Rebecca Raney - The Reckless Violinist

My Month with Mozart: A Respite from Disaster

Published over 2 years ago • 3 min read

January was awful.

The soundtrack: Hissing and howling, broken only by the heavenly melodies of Mozart.

The month started with the uncomfortable decision to send a child to school during a COVID surge, just after he had recovered from major surgery.

It continued with a barrage of traumatic messages, delivered daily, about the child’s COVID exposures at school.

It peaked when I went to pick up COVID tests, and my car – purchased less than a year ago – was broadsided in an intersection.

I stepped out onto the street after the wreck, dazed but not hurt.

No, the world was saying. That sense of control that you wanted? After vaccination against COVID and the child’s successful surgery? It would not be returning. Not this month, anyway.

Instead, you will hear hissing and howling. That will be the soundtrack for the month.

The hissing came from the car’s side-curtain airbags after the crash.

The howling came from the wind storm. A week after the car wreck, gale-force winds blew steadily at 70 mph. We took cover in a protected room at the back of the house as debris pummeled the walls. The city has been declared a disaster area.

* * *

Of course, in January, I heard a heavenly soundtrack as well. Throughout the month, I retreated into the practice room to work up Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto. To play the concerto, you must maintain strict control to produce a sound of joy.

I’ve been surprised to realize that during practice, I am calm. I become cloistered in a world of finger position and bowing zones, and my mind is quiet. During practice, the car wreck, the COVID hysteria, the howling wind, and the fears about my child’s health all go away.

During my teens, my teachers, with their untamable ambitions, had robbed me of that respite.

Last fall, the Third Violin Concerto landed in my lineup mostly as a joke. It was the piece that all the hotshot players in elite student orchestras would flout during warmup.

For me, it was fertile ground for a video with the Audition Coach, an alter ego who pushes the principles of vicious competition.

This month’s video covers how to challenge your rivals for position:

Much to my surprise, the 3rd concerto fell under my fingers, almost effortlessly, this piece that my teachers would have never risked with a student who had no time to make the level of commitment that they demanded.

That’s why I keep scripting videos in the voice of the Audition Coach.

The Audition Coach is not popular; these videos will never travel far. I started making them because I was disappointed by the small readership for my first essay in the Reckless Violinist series ("Everything I Know, I Learned from My Violin Teachers"). I wanted to reach a larger audience for the themes in the essay.

Once I started making the videos, I experienced deep catharsis in mocking the cutthroat directives that robbed me of any enjoyment in musical training. It felt great.

I’m purging the sense that for someone like me, who grew up with no money and no family support, you have to monetize and weaponize every skill you have.

Also, the videos have reached an audience that’s many times greater than the audience for the original written essay.

In addition to “Death by Mozart,” I produced two violin skills videos in January. The first one, on how to play Mozart in tune, crackled; it was shot before the car wreck.

The second one, on bowings, surprised me.

I shot it the week after the car wreck.

It was also the day before a test for another medical issue that has cropped up with my son. I didn’t feel like shooting a video. I thought it would be awful. Then, much to my surprise, it turned out well.

That, to me, was the biggest lesson of the month: It’s not how you perform when you’re on. It’s how you perform when you think you can’t do one more thing.

I’ve learned that lesson before, when I was working to pay for my food and clothing, while my teachers were pushing me to compete at a high level.

The video showed me that, even under duress, I might be getting the hang of this video thing.

I can still connect with the camera, and I can still offer strategies to tackle a hard task – even if I would rather collapse under a weighted blanket.

I’ve learned something this year.

Rebecca Raney - The Reckless Violinist

Respectable journalist. Terrible waitress. Reckless Violinist. Noir novelist. Longtime contributor at The New York Times. Sign up to follow my cross-platform project about money, merit and music in the turmoil of America.

Read more from Rebecca Raney - The Reckless Violinist

Three years ago, still in the throes of the lockdown, I had my first contact with the music world in many years. I was picking up my violin from the shop, where it had undergone a complete resurrection, and a woman in a Subaru started honking and yelling at me in the parking lot. Oh my God. It was a violinist. “You can’t go in there!” she screamed. “You have to have an appointment. You HAVE to HAVE an appointment!” I yelled right back. “I DO have an appointment, for God’s sake! Jesus Christ.”...

6 months ago • 5 min read

I’ve always believed that violinists would make excellent criminals, because every time you play something well, you’ve committed the perfect crime. The difference between playing a note right and playing a note wrong happens in a matter of a millimeter. No matter how effortless it looks, a performance is never effortless. If all goes well, you feel as if you’ve gotten away with murder. I'm back to plotting those crimes again, every Thursday night, with a group of peers. Somehow, I stumbled...

7 months ago • 3 min read

Good afternoon! I’m happy to report that I’m still playing the violin. But I’m definitely pursuing my playing in a way that my teachers would not have liked. Earlier this year, I abandoned plans to dissect two of the major violin concertos – the Khachaturian and the Mendelssohn. If I had pushed forward with the plan, it would have been a very “Juilliard method” thing to do. However, I’ve got more serious obligations than a 15-year-old phenom, so I’ve had to take this project off-road a bit....

almost 2 years ago • 1 min read
Share this post