During the summer of 2019, I went to my very first and- to this day- my last orchestra camp. I have not gone to one again in the past 3-4 years, and most likely will not ever again. That summer camp left me with a bitter resentment towards myself and my instrument that I was determined to change.
I’ve been playing the violin for almost 9 years now; so since I was 5 years old. The violin has always been the sole instrument I loved and wanted to play. Today, I’m not sure what exactly drew me to this particular instrument, but I can say that it was something I was dead set on. I still remember my first lesson and the amount of joy I had when playing it. As soon as I got home I started practicing. Despite only knowing how to play open-string rhythms I felt excited. It was my instrument. My violin, and I was playing it. Over the course of my lessons I started to play notes. Basic rhythms and melodies from my beginner’s book. I eventually had my very first recital. My piece was the classic, “Twinkle Twinkle”. I think I was last to perform and I remember how nervous I was. I remember holding a paper with the names of students performing unfamiliar pieces and listening to the faint sound of music. Eventually it was my turn. Just as it started, it was over. It was, really, a wonderful moment in my life. I don’t remember my performance details, but I remember feeling proud and accomplished that day. I continued to improve as a musician and I grew with my instrument. I remember each time I got a bigger instrument and how I preferred certain cases over others. I remember my practice sessions and how my teacher would convince me to practice with musical bingo. This continued until our move in 2016.
Texas was different than the Ohio I had grown up in. Over the course of getting settled, we also had started looking for a violin teacher for me. I’ve had at least 10 different violin teachers from the time I first started up to now. More than half of those come from 2016-2019. Each teacher had a different way of teaching and a different reason we couldn’t continue with them. One was too far away, another was constantly late. One of them left and a different teacher took their place. A different teacher left a year or so after I joined and was then replaced twice. The second time was the last teacher I had before I started middle school. Over these years I grew distant from my instrument. I lost all joy in playing it. It became more of a burden when I had violin lessons than an opportunity to learn. I never practiced or even touched my instrument anytime other than during lessons. I never learned during that period. I remember that before I moved I had just started learning how to use my 4th finger on the instrument. After the move, not a single teacher ever taught me how to use it. I couldn’t even tune my own instrument. No one had ever taught me how to. I always gave it to my teacher and waited until they were finished. Now, not all my teachers were bad. Some of them actually taught me things to improve my musical abilities. But due to the constant switching I never was able to continue those things. 5 years into playing my violin, I still had the skills of a beginner. Maybe even worse than I did when I first started. I never realized it or even felt the need to do anything about it. That all changed during the summer of 2019.
A very good friend of mine has been playing the violin since she was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Not as long as I have, but much, much better than I am. Even though I’ve heard her play for over 4 years, she never fails to amaze me with her skills. She’s an excellent musician and is remarkable. When we first became friends we found out we have a common interest: playing the violin. She invited me for this string camp over the summer to which I was really excited for. There were a few problems though. One, I had a brand new instrument. I had gotten a bigger violin a few weeks prior to the camp and I did not know how to play it. I was still playing with tapes and could not even accurately play a note without them. I was grateful that my friend’s teacher offered to put them on for me when I brought her some tape. Even still, I couldn’t play. Two, the music was difficult. Looking over the string music makes me laugh. The pieces are quite easy and very simple to play. Back then the music frightened me. I couldn’t play or even understand the basic melody at all. It took time for me to even process where we were or what was happening each time we rehearsed. I had to fake every second of it. The camp was a week long- Monday to Friday- and we had a performance Friday afternoon. For 5 whole days, my life was like hell. Each day I went was a feeling of dread. I constantly asked my parents to let me skip or to quit.
The key memory I have from this was when we had individual sectionals. Each day, after rehearsal all together, we would practice with our individual section. It was the day before our performance. We had a chair test. Everyone had to play a few measures from the given piece, and they would determine which seat you had. Before it started I had told our teacher that I was new and might play at a slow speed. She assured me it was fine and to do my best. So there I sat, maybe 4th to play, anxiously waiting for my turn. My heart was pounding rapidly and my palms were becoming sweatier by the second. It was finally my turn to play. I had heard the previous kids play and I was terrified. I was shaking as I held up my instrument and tried to play. I looked at the page and placed my fingers down. I played one note and that’s it. I couldn’t comprehend where to place my fingers after that or what the next note was. I didn’t know how to play at all. That moment was the most humiliating moment of my life. I could feel all eyes on me as I struggled. I was too overwhelmed and burst into tears. The teacher just silently patted me on the back and told me to go get my performance shirt. I can only imagine what they all through as I walked out. Perhaps ridicule or maybe pity. I don’t even know how I managed to go back there with everyone else after what happened. I was placed last for my section. It gave me the benefit of being hidden so no one knew if I was faking or not, but also showed how poorly I must have done to get that chair. The day during the performance was really the only time I could lighten up. I felt happier solely because it was almost over. We were the second group to play, so while the first was warming up the rest of us were in the audience chatting. I sat with my friend and her other friend. Like my friend, the other girl was remarkable at playing. A piece of advice she gave me when taking was, “Don’t be lazy like me when practicing.” At that time I could only feel frustration and annoyance. Looking back, I can assume she may have only meant well and was being nice. But given the circumstances, I thought she was ridiculing me for my poor performance and was comparing it to herself.
After that performance I only hoped to not go to another string camp again. I never did, but I faced the reality of being in a school orchestra. I started middle school in Concert Orchestra, Second violin, last chair. It was a relatively small orchestra but it was still disappointing. Compared to the Symphonic Orchestra my friend, and a violist in our grade we knew, was in, or the Chamber Orchestra with breathtaking students, Concert was a sad sight. I dreaded 7th period Orchestra every day until I faced the reality: I had to improve. The benefit of a school orchestra is the option of private lessons. They had different PL teachers you could learn from and that was like a dream. The teacher I started with- in middle school- was strict but also wonderful. Immediately on my first day she helped me improve in so many ways. She helped me relax when playing, produce a better sound, tone, and actually play. I remember going home that night and showing my parents what I learned. They were impressed, and more than that, I was overjoyed with this new revelation. The once put out fire I had for learning my instrument started to rekindle again. From that day, I started practicing everyday. I dedicated at least 30 minutes each day to my instrument. As soon as I got home, I would unease and start playing. Over the course of that year, so many things happened. One, I actually learned how to turn my instrument. The one thing I had never been suggested was a tuner. I got my first tuner and learned how to tune my instrument by myself. My days of anxiously asking an adult to tune it for me were over. Two, I moved up. In less than 4 months I moved up from second violin last chair, to first violin second chair. I remained as a first violin from that point and continued to grow. Three, I got my final PL teacher. The teacher I currently learn with has been teaching me for almost 4 years now, and I could not be more grateful for her. She has helped me learn and improve in so many more ways in these 4 years than I ever could have in the past. My goal from that year was to make it into Chamber Orchestra. The Orchestra I could only dream about. I finally did that next year, and was still in it the year after that. I went through a few auditions in that period. I auditioned for Region last year and made it. I auditioned for FWYO Philharmonic Orchestra, twice, and even though I haven’t gotten in yet, I still feel determined to try again. I auditioned and got into Camerata Orchestra in my high school Orchestra. (The highest a freshman can audition for) The progress I made form that state to now is something I’m proud of. Even though, today, I may not be the best in my Orchestra, I’m still improving. From the beginning of the school year to now I’ve improved and still am. This is what matters most to me.
We’re currently playing Carmen by Georges Bizet. When we first got this piece I could only gulp nervously and play softly. But now I can play this piece. I can play in the “stratosphere”- as my director likes to call it- and I can play the main themes well. For the other students it may not seem like a big deal to play Carmen, but for me, the fact I can play a piece of this difficulty and play it with my peers at a crazy fast performance speed makes me proud. Considering where I started 3 years from now, I can only feel determined to work harder to improve more. My next goal is to get into high school region, and to make it into our high school Chamber Orchestra. When they first played during our Fall Concert, I decided I wanted to be part of that orchestra. It was middle school all over again. They were truly breath-taking, and I want to be part of that one day. I also want to perform music as complex, beautiful, and wonderful as they did, and play to amaze a crowd like I was that day. I may not be the best right now, but given the previous results, a little determination- and practice- can go a long way.
Not just for violin, but for any other setback I’ve had in my life. I’ve realized that determination and hard work is what it takes to reach the top. No matter what, that’s the key.