The Healing Power of Attending Live Violin Performances

March 14, 2023, 3:51 PM · Although the tough early years of the pandemic are over and in-person activities are more or less back to "normal," I’ve still found myself struggling with burnout and trying to redefine a healthy, creative balance for myself as a teacher, musician, and human. I've recently realized that attending live concerts has healed parts of my soul I didn’t know were hurting. Getting to be in the audience again has helped remind me why I love music for its own sake, not just as my career. And it's given me fresh inspiration for my creative work, both as a violinist and as a teacher.

Live performances shape some of my earliest memories, from outdoor concerts with my family to concert tickets in my Christmas stockings and concerts as special family events.

Claire Allen and father
Early memories: My dad and I at an outdoor National Symphony Orchestra concert in 1993.

As I grew older and became a musician, I participated in student programs that offered free or reduced-price tickets. (Shoutout to the Arlington County Apprentice Program!) As a college music major, on-campus concerts were part of the degree program and just a part of daily life. Now, as an adult who has aged out of student ticket prices, going to a concert is a rare treat – one I didn’t realize was essential for my personal well-being until I wasn’t going to anything at all.

That changed in that fall of 2021. After a two-year hiatus, I heard Hilary Hahn play the Brahms Violin Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. The experience was exhilarating; the energy in the hall electric. I had chills down my spine the moment Ms. Hahn launched into the opening arpeggios, and I don’t think I took a breath until several minutes later. At the end of the concerto, the audience jumped to their feet and cheered. We applauded Ms. Hahn’s stunning performance, of course, but we were also celebrating the experience of being in a concert hall again. Besides missing the sound of live music, I had also missed the experience of being surrounded by others who were also experiencing the same thing I was, in the same exact moment. There's just something about the sense of collective awe and wonder in a performance space that helps me feel more connected as a human.

Recently, I arranged a group rate for some of my students and their families to attend a Fairfax Symphony concert featuring Rachel Barton Pine. For most of my students, this was their first time seeing a solo violinist perform. It was amazing to see the sheer awe on their faces as they watched Ms. Pine fly through Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy. We had a great time getting to chat and connect outside of our usual violin lesson environment, but as it happened, there was a noticeable difference in their inspiration and motivation later that week in their lessons. Seeing a great artist can make a young musician dream about the possibilities in their own playing.

Seeing incredible performers live is inspirational for me as well, and I had forgotten that. Earlier this month, I heard A Far Cry perform at the Kennedy Center. The chamber orchestra performed a captivating selection of contemporary pieces on the first half of the concert. After the break they played, by memory, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. The musical mastery, the joy and connection amongst the performers, the beautiful sound – it was sheer magic. After the concert, a friend who had also been in attendance said, “I want to go home and practice!” I felt the same way. I realized I don’t always have to generate motivation myself. Finding external inspiration isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it might even be necessary.

I've also attended concerts given by my incredibly skilled musician friends over the last couple of years. Hearing them perform has given me an even deeper appreciation of their artistry. While it’s always incredible to hear a famous performer, there’s something even more special about hearing a performer when you know their personal story or you’ve had an opportunity to make music with them. From a solo piano performance at a friend’s home to concertos with orchestra, showing up to support my friends has helped me truly appreciate their musical talent and made me feel more connected to a musical community.

I want to instill that musical connection in my students. When I envision these young people in their future lives, I don’t necessarily see them as professional violinists. (Although I will certainly support any of my students who take that path!) Rather, I envision adults who have their own special relationship with music, who have found a way to make violin playing a meaningful part of their lives, and who go to concerts as something enjoyable and enriching. Introducing my students to the joy of live musical performance is something I will continue doing in my studio. I want to help encourage the next generation of not just musicians, but music lovers.

Live performance requires giving yourself over to the moment – your attention, your imagination, your experience. And it’s in that surrender that the magic happens. The ancient Greeks believed musical vibrations could literally heal people. As we continue to recover from the last three years, live music should be part of our personal healing. It's certainly been true for me as I navigate my own burnout and exhaustion. In trying to heal, I’m noticing those experiences that give me energy. I’m slowly replenishing my own creative reserves, one live concert, one inspired moment at a time.

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