Friday, October 04, 2013

A Brief History of a Musical Failure

Catherine Tice, the Associate Publisher of the New York Review of Books began her expressive life as a violinist. She writes about her relationship with her piano-playing father, and studying with Henryk Szeryng in this beautiful piece in Granta called, "A Brief History of a Musical Failure."

Tice writes from the vantage point of one who was not able to make a career in music because of her lack of some essential qualities that must be present in a child prodigy:
I never had the makings of a prodigy. I had something else. Easy to say that I have this in common with thousands of others who took up, or were persuaded to take up, and eventually to put down, perhaps with some relief, a musical instrument. The ‘something else’ is what is sometimes called musicianship, which I am too inexpert to define, but at the time when it was just shy of full flower, I nearly gave myself over to the violin completely. I became musically exceptional for a child, but I lacked an essential psychological immunity to the dark side of self-criticism. When essential support was withdrawn by degrees it became increasingly difficult for me to do and be what I initially had no intention whatsoever of doing and being. Moreover, it simply isn’t enough to be good.
This bit of memoir tears at my heartstrings. I imagine that Catherine Tice's life is full, and that she is busy with obligations, but reading this makes me want to put a fiddle into her hands and tell her that she can return to playing if she wants to. That she doesn't have to consider herself a musical failure simply because she didn't make it as a child prodigy or that she disappointed her father.

Here's a personal note to Ms. Tice (that I'm putting here to share with others who share the same kind of disappointment): My father told me that I had that "something else" too. My older brother was a prodigy, and for that matter my father was as well. I was normal. I loved music. I loved the violin, but as a daughter I felt crushed when he referred to my time playing as a child as something of a failure, so I took up the flute, which was a way to continue in music. The flute was not the "voice" I wanted in music, but I figured it would do. It didn't. In my very early 30s I retaliated, and I started playing violin again. I built up technique from scratch (literally), gave myself permission to fail, both in private and in public, and have found a kind of musical fulfillment that keeps giving because it's all mine. Nobody "gave" it to me.

Readers of this blog know about my devotion to Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi's blog Frantic: the Memoir. You might enjoy it too. And then you might consider that playing the violin is something that you can still have in your life. There is even a late starters orchestra you could play with in New York.


2 comments:

Erin said...

I was infamous for cornering people in pubs and haranguing them into joining the late starters orchestra (the one in East London that inspired the one in New York). It is a magical and hilarious organisation, they are a bit different from the NYLSO in that they will teach people from the beginning, with no musical knowledge whatsoever. There were quite a few people coming back to music 20, 30, 40 years later. There was a wonderful man in his 80s who sang with the London Philharmonic chorus through most of his adult life, and took up the violin in his late 70s. (I'm linking a little film some students made about the orchestra when I was playing there, and you can see that gentleman, around mark :45). I'm so glad I had that in my life for awhile, and I'm glad they exist.

There is a contemporary music ensemble called COMA (contemporary music making for amateurs) that was an ELLSO spin off, and they are quite vital too.

Anyway, here's the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jltldJXDmb8
(I'm in there, first desk in the cello section, which didn't mean anything in that orchestra)

Karen Collins said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I stumbled upon it right when I needed to.