“Finally—first violin video in decades. Please do more.” This was a comment I received the first time I posted a video of my playing on my instagram page. While I have no doubt it was well intended, it really struck a chord (punny!) and left me feeling icky.
I have been playing the violin since I was three years old. I would be lying to myself if I said the journey has been incredible, 100% fulfilling, inspirational, beautiful, etc. I grappled with quitting several times and had to work through both physical and emotional battles to get where I am now—but I know I’m not a special case here. For nearly twenty years, my identity as a human was closely intertwined with how well I was playing the violin. This is not healthy or sustainable, and I’m sure any musician reading this has felt similarly. Since beginning my position in the St. Louis Symphony, I’ve thankfully had the chance to explore ways I can gently separate myself from my musical abilities. In other words, I’ve finally had time to get some hobbies. Instagram is one of them, and if you’ve spent any time on my page, you’ll see it is mostly an exploration of the slow and ethical fashion world (with dabblings of other life happenings like my dog and food). I do not post videos of myself playing, generally, and that boundary makes playing violin for hours every day feel fresh. I already perform several times per week, and if I “perform” more online, there’s a very real chance for burnout. I need to protect my relationship with music both for myself and for the audiences attending live performances, because I’m pretty sure they don’t love watching a jaded or uninspired artist. If you’re familiar with the phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” this is the concept I’m expressing. The comment I received not only felt like a strange command, but it also sent me into a mini-whirlwind of self-doubt. I felt myself thinking things like “am I not allowed to explore other areas of life? Am I expected to use my online presence to perform? Does this person think I am less of a musician because I enjoy doing other things?” There is an underlying sense of guilt I’m sure every musician feels any moment they’re not practicing/performing/etc, and unfortunately this comment played right into that insecurity. Everyone, musician or not, wants and deserves to enjoy the time away from their work (and not be judged for it!). This is one hell of a soapbox moment for one comment, but I was also inspired to touch on this issue when I read a short article in this month’s International Musician magazine on preserving mental health as a performer. In short, defining and preserving the time when you aren’t performing will make you happier and your performances better. Before signing off, I do want to clarify a few things: I am absolutely on board and excited to answer questions people have about music, symphony jobs, violin, music schools, composers, violin cases, rosin, the best kind of pencils on the market, weird facial expressions while performing and more. I am down to talk, but less down to post my playing. This is also not a commentary in any way on those who DO choose to post their playing on instagram. I think that is amazing, informative, impressive, and overall wonderful. I also am not irritated with anyone who’s ever asked me to post playing videos—I created this “article” because I totally get it and don’t want people feeling like I’ve ignored their requests. Finally, as an alternative, if you are someone who wants to see live classical music, please DM me so I can find a local performance wherever you are. We are all over the place, and we are nothing without our audiences. We need you in the seats!