Sunday, October 15, 2006

Switching from Flute to Violin

I started playing the violin when I was 7 and stopped playing at around 11. I always wanted to go back to it, but it took a long time to muster up the courage. At age 32 I started from "scratch." I figured that if I practiced for ten years, I would be an adequate violinist at 42. If I didn't start at 32, I would still be 42 in ten years. Now at age 47 I have played for 15 years, and I play as well as an average graduate student at a conservatory. I'm very proud of what I have accomplished.

Sometimes people are amazed that I switched from being a professional-quality flutist (I say professional quality because I didn't have a professional job as a flutist at the time) to being a beginning violinist at the age of 32. I believe that it is the best personal "move" I have ever made. It was also very easy to do.

When I moved to our small university town in 1985 I was welcomed as a flutist. It seems that they hadn't ever had a decent flute player in these parts, but I was a decent flutist without a master's degree, so I was unable to be hired by the university when the flutist who was here suddenly decided to leave town. I taught the students, but when it came time to hiring for the job here I guess I didn't have the necessary credentials.

Not being able to teach at the local university significantly narrowed down my chances of gainful employment, but the reason that I never got a master's degree in flute performance was that I didn't want to teach flute at a university. I didn't believe that it was ethical to teach flutists that if they had talent and practiced a lot they could make a living playing the flute. Even with all the practicing I did and all the talent that any person could want, I had a great deal of trouble trying to get work in Boston and in New York before I moved away; and the work I did get was not enough to even think of trying to make a living from. It had nothing to do with the quality of my playing, and had everything to do with knowing people (especially contractors) and being available. There was also relatively little work for flutists, and that work always went to people who had been around and connected for a long time. I know very few freelance flutists living in New York or Boston who make a decent living solely from their playing.

It seems that the moment I became a string player I had people to play with. The day the university orchestra director heard that I bought a violin (it might have been a day or two after I bought it), he came over to my house with orchestra music for me. I didn't even need to ask. The music was way above my violinistic head: Stravinsky's Firebird, but I did my best to try to play the second violin part. I continued playing violin in the orchestra until I bought a viola at a garage sale (really! It cost me $100 and it is a very reliable instrument) and started playing viola in the university orchestra. Then I started playing viola in a string quartet, and now I'm practicing the violin--finally getting some technique, and learning the violin repertoire. I'm playing viola in a couple of orchestras in a city about an hour's drive away, and I'm having a wonderful time. When I reflect on what my life would have become if I hadn't taken the steps to do what I always wanted to do, I shudder.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling your musical story. I had the same reasoning about picking up cello again in my 40s. Despite how many years I'd missed, I realized 50 would come whether I played or not, and 60, and so on, and I'd rather spend those years playing.

Elaine Fine said...

Somehow I'm under the delusion that if I get enough technique to really play well by the time I'm 60, it will stay with me until I'm 90. I like to believe that the energy we put into getting where we want to be as adult beginners will stave off the inevitable decline that people who started when they were young go through when they get older.

Guanaco said...

Funny, that's the exact logic that I used to get started learning the cello (except I only had 5 yrs till I'm 60).

Elaine Fine said...

I think that John Holt was in his 50s when he started playing the cello. He wrote about it in "Never too Late." He actually wrote "How Children Learn" and "How Children Fail" from experiences he had as an adult beginner cellist

Anonymous said...

I found your diary on Google. (I'm new to blogging and searched for violin blogs to check out some blog layouts)

This entry is very interesting :) It's very inspirational to read about the story of an adult learner. You sound very talented! It gives me hope that it's never too late to learn, hopefully I'll be really good at the violin in 10 years time.

Elaine Fine said...

With a good teacher and daily practice you will. It is never too late to learn, but even people who start later (or I should say especially people who start later) need the best instruction they can possibly get.