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sara: being excited to play is the greatest motivator

Sara, a former violin student of mine, graciously did this interview at the beginning of a new semester of her senior year at college, and even answered my follow-up questions!

Sara talks a little about her trepidation around performing, which I remember. Every time recital season rolled around, I’d ask her if she wanted to perform, and she’d answer, “I don’t really like performing.” Then I’d say, “So do you want to do it?” And she’d say, with a little smile, “yes.”

She must have known, early on, that not everything that feels scary is bad for you. Or to phrase it the other way round, that some things that don’t feel totally great as you’re doing them can be really great in the long run. Sara showed me time and again that she understood and appreciated that process. On stage and off, over the years she became and shared more and more of her musical self.

drawing by Sara

MARGARET: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

SARA: Hi all, I'm Sara! I'm currently a senior at Binghamton University studying English and Comparative Literature. I enjoy reading, crocheting, and of course playing my violin. 

MARGARET: How did you start learning music? What instrument did you start with, and did you move to other instruments?

SARA: I first began learning music when I was five years old. My parents wanted my sister and me to learn music from a young age, so when each of us entered kindergarten we were allowed to choose an instrument. My sister had chosen the violin, and since I wanted to be just like her I ended up picking the violin as well. Once I got to fourth grade I was old enough to join the elementary school band, in which I played the trumpet. My ability to read sheet music was a huge help while learning a new instrument, but I also was able to learn new skills such as playing in an ensemble.

MARGARET: What role did music play in your life when you were young, and when you were in high school? Did/do you enjoy playing different styles of music?

SARA: As a child I was always around music. My mom primarily plays the cello and piano, my dad plays the guitar and piano, and my sister plays the violin. Growing up, my parents were involved in the Irish music and the contra dance scenes, so I have many memories of dancing at contra dances, going to sessions at Irish pubs, and every year my parents would host a party for local Irish musicians to get together and jam. My personal music taste leans more to the classical side of the violin, but I will always have an appreciation for fiddle music since I grew up around it.

MARGARET: What role does music play in your life now?

SARA: Nowadays I mostly play in my school's symphony orchestra and a club called Sound of Binghamton, where we go around to nursing homes and elementary schools and perform for them. I also love listening to music, sometimes classical, but I mainly listen to indie rock/indie pop, with some of my favorites being Alice Phoebe Lou, Faye Webster, and Adrianne Lenker. 

MARGARET: Do any of your friends or people you know enjoy classical music/play an instrument? Does or did this affect your experience with music?

SARA: I've made quite a few friends through my school's orchestra, which has positively affected my experience with music. My high school never had an orchestra, so until college playing the violin was a solitary experience. Now I am able to make music with my friends and talk about classical music with my peers.

MARGARET: What was the hardest thing about learning music and an instrument? What made it worthwhile despite (or because of) the challenges?

SARA: The hardest part of learning an instrument was overcoming my self-consciousness (truthfully, I'm still working on this). Performing was always very anxiety-inducing for me and I could only practice when there was no one else in the house to hear me, which was not very often. Although I do feel as though this anxiety impaired my abilities to an extent, I am glad that I stuck with it and developed those skills so that I can enjoy playing recreationally today. If I had given up, I wouldn't be able to enjoy playing duets with my mom just for fun or be able to make new friends through orchestra and music clubs.

MARGARET: Anything you’d say to someone starting out?

SARA: Don't put too much pressure on yourself! Music is supposed to be fun, so don't let playing feel like a chore. Developing certain skills may be tedious at times, but you'll appreciate it later. If you find yourself getting bored or frustrated with the music you're playing, find new ways to connect with your instrument (such as trying new styles of music). 

MARGARET: Anything you’d say to someone in high school trying to balance getting good grades, having a social life, and practicing?

SARA: Finding a balance between school, a social life, and extracurriculars can be difficult, and it's definitely something I struggled with. In my experience it doesn't always work to create a schedule for practicing, because you can't expect consistency from one part of your life when every other part is inconsistent. For example, if you have a big exam one week, you may not be able to practice as much, but if you have a lighter work load the following week you can take advantage of that by practicing more. Overall, the greatest motivator is being excited to play your instrument, so find ways to keep it interesting and enjoyable.

MARGARET: Are there any alternatives you found to making a schedule that made it easy to get to practicing? I think this is something that pretty much everyone struggles with at least a little bit.

SARA: Truly I don't think I ever found the perfect balance when I was in high school. I suppose for some people it might help to make that schedule, just so they have an understanding of when their free time is, but I think that attempting to strictly hold yourself to it can be counterproductive. If you need to use some of that free time for another aspect of your life one week, don't be hard on yourself. That's just life :) These days, my practice time is mainly motivated by that excitement to play, which I'm very grateful for.

MARGARET: Do you think playing and learning an instrument has had an influence on you? If so, how?

SARA: Playing an instrument has deeply influenced me, not just in terms of who I surround myself with and the extracurricular opportunities open to me, but it has also helped me to tune into my more artistic side. 

MARGARET: How wonderful. Could you say a little more?

SARA: I think part of this tuning into my artistic side can be attributed to your teaching methods! I really appreciated how you took the time to make other forms of art with me in our little book (which I still have!) and allowed me to recognize that music is not an isolated art form, but in fact all forms of art are interconnected. In my college career as an English major I've come to realize that the way I analyze literature can also be applied to music. For example, last semester we played Shostakovich's 5th symphony, while at the same time I was taking a Russian literature class. When I researched Shostakovich, I found it fascinating that he was inspired by some of the authors I was reading in my class, and even though his work does not include words, I could recognize similar themes throughout the symphony to the works of those such as Nikolai Gogol, or his contemporaries like Mikhail Bulgakov. 

The drawing at the top of this post is the final panel of a comic drawn by Sara that hung in our studio for years (it went with her when she graduated). She sent me a scan of it so I could include it here -- as she said, it might be helpful to others. As you can see, the musician in the first panel is overwhelmed with thoughts and fears. In the second panel she gives herself a centering thought... and... I'll let the final panel speak for itself.

1 commentaire

15 mars

I love this interview series so much! I get the sense that you show your students how music and art can be like a river running through the landscape of your life: always there, always changing, shaping; a wellspring you can rely upon and yet also be constantly amazed by.


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