Time to Stop the Madness

Come May, I will have been playing the violin for 4 years.  One of the biggest obstacles of beginning this instrument as an adult is finding other people to play with.  Unlike piano, string instruments are really more fun when played in a group.  Sure, there is plenty of solo music.  And many people are content to play in their living rooms for the simple joy of it.  But the fact of the matter is, for me – playing in a group is what I long to do.

For several years, maybe even since I started playing, I have wanted to play music with others.  I found a local adult string ensemble.  It’s fun, and I enjoy it, but I have to work hard to hold up my end of the score.  I had heard of an adult chamber music camp and thought it would really help me with learning some of the skills I need to level up.  I’m at that camp now.

There are several tracks one can take at the camp.  There’s a beginner track for people who have been playing less than three years and/or don’t read music well.  There’s a performance track for experienced players with 12 or more years of experience, and there’s a general track for everyone else.  Well, I don’t belong in the beginner group so I picked the general track.  However, this venue is too small to have a performance track, so everyone who is not “basic” is in the same group.

We were given some music ahead of camp to learn with the instruction – learn what works best for you and you’ll probably be playing that part at camp.  No problem.  In my world, the better players play second violin because the inside voice is more difficult to play well.  So I learned the first violin part because – hello melody,  duh.

When I got to camp it turned out they assigned me to the second violins.  Great, I don’t know that part.  Oh well, I’ll be fine.  I’ll just read it, right?  Except the group doesn’t play it through slowly first in the way that I’m accustomed to.  Nope, they have all been playing since they were children, and they go lickety-split through the piece.  And it has been that way the entire time I have been here.

Half the time I have been here, my violin has been sitting in my lap because I simply can not sight read at speed.  I have had three panic attacks- once having to leave right  in the middle of a session.  And I have spent a large portion of time crying in my hotel room.  Today I had a private violin lesson and the teacher suggested I just not play anymore.  “If you’re not having fun” he said, “then it’s time to stop.”

I think he’s right.  This hasn’t been fun for more than a year.  I work hard.  I’m not getting anywhere, and I don’t have time to deviate from the program to play “fun stuff”.  Every mistake is the MOST IMPORTANT THING.  I just cant let them go, which leaves me no time to enjoy just playing.

The better you play, the more enjoyable it is to play both solo, and in a group.  There is no timeline in the world that can tell you when you will be “good enough” to be happy with your playing.  Each person develops at their own rate and in their own time.  However, some people might be given plenty of tools to make that happen, and they will still atrophy at some point.  I suppose one can find ways to move on once that occurs.  But at what point do you throw in the towel and decide it’s not worth it any longer?  After all, it’s a huge investment in time, money, and equipment.

I have been asking myself that question for over a year now. Maybe this was the world’s way of telling me to stop playing.  I think about quitting every day.  It’s probably just time to stop the madness and throw in the towel.


6 thoughts on “Time to Stop the Madness

  1. I’m quite sure you know what I am going to say, right? Don’t stop, but don’t continue in situations that cause stress and that make you feel inadequate. As you wrote — those people have been playing since they were children. I have no idea what is available in your area, but I have found things in my area that are at my level — in fact, a few where I am one of the more proficient (go figure!). I found a small string orchestra that has many levels of abilities, including mine. Since I gravitate to fiddle music, I have found a nice home in slow jams and fiddle workshops. If my only group involvement was with people who had been playing for years and who did not want to slow down for the likes of me, I would be tempted to quit as well. I have heard you play. You are good, you have much to offer. There are people who would love to play with you, and who would learn from you. So my suggestion is you concentrate all of your efforts right now on finding those people with whom you can play comfortably and with whom you would have great musical fun. This is your mother speaking.

  2. Go with the five year plan. See what another year holds. I have read the 5th year is the magical year that it all comes together. I mean we don’t find work fun, but we do it every day and in doing so get better and more efficient in what we do. It’s not all fun and games when learning anything that requires great skills, but sticking with it you will be rewarded.

  3. i dont want to go against mom (especially if shes going to be angry…) but between continuing and stopping there is one other option: hiatus.

    you could just put it down for now. you say that it could be years before you find your place– ok, perhaps in 6 months or a year will be the right time.

    think of it as a workout. ok, i suppose that if you stop for the moment its possible you wont pick the thing back up. why do you have to decide that already, though?

    when your task requires years of work, and its going badly, sometimes people try something else. youre upset, you feel bad, a chance to do and see things from a different perspective could be just what you need.

  4. That being said, sometimes there is something to be said for taking a break. When I quit the first time I was pretty burned out. I’d had a bad audition in college and didn’t make the orchestra. It colored my whole freshman fall with dark colors. I went to watch Disney’s Fantasia in the theatre in December and there sitting in the dark I started weeping. Even the dancing hippos couldn’t make me stop, I just cried harder. Freshman year was hard for a lot of reasons; not being able to play in the orchestra was a last straw. I actually tried out again a couple of years later, after not practicing much at all for 2 YEARS, and made the group the second time. The conductor told me I’d improved from the first. I didn’t know what to make of that. At first I lost some respect for his judgment. How could I be better after two years of not practicing? But I did come to see the value of a break, of a new attitude, of letting go of perfectionism, of starting over and having nothing to lose.

  5. I agree with Nan: don’t stop. While it can sometimes be useful to have goals they can often be a mountain in your way. Remember that frustration arises from the gap between your ability and your expectation.
    So I suggest you just scale back, relax and focus on the process: practise and get gradually better. Think of how far you have come in four years (during which most beginners, children or adults, will have given up).
    I have read your blogs and been encouraged by you. I’m a ‘year behind’ in that I will have been playing three years in April. I know it can be difficult but it is also rewarding. Enjoy the journey … wherever it takes you.

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