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Rebecca Raney - The Reckless Violinist

Two Years of Music, Success and Sorrow

Published 10 months ago • 3 min read

Good morning!

It feels like many years have passed since the depths of the lockdown, when I decided to turn long hours of seclusion into an opportunity to play the violin again.

In that time, I learned to play, and I recovered a great deal more: A lost identity, and a pathway through tragedies to come.

Two years after starting the project, as I struggle to make a plan for what to do in the next few years, I’m discovering a hard truth:

Nearly every ensemble can use another violinist, but practically no one wants another reporter.

When I started this quest, I was thinking mostly about keeping my skills current. In three decades of navigating upheaval in media markets, I emerged with fewer prospects after every economic crash. During the lockdown, I knew that I had to keep working, even if the work didn’t pay.

With this project, I would add a new skill – video production – and I would effectively run a cross-platform magazine. When the pandemic was over, I would have something to show for that time.

I would also learn to play the violin again, a worthy outcome in itself.

Just how worthy, I’m starting to see.

After one year, I was playing as well as I had played as a first- or second-year college student. I worked up a serviceable rendition of Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto. It surprised me; even after an obsessive drive to get my fingers back, I had not expected to play so well.

However, shortly after I produced my one-year progress video, my son’s doctors delivered some crushing news: The child has a devastating disease, with a far worse prognosis than any well-trained medical mind had ever predicted.

The next year would involve an all-out drive to get him to a clinical trial on the other side of the country. I was left with little energy for anything else.

At the moment that I had learned to play again, I had to back away from plans to study the big concertos. In the next year, I advanced, but not in the way that I had expected.

I didn’t feel regret about scaling back my ambitions. Rather, I felt grateful that I had taken on the project during the short window that I had.

Here’s my two-year progress video, which tells the story of how I learned to play again:

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One year after my son’s diagnosis, I’m stuck in the peculiar conundrum of parenting: I have to manage a massive medical calendar and remain constantly prepared to respond to emergencies -- and it's a state that has left me with a lot of time on my hands.

It’s demanding, and it’s boring, and it’s tiresome, all at the same time.

During these months, I’ve found solace and meaning in community involvement. I’ve helped to steer a local charity back to viability after the pandemic, and I contribute to a group that brainstorms ways that the city can improve the lives of children and young adults with disabilities.

I’ve also started going to concerts every week.

Last month, much to my surprise, the L.A. Philharmonic offered a program with both the Schumann Piano Concerto and the vast thundering splendor of Scheherazade. During the lockdown, I had dissected those pieces. I took them apart and put them together, and I compared different performances from YouTube.

The Schumann was particularly important.

My mother had been a pianist who dreamed of life as a musician. Before I was old enough for preschool, she set me to the keyboard. Early in the pandemic, after she died, I could not listen to her signature piece, the Tchaikovsky piano concerto. But I could listen to the Schumann.

I had to hear it at the Philharmonic. Here I was, at the glorious concert hall in Los Angeles, after splurging on one of the best seats in the house:

Not long before that, I attended a concert by members of the music faculty at a local college. Some string players were chatting in the audience behind me, and I just couldn’t help it. I turned around and said, “Hey, are you looking for a backup violinist?”

As a matter of fact, they were.

With luck, and with some planning, I may play in a small ensemble in the next year. A big part of my education and experience involved performance, and the appeal of playing to a camera in an empty room has declined – much in the same way that I’ve lost interest in writing more books that can’t be sold.

I live in an area with several semi-professional orchestras, but I don’t think I can add the duress of an orchestral audition to my current load. But chamber work? I think I’m ready.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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.

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