My Tumultuous Relationship with the Violin, and Why Some Interests Deserve a Second Chance
Photo courtesy of Joseph Choi.

My Tumultuous Relationship with the Violin, and Why Some Interests Deserve a Second Chance

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals

I started begging for violin lessons when I was three.

My mom played the violin (when she wasn’t painting or being a psychology professor).

Dad played the piano (when he wasn’t studying his Scrabble words or being a music education professor).

(Does that about explain me?)

The violin was a no-brainer. To me, it was the most elegant instrument.

The Ups and the Downs

When I was four and a half, I began taking classical violin lessons. I continued till the age of sixteen.

Every Saturday morning, I’d go to my private lesson, Sunday evenings, orchestra or group lesson, a yearly concert at Christmas, and 1-3 weeks of music camp during the summer. Every year. For twelve years.

A lot happened during that time. Despite the occasional (okay, nightly) fights to get me to practice, I generally enjoyed playing the violin.

I became quite good. By the end, I was midway through book seven (for those unfamiliar with the Suzuki method, “midway through book seven” definitely qualifies as “quite good”- to say the least).

However, as you might imagine, by the time I gave it up, I was not the same wide-eyed enthusiastic pupil I had once been.

The End

By my teen years, I was no longer listening to Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery for fun. Nope. It was more like NoFX.

I could no longer relate to the music I was playing. And I can honestly say that the last few years, I played less out of genuine passion than out of a sense of obligation. Nobody pressured me to stick with it. It was all self-imposed. But the pressure was there nonetheless.

My ‘Why’ had Changed and the Fire was Gone

Being a violinist was part of my identity. It was something I had done for so long. I worried that if I gave it up, I’d somehow lose myself. I remember feeling profound sadness at the idea of leaving behind something I had invested so much of myself in. It was really scary. I didn’t want to be a quitter.

But staying around didn’t feel honest anymore. It was no longer consistent with who I was as a person. Remaining with the violin felt like a lie.

I had to end it.

From One Stringed Instrument to the Next

So often we focus on what we leave behind instead of the possible adventures to come.

In the years after I quit the violin, I got really into the guitar. I formed a band that I was very serious about and taught myself web design, marketing and business to promote the band.

A few years in, I began taking jazz guitar lessons. I learned that there are not only keys, but “modes” and I started incorporating all of these sexy ninth chords into my music. I spent a summer studying at Berklee College of Music. It was one of the best summers of my life.

When the band fell apart, I did the solo thing, began learning about audio production and recording my own demos in my basement. I got pretty good at that too. I would have missed out on all of this, had I stuck with the violin.

Sure, I could have pursued both instruments. But I doubt I would have. I needed to stop viewing music as this thing I felt shackled to and did out of a sense of obligation.

I needed to reclaim music as my own, and it needed to be on my terms, in a form that I related to.

That required saying goodbye to the violin.

We Build on Past Skills (and even if we don’t, learning for learning’s sake is never a waste)

Did studying violin for twelve years help me pick up the guitar faster? You bet. Stringed instruments are not that different from one another. More importantly, all those years of music lessons developed my ear. For that, I am eternally grateful.

I no longer play much guitar. I cycled on over to graphic design and then film making. Now my art form of choice tends to be writing. But my years in a band taught me web design, audio production and business- all of which I’ve used repeatedly in various projects since (including Puttylike).

When Interests Reemerge

Some scanners have interests that cycle in and out. Mine rarely do. Or at least they tend only to reemerge in new forms. But maybe that’s what this is…

And so here it is:

For some odd reason, after eleven years of not wanting to touch a violin, I now feel the urge to pick it up again.

It might have to do with being in a new city. Maybe it’s a strange manifestation of homesickness- a longing for something familiar from my youth. Or maybe not.

Maybe there’s something about the violin that I do love. Maybe now that playing doesn’t represent obligation, it won’t be so painful. Maybe it’ll even be fun, like it was for many of those twelve years. Like it was when I was 3 years old, begging my parents for lessons.

***

Can You Relate?

Have you ever become so deeply involved in one thing, that you stuck with it longer than you should have? Have any of your interests reemerged years later, with new meaning?

28 Comments

  1. JR Tschopp says:

    I think it all comes down to the fear of letting go, which is something that applies broadly across many different spectrums of one’s life, and isn’t unique to just hobbies or interests. The things we hold on to can hold us back, much as you discovered initially with the violin. They become this mental weight, and half the time we’re not even aware of it. And again, that can be holding onto anything: friendships or relationships that are long over, material possessions sitting unused in storage, and yeah, even the things we used to do and like. But there’s an enormous sense of freedom in letting getting, if one can get over the fear that those things will be “lost.” Letting go isn’t about losing things – you’ve discovered this with the violin, as now you want to pick it up again, something that wouldn’t be possible if it were truly lost. It’s about not holding on, kicking off from the side of the pool and heading into the deep end to see what’s there. If you want to go back, you always have that option. But you’ll never truly swim while you’re hugging the wall.

    • Emilie says:

      Very nicely said, JR. You’re absolutely right. Letting go is hard, in any area. The only thing I would add (and perhaps this isn’t the best story to illustration this point), is that scanners go through interests more frequently than other people. So learning how to let go is extra important for us. But we’re lucky because we get a lot of practice with letting go, which in turn makes it easier.

  2. linda says:

    Wow, I can relate. I also played the violin. (It was flute and recorder beforehand!) I also learned to play guitar later on, a bit more inline with my personal musical interests at the time. And yes, it was easier because I had ear training and already knew how to read music. LOL.

    Although I can’t claim to have mastered any instrument really…I certainly found enjoyment in playing a few songs here and there. I also had the desire to write songs, but then other activities got in the way. Currently I have none of the instruments in my possession. But am I tempted to pick something up, whenever I pass by the big music shop in town. Very tempted to pick something up again, so I can play and sing…

    • Emilie says:

      I so hear you, Linda. Music is such a part of my personal and family history. I mean I had musicians on all sides, in every capacity.

      Occasionally I walk past a guitar shop and miss rocking out on stage with a band. But that’s not really one of my major passions right now. It’s always fleeting. And I’ve just got so much else going on.

      Who knows though, maybe that interest will reemerge in the future too. All I know is that right now, the urge to pick up the violin again is more than just fleeting. I already got my hands on one and have been dabbling with my old suzuki tunes. Feels incredible.

      Thanks for sharing, Linda. :)

      • linda says:

        Makes me wonder why certain hobbies revive themselves and others not. Going back to the ultimate question of if there is some natural tendency to want something to stick. Biologically are we meant to do one thing all our lives – if you look at athletes, they usually wear out their physical limits pretty fast. Guess this is a whole other topic and about biology and what it might say about our multi-potentialities…

  3. Cotton Candy says:

    Loved reading your violin story. =) It seems most multipotentialites are drawn to art or music (or both!) & many other creative pursuits. I wonder if any multipotentialites are drawn to ONLY “non-creative” subjects. (Though I think anything can be considered creative, so I mean things that are typically viewed as not creative such as math, history, or science.) I’m sure there are, I just notice many are interested in at least one (typically considered) “artsy” thing.

    • Emilie says:

      I too have noticed the art/music-multipotentialte connection. I wonder if it’s that kids who are encouraged to be artistic and use the right side of their brain at a young age are more prone to multipotentiality.. Or if multipotentialtes are just drawn to the arts.

      And yeah, I’m sure there are multipods out there who are more on the left-brain side of things. I haven’t met too many though. Most usually have at least one major interest in the arts.

      Even Einstein played the violin!

      Maybe multipotentialites are always “both side thinkers” so there’s got to be some arts in there? That’s my working theory. :)

      You totally got me thinking, CC. :)

      • Cotton Candy says:

        It’s certainly something interesting to consider. =)

        • Joshua says:

          Hey I know this is a super old post, but here’s a new comment! CC, I was just thinking about this, as I read a book called “A Whole New Mind” about how ‘right-brainers are poised to lead the world in the new era’ or something like that. Not sure if it’ll happen, but it’s great for right-brainers like me to read.

          Then the other day I happened upon this girl Vi Hart’s youtube videos that explain math in a totally engaging, right-brained way (namely visual, but also other ways)

          …or maybe her style is balanced between the two, (because it’s, uh, math) but either way, she is a genius at making things FASCINATING.

          Here’s an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahXIMUkSXX0&list=UUOGeU-1Fig3rrDjhm9Zs_wg

          (Hey Emilie, hope youtube links are ok on here! ; D )

          Not sure if Vi Hart is a multipotentialite, but I am certain that if all math classes had been taught this way, I wouldn’t have ignored math like I did.

  4. Cara Stein says:

    Oh hell yeah, this kind of thing happens a lot with me. I don’t even think of myself as having quit interests, just put them on hiatus–they generally seem to come back around later.

    I love the point about all the stuff you learn feeding into your later pursuits. That’s one of my favorite parts about being a blogger. The graphic design classes I took for fun, my experience on the school newspaper (reporting and layout), the web stuff, the business stuff I learned for my yarn business, the marketing and persuasion electives I took in college, programming, bookbinding, and who knows what else, mainly stuff I’ve done totally for fun, has suddenly been exactly what I needed to know. Woohoo!

    • Emilie says:

      Totally! That’s my whole “Renaissance Business” argument- that blogging/running a digital business lends itself beautifully to multipotentiality. Not only does it allow us to use many different skills on a consistent basis, but we can write about whatever interests we like as long as we’ve got a strong overarching theme. Perfect platform for scanners. Never gets boring. :)

  5. Lex Garey says:

    Oh, the violin always breaks my heart in the best ways.

    That aside, I totally relate to this. I got into all of this by being super interested in web design at 11 which got me into Photoshop as well. Later on (around 17) I got really into t-shirt design and screenprinting. That led me back to web design which took me to business and marketing. Which brought me where I am now. I’ve been recording music all the while.

    It’s amazing how organic the evolution of interests can be.

    Great stuff, Emilie!

    • Emilie says:

      Nice! You make another good point, which is that there’s often a logical progression to the different paths we end up taking. I went to film school, which led to an interest in copyright policy (something I already knew a bit about from my songwriting days), which led me to law school, where I took a class on the music industry and the assignment was to write a business plan. That led me to entrepreneurship and marketing and voila: here I am.

      Our interests are totally not as disjointed as they sometimes seem.

      Thanks, Lex! p.s. when’s the big move?

  6. Janet says:

    You should play violin on the streets downtown! I always loved hearing that. And dang yeah.. “Midway through Suzuki 7″. Respect! I only got to beginning/midway of book 5?
    But of course I never took regular lessons because my parents couldn’t afford that, and I wasn’t so dedicated at practicing and I COULD have gotten there if I wanted to. But yea yea yea. Metaphor for my life. Man.. I need to get more stuff done!

    Anyway, tangent.. Your cycle with music is pretty great and I love it! I love how reclaiming music for yourself meant saying bye to an old pastime to learn something else.. I also started selfteaching myself guitar around freshman yr. of HS but stopped playing around college. I got pretty decent with classical guitar and loved finger picking.. I never learned anything about recording though. That sounds fun! My one time experience with this was doing some improv violin for a local band in front of their mic. I signed up for this free gig through word of mouth from a friend, but I had no idea/didn’t realize that it would be improv and I’m such a classical stiff. I’m useless without sheet music!! So I was pretty mortified and ended up just catching the melody by ear and not playing much else..

    I still feel sadness when I don’t play violin anymore (which is more often than not and now going on 2+ years).. It’s something I definitely see myself playing I hope until I’m old.. To pick it up again, to join an orchestra again.. would be great!

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Janet,

      When you plant yourself back in Portland, you know, what’s gotta happen, right? Bach double. We’re so busting that out!

      I too can’t solo for the life of me. My sight reading is pretty lousy too, but that’s the suzuki method for ya. Heh.

      I actually heard that the Portland community music center has needs-based scholarships, so I’m hoping I’ll qualify (sometimes being in the “early phase” of self-employment has it’s benefits. :) and score some free/cheap lessons. They also offer chamber music- woo!

      Thanks for the comment. And you know, book 5 is pretty solid! :)

  7. Holli says:

    Love this post. Totally hear you on cycling through interests. I was really into drawing from age 3 to high school, then got bored and moved on to explore everything and anything I could get my hands on…and cooking at age 8. I’d learn a new a recipe and make it for a week. I outgrew that by age 10, and here I am today dreaming up recipes while falling to sleep, nearly 10 yrs later:)

    • Emilie says:

      Amazing. That’s so lovely, Holli.

      Maybe I’ll get back into crafting stories for all my toys and acting them out. Though I guess that’s sort of what screenwriting is… :)

  8. Emily Rose says:

    I do circle with my interests, I have so many that I don’t care to give up on, I just sometimes have MORE interest in something at one time then another time. I’ve done so many different types of visual arts, fiber arts, writing, design, etc. I’ve never been able to explain why I’m good at all of them and I like doing all of them, its just always been how I do things.

    I’m in the process of trying to find ways to do more then just a few things all in the same project, I have a feeling it will be interesting. Whether interesting means good or bad, who knows?

    ?

    • Emilie says:

      Very interesting, indeed. I love smorgasbord/mixed-media projects like that. I had a web design gig once where my client asked me to incorporate paint. Like actual paint. It was awesome. I hadn’t painted for years.

      Also, like Cara mentioned above, blogging seems to be one of those perfect scanner platforms, because it lends itself well to utilizing many different skills in one project. Have you found that to be true also?

      Thanks for the comment, Emily. :)

  9. Amanda says:

    I was JUST drafting a post about this last night!!! I used to play the piano as a kid (also Suzuki) but also lost interest by the time high school rolled around. I sometimes think I’d like to revisit it but a piano is nowhere near as portable as a violin and I’m not hoping to settle down enough to move pianos. And keyboards don’t cut it. And I did actually take some violin lessons for a minute when I lived in New York. Kinda loved it!

    I think there’s something to be said for having grown and learned some things, tried new things and ultimately re-realize what you like. Sometimes I get so distracted by new and shiny that I forget that I also still like some old and dull things too.

    • Emilie says:

      Heh funny coincidence.

      It sounds like you might want to give the violin a try again. You’re right, the portability aspect is pretty nice. And if you loved your few lessons, why not?

      I was thinking today about how I feel like I’m revisiting my childhood these days. It’s like, when you’re a kid, you’re encouraged to try a bunch of different activities and pursue even the faintest interest. I feel like that’s what I’m starting to do again. I think childhood is kind of like a multipotentialite’s dream.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Amanda.

  10. Ethan says:

    Great post, Emilie. As a fellow former Violinist who picked it back up I can definitely relate. The violin for me became a reminder of my imperfection. I studied for almost 15 years and had hit a major wall in terms of improvement. That’s when I put it down to learn guitar, drums, bass, mandolin, you name it.. Now when I come back to violin it feels like my home base. I know my way around the instrument and I think I will forever. Without violin as a foundation, I don’t think I’d be the musician I am today. Thanks for the reminder, and we DEFINITELY have to try a duet via skype!

  11. Gina says:

    Loved this post. Can definitely relate to falling in and out of love with hobbies. I have ridden horses since I was young and when I went to Korea I was pretty sad I’d have to give it up for an entire year. When I got back to the States I tried to get back into it, but for multiple reasons, it wasn’t working out at the moment.

    Now I’ve been taking Taiko drum classes and it’s amazing how many skills I developed riding horses that resonate with this as well. Makes me think there is a quality that has run through all my hobbies – riding, dancing, drumming that has attracted me to them.

    It’s nice when the seemingly disjointed correlations are actually clear sometimes. Good luck with the violin!

  12. Jeff Goins says:

    Indeed I can. Love how you’re being a voice to a community of artists who can’t decide WHAT to be good at. I am one of them.

  13. Olivia says:

    Wow this sounds a little like me. I did violin from when I was 4 til 14 and had to choose between getting serious in school band or my personal instrument. I still played, just stopped lessons. Stopped when my mom died at 15, picked up the guitar at 18, was alright. Now with financial troubles I picked the violin up out of storage and was going to sell it. My boyfriend asked me to show him about it…damn it allegro why did i have to remember you? Now I don’t know if I want to sell it. I’m looking at the guitar in one corner and the violin next to me. I actually just found this by asking should i get back into violin. Idk google I’m still thinking. This post helped me a lot though

  14. Kristen says:

    I know this is an old post, but this is an interesting story. I played the violin for 8 years, and I had a similar life as yours: I had private lessons, school orchestra, the local youth orchestra for three hours on Sundays, roughly 8-10 concerts a year, yearly contests–you get the idea.

    It was a large part of who I was, and I never–well, hardly ever–practiced. I was considered a “natural” at it, and I played “quite well.” However, I didn’t quite have a passion for it, it being the instrument; and I ultimately fought my parents before every week’s lesson. But I loved, absolutely loved the sound of the full orchestra/symphony and the feeling I got performing within that sound. I loved the complexity of the compositions I played and found myself memorizing all the parts for all the instruments during the practices. I had a passion for that sound which my peers mocked me for (and that didn’t help me enjoy the instrument any more).

    I quit when I was 17 and realized that although the violin connected me to this deeper passion of mine, I didn’t actually love the instrument. I loved the complexity of sound. It’s been five years since I quit, and I’ve only recently decided to do something about this genuine passion of mine, and now I’m slowly studying music theory on the side (as I have other creative projects going on as well) and intend to start composing my own music. Whether that’s going to be classical or some modified style (because I’m passionate about music in general), I have yet to decide, but it is interesting to see how a single foundation can open up so many different paths for people. :)

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