Saturday, November 6, 2010

Coming Out of Early Retirement

First of all, I want to thank everyone for their words of encouragement. I feel the love. Life's not bad at all, and I know it. We all have our moments of self-pity, and it's good to have caring friends who can shake you around a little bit and tell you it'll be okay.

Okay. Back to the point.

My lovely friend Tiffany alerted me about this movie that came out in July. A washed up conductor, trying to make his comeback with the help of an orchestra of misfits. Funny? Probably. True to life? A little bit too much so.

Granted, I'm not at "rock bottom," by any means. I'm not working as a custodian (that was a few summers ago!), and not trying to relive the glory days (mostly because I can't figure out which of my days those were). Nonetheless, there is something missing from my life right now, and I don't know how to work it back in. I used to be immersed in music, day in and day out, practicing until they kicked me out of the building and performing more than I really had time to do. These days, I hardly play at all. I teach a few private lessons every week, and I have my little preschool music classes, but that's about the extent of it.

A few weeks ago, I did something I never, never do: I listened to a recording of my playing. Listening to yourself play is like staring at yourself naked in the mirror: you focus so intently on the faults, and it all ends up disgusting you to the point that you essentially feel like a waste of space. Perhaps now you can see why I never listen to my recordings.

What I heard this time surprised me, though. It wasn't totally terrible. There were, in fact, some really lovely moments! More than anything, though, I remembered. I remembered what it felt like to play that piece at that moment, to feel those emotions so deeply that all I could do was to use my cello to express them. Then, I realized that it's been a really long time since I've had that compulsion to express. My music-making has suffered as a result, and now, I'm pretty well in a stage of dormancy (sorry, Gus).

When I hear a familiar piece on the radio, it's like seeing an old friend again. I'm instantly transported to where I was when I last played it. The feelings all come rushing back--including the frustration from never feeling like I was doing any piece of music justice (part, I believe, of why I haven't been playing much of late). As I reflect on all those memories, though, I realize how much of my life experience has been tied up in music, and that if I let that part of myself go, I also forgo many more experiences.

I need to get back into "fighting shape." I'm flirting with the idea of putting on a recital--the first recital of my life that will be just for me. I would revisit only my very favorite pieces, and play them like I want to play them . . . because I do. The only challenge after that, then, is to work up (and keep up) the motivation and the discipline to follow through. I've let it go because I never felt like I measured up, because I felt that the world would be alright if I didn't play. I've never been the best, but neither have I ever allowed myself to be even as good as I could be, whatever that is.

Maybe it's time to find out.

"The Glory Days?" This was in the BYU Phil, playing Shosty No. 5


  1. I'm so happy for you, Rachel. :) Music is one of the most powerful things in the world.

  2. I'm not sure if I've officially de-lurked myself, but here I am! I've been reading your blog--hope you don't mind :) But you remind me of me! I recently made a goal to finish learning the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and post it on my blog next September. It's a long time to learn one piece, but that's the kind of time I have, you know? But practicing again has been so gratifying. Like you, I've realized that a piece of me was missing. It feels like I've been underwater and am now starting to breathe again. I love it! (And I love not worrying about teachers and classes and juries and what not)

  3. This is a perfect post. I have wrestled with these same feelings for...well, I don't really want to say how many years, but it's alot!! And I phase in and out of being able to listen to the old recordings, and finding time to practice, and finding places to perform,and feeling bad because I don't have time to practice, and feeling guilty because I don't want to practice. What I've learned is that the seasons of life affect my musical life in ways I don't always anticipate, but I have come to accept that sometimes I can do a lot, like get a Master's Degree or accept a premier invitation, and other times, I can't do as much, or anything at all. Just keep it going somewhere, even if it's just in your heart...sooner or later you'll be able to get it out again. (Wait until the kids come's a WHOLE new world for a music mom!)

    You're wonderful and I LOVE YOU!!!

  4. Man, I'm totally with you on this. The last few weeks I've been really missing the music. Yet I don't want to be practicing four hours a day either (let's be honest). But I do need to do something with it--for nobody else but me. Part of my problem is when I think about playing more, I feel like I need to somehow connect it with money, and that's when it becomes hard for me and I lose motivation (i.e. thinking I have to practice so I can audition for an orchestra, or go get my doctorate so I can be a professor). I'm excited to hear all about the recital you do. You may just inspire me to do the same. :)

  5. Ditto ditto ditto to all these Phil alumni thoughts! Music school was a unique place to be for so many years--unlike any other experience. And the productivity and the energy of it can't be replicated beyond itself--at least, I've started to think that. Where else can you find that many happy, crazy, left-brained, insane, and musical Mormons all mingling in the same basement hallway?

    But I totally support the recital thing. That's what I did in the year after graduating--prepared and performed my first (and hopefully not my last) recital while Sam was finishing his masters. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. But what I realized, at least for me, was that when I was practicing and preparing even my favorite pieces, I had to recognize that I just didn't love practicing--I never have. Ha! I admire those who do. I think I've lost my musical flare.

    And if you find a way to rekindle the passion back into a roaring fire, please fill me in!

  6. Hey, Rachie. I feel a lot like you. And have been "flirting" with putting on a recital for almost the same reasons you have been. I hope you do it. I hope I do it, too, for that matter. I'm sure Gus will love the extra attention. :)