Monday, April 30, 2012

Music

Okay, so you know how lately I find myself doing that thing where I sing and play the violin in the same song?

It happened again yesterday, and when I say "it happened" what I mean is that I ordered some vocal sheet music online expecting to do a vocal performance because someone asked me to, and as I practiced, there was a solo instrument part thrown in there randomly, like a big betrayal. But I'm pretty chill, and not easily offended by sheet music, so I thought, "cool, not a problem. I'll just do both."

But what I didn't count on was the fact that my brain has decided to become terrified of the violin. Like, seriously 100% I-might-die terrified.

Have you ever seen anything so terrifying in your life? Me neither.

I don't really understand what's happening to me.

Let me break down the irony of this for you.

I started playing the violin when I was 10 which, admittedly, is a little late, but now that I'm nearly 32 it means I've played for 22 years. (This is also evidence to the fact that I was the biggest nerd possible in my teenage years.) I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours practicing the violin during my youth. My parents, who weren't rich, let me take lessons for years. I was in symphonies, and went in tours. I was often a section leader in the groups I was in. I bought albums of the best players playing the best songs. I wanted to be really good. I cared. Violin was a big deal to me. I got a music scholarship, a talent award for violin, as I entered college, but then decided to major in English instead. But I was still in all the groups, and took lessons, and it was a huge deal to me, and I minored in music.

Not only that, but there's this really huge family legacy with the violin, too. My great grandpa played. My grandpa played. In fact, he learned how to make violins as well. Whenever I went to his house, I'd find him in his shop trying to perfect replicas of Strad and Guarneri (for the uninitiated, those are two old dudes who made really amazing instruments hundreds of years ago that now sell for millions of dollars and if I ever get to play one, I better not get all stage frighty and nervous because I'll be pissed, and also if I dropped it it would cost a LOT.)

What I'm saying here is that I have spent a lot of time practicing, obsessing, poring over violins and learning how to be a violinist. Probably my culminating moment was when I was asked to play a solo for my graduation at BYU. Me, the Marriott Center, and rows and rows of people. It went perfectly. As one might hope with how much I've put into it. Also I took drugs*.

Conversely, singing is something I decided to do as an afterthought. I have spent no time whatsoever cultivating my voice or learning any technique at all. As a senior in high school I offhandedly decided to join choir groups because I was bored and could read music and where I moved they didn't have an orchestra, and then I ended up winning the big choir award at the end of the year much to my surprise. I learned to do vibrato as a big joke, just goofing off. It was not something I took seriously at all.

And now it's the main thing I do. Most people who know me from church would probably say something like "oh yeah, Josh Weed sings. Oh, and doesn't he play some instrument too? Like the banjo?"

I kinda don't know what to think about this stuff.

Anyway the irony was never more pronounced than yesterday, where during this vocal performance I had to play literally two lines of very, very easy melody. We're talking this is no big deal. It's less than no big deal. I can breathe, therefore I should be able to do this. I haven't lost a finger to a hack-saw or had my neck excised in a freak accident, therefore I should not have a problem.

Yet, there was a problem.

It kind of sounded like I had learned how to scratch out a tune on a fiddle that I picked up for the first time last week and that I had decided to try it out for the first time in front of an entire church congregation. Or like a hive of buzzing bees had been disturbed and was now all vibraty, hovering above the audience, waiting to sting them. Except that makes it sound more compelling than it was. It was actually just... well, it sounded like poorly played violin, which if you know anything about violins and poor violin playing (any parent to a violin student should relate) you know that it is really really not beautiful. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite of beautiful.

So there I was singing a song like a vocal bad-a, not a care in the world, only to lift my violin, the treasured instrument I've spent years and years honing my skills on, and start FREAKING OUT because I suddenly had stage fright so bad my leg was shaking like it had a life of its own, and my vibrato was all weird and bouncy-sounding, and it was just really... awkward. For everyone. Mostly for my violin (which my grandpa made with his bare hands), who felt violated and cheapened by the experience.

Thankfully it was only two lines, and then I was back to singing, which, for whatever reason I'm totally comfortable with.

Why? Why is it that the thing that should come as naturally to me as breathing makes my brain all haywire and freaked out and makes my hands sweat and my legs tremble in fear, and the thing which is new and I have literally never had a lesson for or really practiced at all comes as naturally to me as if I were standing in front of a congregation taking a leak?

(Go ahead and visualize that one. It's an amazing image.)

"Wait, Lorna, is that man urinating on stage?" 

I don't know the answer. All I know is that next time you see me playing the violin, make sure to check my seat to see if there's any frightened urine-spatter you need to clean for me. Because I probably peed myself, is what I'm saying. Not because I decided to take a leak in front of an entire church congregation.

Because that would just be uncomfortable for everyone, except for me.

Don't you hate it when you write a blog post about music that you can't get to be funny enough and you feel like it's kind of sub-par, but then you have to post it because it's Monday and that's the day you post a blog post no matter what?

Yeah, I hate that too.

Oh well, it wouldn't be the first thing related to the violin that has been sub-par for me this week.

(Ba-dum CHING)


Passing the torch. She'll be a vocal star in no time!

*Not REAL drugs. Just blood pressure medication. Given to me by my surgeon uncle. To calm my nerves. Wait, maybe there is a hint here somewhere?

Photo attribution here and here

16 comments:

  1. Um, weird coincidence, but I'm pretty sure I have that same brown carpet in my house (if that first picture is, in fact, of your own home)

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    1. Okay, what's really weird is that, no, that is not a picture from my house--I found it online--but my next door neighbor had that carpet in their house all growing up. Seriously, the exact carpet. I hadn't noticed until you mentioned it. That's really weird. Or just a really popular carpet from the 80's.

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  2. I feel that way every time I play the violin in public. I'm sure it was beautiful, though. I've heard you play.

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    1. What is up with that? I don't get it. I went through a five or six year period after my mission where I was "cured" and playing in front of groups felt almost exactly the same as playing alone in my living room. But recently my brain decided it was 13 again, and that it was time to completely wig out because people were watching me. Kinda sad. I'd try to get over it, but then that would mean large groups of people would have to pay the price many times over, and I just don't have the energy.

      C'est la vie.

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  3. So strange! You did a good job on Sunday. I was moved.

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    1. Aw, shuckles. Thanks. (This was all a veiled attempt to hear those words, naturally. J/K)

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  4. I am highly offended by sheet music. It's just there, TAUNTING ME with it's strange symbols and stupid smug face. ( I obvi don't know how to read sheet music. It's Chinese to me.)

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    1. Yeah, sheet music can be pretty offensive. I find that I just have to take the high road a lot of the time. Que sera sera, as they say. When it comes to sheet music. (<---- Nobody ever says that about sheet music)

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  5. LOL. I enjoyed both the singing and playing. You didn't sound anything like a kid learning to play the violin..I know because I have one of those. If she swears the song is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star...but I don't recognize it should I just smile? (the problem is not her teacher, who, I've been told is an amazing violinist. ;))

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    1. Oops, I replied below, but forgot to press "reply" (again). Here's what I said:

      Aw shucks. Thanks! And yes, just smile encouragingly ;-)

      Also, you're awesome, Leslie.

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  6. Aw shucks. Thanks! And yes, just smile encouragingly ;-)

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  7. I feel your pain. I do not play the violin although I always wanted to. Piano was my instrument--well, that and flute, but primarily piano. Note I use the past tense. I started playing the piano at age 5. Learned to read music right along with learning to read English. LOL Anyway......long story short (sort of) I took lessons all the way through school. Played in recitals and church and school. Now I can't even play in front of my husband and son without shaking like a leaf from head to toe. I'm fine unless someone walks into the room. If that happens my hands start shaking like I'm going through the DT's and I can hardly touch the keys. Very annoying. Incidentally, I no longer own a piano so it's not much of an issue but it does bother me as to why that happened to me. :(

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    1. That's really interesting to hear. I wonder if simply practicing more (for me) would do the trick. It makes me feel better to know that the same thing has happened to others--how weird. It's so sad to know you can do something and make it sound beautiful, but not be able to show anyone. There's a weird irony to it all.

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  8. I love singing and took lessons and happily performed as a kid but I developed a lot of social phobias as a teenager, one of which was crippling stage fright. I've gotten a lot better with public speaking by learning a few tricks (like breathing through the panic and memorizing my talking points so I don't fumble with papers) but the nerves make my singing voice so shaky that I've had to give up performing. It's so odd because I'm actually really confident in my vocal abilities like you are with your violin. Why do our brains react this way? It's frustrating.

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  9. Maybe it's just because you expect so much from yourself? You feel like you have to be more than perfect because of all the schooling you've had and you have a reputation to uphold. Maybe you should just try relaxing and having fun; play for the love of playing and to show your love for the Lord, not for winning a Superior in festival.

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  10. So before I offer up my sage wisdom on the topic of soiling one's pants at the prospect of doing something so well-trained, I just want to say I am totally in love with you in a deeply jealous wish-I-could-be-as-funny-as-you kind of way. That was too many hyphens. The point is KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

    Now, speaking with total authority as an aspiring neuroscientist and brain expert, I'm going to hazard a guess that singing is something you feel no need to be good at because you've never had a lesson and therefore have no perceived expectations of greatness, whereas the violin is something at which you are supposed to be fantastic and for which you have a highly-trained ear (making it easy for you to pick out minute flaws). It's a really, really common phenomenon to choke when the expectations are high but breeze through more mundane performances, and yours would be a textbook case. There. You've been Neuroscienced.

    I'm sure you were totally, amazingly awesome. (And it sounds like other people agree.)

    Okay, I'm off to read MORE BLOG POSTS!

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