Confessions of a Classical Musician

I play the viola in an orchestra for a living. I have spent countless hours toiling away at scales, and excerpts, and etudes in my life. I would say that I am a fairly average professional musician in terms of practicing. I don’t love it, but I’m willing to do it, and when necessary, I don’t mind practicing my ass off.

Here’s a dirty little secret of professional musicians: almost everyone I know practices from time to time with the television on. We try not to make a habit of it, but it happens. The very best television for practicing is sports, because you can watch it on mute. (I never practice with the sound on, but from time to time I’ll switch on the closed captioning and watch a sitcom or something.) Sports are compelling enough to entertain the wayward practicer, but they have no literal narrative to follow, so they don’t require too much mental focus. You can look away from a hockey game for several minutes, and then after a quick score check, you’re right back on track when you return.

Tonight I was going to skip the game altogether. I was really in the dumps after the Ottawa game, and I just didn’t want to subject myself to the torture of another loss. I was all set to head to the grocery store, when I realized that what I really wanted to do was some lesuirely practicing. I’d never attempted to practice during a Sabres game before, mostly because I’m too involved with the action to get anything done, viola-wise. So, it was with extreme caution that I turned the channel to the game and hit mute. I promised myself that if the game started to upset me, I would turn it off right away.

It was great! The combination of the Sabres winning handily, and slow intonation work made for a delightful evening. I managed to remain somewhat detached throughout the game, and I had a really good practice. Everybody wins! I’m definitely going to try this again because a.) they WON when I was only sort of paying attention to them, and b.) at no point did I feel like I was going to die from the stress of the game, and c.) I actually got a lot of work done.

Thanks for winning tonight Sabres!

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4 Responses to “Confessions of a Classical Musician”


  1. 1 Sam November 17, 2007 at 12:15 am

    I can’t practice with a hockey game on, but I’ve never been sure whether this is because I’m too involved in the action, or because almost all hockey games occur at night, and I am almost exclusively a daytime practicer.

    Baseball, on the other hand, is perfect for practicing, because even if you get hung up on a brutal passage that occupies your entire attention for a few minutes, you’re statistically unlikely to have missed anything once you check back in with the game.

    I find football good to practice to as well, but that’s just because I couldn’t possibly care less about football, and I find hugely fat men in spandex to be amusing.

  2. 2 Jonathan November 17, 2007 at 11:34 am

    I should have added practicing on my list of things to do, rather then watch the game. Even if they had lost, you would have felt fine, since you would have gotten something done during it.

  3. 3 Heather B. November 17, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Hey, Kate, did you see that last night was Toni Tony Tony Lydman Playlist Night?

  4. 4 elise November 17, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    hey kate, an added benefit: if the game is close and scary, you get practice playing when nervous. Red Sox/Yankees games used to be perfect for this. that is, until the Yankees started sucking. p.s. what happened to arpeggios during Veronica Mars? i’m going to try that one…


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