Violin lessons: a retrospective

July 30, 2010 at 11:59 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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Yesterday I called a local violinist to see about taking a trial lesson from her.  As I wait for her to return my call, I will share some of my violin-lesson memories through the years. 

  • I was lucky enough to be raised in a school district where music was valued, at least back in the 60s.  Every summer, for the first few weeks after school ended, instrumental music classes were offered through the public school system, for a very reasonable fee.  It was there that I began, in a class of what seemed like a hundred freshly-graduated third graders, squeaking and grinding on half- and three-quarter instruments.  Toward the end of the (three- or five-week – it’s a little vague in my mind) session, I came home and triumphantly announced to my mother, “Mommy!  Mr. Seguine said I’m the BEST ONE!”  Years later, my mother shared with me her actual reaction to this happy report.  She closed her eyes and said silently, “Then God help the other mothers.”

 

  • Because I was the BEST ONE, and given that my parents were already stretched by paying for my piano lessons, my instrumental music teacher at school told my parents she would teach me privately for no charge.  So every week I spent a half-hour with Charlotte Hilligoss, may she rest in peace.  I adored her, but unfortunately did not feel the same about scales and etudes.  I didn’t have the words to tell her that I didn’t like the pieces she assigned me, and having no idea there was repertoire I would have enjoyed, I never asked for anything different.  As much as I liked Charlotte, (and my god — she was so generous to give me lessons on her own time!) I was not inspired to work and I was certainly having no fun.  So after a year or two of dragging myself there, feeling guiltier and guiltier about how little I practiced, that chapter came to a close.

 

  • Charlotte handed me over to a grad student at the university whose name was Henry Kolar.  I have no memory of Henry-the-person.  What I do remember is that he made me practice with my left thumb flying in mid-air, away from the neck of the violin.  I had developed a tight hand vibrato (which I’m confident was my own fault and not Charlotte’s) and had a habit of squeezing my thumb very hard against the side of the neck, resulting in a collapsed base knuckle.  Henry saw his mission:  SAVE THAT GIRL FROM A TIGHT LEFT THUMB!  He took it seriously, and I whole-heartedly resented him, every lesson I had with him, and each and every practice session at home.  Poor guy – I pity him for having had to work with me!  He must have been either very persuasive or incredibly intimidating because I actually did do what he told me to do.  In truth, I now bless him and the ground he walks on.  Having watched people play violin with a tight left thumb, I am happy to have escaped that fate.  Henry Kolar’s mission was accomplished!

 

  • I stayed in school orchestra, but had no further private instruction.  My junior high and high school orchestras each won best in the state, and the former even made a record album, which was pretty big stuff for the 60s.  (Our conductor chose what I thought was a lame photo for the cover, however.  Just saying.)  While still in high school, I played in the local community orchestra, which I continued to do for two or three non-consecutive years through the 70s.

 

  • Violin confusion ruled through my twenties.  I was by then studying fiddle music from the traditions of Sweden, Norway, Romania, Greece and the Greek Islands, Hungary, and a little conjunto music, all with native teachers.  I took lessons briefly from a classical teacher, but here’s where I got stuck:  the more ethnic folk music I was exposed to, the less “pretty” I wanted to sound.  It seemed to me that classical playing sounded smooth and lovely, and to my ear that didn’t mesh with the repertoire I was exploring.  After one or two lessons I quit, feeling somehow misled and lost, but I placed the blame on myself.

 

  • Fast forward to summer of 2003.  Chloe was 11, and I took her on a three-day trip to experience the Aspen Music Festival.  This, after two decades of enjoying a full folk music career, followed by a very clean and complete break, and then eight years devoted entirely to being a full-time mom and having a mid-life identity crisis.  (Life would be too mundane doing one at a time.)  What made me suddenly choose Aspen?  I have no idea.  But while there we attended a master class in piano, taught by Misha Dichter.  I found myself welling up throughout the class.  Why had I left this world of classical music?  I could no longer remember what had possessed me back in the 70s, but I was now determined to re-join it.

 

  • Immediately upon my return home I decided to work toward an audition to music school on piano and violin.  Okay, I can now see this was not only over-ambitious but also a bit hasty.  But at the time I was the most euphoric I had been in decades, which must count for something!  I practiced on both instruments every minute I could find.  On piano:  Bach’s English Suite V in E minor, Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, K. 330, and a Chopin Nocturne, Opus posth. 72 nr. 1.  On violin:  Mendelssohn Concerto and the Allemanda from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor. 

 

  • So what happened?  Opening that door seemed to welcome in the music universe.  Suddenly all sorts of opportunities began to avail themselves to me, at my synagogue, in the folk music community, my teaching studio began to attract more students, and it began to dawn on me that hunkering down as a full-time student would narrow my world more than it would expand it.  Plus Chloe made a little comment about all the books she had read in which some character’s mom went back to school and became mostly unavailable to her kids, not to mention irritable, sleep deprived, and stressed out.  “Please don’t do it, Mom,” she pleaded.  Okay, slow down and rethink my whole life plan.  That put the cap on the school idea.  I continued to study piano with my teacher, and just practiced violin on my own.

 

  • Two years later I was having dinner and catching up with an old musician friend.  It’s amazing to me how it can happen that just as some idea is coming together enough to put it into words, there sitting in front of you is the perfect witness for that very thought.  I found myself telling her that what I really love the most is early music, and that playing in an orchestra that emphasizes that repertoire would be like a dream come true.  Immediately following my words came her timely announcement that a mutual friend was forming just such a group.  The universe lined it right up for me.  Within 24 hours, I ran into the mutual friend.  I told him I was interested, and within two months I was having my first lesson on baroque violin with the concertmaster of said new orchestra.  Eight months later I joined the group for the final concert of the first season. 

 

As I was writing this, the prospective violin teacher called me on the phone.  All I can say is that so far I LOVE HER.  Okay, I know it was only a ten-minute phone conversation, but after all, first impressions do count heavily, don’t they?  I go for my trial lesson next Tuesday.  I am excited and nervous.  I am fairly certain there will be more about this soon.  And hopefully also later.

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More on tension

July 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 2 Comments
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After posting yesterday’s blog, questions came to me.

  • How much tension is “necessary” for what I am trying to accomplish?  More to the point, am I adding tension?  If I have habitual tension in my shoulders, and I place my hands on the piano keys, it is likely I am holding myself differently than I would if I tended to move more freely.  When I was working with an Alexander Technique teacher, we spent one session exploring my piano playing.  It took many tries to play one phrase without engaging my neck, back, and jaw, and when I finally accomplished it, there was so much emotion released in that act of free movement, I almost started sobbing!
  • Do I hold any attitudes or beliefs that contribute to my tension?  Can I explore these? 
  • How can I “work on” not being tense?  What an ironic question!  It will not help me to approach this with my usual drive and determination, because that will add unnecessary tightness.  In the aforementioned AT session, I did not sit down to the piano until we had spent a good half hour getting into a lighter and more effortless place with my posture and breath.  I cannot will myself to relax – I have to walk down a patient and conscious path in that direction, every time.  And it is a different path each time, otherwise I am approaching it in a rote way, which I have found to be almost useless.
  • How can I approach this with my mantra of doing it imperfectly?  There are so many days that I have only a limited time to practice.  Is it more important to work on technique as often as possible, or to work on “practice readiness” by walking down my AT path first, which might cost me my practice time?  I don’t have an answer to this right now.
  • I understand that if I practice a piece with tension, I am practicing playing it tense, which is the result I will get.  I also know myself well enough to say that one of the most important things I am learning these days is how to say “This is good enough for now.”

For the present I am going to do my best to dwell in the paradox this last piece contains.  A friend once asked me if I could expand myself enough to hold two (or more) conflicting feelings at the same time.  I have just been given another opportunity to explore that frontier.

On tension

July 27, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 3 Comments
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I figured something out.  It took awhile, but they say it takes whatever it takes.  Last year I was taking a violin lesson from a very wonderful and insightful teacher while studying at a workshop at Oberlin Conservatory.  He was helping me with a section of a piece that put my hand into an uncomfortable stretch, and I commented that I couldn’t find a way to play that combination of notes without my hand being tense. 

He looked at me – he has a way of really looking at you – and said, somewhat off-handedly, “Tension is okay.”  I was dumbfounded.   We had just spent several days in technique class working on how to hold the baroque violin and baroque bow, exploring our breath as we made big counter-clockwise circles in the air with our right arms, allowing gravity to assist us with an organically heavier beat on the down-bows and the resulting inhale and lighter touch to our up-bow and pick-up notes.  The object, I had been led to believe, was to learn to use the structure of the bow and the inherent qualities of the gut strings to our advantage so that our playing would be graceful and flowing, free of the bad and undesirable T-word.  Tension is our enemy, isn’t it? 

I have spent a lifetime trying to let go of the tension in my body.  I wake up every morning with my jaw and tongue – not my teeth – clenched.  Since my childhood I have walked through my days bracing myself, my gut held tight as if I am about to be punched, bearing down from my head into my throat into my neck and shoulders and from there into my middle.  I was utterly unconscious of all of this until it began to cause pain in my early adult years and then gradually I woke up to these patterns.   The more aware I became, the more I worked to rid myself of them.  And with the help of several therapies and practices, I have released many layers of them over three decades.

As I tended to these habits, I held highest the goal of being entirely free of them.  Drawing from another habit, I saw the picture as black and white, categorizing as follows:  being tense (read “the way I do it”) is bad and wrong, and being relaxed (read “the opposite of how I do it”) is perfect and right.  Corollary:  I should be doing it the right way. 

As I sit here writing this, I am almost laughing, but not quite.  Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that what I said in the previous paragraph is sadly laughable, but I’m not much beyond a wry smile yet.  I still fall into that way of thinking countless times a day without noticing I have returned to familiar territory in the blink of an eye.  Here’s the paradox:  I am still trying to be perfect, even though I have identified perfectionism as one of my greatest faults.  I am even trying to be perfect at not being perfect.  I just slip right back into the echoes of the very thing I think I am overcoming!  At that I can laugh whole-guttedly.  It reminds me of a woman (someone I don’t know) I once heard talking about how very hard she was on herself.  “I need to be MUCH MORE GENTLE ON MYSELF!” she hammered out fiercely.  Those of us listening to her were torn between the humor and the pathos.

That moment from my violin lesson stayed with me, perplexing me for months.  Then recently one day I was explaining a fine point to one of my students.  “There is a difference,” I pointed out patiently (I have patience with my students, just not much with myself), “between tension and rigidity.  It’s not that we want to be limp!  A musician needs to play with strength and firmness, and that’s not about being relaxed, it’s about…”  And then I realized I was on the edge of the issue myself.  What is it about?

Some moments in our lives simply call for us to rise to something.  We work hard to climb a mountain, to learn something difficult, to execute an excruciatingly fine act with grace, precision, care, etc.  It’s just important that we do not stay there!  Nobody can live every moment to the intensity that those moments demand of us.  We all need to breathe out after we achieve them.  Astoundingly, we even need to breathe out while we are working the hardest, right in the thick of the act itself.  The challenge is to continue to focus while we are in motion and then let go of the physical tension and keep breathing and moving.

So I tried it the next time I was practicing violin.  Could I climb the peak of even the most dramatic and gripping phrases with strength and vitality – even with tension – and then release it and let myself back down?  It did not come easily, but it was thrilling to experience it to even a small degree.  I did my best to stay with it all the way through the phrase, ascending the notes as I breathed in and out, moving forward, not grabbing onto anything along the way, so that the momentum could lead all the way to the climax.  Then I experimented with the sensation of letting go – to some degree – of what it took to get there, while still maintaining the musicality of the diminishing line.  Wow!  I could only begin to integrate it all, and no doubt a bunch of other fine points went out the window in the process, but it was exhilarating!

It provided a new touchpoint for me.  In recent days, without consciously thinking about it, it suddenly dawns on me to seize the opportunity to release the effort that I habitually exert throughout my day.  For a few seconds, I am free from that pattern of bearing down.  I experience a lightness and sense of flow almost instantly.  It allows me to breathe more deeply, and then the breathing out brings an even greater release.  I am instantly more gentle with myself (I hope somewhere, somehow, that nameless woman can read this!) and even the black and white thinking vanishes.  I do not expect it to make a permanent departure, but for those moments it is inconsequential.  It misses the point.  This moment, whenever it happens, is utterly filled with life.  And with practice, I am hopeful that it will become easier to integrate it into my violin playing as well.

Thank you, Teacher.  And thank you to the Muse for helping me to understand a little more along the way.

Recital and post-recital mood

July 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 7 Comments
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I wrote this about two weeks ago:

Last night was Chloe’s senior recital.  The final senior event!  It went stunningly well, but right now I’m so tired and low, all I can think of are the negative things.  This happens to me only occasionally these days, fortunately.  Rather than really bringing myself (and you) down, I am going to list the positive things, and see how I feel after that.

  1. She played very well.  In fact the last piece was incredibly challenging and she really nailed it!  It was exciting and expressive, even dramatic, and a wonderful end to the performance.  And this is not to say that her other pieces were any less stunning.  She has been practicing very hard and often, and it paid off (a lesson her father and I are happy she is learning!)
     
  2. People from all different parts of her life were there:  her grandmother and uncle (my mother and brother), several Irish stepdancing friends, friends from her Costa Rica tour and their parents, her present violin teacher and her family AND her past violin teacher and even her classroom teacher from grades 1 through 8, a handful of her classmates from school as well as several others from her school community, many friends from our synagogue, old family friends who knew us before Chloe was even a distant twinkle, and even a couple of friends who knew me when I was young.  It was a thrill to have them all there to honor her.

  3. She shared the evening with her sister, which made it even more special.  They opened the performance together with a duet, a flashy quintessential violin piece, and later Rachel played all three movements of a concerto.  The latter was to mark her graduation from the Suzuki books, which is really quite an accomplishment, especially for a 13-year-old.  And she played elegantly.  It was a beautiful addition to the program.

  4. I baked enough cookies.  More than enough.  So people were apparently satisfied.

  5. The weather was cool.  This was significant because with a July recital date in a church that has no air conditioning, I had been quite concerned that we would have a heat wave and someone would faint during that hour in the sanctuary.  Instead, it was actually cold when we first arrived!  After I warned everyone to dress lightly.  And though the room warmed up somewhat with all the bodies there, it was entirely comfortable.  Only a few programs were employed as fans.  And there were no emergency room visits (that I know of.)

  6. The sanctuary was actually a lovely setting for the recital.  Over the past few years, my chamber orchestra has performed almost exclusively in church sanctuaries, and I have come to appreciate what they have to offer.  This one was fairly simple, yet there was a feeling of quiet reverence.  (Or was I reading that into it because it was such a special night for us?)  And the lobby worked well as a reception hall afterward.  AND it was not too costly to rent.

 
So why am I down?  Is it letdown?  I don’t think so, though perhaps it is impossible to recognize it when you are in the thick of it.  I feel mostly relieved that it’s over.  I’m exhausted, fried, used up.  This is partly from not feeling well all week and consequently not eating enough, so I had no reserve on top of little fuel to begin with.  I was supposed to go to a concert with Chloe tonight, but I decided I just couldn’t push it one more night, and offered my ticket to my easygoing husband, who accepted.  They should be calling any minute to announce that they are on their way home. 

I know that since the recital is behind us, it means there is that much less standing between the here and now and the big C.  (Okay, I’ll spell it out:   C-O-L-L-E-G-E.  Just in case you hadn’t figured it out yet.)  We leave in six and one-half weeks.  Seven weeks from today, Dan and I will say good-by to her and begin the drive back home across several states with an empty back seat.  (Rachel is staying with a school friend and will have to say good-by three days earlier, here at home.)  No, I don’t relish the thought.  But I don’t even think that is what is bothering me.

I have this sensation of having been thrown into the washing machine and the dryer multiple times over the last year.  Tossed and cycled and rinsed and wrung out and then bounced around and around, banging in the tumbler like a lone sneaker.  I rose to it every time.  Took her on every college visit, every lesson, every audition, sat through the writing of every essay, helped edit every application and email, sent out announcements of this recital as well as every other culminating event before this, helped her pack for her Costa Rica tour and her senior trip to Germany, nursed her when she got sick, before and after both trips.  All in the line of duty.  All out of the biggest, deepest kind of love there is. 

AND NOW I HAVE TO HELP HER GET READY TO LEAVE ME?  What do I get out of that?  The answer to that question feels far from simple.  Right now all I see is that she will be gone, that I will not get to reap the pleasure and satisfaction of being with her, sharing those simple daily moments with her, hearing her laugh, watching her tackle some challenge, marveling at how she makes lemonade out of life’s lemons, etc., because she will not be here.  I will have to learn to trust that she will be okay out there in the world, even if every fiber of me is afraid she won’t be, because only I know how to take care of her.  (I do know that isn’t really true, it just feels entirely true to my hard-drive mom cells.)  I will have to learn to offer support and encouragement when she calls us, homesick or discouraged, or suffering from some miserable virus or roommate woe, even as I will be battling my own screamingly adamant desire to fly out on the next plane to be there with her.  I will have to pretend to be excited to hear about all her performances and even all her hours of practice when truthfully I will feel jealous of all the people who get to hear her.  Because I won’t get to.

If someone had told me about this part when Dan and I were trying to get pregnant, it wouldn’t have sounded very bad to me.  And I’m sure it doesn’t sound like the loving and selfless mom I think I am supposed to be.  It is amazing to me how being a mother is so often all one thing and not a bit of the other.  When my two were very young it was just plain hard to get anything done because they were so high-maintenance.  There were diapers and nursing, snacks, toys, meals, and the constant distractions that are the very nature of young children.  They needed attention almost every minute, and they demanded it in unbearably noisy, invasive ways that were impossible to ignore.  They especially wanted to be held when there was something I had to do on a deadline or in a hurry.  They needed me to mirror and guide and model for them every nuance of daily life.  It was non-stop and immense for a long time.  And then suddenly, around age 11, I fell from grace and they didn’t want kisses and hugs anymore, except on their own terms, which meant only very occasionally, and then they asked in indirect and hard-to-interpret ways.  They were distant and fresh (not it a good way) when they were around their friends.  I got the distinct feeling I was doing a lot of things wrong, but couldn’t figure out what to do differently.  It was like all the rules had changed, but I hadn’t received the memo.  A fellow mom told me, “It’s like a bank account – you have to save it all up when they are young and they worship and adore you.  When they reject you years later, you have to draw on your savings, because there’s nothing being deposited for awhile.”  It seemed funny at the time that she told it to me, but it wasn’t funny when it happened to me.

So now that we have the most deep and meaningful bond, now that we have amazing heart-to-heart talks, now that she can tell me in plain English when she wants a hug, now that she actually sometimes offers the hugs to me for my benefit, now that she is expressing gratitude for what she has been given – now that we could really cruise on the present status quo – we are instead speeding toward the edge of a cliff and there is no stopping the car.  She is going to fly. 

I am going to let her go because that is my job.  I know without question that it is the right thing to do.  And those who have gone before me tell me that there is life after the departure.  I will pretend to believe them, because it is the best option I have.

Introduction to the short blog category

July 21, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 2 Comments
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Yesterday was the day I finally posted my first blog!  It surprised me how excited I felt about it.  Even in this place of feeling so uncertain about both what lies ahead for me and my family and how I feel about it all, I now have a sense that there is some forward direction, or at least my energy has a little more purpose to it!

When I first thought of taking on this writing project, I was afraid I would not have enough to say.  Having gotten even just this far into it, I am reminded of when I first began to teach music classes.  I was afraid I would not be able to fill a two-hour time slot, so I would start by introducing myself and explaining in detail what we were going to cover and then go into more detail over the content, until suddenly we had five minutes left and I hadn’t covered anywhere near what I had hoped!  As it turns out, having enough to say has never been a problem for me in actuality, only in the mired and complicated neighborhood of my thinking mind.  So one comment I received yesterday pointed out politely that I do not have to offer such long posts.

Since I have this compulsive desire to please everybody, even if Lincoln in his wisdom stated that this is an unreachable goal (was it Lincoln?  I also have a compulsive desire to not make too many mistakes) I found myself with conflicting desires.  I will confess to you that I have already written a few blog entries, stored in My Documents, and they range from long to longer.  And I like them and will want to post them.  On the other hand, I do not wish to scare off any of you who do not have the endless time it will take to read what I post!

Amazingly I did not agonize over this quandary.   (Amazing, because I also have a general desire to have figured out the solution to everything already, or at least immediately.)  I first considered breaking them up and spreading them out over several days, and got a little stuck trying to figure out exactly how to make that work, so I tabled the thought.   And then happily the answer came to me in a flash.  I will post some short blog entries (this is one example) and some long ones.  And you get to choose which to look at. 

This also took care of one blog detail that Dan and I had left hanging when I registered my blog site.  The WordPress structure allows me – in fact, seems to be demanding me – to indicate a category for each post.  This was eluding me, since I had not thought of compartments into which various writings could be filed.  But now I have two categories:  “short” and “long”, which will make it pretty easy for you to make your big Roots and Chords decision whenever there is an announcement of a new post.  If you subscribed.  (That was not a suggestion, just a point of clarification, meaning that you will only receive an announcement if you sign up.)

Many thanks to all of you who took the time to read yesterday’s post.  My intent is to put up three or four per week, which I hope will feel workable for me and readable for you.  But who knows?  I might have too much to say to limit it to that.  As Chloe used to say when she was three years old, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”  Wise words.  So for now, I will say good night!

Yoga, music theory and eye shadow, with commentary

July 20, 2010 at 3:42 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 12 Comments
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This morning Dan and I went to the library and came home with a colorful assortment of volumes. As I sit here attempting to summarize the pile for you, I realize that the subject matter of what I checked out essentially reflects a palette of what’s up for me these days. Up in a big way. So I shall dive right in.

  1. Yoga and Pilates. I used to do yoga every day, having taken a class when I was 18 or 19 and my friend and fellow band member Pat Hubbard convinced me to join him. Though I liked it, I didn’t become an avid yogi until a few years later when one of my college anthropology professors recommended a book to me: Richard Hittleman’s 28-Day Exercise Plan. I bought it and followed it religiously for years, headstands and all.(Here’s the most amazing story I have about those years of following Hittleman’s regimen: At some point in the process, you are supposed to do a head- or shoulder-stand – I don’t remember which – for three minutes every two or three days. I found it intolerably tedious waiting through three solid – silent – minutes. So I found a Joni Mitchell song that was exactly that length, and put it on every time I came to that part of the routine. For weeks I let Joni serenade me as I hung out head-down. And then one day I found myself increasingly irritable as I “stood” there, and finally heard myself think, “That music is so damn distracting!” In the instant I put that thought into words, a thrill jolted through me. Wow! I would rather focus on being upside down and breathing than on Joni Mitchell! It was a pivotal yoga moment.)But somehow life got away from me and I put yoga aside. For several decades. I took a couple of classes sometime during the past twelve years, longing to be wooed back into it, but somehow the pace didn’t work for me. I need yoga to be an internal experience, and in a class setting I am too worried about doing what the teacher said and how I don’t like this pose or the smell of the person next to me or I wonder how bad I look. And in two different schools, I was the only one in the class. Yikes! That was not what I was after.

    So last week Chloe and I opened Hittleman and did it together, and Rachel tried it a few days later and liked it as well. So today I checked out a couple more volumes with which to supplement, and we are going to go at it. Imperfectly. Which turns out to describe the only contract that has worked with myself in my life. If I agree to be only average about it, and keep to a flawed plan, I actually keep it up (if it feels rewarding). (Which I know it will.) And the Pilates is just for an occasional side dish.

  2. Music theory. I’m pretty good at music theory. I was blessed by taking piano lessons with Patricia Burge from 5th through 11th grade. Not only did I learn great works, but we did a lot of ear training. She would have me jump around the piano in my head by intervals, and I had to tell her what note I ended up on. That’s the game I remember the best: “Up a fourth, down a major third, up a fifth, down an octave, down a minor seventh, etc….”Also I was a good math student in school, and I adored it (until Linear Algebra in college, which seemed to me to depart from what I had come to associate with math up until then.) And I see a connection between the two. Music theory is like numbers applied to notes and melodies. It makes sense and it is always explainable, which is what appeals to me about math. Yes, it is abstract, but it is an abstraction around which I can wrap my brain.So – and this is one of the hugest topics in my life right now, which in some ways is the tip of the biggest iceberg of what’s really up – I am contemplating how I want to ramp up my music studies. Short story: I attended an information session at a local state college the other day to see what it might feel like to pursue a degree in music, and came home with my mind swirling in disillusionment and the first stages of major life re-orientation. So now I have to get my bearings and decide what to do next. First let me say that I think the college is wonderful – it wasn’t that I was disappointed in the school. It’s that sitting in that room, surrounded by all of these amazingly diverse people, of all ages and from different backgrounds and disciplines, I couldn’t push away these nagging questions that came rearing up with some intensity – what do I really want? Do I really want to be in school full time for four years? Or part time for longer than that? Why do I think I want a music degree? What am I hoping to prove? And to whom?

    I returned home kind of sick to my stomach (which was either from possibly overdoing it by navigating a college campus in the hot summer sun, carrying my purse and a shoulder bag while nursing a potentially cracked rib, or the fact that I was reeling from my own sudden inner confrontation) and it all churned in there until my thoughts and confusion spilled out as I sat with my family at lunch. “What’s the matter with me,” I wailed, “that I can’t just follow the protocol and do what everybody else does? Why can’t I be humble and do it their way?” While poor Rachel sat there with the “I’m so sick of hearing about college again” expression on her face, Dan and Chloe jumped all over me, explaining that wanting to figure out my own path might not mean I’m arrogant. Okay, I’ll consider that concept. And a new idea began to be birthed there, amid the soup and sandwiches. Could I create my own “university”? I know a lot of people in the music world, and they all know lots of other people. Could I search out my own teachers, to teach me the things I am most yearning to learn?

    Nobody is demanding that I present a diploma or add letters to my name. My students and their parents are continuing to show up and pay me for the lessons and classes I offer. My baroque orchestra directors accepted me with the credentials I already carry. I am not applying for a new job, being quite happy with the one(s) I have right now. So far I have been able to identify these two pieces: 1) I want to begin to fill some gaps in my music education that I am finding increasingly frustrating – my technique and repertoire on violin and my understanding in the areas of theory, history, orchestration, and conducting/directing; and 2) I keep thinking I will feel like a more valid and competent musician if I go through a college curriculum. What some people are trying to tell me is that my life (i.e. my music career) has been providing me with a curriculum all along. I have, after all, been a professional musician for almost forty years.

    I have not made any concrete decisions. But I figured it might be helpful to check out a few books on music theory and see if there is something worth purchasing and using as my first textbook. And in the meantime I am thinking about whom I might ask to be my first professor in my proposed custom-designed course catalog. Assuming I decide to proceed with the idea.

  3. Beauty and Aging. I turned 56 this year, which is not that old, I know. And I don’t even feel that old. Most of the time. But when I look in the mirror I am more and more often taken aback at how few hairs of my original brunette shade there are, especially in the tufts right around my ears. Wait. That makes me sound like a werewolf. Would you call them sideburns? I don’t like how that sounds either. Anyway, those hairs are coming in white in a much higher concentration, and of course that is what I see when I look in the mirror. But it’s not just the white hair. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to watch myself lose color. The face I see looking back at me is more of a monotone than it was in my 40s and prior, when my eyes popped out because my hair and eyebrows were so dark. There was a certain sharpness to my portrait, and I grew accustomed to it over my adult decades. So who is this washed out, faded person that appears there now? Not to mention the wild eyebrow hairs that would better suit Einstein, and the coarse yet stubbornly straight wiriness of the white hairs on my head? I couldn’t have had the curl endowed onto the hairdo-hairs and reserved the straight ones for my brows?And that brings you to the present shocking true confession that I, the pure and natural, who never even learned how to apply one dab of mascara until I had to perform in Las Vegas at the age of 28 for a convention of travel agents, who by the end were standing on the tables,totally inebriated, waving their napkins nostalgically. (That’s another story.) During my early folk-performing years I eventually got in the habit of applying some eye make-up and lip gloss. Until I had Chloe. And then it was way too much trouble unless the performance hall was very large. Then, once Rachel came along and I stopped performing, the cosmetics case got stowed away in the closet, forgotten. This mother who has lectured to her daughters for years about how women have worn cosmetics throughout the ages to appear more attractive to the opposite sex, which first of all they do not need to do in any hurry, and second of all is a concept I question on all levels, is lingering over the cakes of eye shadow powders at Whole Foods, examining the infinite shades of crèmes and glosses and liners at Natural Grocers and Walgreens alike.It finally came to a head (so to speak) the day I came home with a much shorter haircut, and, shocked by my suddenly smaller and whiter head, impulsively painted on some mascara and eyeliner. A miniscule amount, I hasten to assure you. And, I confess, again the next day, still barely perceptible. By that evening, Rachel asked about it quizzically, and Chloe yelled from the next room, “WHAT? Are you wearing MAKE-UP??????” Who is this mother?

    A disclaimer: Just because I check out a book on how to apply make-up from the library does not mean I am going to USE it. I’m just exploring the territory of my options. Okay, I’m finished with that uncomfortable subject, and I can’t promise I’ll update you later.

  4. The most important book to note is one I did not even try to find. There were several suggested by the college where Chloe will be making her new home starting on August 26, with titles like When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parent’s Survival Guide, and Bringing Home the Laundry: Effective Parenting for College and Beyond. Survival? Will I actually survive her leaving?

Yes, I am aware that that is really what’s up. And that is enough for today.

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