Sunday, February 25, 2007


I like the image my son Wes, a senior at CIM, used to describe his typical week of viola practice. He said that although things were going well, he felt like he had at least ten nails to hammer down. No sooner does he get one nailed down, and another needs hammering. Somehow all ten nails never seem to stay down! Some facet of technique always works its way loose and needs renewed attention. I'm thinking, "Welcome to the business. Welcome to life!"

I wonder if anyone ever gets all the nails down permanently. Rather than a discouraging reality, I see this as a positive. Talking with Serge Nakariakov after his rehearsal of the Arutunian Concerto with our orchestra, the first thing he said was how he needed to practice a few passages again. We thought he had played flawlessly, but he had noticed a couple of nails that demanded his attention.

A colleague once described the futility of ever perfecting it all. He said technique-maintenance is like forever fixing a wobbly table. You sand down one leg, and the next wobbles. The only time the table no longer wobbles is when all four legs are completely gone. Then you retire!

At school, students have lengthy lists and assignments that, although necessary, seem rarely to get finished. Accepting the reality of an endless job somehow relieves a lot of the pressure and anxiety. Nobody is perfect, and even those who seem to have it together wouldn't agree.

The reality is that the nails must definitely be attended to, but not obsessed over, and certainly not avoided. My advice for those who plan to make a career of it: start pounding and get used to it!

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