Questions on a plane

October 31, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

(I wrote this almost three weeks ago and finally feel ready to post it.)

I am sitting on a plane, on my way to three days of study on baroque violin with a colleague of mine who is a sublime musician and an excellent teacher.  I am looking forward to the work though I am sad to say my circumstances are not ideal.  I have been feeling puny lately, especially during the past week, and do not have much stamina, which may prove to be at odds with the prospect of spending three days in lessons and practice sessions.

This book I am reading – Callings, by Gregg Levoy – together with my present status, are bringing up a lot of ponderings.  I guess sometimes a malady makes you go to bed, and sometimes it sends you to your journal.

1. What is important? I was standing in one of four parallel security lines at the airport.  Dan and I had picked this line because it looked ever so slightly shorter when we arrived.  Dan had accompanied me this far, carrying my much-too-heavy pack (actually Rachel’s school pack from last year) and my baroque violin, temporarily housed in a lightweight case for travel.

Our track record so far was astounding.  We got an early start (okay, not actually early when compared to our planned time of departure, but definitely early enough to provide a comfortable margin), there was little traffic, even the stretches of road construction did not delay us, and we found an exceptionally close parking space in a lot marked “full.”  (All the lots were full this morning, according to the signs.  It was a good call, we had to admit.  We were relying – as we always do – on my extraordinary parking karma, inherited from my late father – thank you, Peter!  As we neared the terminal, Dan spotted somebody pulling out of a stellar slot.  We definitely scored.)  So after saying good-by to Dan, I stood on this security line and soon realized I had chosen the wrong one.  My shoulder hurt, my pack was heavy due to the fact that I was carrying my new laptop (which, by the way, is functioning more reliably since Dan worked on it following the FATAL ERROR [see “The nature of moving forward” from my Sept. 27, 2010 blog entry]), and as I said before, I am not feeling well.  So I resorted to the Eckhart Tolle approach of coming into the moment by focusing on my breath, rather than projecting into the future (“It’s going to take forever to get through this line,”) or dwelling on the past (“Why did I choose this line?”)  Two or three breaths.  My shoulders began to drop and my jaw relaxed a little.  (Though I might note here that putting “my jaw” and “relaxed” in the same sentence might be the closest those two will ever get.)  “This is not important,” I heard in my higher mind.  Before I could bask in this momentary possibility of nirvana, another thought – the featured question – leaped right into the space created by the first one:  “Then what is important?”

To me?

My family.  Music.  And then something else.  Something that I have been missing, which may be the reason I am making this trip, even though I have been telling myself and everyone else that it’s all about improving my violin playing.  Maybe I need to remove myself from the trappings of my daily life to have a chance to listen to myself a little better.

2. What am I being called to do? I keep thinking that it’s teaching, because that’s what keeps coming to me.  Every time space is created I find myself being asked if I can take one more student, or teach two more classes, or teach lessons on one more instrument.  The irony is that I do not feel like I have the expertise necessary to be a good teacher.  Lest you think I am being overly modest, I assure you I am not.  I do know that I am by nature a good teacher.  It’s that I lack the years of technique and training on violin, piano, and recorder that most professional musicians have, so I often feel at a loss as to how to help my students when we bump up against an obstacle or challenge.  I could go on and on here to document my long gaps between studies and the patchwork style in which I have gathered what credentials I do have, but I won’t waste the space.  It may be that the universe simply wants me to explore the question, so I will not attempt any real answers.  I might add that I do enjoy teaching, and find it an excellent way to keep myself on the learning path.  I also know that I am a much better teacher, in countless ways, than I was years ago.  But just because the line of students outside my house seems to continue, does that mean it is my calling?  Maybe my life lesson is to learn to say no.  You can see my confusion.

3. Is this a virus or an infection in my spirit? It is an undeniable fact that when we feel a physical symptom such as pain or malaise, something is out of balance.  I will never forget the time I had a sinus infection brewing just on the day I had an appointment with my therapist.  It was a very revealing session, and during it I was able to release some emotional turmoil.  Amazingly, with it went the sinus condition.

The connection that has taken me longer to make is that my spiritual fitness is as important in the equation as the physical and emotional.  Where I stand – and how I feel – with my fellows, both those close to me and the masses at large, cannot help but affect how I sit with myself, in my body, in my hear t space, and beyond.  So what is my body trying to say right now?  Can I listen?  Can I allow myself to hear?

Advertisements

On cool calendar dates, reunions, and synchronicity

October 11, 2010 at 9:27 am | Posted in Very Long Blogs | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have always loved dates like today’s:  10/10/10.  My first memory of such a date was June 6, 1966, only days before I graduated from the 6th grade, which made the day feel personally special.  And in that morning’s paper was an article about twin girls who were celebrating their sixth birthday that day.  I think they lived on 6th Street in their town, with a zip or area code with numerous sixes in it.  I was so excited by that.

I’m not the only one who finds things like that attractive and intriguing.  Tonight Dan and Rachel and I will be attending a party.  The host couple has commemorated the appropriate date for the past few years:  5/5/05, 6/6/06, etc.  (As I am writing this, I just want to say that in five minutes it will be 10:10 on 10/10/10.  Yes, my heartbeat accelerated just a wee bit as I typed that.)  And remember when we could actually watch the numbers turning on our car speedometers turn over from 99.999 to 100,000? (Assuming your car made it that far.  And let me just note here that one of our two cars still does have that old-fashioned mechanism.)  And who of you knows what I mean by our golden birthday?  That’s when you turn the age that is the same number as your birthday date.  For me it was turning 22.  Poor Rachel had to celebrate it on her 5th birthday, before she was old enough to understand it.  At least the rest of us enjoyed it!

I don’t know if it was the stars and planets lining up because of this date approaching, or just coincidence (though I have to say I hardly believe in coincidence anymore), but I have intersected with three different threads from my past in the last two days.  I feel a little stirred up by having so many memories and connections sparked by all three.

One was an email from someone I have not seen since Chloe was very young, I think even before Rachel was born.  She was one in a circle of friends.  Though the two of us were never super-close, as a group we were bonded.  For me, one of the most significant ways in which she affected my path was after I had written a particular song, back in my active folk performing days.  It was such a personal song that I could not imagine anyone understanding it, let alone identifying with it, which made me very reluctant to sing it in concert.

I’ll back up a little here to try to describe what it used to feel like for me to perform a new original song for the first time.  Somewhere pretty early in my solo career I was practiced enough that I was never very nervous in concert.  I really enjoyed the interaction I had with my audiences, and felt like I could ride that energy and have a very relaxed, fun, and also meaningful exchange with them from the stage.  But performing a brand new song was nerve-wracking by nature.  There was always the strong possibility of forgetting words or messing up a guitar part, as it just wasn’t completely a part of me yet.  If it was a song I had recently written then there was even more heaped on top of that normal anxiety.  One aspect was that it felt like I was exposing something about myself.  (Usually this was justified, because I was!)  This always made me feel like I was taking off all my clothes and performing naked, it was such a fragile thing to share from my heart this way.  Another piece was that I was always, at that point in the life cycle of a song, totally in love with this newest piece of work, and desperately wanted everyone to share in that love.  It was not unlike whipping up a self-invented delicacy and wanting everyone to feel deep rapture while eating it.  And finally, there was the precedence set by my previous songs, and the fear that perhaps this one would fail to live up to a higher expectation.  Rather lofty, and clearly daunting on all counts, though also clearly self-created and perpetuated.

So back to my friend and my newest song.  This particular work had been forcefully ejected from me by a powerful muse, and though I kept running away from it mid-stream (literally leaving the room right in the middle of composing it, hoping to escape the painful birthing process of those verses), I was consistently marched back to the drawing table by something far stronger than my own urges, until it was finally completed.  I had never experienced such a wrenching creation process.  I truly felt I had written a song against my will.  It took over a month before I had the courage to play it for one other person.  I was attending a music conference and found a willing audience in a fellow songwriter.  She sat on my hotel bed as I sang it.  When I finished and looked up at her, she asked me if I would sing it again, which I did.  I think she had me sing it a third time before we talked about it.  Agony.  But she liked it.  Very much.

So finally a month later I decided to debut it at a small concert in an intimate setting.  My friend, along with a few others from our circle, sat in the audience.  It was her face that gave me the courage to start, execute, and finish it.  And again the response was good.  So it became part of my repertoire and eventually the title song of the next album, though I never would have foreseen that!  And two days ago, after years of silence between us, she emailed that she had been thinking of me and listening to my music and felt like reaching out to me.  It was like a little electrical jolt to see her name there on my screen after all that time.  What do you say to a friend, fifteen years later?  So I answered her, with a brief update, and will see what is to follow.

Earlier that same day, I had had a cup of tea with an old high school friend.  Similarly, we had never been close when we were in school together, but we had gotten to know each other and had a few classes together.  Though on a different schedule, as I graduated a year ahead of my class and then took time off to record and travel with my band, we graduated from our hometown university at the same time.

Three months ago I was part of a concert that deliberately featured music from three differing styles of music, held in a small art gallery.  I was wearing my singer-songwriter cap for the first time in a long while.  Since this performance was being given in a new location for this series, I sent out an email announcement to try to generate a little more interest, as ticket sales were slow.  As a result I knew several people in the small audience.  Greeting people before the show, I was very surprised and pleased to find myself saying hello to this high school friend.  After living on the east coast for a few decades, she and her husband had recently moved back here, where most of her family had remained.  We agreed to get together.

Circumstances being as they are, it took until late last week for that to work out.  We had such a lovely quiet time together, exploring where our paths had led us through all these years, and sharing what we are navigating in the present.  I am sure we will see more of each other.  And she may even become my neighbor, as she and her husband are house-hunting in my neck of the woods.  I came home with a little excited flutter.  All these years that I have been a mother raising two kids, I have shared much with many friends, felt nurtured in several communities, and Dan and I have grown many new friendships.  Somehow this single hour over a cup of red berry tea felt new, like the beginning of a fresh chapter that put me in the center instead of my children or my relationship with them.  I pictured inviting this friend and her husband over for dinner, Dan cooking up a gourmet meal, and the four of us enjoying each other’s company as grown-up friends.  It’s not that this hasn’t happened at all in the past 18 years (though I have to admit it hasn’t happened with great frequency!)  It’s just that the image conjured itself up and it excited me with its sense of promise.  That is definitely new.

The third brush with my past came yesterday afternoon in the form of a get-together to remember a recently passed co-worker and friend.  I spent my college years working in a local restaurant.  My fellow waiters, bartenders and managers were some of the most intelligent, creative and fun people I have ever known, and many after-hours were spent in each others’ company during those years.  The restaurant business often attracts people who are on their way to something, and this group was no exception.  In our midst were future doctors, lawyers, artists, scientists, mountain climbers, dancers, actors, writers, poets, teachers, and many more.  Our beloved manager died last month of cancer.  His mother and his brothers celebrated his life – and what would have been his 64th birthday – at his mother’s house, serving the same food we dished up when we all worked together.

It is always such a bittersweet thing, these gatherings.  I cannot help but find myself thinking, “Why couldn’t we have had this party while he was still here?”  And yet I do not want to diminish the gift of having had that time yesterday with these people who all cared deeply for this sweet man we all called a friend.  It was a treat to find out what everyone has been doing all these years, to see how well everyone is aging, who remembers what, and who is still connected to whom.  There were, of course many people missing from our circle, some due to other commitments and some because we have lost touch.

Okay.  So now it’s time for true confessions.  I came home with my mind swirling.  Even today I am calming down from the dizzying effects of over-stimulation.  As fondly as I remember those years, they were also some of the most despondent in my life, fraught with uncertainty about myself in the world, desperately lonely even when I was surrounded by people, trying hard to be someone I wasn’t, and being hit over the head repeatedly with the lesson that I could only be myself, yet refusing to learn it until decades later.  All of the unhelpful and hopeless tapes that were helplessly recorded in my subconscious back then have been trying to pull themselves back into the forefront (wherever the forefront of my sub-conscious could be) since last night, and my very grey matter is tired, all the way to the tips of my just-as-grey hairs.

Sitting here writing this, I also find myself pulling something else together.  A few days ago, after a hard day of teaching beginning violinists, I asked the universe to offer the guidance of a few clearer signposts.  (Interesting.  I had to correct my mistyped word “soundposts.”)  Everyone at the party, my out-of-the-blue email, and my tea date, everyone asked me if I’m still doing music.  Yes.  But what music did they mean?  The last each of these people knew me, I was a folksinger, not a violinist in a baroque orchestra, taking and teaching private lessons.

Just this week I picked up the guitar, for the first time in quite awhile, and a new thought began to come forth.  There is no extra energy or time in my life these days to set up a solo folk concert and do all that is necessary to publicize it.  Could I put a show together and show up and do it?  Absolutely, with pleasure.  But performing is not just giving a concert to an audience.  In fact, that part, which is the most rewarding and fun, is in many ways the easiest part.  So now it suddenly came to me:  what if I were to pick one song and work on it, at my own pace, up to performance/recording level?  And then I could employ our little digital camcorder and post it on Facebook or YouTube, or both, and let my friends know about it, just to be able to connect to people with my music in some way.  It’s not that I have no desire to play the very music around which my entire life revolved for all those years, now in my present tense.  It’s that while I was resting from it, and raising my children, the world – and in particular the folk industry – continued to evolve, and I cannot step back into it without a major commitment on a lot of levels.  It would be hard to do it in a micro or fractional way.  This is the first inspiration I have had to move back out into the public as a soloist, just a little bit.

Just last week I read an article about a singer who goes into corporate settings and rallies these business people in meetings to sing together!  Not surprisingly, it has helped co-workers deal with conflicts, stuck energy, and many other challenges in the workplace.  Just before I left the stage and the touring circuit, this was an idea I had had, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to pull it together and market it.  Reading about this woman rekindled that question – could I work with local companies?  I would love to provide some inspiration to grown-ups who do not have enough music in their lives.

So here I sit, my mind reeling with questions.  For my own sake (and to contribute to your possible boredom or at least overwhelm) I will try to articulate them.  The big one:  what am I being called to do? (This might be an appropriate place to mention that last week I went to the library and checked out a book about finding and following your calling.  What attracted me to this book six days ago?)  A smaller and more immediate one:  can I quiet the noise in my head and find some stillness?  It is out of that stillness that I am usually able to identify something to do just right now, in the short run.

So with that I will close for today.  First, I will do the mundane and necessary thing that string players must do often, which is to clip my nails so I can practice.  And then I will practice.  And after lunch I will lie down and breathe, and do my best to let everything fall away for a short time.  I have a lecture and a concert to attend – as an audience member and friend of the performer – and then a 10/10/10 party to attend.  With dear friends I have known for decades and care very much about.  Hmmm.  Recurring theme a la mode.

Naming my blog: a (slight) retrospective

August 12, 2010 at 11:47 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I admit it, I do become obsessed when I’m searching for the perfect whatever.  Decades ago, when Dan and I were planning our wedding I got so wrapped up in the quest for the right dress, I still found myself gazing at silks and pale colors two and three years after the gown had been properly stored away.  Embarrassing, but true (and somehow freeing to say it out loud in public, after all these years – thanks for listening!)  So when I was trying to come up with a name for my blog, it was torture.  Here’s what I wrote while still in the throes of the final decision-making agony:   

So now it’s a name.  No, no more babies, no more dogs, unless you call this blog my newest child or pet.  But perhaps it would be helpful to review the last few name-selecting processes I have been through and survived to tell the tale.

  1. Chloe’s name.  When I was pregnant with Chloe, we chose no boy-names.  Holding on to the old fashioned mysteries, Dan and I had decided that even though the doctors and nurses and staff people could be informed of our baby’s gender through the miracles of science (I was 38, so they required amniocentesis) we wanted to wait until the moment all of our ancestors had had to wait for.  I’m not saying there were no male names that we liked.  There was Ian, Ewan, Matthew, Martin (except for what “Martin” means), and more that have been long forgotten, but none of them made it to the “possibles” list.  So we arrived at the hospital (with less than two hours to spare, but that’s another story) with four girl-names:   Emma, Laurel, Maureen, and Chloe.
  2. There was no question in my mind.  Chloe was my favorite, hands down, and I couldn’t understand why we would consider any other choice, but since I thought Dan wasn’t sure, it seemed the right thing to do.  And to clinch the list idea, we reached a milestone decision:  How could we really know who the baby was until he/she was born, and therefore, how could we pick a name ahead of time?  Even with my bias, it seemed obvious to us that you have to wait and see who you get. 

    So after she was cleaned off and we got to look at her, we had to walk through the process of ruling out three names.  One look told us she was not an Emma, and probably not a Maureen either.  (I had gone to nursery school with a Maureen, and it forever holds meaning for me as a sweet and adorable bright-eyed toddler.)  That left Laurel and Chloe.  The latter had come from the movie “The Big Chill”.  Chloe’s character is somewhat enigmatic, of a younger, seemingly more flakey and carefree generation from the rest of the cast, but in the end she turns the most troubled individual around and offers him a new chance for happiness and serenity.  I saw her as a caring and wise soul peppered with a sprightly cheer. 

    Was Dan really strongly considering “Laurel”?  I’ll never really know, but I do remember that I breathed a sigh of relief when he came around.  And our Chloe has turned out to be a caring and wise soul, without a doubt, with more than a touch of her own brand of chirpiness.  The irony is that years later Dan discovered that he has been saying his L-sound in the wrong part of his mouth all of his speaking life.  Instead of using the tip of his tongue he has always pulled the back of said tongue up toward his hard palate – a very difficult thing to do, but it’s how he interpreted it way back when.  So, poor thing, either of our top two would have proved a mouthful for him!  It’s okay, she’s worth it.

  3. Rachel’s name.  Another story, first of all because we knew she was a girl.  As it was our second time around, we decided we were no longer in need of a mystery and allowed the clinic to give us the complete report from the amnio.  Actually, she was so different in the womb, I had thought that perhaps she was a boy, and shared my thoughts with Dan and Chloe.  So we spent a few weeks of early pregnancy picturing the little quintessential family with one girl and one boy, and then got the news that our imagined portrait had a major flaw.  That was amazingly shocking!  We found ourselves reeling for awhile over that piece of news. 
  4. Soon Dan and I went to work collecting names again, and this time nothing took.  We spent months combing through name books from the library, my parents’ house, and our friends.  Nothing.  Or rather, each time something sounded good, there was a compelling argument against it.  We liked Gretchen, but as we watched Chloe learning how to write her name, we decided it was too many letters.  I liked Ruby, but Dan felt it was too old-fashioned.  Emma, Laurel and Maureen were not even considered.   

    A few months later, on the way to the hospital in the back of an ambulance after Rachel had been born on the living room floor (I’ll cover that one some other time) I suddenly remembered that we had no list of names, or perhaps more accurately, no names on our list.  Once Chloe was handed off to my parents and Dan caught up with me in the hospital room, we discussed the issue at hand.  Finally we came up with the name Margot.  My parents had been brought together by a folksinging Margot Mayo in New York, which added a nice dimension, and we liked the sound of the name.  During the night, as I lay there too overwhelmed to sleep, the name Rachel came to me.  We decided in the morning to give Chloe the choice. 

    Unbeknownst to us, Chloe had gone through her own process during the months prior, and had decided the best name for the new baby would be Diamond (taking off from Ruby – another gem?  I’ll never know.)  I can easily imagine the kind of appeal that name would hold for a four-year-old who is becoming a big sister.  What I cannot imagine is what went through her mind when Dan called her at my parents’ house and offered her our two options, which had to seem unquestionably inferior to her.  Luckily she was by nature quite agreeable, and since there was in her mind no contest between Margot (ugh) and Rachel (yay!) she came through.  Definitely a family process.

  5. The Folkaltones.  I think I still have all the sheets of scrap paper on which we brainstormed for just the right way to capture the essence of our trio.  We loved Tribe of Three, until we Googled it and found it was already taken.  It went from there, and every time we ran a search engine we found we were not as clever and unique as we had believed.  It was ego crushing, not to mention frustrating, and it was getting annoying that we had no name.  I honestly have no memory of how it happened, but we finally settled on the Trifolkals.  We liked the implication of 3-ness, the obvious folk reference, and we decided to capitalize on the “focal” aspect by giving our music the subtitle “visionary folk”.  Egos back, intact.
  6.  Until we had printed out business cards and had the graphics all ready for our debut CD and a friend of mine from Chicago mentioned that there was already a trio by that name.  I had even already even made the acquaintance of their songwriter/leader, Greg Trafidlo, at a conference.  That was close!  So we had to return to the drawing board.  We played around with all the ideas again and, happily, stumbled fairly quickly upon Folkaltones, which took.  We like it, but most people think we are the Folka (like polka) tones and that continues to drive us mildly nuts.  It’s better than a lawsuit (though Greg is way too nice to think of it.)

  7. Naming my song Adjustment, and then changing the name to Bouncing Back.  I wrote this song in 1979.  Dan and I had split up in September of that year, after two years of dating, and two months later the song pretty much wrote itself, the result of a wrenching time.  “Can I help it if I’m not bouncing back…” is how the song starts, and the refrain echoes it at the end of each verse.  So when it came time to give it a title, a poet friend of mine suggested I call it what it is.  To me it was about adjusting to being alone, separate from Dan, when I wanted to be with him.  Once I had performed it a few times, audience members started to request the song about bouncing back.  It isn’t about bouncing back, I would respond.  It’s about not bouncing back.  Aren’t you listening carefully to my lyrics?  (I didn’t say that last part out loud, it not being a good idea to criticize fans.)  It went on my first solo album as Adjustment and retained that title.
  8. Until three years ago, when I decided to re-release a compilation CD of songs from my first three records.  This was my chance to make any changes.  The pain having been eased during the past thirty years, it dawned on me that perhaps the song was about bouncing back after all.  Maybe I wrote it during the early phase, when progress on that front was slowest.  Maybe my fans had been right all that time.  So for the first time ever, I re-titled a song.

  9. Naming this blog.  I keep going back to the advice of my poet friend, call it what it is.  What is this blog about?  Based on past experience, I may not really know the answer to that question until around the year 2040, but in the meantime, I think it is about two main things.  One is walking through the process of letting go of my older daughter as she leaves for college.  The other is figuring out what on earth I am going to do with my own life now that most of it has revolved around being the mother of two daughters and I will only have one living here.  Those don’t sound like they are related, except that both of them involve me, and I do happen to be the one writing this blog.  And one is catapulting the necessity of figuring out the other (you can work out which is which for yourself.)
  10. The challenge is that it is difficult to encapsulate both of those in a four-word title, give or take a word.  I had first come up with “Notes from the nest” but it’s taken.  I contemplated how this nest is going to be half empty – “Half-empty nest”.  Already taken, but also it is seen as leaning toward the negative, which is not my desire.  So I brilliantly and optimistically went for “Half full nest” but it’s taken.  And I decided also that it kind of sounds more like the earlier years of child-raising (especially when you read the blogs at those sites.)

    So I have been brainstorming for days.  Partial list:  Face the Music, Cries at Weddings, So Far from the Nest, Musings from the Nest, Mom in Search of, Tune-up in the Nest, Mamatone, Take Your Vitamins, Whose Life Is It Anyway, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Love in the Translation, Tune-up for Mom, Losing my Marbles, Recomposing (maybe a little too close to “decomposing”), Lullabies for Mom, Apron strings and A-strings…

    Finally I stumbled upon Roots and Chords, which everyone in my house (at the time) liked.  I liked it too, but there was no sign from the universe to go ahead and grab it, except that it wasn’t already taken.  Up stepped my Great Doubting Mind:  If it isn’t already taken, maybe it’s not so good!  However, that kind of logic has a fatal flaw, which is that I will never ever get to post my site if I am seeking approval from an already existing title, SINCE I CAN’T HAVE THAT ONE.  Okay, breathe in, breathe out.  I finally just went to bed after that episode.  And this morning I jumped onto a new and different track:  Apron strings and metronomes.  Or Bach, Baez, and Bombeck.  I’m kind of liking that approach and have two hours in the car this afternoon to come up with more tries.

    Obviously, by the time you read this, the decision will have already been reached, since I will have chosen a title and posted my blog site.  OR you and I will be dead because waaaaaay too much time will be taken in making the decision.  As it is painful for me to imagine this being read at my funeral – or worse, used as my epitaph, I choose the first option.  I promise you will hear from me soon.

Back to August 12, 2010.  You can see where I ended up.  I think it turned out to be the best choice, just like all the others.

Violin lessons: a retrospective

July 30, 2010 at 11:59 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

More on tension

July 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

Introduction to the short blog category

July 21, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 2 Comments
Tags: , ,

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!

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.