’m making the Elianette Shawl by Wendy Neal: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/elianette using Dream in Color Smooshy. So far I have had to frog it and start over twice. Oh well, I have no idea who I will give it to so there’s no rush.

At least I’m knitting again, and running, and apparently fostering a real shopping problem.

So this is what being unemployed is like.  Yesterday was my last day at work, and I found myself rather at odds with the remainder of the day, post-exit interview.  It was weird being at home in the afternoon.  There was plenty to do, but I couldn’t settle in one place or focus long enough to do anything, so I piddled around until it was time to take the youngest to his drum lesson.

Today I took my eldest out shopping.  We stopped at Just Drums to pick up some things for youngest boy.  Sadly, that store is closing.  It’s a shame, because we just discovered it and it’s very cool.  Then we went to Conte’s bike shop where I fell in love with simply the perfect bike.  Sadly, I am unemployed and it is at a less than perfect price point.  Seems I just love things from Italy.  I’ll have to go there one day to experience it for myself.

In the end, we found a pair of flip flops for eldest boy, along with a bunch of t-shirts and a belt from Old Navy.  Then we wandered over to Barnes & Noble to get some books from his summer reading list, and a book for me.  A substantial lunch from Cracker Barrel ruined our appetite for the rest of our planned expedition so we came home.  Boy went out on his bike for a while (inspired by the bikes earlier in the day) and I have spent some time manually watering the lawn as the sprinkler system is currently down due to a supply line break.  Please, oh please, let us get some rain from the tropical storm making its way up the coast!

In the periods between moving the sprinkler, I have been pinning cocktail recipes on Pinterest.  They all look so refreshing!  I may have to have my own personal little party here soon.  Sangria, goat cheese & crackers, a melon platter, and tasty little finger foods might make a a nice little dinner without worrying about all the house cleaning.  Must think on this.

My parents were as opposite to each other as could be.  Dad was always interested in quality over quantity.  We always laughed that Dad had to have the biggest and best of everything.  “Texas-style”, we called it.  Laugh all you want, but his stuff lasted.

On the other hand, Mom was always seeking a bargain.  If you specified an item, she would come up with a generic – not necessarily the closest generic, mind you  Nikes would get translated to $3 Keds from Roses.  After all, tennis shoes all do the same job, right?  Need a frying pan?  Sure!  They sell them at the dollar store.  Or, even better, you can get a used one from the thrift shop.  Heck, I’ve probably got a spare here in this pile somewhere.  (Rummage, rummage, rummage…)

Now Dad’s stuff lasted, but that means we never got rid of it.  The storage unit is full of things like reel to reel tape decks and speakers from the 1960’s, roller skates with wooden wheels, and some of the world’s ugliest, and sadly, sturdiest furniture.  Mom’s stuff never lasted, but she never got rid of it, so we also have multiple cheapie cameras, broken appliances, and assorted “as sold on TV” garbage cluttering up the storage unit.

But the storage unit is a story and a job for another day.

I inherited Dad’s philosophy, which is causing me heartburn because I have a new obsession.  It turns out that mandolins have the same tuning as the violin, which would make it a simple thing to pick up a second instrument.  I’m not sure why I am so interested in picking up a second instrument, but there it is.  For some reason, I just really want to play one.

Purchasing an instrument one doesn’t know how to play can be challenging, particularly when you don’t have friends nearby to drag to shops for their opinions.  And being a violin player, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to what constitutes a decent starter instrument.  Therefore, I did a lot of research on my good friend, the internet.  Dontcha just luuuurve the internets?

The internet tells me that the instruments in the guitar shop down the road with the attractive prices all sound bad, will have no resale value, and might actually self-destruct sometime in the future.  Instead – buy this “cheap” $1,000 name brand until you have time to save up for a “real” instrument.  Huh, sounds exactly like buying a violin.  Only I don’t want to put as much effort into a mandolin as I do the violin.  It’s really just something for me to dork around with.  But, but, but cheap is bad.  Ugh!

I’m so torn.  Either I’ll swoop something up at a stupid expensive price and regret it later, or Ill buy something cheap and regret it sooner or later.  Regret, angst, indecisiveness, oh my!  Better let this simmer for a while.  Of course I did that with the violin and the desire got more intense, not less.

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