The Olympics are Good For Me, Part 2

Okay, only one more ponderous Olympic/viola post, I promise! Then I SWEAR it’s right back to HONKing and general pommerdoodling. I will be getting very Olympic oriented around these parts over the next few weeks, but I swear to Lindy Ruff my blogging will mostly be about cute archers (could such a thing exist?) and bitch-faced rhythmic gymnasts (they’re a dime a dozen).



I am a big picture kind of gal. An “ideas girl”, if you will. I think big. I’m a dreamer. Some might call me flighty, but I prefer whimsical. My approach to the viola has always reflected my big-picture-iness. I have never had any trouble finding inspiration. A pretty sunset, falling in love, falling out of love, growing up, a kind gesture from a stranger, a sad clown. Whatever. These things, and everything else, serve as my motivation to play music. I’m fruity like that.

The trouble is, playing the viola is hard. Playing the viola requires a lot more than just my deeply felt fruity feelings. It requires practice, and lots of it. Playing the viola requires hours and hours of meticulous, clinical practice. It’s very annoying and it has almost nothing to do with the beautiful sunset that inspired me in the first place. It’s like, “Hey, do you want to express the soaring love that sunset made you feel? Okay. First go practice e minor scales for a few days.” Buzzkill, dude.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Professional classical musicians don’t really like practicing anymore than you did when you were a little kid. Okay, maybe we don’t hate it quite that much, but for the most part, we avoid it just as much as anybody else. Practicing is hard, it’s seldom fun, and it’s frequently boring, but it must be done. I never have any trouble finding motivation to play music, but I often have a hard time motivating myself to practice.

While I am prone to practice avoidance, every once in a while I get into a good groove, and practicing starts to feel healthy and good. The only thing I can compare this to is when I get into the rhythm with exercising and I start to look forward to going to the gym. (Yeah, I know. It’s not exactly the normal state of affairs, but it happens.) Of all the things that I have ever encountered in all the world, nothing motivates me to practice like the Olympics. Nothing. Every two years I wind up practicing scales and arpeggios for HOURS with the television on mute while watching little girls whip around the balance beam, or strapping men zip around a swimming pool. Scales and arpeggios are like the musical equivalent of sit-ups. They don’t require a ton of focus, but the benefits of doing them are immediate.

For some reason, seeing high level performers in a field that is similar to mine (but not at all the same), helps me to approach my practicing from a new angle. Just like the viola, all sports involve a carefully cultivated technique, and while I tire of thinking about my own technique, I’m inspired by the sterling technique of others. For a few weeks during the Olympics, I take a more athletic approach to the viola and I relish the chance to do “drills” and “races”. No other sporting events make me feel this way.

Perhaps it’s the temporary aspect of the Olympics that I find so appealing from a musical standpoint. Every two years, for two weeks, I attend viola boot camp and I get myself back into combat shape. Right now I am flabby and tired, but by the end of the month I know I’ll be a hard bodied, viola playing machine. (And by “hard bodied” please know that I really mean, “I’ll be able to play very fast, clean scales.” My smooshy physique stays- Olympics or no.) Sometimes, what my viola playing needs most is a little less “whimsy” and a lot more “precision”. I know I can count on the Olympics to create the precious motivation I need to practice scales.  Soon, thanks to the Olympics, I’ll have all the technique necessary to fully express my fruitiness.  The next time I see a pretty sunset I’ll be ready to swing into action, viola-wise.


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