I’ve been an active performing musician for over four decades. I’ve performed all over the world on on several instruments in many different contexts. But my long musical career almost came to an abrupt end very soon after it first began.
I almost gave it all up and quit music altogether.
I was just four years old when I started my musical journey on my first instrument - the violin. I began studying the violin almost by accident. One day my mother asked me if I wanted to take violin lessons and I simply said “sure” without really thinking about it.
At that age I had no concept of what this would mean and there was no critical thinking involved. It seems some things are much simpler when you only four.
So I began taking lessons in the Suzuki method. This is a style of teaching that was specifically designed for teaching very young children and it works well. At least it did for me. I seemed to pick things up pretty quickly and apparently I had an aptitude for it.
I enjoyed the lessons which were conducted in small groups so there was a kind of social aspect. In addition to the usual Suzuki repertoire of simple melodies my teacher also had us play a lot of traditional fiddle tunes by ear which was a lot of fun.
This went on for a few years but then things started to change. My violin study began to get more serious. I had to learn to read music (not a requirement in the early stage of the method) and that was challenging for me. The lessons where now one-on-one; less social and more focused. The repertoire got harder so the expectations of practicing at home became greater.
The novelty of playing violin was quickly wearing off. It started to feel like just another one of my chores. I wanted much more to be passing time playing around with my friends, none of whom had any interest in doing anything musical much less ‘practicing’ anything.
Over a short period of time this all built up to make me decide that I wanted to quit the violin. It just wasn’t fun anymore.
I was anxious about telling this to my mother. My parents, grandparents and other relatives were always so proud of the fact that I played the violin. They would have me perform for them frequently and they often talked about how well I played.
I knew that my quitting would be a disappointment to my mom and no kid wants that. I thought she might angry at me for my decision.
When I finally told her I could tell she felt a little surprised. If she was disappointed she never said anything or let it show. Mainly she asked me questions in a caring and concerned tone of voice. Why did I want to quit? What difficulties was I having with my lessons? There was a complete absence of blame or recriminations.
I told her I just didn’t want to continue anymore. I was convinced I was done with the violin.
Then she said something that altered my whole trajectory. She said, “Why don’t you go to your lesson one more time and we’ll see how you feel after that and if you want to quit you can”.
Just go one more time. It seemed a simple enough request so I did. In fact I continued for a long time after that without complaint.
Since that day I never again thought of quitting music. Of course I picked up other instruments - guitar, bass, a little piano and mandolin. I even went on to play music for a living, but that’s another story altogether.
Something had changed. I began to understand that even when we are doing the things we love we hit plateaus. These are times that we’re not progressing as we want to or we’re not feeling the same joy as we used to. When this happens it doesn’t necessarily mean we should quit.
It might mean we have to keep at it one more day, try one more time, give yourself time to go with it a just a little longer. Then maybe even one more time after that.
Progression in any human endeavor is never linear. There are always peaks and valleys. I’ve experienced many a low point in my musical career but the difference now is that I understand they are just temporary and I remind myself of that great coaching my mom gave me so many years ago.
Just take one day at a time and keep going.