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.