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My Violin Journey... So Far
My fingers flew across the strings on the glossy, black fingerboard. My brow was furrowed with concentration as I pulled the bow down, and up, down, and up. I couldn’t let myself mess this up. I was just in my room practicing, but the pressure was on. It didn’t come from anyone but myself. Suddenly, in the midst of the beautiful music, one note stuck out like a sore thumb- a wrong note! Disappointed, I set my violin down. I’ll never be able to learn this piece in time, I thought, discouraged. The recital was looming- only two weeks away! And my audition, too! What would happen if I messed up? What if I didn’t make it into that orchestra? It felt like my life was riding on my abilities, but I was never good enough.
Months before, when I had first gotten the piece, I wasn’t overwhelmed or stressed. In fact, I thought it looked pretty easy. “It’s standard rep.” my mom said, “But that doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.” Psssshhhh. I thought. This is going to be a breeze. As I always am when I get a new solo, I was ecstatic and practiced as much as possible. I knew I should be practicing more, but I struggled to find inspiration and was very busy with track at the time.
As the track meet finally ended, I walked slowly out to the car. My mom walked beside me, her brown hair swinging in the wind. This is such a waste of time, I thought, Time that could be spent practicing! “I’m not even good at running, mom! Violin is my thing! I feel like I’m not spending enough time on it.”
“Well, you’re in it for the long run now, so practice when you can, and don’t get discouraged.” Mom said.
“What if I can’t learn the solo before for the recital? I’m running out of time,” I said desperately.
“It’ll be okay, we’ll figure it out,” said mom coolly. She was always so reassuring and confident! Easy for her to say, I thought, She’s not the one who can’t even get through her piece without stopping! I’m going to make such a fool of myself at the recital.
I spent days, weeks, worrying, but not acting. Sure, I practiced 30, maybe 40 minutes a day, but it wasn’t enough. The recital was just around the corner, and I wasn’t ready.
When the day of the recital finally arrived, it was a bright, sunny morning. My usual pianist, Judy, couldn’t make it that day, so Sue took her place. I didn’t have very high hopes for her, but I assumed she would do fine. She had a lot to live up to since Judy was the perfect accompanist. There was a rehearsal prior to the performance, so we arrived early.
I waited through countless students playing short, little beginner solos. When it was finally my turn to run through with the pianist, I greeted her with a friendly smile. Except for a few mix-ups, the rehearsal went relatively well. Now, the long wait until the performance began. The minutes ticked by like hours, until, finally, it was time.
I squirmed in my seat as my turn approached. My hands were sweating and clammy. Finally, the last person before me played. It was my turn. My time. I couldn’t mess this up. I wiped my sweaty hands on my skirt. I walked up to the small stage on shaky legs. Slowly, I lifted my violin to my shoulder. I carefully placed my fingers and bow on the string. There was silence for a second, and then I pulled my bow down the strings and the music began.
I lost myself in the music and blocked out everything else. My fingers felt light as they flew across the strings. As I progressed through the piece, there were bumps along the way, but nothing compared to my biggest goof. The giant mistake. I was sure everyone noticed. As I finished a section of the piece, I took my violin down and waited through the rests. Unfortunately, I didn’t wait long enough. Twice, two times, I came in early. I began to shake even more. Get yourself together, I thought, You can’t let this ruin the rest of the performance. The rest of the piece wasn’t too bad, but the enthusiasm wasn’t there. I had lost.
After the recital, everyone congratulated me, but the smile on my face contained no real emotion. My playing is never as good as I want I to be, but this time it was worse. I felt like I had failed. I hadn’t lived up to my own expectations, which were unrealistically high. At the time, I thought that I couldn’t do anything about it. I went through the motions, trying to except that I was just a mediocre violinist, and that was just the way it was going to be.
A few months later, there were suitcases, packing lists, sunscreen, and piles of clothes covering my bedroom floor. I frantically went through the lists. I was leaving for Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp tomorrow, and I couldn’t forget anything. “Mom!” I shouted, “Come help me check if I have everything!”
“I’m sure you’re fine, honey. We’ve gone through list millions of times.” Mom shouted up the stairs.”
“Just one more time, to make sure.” I insisted.
“Alright,” she said as she pushed open my bedroom door. “just one more time.”
When we finally finished checking everything one last time, I said, “Do you think everyone’s going to be better than me? Or worse? What if I’m the worst one there?”
“I don’t know what to expect any more than you do,” my mom said, “but I’m sure you won’t be the worst one. I mean, you’ve been playing for eight years, I should hope you’ve got something to show for it.” I laughed nervously along with her, trying to process the possibilities in my little brain.
The next day, as we were sitting in the car, I tried to form some kind of expectations. However, even as I pondered it endlessly, I still had no idea what was ahead. Of course, I knew that it was a fine arts camp and that I would be playing my violin, but I still had so many questions. What will my cabin mates be like? Will they be mean to me? What if everyone is so much more talented than me? What if I get lost? The questions went on and on.
When we finally arrived, it was way bigger than I expected. The dirt roads went on endlessly, and I started to be even more worried about getting lost. When we got to my cabin, I was surprised at how small it was. After I got settled in, I needed to do a small audition to determine what orchestra I would be in. I told myself over and over again that I didn’t need to be nervous, that it was a low-pressure audition, but I couldn’t stop the fear creeping into me. I anxiously waited in the warm-up room as I began to play through my solo. As soon as I started, a lady came in and said in a loud, booming voice, “Time’s up. We have a room open.”
Wait! I protested silently, I haven’t finished warming up! But, unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything about it, so I followed her to one of the audition rooms.
The audition was short, but, for some reason, I still became nervous as soon as I walked in the room. My legs started shaking and my hands became sweaty. “Good morning!” A petite woman said in a cheery voice, “How are you today?”
“Um, good,” I said softly as I positioned the music stand.
“What scale are you going to play today?” The woman said.
“I’ll be playing Ab major,” I replied. Or, I’ll try. I thought to myself. I breathed in deeply and lifted my violin to my shoulder. Don’t be nervous, I thought to myself, This is just a little audition, nothing to be nervous about. Don’t be nervous. Don’t be nervous. After a moment of silent prayer, I pulled my bow down the string, sounding the first note. It’s just a scale, I thought, One note after another, all in the same order. Just like you practiced at home. When the scale ended and nothing earth-shattering had happened, I breathed a sigh of relief. See, you’ll be alright, I told myself. I nodded slightly.
“Alright, time for sight reading!” The lady said. Oh no. I thought. This was the one thing I couldn’t have prepared for. I couldn’t beat myself about this because I couldn’t have learned it or practiced it ahead of time. Knowing me, I’d find a way.
After I had finished the sight reading and played my solo, the lady said, “Are you a bit nervous?” My stomach dropped. She could tell? This was bad, this was very, very bad. What if she put me in the lowest orchestra, just because I got nervous easily? What if I didn’t get in at all? What if they just sent me home? Oh stop, I told myself, they can’t do that. I was getting all worked up about nothing. Everything was going to be okay. I would have a great time at camp, and come out of it a better player and have learned a lot. Right?
As it turned out, the rest of camp would have its ups and downs, but overall, I was right.
As I was sitting at the table with my cabin mates on the first evening of camp, we finally got the results of the audition. It had felt like an eternity to wait all day to find out. My hands shook as I took the paper from my counselor. “Guys, I got in the Masterworks Orchestra! That’s good, right?” I mean, it sounded pretty fancy!
“Oh my gosh, good job! That’s the highest one!” One of my cabin mates said.
“Wow! Really?” I breathed a sigh of relief that I had been holding in all day. I realized that it was going to be alright.
The rest of camp had its bumps along the way, and I went through times where I was sulking, thinking I was the worst violinist ever, and times where I was filled with elation, completely confident in my violin skills. Overall, I definitely learned a ton and became a better violinist than I was before. However, that is not the end of this story.
Even though I had a great time at camp, I did not gain confidence there. In fact, I came back feeling lower in confidence than I ever had before. When I returned home, I was tired but more determined than ever to improve. When I saw how much better some people were than me, I vowed to practice all day. Well, maybe I didn’t practice all day, but I worked harder than I ever had before. I had yet another audition coming up, and I wanted to be prepared. I would have no more of the “eh” performances. From then until the audition, I put my all into redeeming the solo I had played for that fateful recital back in May.
“Wow, you’re practicing so much lately!” My mom said, “Getting all inspired, huh?” She laughed.
“Mom, it’s not funny!” I said. This was real determination. I was ready to do anything to achieve my goals.
“Sorry, sorry.” She said, changing her smile to a fake serious expression. I sighed and went back to practicing.
On the day of the audition, I expected to feel nervous, but I didn’t. I walked to the audition room with total confidence. I was ready. Completely prepared. I was going to go in there, kill the audition, and then get the spot I wanted. Sure, nothing’s perfect, but I had a good feeling about this one.
“Good morning!” The director said. His sing-song tone caught me off guard. I nodded back to him. “Which do you want to do first: scales, excerpt, or solo?”
“Let’s do the scales,” I said. I lifted up my violin and breathed in deeply. I was ready. I pulled my bow across the string and commenced the audition. My fingers shook as they walked up and down the fingerboard. My scales went relatively well, but the excerpt and solo were what I was the slightest bit worried about, if at all. The excerpt had lots of high and fast notes. I had to be careful so they wouldn’t sound squeaky. I took another deep breath in and then began the excerpt. As my fingers climbed up and down the string, I began to relax, which was a crazy feeling. Usually, once I started a performance I got really nervous. But, this time, because I felt so prepared, I wasn’t as nervous as usual. It felt great to be able to loosen up and just play my heart out. The solo, which was after the excerpt, was the biggest surprise. I played the two pages that I thought I was going to play, but then he gestured to me to keep going. I had prepared more, but I had expected him to stop me long before he did. Surprisingly, the pages I hadn’t expected to play went incredibly well.
When the audition ended, I practically bounced out of the room, skipped down the hall, and hummed while I packed up my violin. I was so happy that my hard work had paid off.
Around a month later, the results for the audition came in. I had gotten into the orchestra, as expected, but chair placement was what mattered. I anxiously searched for my name on the list. First, second… Second chair! I was a second violin, though. I tried to decide how I felt about that. It was the second violins, but also in a leadership position. That’s good. I thought, Even if it’s not what I expected, I need to learn to accept it and not beat myself up so much.
Although my story is never completely resolved, as I still struggle with confidence, this taught me a very important lesson about hard work. Because I was not happy with my first performance it empowered me to work even harder and play a good audition that I could feel proud of. I will never have fully conquered this obstacle, I will always remember the lessons I learned from what I perceived as a failure and bouncing back from that experience.