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Rebecca Raney - The Reckless Violinist

Finding Joy in Difficult Times

published4 months ago
2 min read

Good morning!

At this moment, it feels like we’re living in a constant state of national mourning in the United States.

We mourn our lost children, we mourn our sense of progress, and we mourn the shared values that once made this nation seem undefeatable.

For me, the larger losses of society are compounded by personal loss.

After my son’s surgery in December, doctors discovered that his underlying medical condition is far more serious than anyone had thought. Three months after the diagnosis, I still wake up in the morning and think, “Good morning. Your child has a horrible disease.”

The only known treatment for the disorder is available in clinical trial, and the only way to get it is to go to the East Coast. In the next few years, we’ll be making dozens of cross-country trips to participate – if we can get the child to cooperate, which is not guaranteed.

Yet even under this level of duress, I wondered: How can I keep playing the violin?

When I quit playing in the ‘90s, it was an easy decision to make. My career required 80-hour work weeks, and I had to quit to maintain my livelihood.

This time, having gone through the horror of picking up the instrument after 25 years and finding that I could not play a single note, I’m not willing to relinquish it. Playing again has felt like a magical power, and to lose it would compound the grief.

Also, playing has become a sort of enforced escapism.

Once you shut off the demanding voices of violin teachers, focused practice sessions can drive out intrusive thoughts. Maybe that’s why Thomas Jefferson played every day.

Even more important: In the last year, I’ve learned that I no longer have to play to win. The contests are over! I can just play. And you know what? There's great value in playing happy songs -- like the joyful theme from Franz Schubert that I worked up in May.

I have always believed that the great virtuosos are forced to live in glass cages to tune out the noise of the world.

Ukrainian pianist Anna Federova performs the 2nd Piano Concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff in Amsterdam in 2013.

On some level, I believe I could never have considered pursuing a musical career, because I kick up too much gravel to maintain a glass cage.

That said, here’s my plan to keep playing:

I’ll run a maintenance program of scales, études and songs that I love. I’m scaling back my larger ambitions, which included dissecting the Khachaturian and Mendelssohn violin concertos.

I’m not up for the Great Concertos right now. And I don’t have to be!

There’s a surprisingly large audience on YouTube for violin practice videos, so I’ll record and post practice guides. It's a great accountability tool, and the camera, I have learned, can keep you sharp.

This month, I worked up a theme from Schubert, who merges the lightness of Mozart with the structure of Beethoven.

For his Fifth Symphony, he wrote the happiest melody in the world.

In working up the piece, I figured out the key to playing with joy:

First you have to loosen up. And then – yes – it’s all in the wrist.