My violin recital¹ was today. I tend not to think of myself as having a lot of performance anxiety, but I guess I have my share.

I’ve been playing the violin for 4 years, now. Learning more than playing, really. I have a lot of other things going on in my life, so I haven’t yet achieved a level that would merit the statement “I play the violin.” But I keep at it. I enjoy it. I have a wonderful teacher, who is very patient and encouraging.

I wanted to take part in the recital in large part because I knew that it would motivate me to push myself. I like working on a piece for an extended period of time, as I can really feel that I’m making progress. And the piece that I played, by Leopold Mozart (as in father to Wolfgang Amadeus) was, no doubt, the hardest piece I’ve played so far. One particular challenge for me is that it calls for lots of double stops, the violin equivalent of a chord, where two strings are bowed at the same time. It involved very careful fingering and bowing, and I managed to achieve some things that I had not yet managed. I got to know the piece quite well. In fact, I memorized it, without actually meaning to. I discovered that I could play it with my eyes closed. (In fact, I did a couple of times when I had to practice but was too tired to focus on the sheet music.)

But the trouble is, even though I could play the piece, I never managed to play it consistently well. The hardest part was always the beginning, as in just starting. (I could play the same section much better the second time around when it was repeated for the end of the piece.) Sometimes it would sound good, but not always.

I tried recording myself so I could listen to it, thinking that I was judging myself too harshly. But the recording only confirmed for me that I just didn’t sound so great. I would offer to share with you the recording, but seriously, I’m embarrassed by it.

In spite of this, I hadn’t been stressing terribly about the recital. For one thing, most of the other participants are also not so great. (My violin teacher once told me that I’m her best adult student. Of course, most of her students are kids, and there are a couple of teenagers who are really good. And I mean really good.) For another thing, I knew that very few people would actually see me playing, as the audience typically consists of a few family members of the students. Usually their parents. I would have John and Phoebe in the audience, but they already know all too well what I sound like. So I knew that even if I messed up, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But a big reason I hadn’t been stressing too much was that, quite honestly, there have been quite a lot of other things on my mind and on my metaphorical plate.

So I was caught off guard when I woke up this morning with what’s often known as butterflies in my stomach. The sounds coming from my stomach reminded me more of early 80s arcade games (Space Invaders, anyone?) than the fluttering of lepidoptera wings. But what the hell. Butterflies.

I practiced a bit before we left, and was determined to keep my hands warm. I play clumsily when my fingers are cold. The trouble is, it’s December, and I tend to get cold hands and feet. So sitting around before the recital started, I worked at warming my hands up. And was startled to discover that my hands were sweaty, even though they were still cold. And I’m not even prone to sweating.

I was second in the program, and the teenage girl who played ahead of me was good. As in, why-the-hell-am-I-playing-right-after-her good. Then it was my turn. I went on the little stage, put my sheet music on the stand, took a deep breath, and started in. It was a duet with my teacher, and we got off to a pretty good start. But then my arm started shaking. Not a huge amount, but enough to mess up my bowing. The result, while not devastatingly awful, was that I messed up more than usual. And, well, it didn’t sound great.

recital.jpgWe stayed for a bit after I played, and listened to a few of the kids who played after me. (Because it turned out there were only kids. The recital was split into two times, and apparently the 3 or 4 other adult students were all going in the second.) Most of the kids we heard were actually playing piano, since my teacher also teaches piano. But I did get to hear a couple of violins after me. And I’m happy to say that they sounded pretty bad, and with much less complex pieces. Of course, they were under 8. But I must take my comfort where I can find it. Even if it means mocking a cute little six-year-old behind her back.

Anyhow, it’s over. The butterflies (or aliens) departed quite unceremoniously from my stomach. And even though I’m not thrilled with how I did during the recital, I’m very glad I did it.

¹ Have you ever noticed that recital is one letter off from rectal?

16 thoughts on “butterflies

  1. Honestly, I thought at the beginning that you HAD said ‘violin rectal’. Need coffee. Thank God I continued reading the post !

    I’m so jeamous that you play the violin !

  2. I think it’s great that you’ve taken up violin as an adult. I played in school orchestra from fourth grade until high school ended.

    I dabbled with it a bit in bands while in and after college, but I’ve really let it slide. I picked it up the other day and it sounded like crap. I should really start playing again, it’s a wonderful instrument!

  3. I’m just impressed that you’re learning how to play. Violin is HARD! And those kids? Pshaw! Do they have jobs and toddlers and grad school on top of the violin lessons? I thought not!

  4. I have always, always wanted to play the violin. Actually, I was just thinking about that last night because I just watched The Red Violin. Good movie, by the way.

  5. Hey, good for you. We’re always our own worst critics. I think it’s great that you keep sawing away at it. (Have you read Noah Adams’ book about taking up the piano at midlife? Very interesting.)

  6. flutter-
    Ah, thank you. This is why I didn’t post the recording. It makes it possible for people to imagine me sounding better than I actually did.

    I’m telling you, the word “rectal” kept jumping out at me everytime I proofread the damn post, even though what was really there was only the innocuous “rec-i-tal.” (I hope that you got your needed coffee.)

    Yes, do get the flute out! (And thanks for calling me cool. You’re totally cool, too.)

    Yes, those 6-year-olds don’t know how easy they’ve got it. I bet some of them don’t even have blogs of their own. (And yeah, violin is hard. I have to keep learning knew stuff, too.)

    It’s never too late to start. And thanks for the movie tip. I think I saw a little bit of the movie, but that must have been way back in the days when we still had cable.

    Thanks for the wows. I do feel like I accomplished something, even if that something was not, um, perfect.

    We’re always our own worst critics. Except maybe in the case of me criticizing poor youngsters to boost my own ego. They find a worse critic in me. (And no, I don’t know that book. I would probably enjoy it. At some point in my life when I can find/make time for reading for pleasure.)

  7. you know, just doing something new, something out of the ordinary for you, is worth celebrating. brava! it’s worth doing somthing, even if you can’t do it perfectly.

    I’m proud of you. :)

  8. merrymishaps-
    I just uneartherd your comment from the spam box. And I’m glad to learn you’ve dabbled in violin, too. You should definitely play some more!

    Thank you. I did have to give up on the idea of perfection, but I do know I don’t need to be perfect to enjoy it.

    Ooo, gumption. I’m not often told I have that. Neat.

    Thanks! As for looking serious, I’ll confess that I didn’t even once consider wearing the fish on my head for the recital.

  9. Hi I read your blog butterflies and I’m interested in adult learners. What an interesting blog you have written. I’m an adult learner myself and I’ve posted a blog but as I’m also new to blogging so I’m finding my way around.

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