On being a musician

There’s a fundamental, inescapable contradiction in the experience of being a professional musician. It involves a certain conflict between the two worlds we spend most of our musical lives in. One of these worlds is practice. The other, performance.

When we practice, our goal is to learn to play whatever music we’re working on as well as we can. In order to do that, we need a very exacting approach; we spend our practice time insisting to ourselves that every shift must be smooth, every note in tune, every rhythm accurate, every bow change clean. It’s a neverending process of trying to meet our own expectations, while at the same time always raising those expectations so we can never reach them. While that’s going on, we also work on improving our ear’s ability to hear details in the sound we’re creating, so that we notice even more aspects of our playing that need improvement. It’s a bit like running a marathon, but one that has no finish line.

When performing, however, we have to let all of that go. We need to flip a switch in our minds and play with full confidence, letting any imperfections slide by as if they weren’t important. Of course, we still need to be engaged in what we’re doing, so it’s not accurate to say we play as if we don’t care how things turn out, but there is a bit of a “let it be” quality to it all. I imagine it’s similar to the experience of being in the Westminster Dog Show — the human’s experience, not the dog’s. Spending all those hours meticulously training your dog to do all the things that dogs are expected to do at dog shows and then hoping the dog actually does them when the time comes is a fair approximation of what it’s like to be a professional musician. Sometimes, things go wrong. Sometimes, a dog’s gonna dog.

It can be a difficult change to make, moving between the perfectionism of practice and the unpredictability of performance, but that challenge is a big part of what makes playing music such a satisfying experience.

A little about me

I’m a professional violist living in the Baltimore, Maryland, area. A performer of both orchestral and chamber music, I’m the Assistant Principal Violist of the Allentown Symphony in Pennsylvania, and I’ve also performed with many other orchestras, including the Baltimore, Fort Worth, Singapore, and Annapolis Symphonies. My musical travels have taken me to many places, such as Singapore, Canada, Cameroon, Mexico, and even New Jersey.

I have extensive experience as an educator, primarily as a teacher of viola and violin lessons. My students have been young and old, beginning and advanced, hobbyists and aspiring professionals. Institutions I’ve attended for my own education include the Peabody Conservatory, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the Aspen Music Festival.

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