It has been two years since I took my Oklahoma “sabbatical” and I am now living back in Michigan where I am enjoying life as a teacher and performer.
Getting back into my life here in Michigan after my year away has been a transition. When I left I was very much still in student mode and now that I’m back I’ve shifted into professional mode. Teaching has become a constant and something that is very important to me as I continue to grow with my instrument.
I am still dealing with discomfort on my left side on a daily basis, but the tools I have to deal with it have multiplied. I have developed a routine that works and allows me to play regularly. Explaining tension free violin techniques to my students has been the best thing for my own understanding of it, not to mention that it brings me incredible joy to teach because my students are truly the best. Their excitement for the instrument has reminded me what it is to be excited about it and seeing their rental violin cases from Shar has brought about some major nostalgia!
Although so many things are feeling good, I wanted to write about something that continues to be a challenge as well as share some strategies I’ve been using to continue moving forward. Who knows, maybe someone else will find something useful in this thought process.
As I sit here writing this I am listening to the Beethoven Opus 18 string quartets. I’ve always found it a challenge to have classical music on as background music because so often I find myself wanting to give it my full attention. But hey, I want to get to know the Beethoven string quartets better so I thought why not have them on while I write. Unfortunately, there’s another side effect to listening to any music that involves violin these days which I think describes what I’ve been dealing with pretty well. Even listening to the violin makes my arm hurt. In fact right now not only is my arm sore but I actually feel my left foot getting tense, just like it does when I play. The fact of it is, there is a still a lot of mental baggage for me when I so much as think about my instrument.
This past summer, I attended a talk about mindfulness and instrument playing. The talk was a part of a 10 day intensive workshop on teaching the violin and the viola, so the attendees were all string players. We had our instruments with us and the instructor asked as all to put them up and play just one note. He then had us raise our hand if we were already judging ourselves for the sound that came out. Out of a room of maybe 30 string players, all but a few raised our hands. We had played one note and the majority of us were already judging ourselves.
I know I’m not alone in this, but the mental baggage that comes along with my violin playing feels really isolating sometimes. How is something that is supposed to bring so much joy something that also causes me physical discomfort just to think about? How does the act of simply lifting my instrument to my chin already bring so much anxiety? How many times have people told me how lucky I am to have chosen a career that I am so passionate about?
The fact is, if I could define my relationship status with my violin it would read “it’s complicated.” And I think I have to forgive myself for that fact. Telling myself I shouldn’t be feeling this way just isn’t natural and it won’t help me work through my anxieties. It’s like when somebody tells you to “just relax.”
So instead of telling myself in a vague way that I am really lucky and that it’s dumb to feel any other way (not poetic I know, but those are real words that have gone through my head), I am making an effort to rediscover what specifically brings me joy and finding new ways to bring about that joy. For one, I’ve been exploring improvisation on my instrument much more which has been a great tool for starting to build new associations with the violin. Teaching has been a huge help too. Thinking through strategies for my students and specific language to use with them that’s beyond the words “just relax” is something that makes me excited. I’m accepting that this is still a process, something that I think is worth reminding myself as much as possible.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for reading. I hope to continue these posts as it helps me to write and to share.
Along with many musicians, I have dealt with muscle tension as a result of my violin playing for a long time. I hope that this blog will be useful to those dealing with similar issues as I talk through my ongoing journey to play my instrument pain free.