I just cut off the very tip of Finger Birdie #2. We'll see how the super glue holds up during rehearsal this evening.
(Spread the news: Super glue--it fixes things.)
I began piano at age four and violin in sixth grade. I played violin solely with the public school orchestra in Tulsa until the last couple of years of high school, when I began private lessons.
I majored in music at the University of Oklahoma for three semesters before I quit because I didn't think it possible to make it as a violinist. My college teacher told me that I'd had a late start and there was no way I could learn all I needed to learn in four years. So I got a degree in education, moved to North Carolina, and taught kindergarten for a year, which I didn't enjoy (kids great, public school--no). I waited tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant to save up some money and bought myself a ticket to Alaska for a random change of pace. I had previous experience teaching horsemanship, so I applied to a camp up there and spent the summer teaching kids on horseback, trying to sort out what I wanted to do with my life.
The next five years were novel. During this time, I met my husband, a snowboard instructor/iron worker. Over the next several years, we worked at camp and also moved around a lot, trying out different stuff, none of which involved the violin. I lived in the vacant nurse's quarters one winter, then the next two years were spent with my husband in a three-room cabin with no running water. But the price was right (free). During that time, I worked in the kitchen, got a job as a sales clerk in a variety shop, and substituted at a local private school. Sometimes, I sold my color pencil artwork. (There's no money in art. But that's another story.)
We moved to Oklahoma for a winter and I lived in a house my parents owned and worked at a quilt shop for $6 an hour. The following summer, we moved back to Alaska and found that real housing (complete with running water) had become available at the camp, so we moved in and took over the camp's kitchen responsibilities. At that point, my husband joined the full-time staff, and I said what the heck, why not try music again? I opened a piano/violin studio in my home. I began with ten students the first year, then 17, then 24. I currently teach 30 students and have a wait list. I charge $16 per half hour. I like teaching.
Over the past three years, I've worked less and less as a cook and more as a musician. I began practicing again, three hours a day, and through word of mouth and a few good friends, I began picking up paid gigs around town. This past fall, I joined the Anchorage symphony. The symphony job definitely wouldn't support me if that was my source of income, but we only have concerts once a month. This leaves plenty of time to find other business. All told, I'm probably making about $600 - $700 a week on my music jobs, before taxes. Being self-employed, I pay a lot less tax because of all the deductions for expenses that I would probably be paying even if I didn't run a business (like sheet music, travel, repairs, piano tuning, string purchases, instrument depreciation, etc.).
Okay, that's the facts of a real-life person in a real-life scenario. As you can see, there are many unique factors that contribute to the overall success of my story:
--free housing. A big plus.
--no debts (college scholarship)
--husband's job--it helps
--willingness to live creatively (i.e. doing without things like water at times)
--willingness to find multiple ways of making money.
--no expensive habits (like cocaine, gambling, children, etc.)
--living in Alaska. No joke, there are so many more opportunities when violinists are in such high demand, like they are here.
...But you gotta be tough to make the winters in Alaska. I wouldn't advise moving here. No one should move to Alaska. It's just too extreme, and there are lots of bears and stuff. ;)
At first, I was disappointed.
I watched last fall as my practice time was gradually whittled away by performance priorities. Before I knew it, I was practicing solely for business purposes; my personal violin time became an obligatory push to escape the deadline crunch. The new job with the symphony terrified me at times. Two hours worth of music came to me by mail, usually a week before the show, full of previously unseen obstacles. Composers of all time periods hurled musical ideas that registered way over my current technical skills. For the likes of Tchaik, I could spend an hour drilling a treacherous run into cleanliness, only to watch it fly by before cognition could lock onto it, as the conductor mercilessly wielded his baton. The composer created it with effortless strokes of ink, the conductor needed only to set the metronomic demand, yet I was expected to make the miracle unfold, there in my tangled fingers.
I was terrified of making a mistake. It was only after the fourth concert that I realised that mistakes were inevitable. But even with the occasional stumble, the music kept going, and the people still applauded at the end. Not once did anyone make mention of my maverick bow stroke or notational fumbles. I suppose it makes sense that one lowly violinist might actually be indistinguishable at times, and in the greater scheme of things, winds cover a multitude of sins. For this, I am grateful.
However, my resentment began to build when I became aware of the fact that once a concert ended, we returned our music and went home with absolutely nothing. All the fruits of my labor stayed behind in the concert hall, and I was left with nothing new to add to my collection of repertoire. I went home empty-handed. Perhaps a couple of passages still reeled in my head, but that was it.
So I was disappointed. At first.
This evening, I pulled out an old movement of Mozart that had daunted me last year. Ah, the arpeggios... I set my metronome and began my work. No more than fifteen minutes elapsed, and suddenly there they were, ready to go. What’s this? I can play it. I can play it! I set my instrument down and stumbled into the hallway in exuberance, shouting over George’s episode of Northern Exposure: “Eureka! I’ve got it!” Had it been a few degrees warmer, I might have run through the town naked.
See, what I failed to take into consideration was the fact that for the first time in so many years, I’d been whipped and spurred over technical obstacles that, of my own accord, would have been left gathering dust on the top shelf. My conservative approach to practicing lay a solid foundation, but without being willing to chance it on more difficult repertoire, I had been floundering in the safety of my own comfort zone. In the same way that a cross-country runner might be forced into a rigorous training regimen without a say in the matter, I was discovering what I was capable of doing with a little coaching, both from orchestra and through private instruction. A little prodding can work miracles.
Teachers, let us consider how we may spur our students on, lovingly digging the sharp pointy rowels into the flanks of those who desire to go further. After all, haven’t we been employed to show them the full extent of their capabilities? Then spur them onward!
Not that it always works. It didn’t work last Wednesday when, while visiting Anchorage, I chose my parking place and awoke the next morning to find my car missing. Intuition didn’t kick in and tell me that the unmarked apartment complex lot had an arbitrary fire lane, to be used especially for towing purposes when parking feuds got out of hand. Nothing in my gut told me that by parking there, I would be caught in the crossfire of neighborly rage. I simply woke up and saw my empty tire tracks in the snow. Intuition could have saved me $137 in that case. That particular day was full of out-of-the-blue, unfortunately.
But often times, I get this instinctual motive, and when heeded, it produces jaw-dropping results. It comes in handy when stabbing at the high notes during a first-time-through in orchestra rehearsal. Half of the time, I’m not even positive what the note should be, nor what will come out of my instrument when my fingers land, but if I don’t second-guess it, my chances are pretty good that I’ll be on the pitch. Right on it. It happens so often that it actually disturbs me. I couldn’t land the pitches better if I’d worked on them for hours. My gut tells me to move there, and my fingers go. My head is practically absent. It’s as though I’m watching someone else play my instrument.
Intuition surprises me as I teach, too. Today, for instance, I corrected a piano student while writing in his assignment book. He started on the wrong note and I heard my voice calling out “E natural” as I wrote out “Monday, January 15th”. I hadn’t even looked at the music. I just knew that he should be playing an E and he wasn’t. I wouldn’t have a clue if I’d thought about it. This sort of thing happens often enough that I know it’s not just a lucky guess, either.
I had intuition on my mind today. I thought about it while settling into my evening shifting exercises: clear the mind, relax the hand, and go. I also thought about it while scribbling out my “Welcome Home George” sign. If I didn’t try to control the color application, the letters came out prompt, consistent, and right the first time, with a particularly well-defined personality.
So, after four months, George was finally coming home. I thought about a bottle of celebratory wine and headed to town to buy one. Slick roads, dark. 55mph. A driver hesitated to pull out in front of me from the gas station. He wouldn’t. No. He isn’t!
He did. In a space too small on even a good day with good conditions, he not only pulled out in front of me, but he stopped to turn left. In disbelief, I braked, skidded left, honked, braked, skidded right, and scarcely held control of my car as I passed on the shoulder. What a story that would make, having an accident on a three mile trip into town, after George had forged 4500 miles through Canada and blizzards and whatnot. That would have been stupid.
I was still thinking about it on the way home. I thought about the fishy motions my car made when I’d tried to stop. I thought about how long it had taken me to slow down, and what improvements I could possibly make the next time. When the unexpected takes place in a split second like that, you don’t have much to save you at all. Except, there’s that magical thing that happens with time, you know, how it slows down and you think about a dozen things all at once? That helps. Other than that, you are mostly left with instinct and God’s mercy. Some people lock up and jam the brake pedal down, watching helplessly as their car slides directly toward destruction. Some people keep their heads on straight and make split-second decisions, maneuvering and performing like a trained professional. I personally seem to be guided by an uncanny force that I can’t describe as anything other than “intuition.”
As I headed back out of town toward my home, I thought about visibility and what I would do if I hit a moose. Was I going too fast? Could I see beyond those blinding headlights before me? What if there was a moose, say, right... There!
And, as thought I’d waved a magic wand, there he was.
It didn’t surprise me. It was as if we’d made an appointment for 9:52 pm, just past Mackey Lake road. He paused for an instant just to make sure, and then stepped into my lane. However, since I had anticipated this scenario, I was one step ahead, foot to the brake, pumping and swerving to the right. My car stopped just shy of his frightened furry rump.
Holy... Breathe! I was a mile down the road before it registered, what had just happened to me. Unbelievable. That timing was unbelievable. Just wait until I tell George. Reaching the turnoff for home, I flipped my left blinker and slowed, as a truck approached from the opposite direction. He too slowed, his right blinker flashing. I made out a familiar silhouette.
Welcome home, George.
For reasons as obscure as those that govern fluky weather patterns, words have begun to float liberally from my mouth lately--toward the coffee shop barista, my parents, my stand partner, or any hapless victim close enough to catch a peppering of my thoughts. It goes on and on, this loquacious spiel, fueled by an unusual need to share, verbatim, all the contents in my head.
I’m tuning my brain to various cosmic radio stations. With ten thousand antennas pointed every direction, grasping into the current, I latch onto and pull out every random association I can capture. I talk about connections, about colors, shapes, and patterns. I’m fascinated by movement, repetition, and recurrent themes. See how they interconnect? Art, nature, math, science, and music, they are all just one subject taking various forms, each of which I love to discuss.
Since there will be no answer to the question “Why” the sudden surge of discourse, I am left to ponder “For what purpose?” I feel as though I’m cresting the apex of a creative wave or something. I’m assimilating the next big idea, shuffling the scrabble tiles, rearranging the numbers. It’s trickling down to the tips of my fingers; now it’s on the tip of my tongue. The image is coming into focus, its scent riding the air. I’m listening, intuitively, all six senses straining. Where is it? What is it?
And all these thoughts keep coming right out of my mouth--every imagery and observation--until I’m physically cupping my hand across my moving lips to silence them. After all, there are appropriate times and places for such mental maelstrom. Orchestra rehearsal is not one of those.
What happened? It seems like somewhere in the course of the past year, it grew up all around me, like a booming suburb. The reality of a dream takes up a lot more space than it does on paper.
Sometimes, I think my dreams are so big they will swallow me whole. Not that this bothers me. I would rather that, than not.
More entries: February 2007 December 2006
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