"Way to go, you passed, Aulden! You get a sticker."
Aulden chose a blue smiley face and superimposed it onto a caricature drawn at the top of the page. It was sideways. "Here, I'll fix it," I offered, as I lifted the tiny sticker with my fingernail. These things are important, you know. Only a teacher who cares would include sticker adjustments as part of their tuition coverage. I'm one of those.
As I carefully replaced the sticker, I thought back to the art review published in the local paper on Monday: "I think Grossman would do well to allow the organic aspect of drawing to trump the mathematical and left-brained aspects in her work."
She called my work "trite." Trite. My continual obsession with meticulous precision had only earned me a disparaging label this week, no sticker. Although she published these words probably in smug self-assertion, her favorite piece, 'Fibonacci', happened to be my most left-brained, mathematical composition of all. Fibonacci was a sheep I'd composed using two interlocking golden spirals. The sheep smiles, like Mona Lisa, pondering the secrets of the universe.
I'd stuck my gum in that review before tossing it out, but the words wouldn't leave the sole of my shoe when I tried shaking the dust off. There was an element of truth in it, after all. Hanging my artwork is like hanging a piece of myself on the wall. When I see it, I often wish it weren't so careful and controlled, and obsessed with detail. So... literal. But this is who I am. We must discover these things about ourselves, and then sign our names at the bottom: I own this. This is me.
Self doubt does not work wonders for Sarasate. At the dress rehearsal for Friday's concert, the nerves had gotten me so bad that my knees turned to jelly and I was unable to finish the arpeggios at the end of Caprice Basque. A year is far too long to go without performing publicly, and I wasn't used to the audience. "You just gotta go for it," they told me after I finished.
Go for it. Own it. Three hours a night, I'd worked on each of the variations and drilled those stupid arpeggios. It drove me to madness. It propelled me to new mad skills, that's what it did. I could just about play every note perfectly forward and backward; yet, each time I got in front of somebody, or even thought about getting in front of somebody, I got sheepish, and all the false harmonics and arpeggios fell apart.
I spent the rest of the week doing battle with the demons of doubt, bracing myself for public humiliation and shame. I called Maria and asked her if we could cut out the last page altogether, roll out a cadence of chords, and call it good. "I really think you should keep the arpeggios," she said. "The high notes sound so good..." I thought about it. Really? I highly value Maria's opinion. In fact, those words meant so much to me that I decided to take a risk and go through with it after all.
It was the Evening of Classics. All the local performers waited their turn back in the nursery and Sunday School rooms. As I warmed up with my practice mute, I couldn't help but notice the notes were all still there like I'd left them. I was up next. Did I tape my pages together right? Were my strings clean? Oh, rosin! I saw my hands rubbing the bow hair with the cake, but couldn't feel a thing, as though the hair was freshly washed; in a panic, I rubbed harder. It was time.
From the moment I took the stage, I acted like I owned it (though really I was frightened like a little girl), and I played the audience a little with a suspenseful slide. Suddenly, things were okay again; I was in front of my friends, and they were loving it. I may botch the end, but I wouldn't let it spoil the rest of the piece. The left handed pizzicato was certainly fun, and the chord section, well it rocked. And the arpeggios? Well... let's just say I made it through okay. What happened after I scrambled to the the top of the fingerboard for the ending really surprised me, though. The audience, actually... roared with applause! I must say, I felt like a rock star.
It is so good to be loved and admired by your hometown audience. No one really knew how much I'd needed them to tell me I was great, even if I wasn't perfect.
Way to go, you passed, Emily! You get a sticker.
My dog, Ben, is my worst critic, hands down. I don't even have to play a note before he is set out against me: the very sight of my violin causes him to tense up and retract in disdain. To the tune of Bach, he huffs. With Mozart, he groans. Beethoven? Bah-thoven!
On lesson days, he greets my students with mixed cordiality. If you are waiting for your lesson, he will subtly coax you with his sweet chocolate lab charm, seducing a petting or two. But honestly, when it all comes down, you, the student, exist only to deny him of his daily walk, his daily fun, his daily moment in the sun. Violin lessons will ultimately banish him to confinement on his threadbare, musty bed next to the TV. And there, next to the TV, he resigns himself to begrudging sleep, hoping that his dreams will take him to happy hunting grounds filled with ducks and pheasants, and lots of bouncing balls. And no violins.
Pets feed on your own enthusiasm. Every time you bring home a package from the post office, they join you with the same anticipation and eagerness that you yourself feel: what's inside? Open it! One time, I brought in a very large package indeed, and when I excitedly opened it, Ben paused for a moment in consideration. It was a cello. Having never seen a cello before, it took about three seconds for him to process the concept that violins came in XL. Once it sank in, he literally collapsed and covered his ears with his paws with disgust: will the madness never end? "No," the cello answered in deep, persistent tones.
I always assumed that all dogs are predisposed to animosity toward stringed instruments. After all, strings sound like cats, and cats hate dogs, and vice versa. This is why I was so surprised the day I visited the upstairs neighbors for some evening fiddling. Noah plays guitar, and sometimes the sound of the happy chords filtering through the ceiling remind me that I should play folk music with other people more often. One evening, we finally met upstairs while his wife brought us tea. His dog, Jug, joined us as well. I wondered how long it would take before he would be tucking under the bed to get away from my playing.
With a polite wiggle, the freckled heeler approached me as I warmed up. Cutting him off, Noah directed him to his bed so as to keep him out of the way as we worked out some tunes. I couldn't help but notice his magnetic eyes, all glossy and round, which hadn't left me from the moment I opened my case. Noah explained, "He loves to hear you play. When you practice, he lays his head on the floor over your studio and falls asleep there. He's happy to finally meet you." We continued late into the night, playing bluegrass and blues, while Jug listened ardently until finally, he drifted off, his mouth drawn up slightly into a smile.
Some dogs are my worst critic. But then again, some dogs are my biggest fan.
More entries: September 2010
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Violinist.com Summer Music Programs Directory
ARIA International Summer Academy
Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine