My friends know that I go through a nearly constant re-thinking and re-examining of the way I play the violin and approach music. I’ve always believed “beginning again” is an integral component in what makes art engaging and relevant. Like bad fish, there’s nothing less inspiring than stale music-making. My musical “heroes” all happen to have one thing in common: every time you hear them, they sound completely different.
When the pandemic gripped the world in March, and after an initial round of shock, I decided to try something different in my playing. I tore off my violin shoulder rest, a modern contraption that attaches to the back of the violin and helps to create a comfortable grip between the shoulder, violin, and head, and started to play. It was awkward at first. Using a shoulder rest was the way I had played for more than 25 years. By college, I always secretly felt that the shoulder rest wasn’t quite working for my body, but I did not want to take the time to begin again – the days/weeks of reworking everything – so I took the “plow straight through” approach, which for better or worse, I made work for me until March 2020.
I could write for hours about shoulder rest vs. no rest, one of the biggest and most contentious behind-the-scenes
Then, this past September, I had to have somewhat unexpected surgery which prevented me from playing the violin for four weeks. (Note to reader: I am fine and thankfully fully back to normal.) I had never taken more than two weeks off from the violin, let alone a whole month. Quite honestly, I sat out this mandatory absence dreading what I would return to find. Playing the violin is a very athletic action, and as with any sport, even a day away has an impact on the muscles. One always feels “raw” in the first days back to kinetic action after a period of rest. Think about going for a run for the first time in weeks or months…
However, surprise, surprise, it turned out that this absence was perhaps one of the best things that could have happened; a complete reset to my playing and approach to violin. Starting with 15 minutes of playing, and then 20 and 30, and etc. along with proper physical therapy, I jumped into the basics. I took out my scale books, Kreutzer, and Dont Etudes. (Violinists will know to refer to them as the “Don’t play these etudes” – subtle, I know.) This period of playing has been a revelation; there is a magic to going back to the basics, to beginning again from the beginning with years of knowledge and experience under one’s belt. As the weeks have passed, I’ve worked back up to a full day of playing, and just as with the removal of the shoulder rest, I have been overjoyed to find I have awesome new violin capabilities.
There’s so much I don’t know in this world (an understatement), but I can unequivocally say, seek out opportunities to begin again. These are far and few between but so worth it. Sometimes, such as with a once-in-a-generation pandemic or unexpected surgery, you are forced into beginning again. But more importantly, sometimes, you need to be courageous enough to press that reset button yourself.
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