Putting myself out there again…violin edition.

An accurate representation of where my violin fits into my life right now…on top of a pile of disorganized other stuff.

I’ve been eaten by anxiety since my summer symphony ended about a month ago. This was approximately my 15th season in summer symphony, which I’ve participated in most years since 1999, and it was a great one. Most summers, I play at “survival level” – which is to say I play as musically as possible while hitting somewhere of upwards of 75% of the notes in the back of the 2nd violin section. I’m also kinda shy, and pretty insecure about my survival level ability, so I don’t really talk to other people in the symphony beyond small talk about the weather and work, and “do you play in another group during the year?” And since *I* don’t play in another group during the year, the number of people I actually know in the symphony is limited to those who I see every year, only in the summer, only for this symphony. But for some reason, this summer’s experience, repertoire, and people made me smile and feel like a musician again.

I stopped singing in a choir during the year about 5 years ago, mostly due to the fact that my son-to-be was sitting on my diaphragm and I really could not breathe, nevermind sing. However since his birth, I haven’t been able to prioritize choir or music in the time-negotiations of daily life with a kid. The only time I get to feel the pull of creating music with others is for the few weeks of summer symphony.

Summer symphony, 2009. We got to play at the Hatch Shell and I was GEEKED.

So for some reason, the high of the summer symphony experience got me hoping that maybe I could actually audition for a group and join them for this upcoming year. Someone actually said, “you’ve been playing in this group, I’m sure it will be fine…” and I said to myself, “yeah! It will be fine! I can do this if I put my mind to it and actually do some practicing!”

Me, New England Music Camp, Summer 1994 – I was actually in the 1st violin section

So…a bit about my audition history. I auditioned for summer symphony in 1999. The last group I played in before summer symphony is my high school orchestra and youth orchestra…in 1995. Summer symphony does not have re-auditions, so by the grace of George (the conductor) I have been allowed to quietly bulk up the back of the 2nd violin section for a large number of years, without lessons, much practice, or general improvement or accountability. Sometime, maybe in the late 2000s, in a rush of misplaced confidence, I tried out for a couple groups. I got super nervous and totally block-fingered one of my auditions after hearing people in the warm-up room (and I imagine the audition committee crossed off my name before I even got out the door). I was conditionally accepted into a different group (they told me to PLEASE practice my music – how embarrassing for me), but Sunday night rehearsals were impossible to swing.

I now have committed myself to 2 auditions this year – one on September 8th and one on September 10th. I’ve actually spent the last month practicing 20-40 minutes a day (more or less) in some broken up sessions to get a piece up to (80%) speed and some excerpts.


I have practice sessions when I feel like all will be well. I’m walking in with a less-challenging concerto movement, but it will be fine because I have really developed better musical expression through my summer symphony experiences. The time that George spends telling us to play as musically as possible, mistakes included, has not been lost on me, and I feel like I see music differently, more deeply than when I last auditioned in 1999. I have been practicing, and the skills are shaping up again.

All these pencil marks used to mean something.

And there are other days, many days, where I just want to crawl into a hole at the sheer sloppiness of my technique. Like I need some miracle or last-minute lessons to remind my fingers and arms to translate what I hear in my head. Like I’m going to be laughed out of the room for bringing some Suzuki Book 3-type piece to the big leagues. Like every out of tune note is a hopeless sign that I am a poseur trying to hang with real musicians.

Choral auditions feel different to me. For the most part, I can deliver SOMETHING that sounds passable, I have a large range, I have some musical sense, and I can sight-read fairly well (for choral music). I know that I can blend well with a group, and I don’t walk in feeling terribly nervous. I have also never had formal training in classical voice, so maybe it’s because ignorance is generally bliss.

With these orchestra auditions, I think the most difficult thing is that I have no perspective and no recent experience with which to form perspective. I don’t know the caliber of the groups I’m auditioning for. I’ve watched videos of the groups, and I’ve thought, OK, I can play that music. We play challenging things in our summer symphony (and I’ve been told that you can’t tell that I’m not playing all the notes, you hear that, mom??) But I’m terrified that I’m just going to walk into the warm-up room and be greeted by real musicians while I plunk out some mediocre-sounding Twinkle Twinkle Little Star equivalent.

I’ve reached out to my high school stand partner – he’s given me some solid “get back into it” advice over Facebook, which I really appreciate. I wish he were closer so I could ask him to listen to this underconfident wreck I’ve become and just tell it to me straight how bad this is about to be. I’ve thought about finding someone to give me a lesson or two in this last month — a lesson in super hard truth — but it’s not enough time to build that kind of relationship with a new teacher. (My last lessons were also in 1995.)

Me and my high school stand partner in 1995: he kept playing violin…I did not…really…keep up…

The family has been somewhat supportive – if this is all successful, we are going to make Monday night rehearsals work for us, probably at the cost of going to the gym more regularly. The husband doesn’t like to be in the same room when I’m practicing, which is understandable, but doesn’t really help me in the confidence department. On the other hand, the practice hasn’t bothered my son…and while I wasn’t looking, I heard him plunk out a C-major scale on the piano this summer, holding the tonic just like the scales I’ve been practicing.

My dad, myself, and my brother, in our prime. Did I say prime? I think I meant PERM. Or maybe I meant “pajamas”.

I wanted to drop a confidence confession into my blog before auditions happened partly because I was hoping for 1) an exorcism of these unproductive doubts, and 2) to capture this rare feeling of putting myself out there again…like having a crush after forgetting what it’s like to actually love something, and now just hoping that these feelings are reciprocated. I’m not sure I’ve achieved either of those things with this post, but wish me luck.