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Lydia Leong

Things that make you angry

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So, along the lines of Stringhappy's Strad story, and the one I'm about to tell below... anyone ever said anything to you about your playing that really made you furious? (This is a moment of catharsis.)

I was talking to my mother on the phone last night. She's happy that I'm playing the violin again and enjoying it; she's also been telling her friends -- all Asian mothers -- about it, I guess as part of the justification of why I chose the new job I did several months ago (thus going from several years of regular 80+, if not 100+ hour work weeks, to a 40-hour work week). And one of these so-called "friends" gave her the following message for me, the gist of which amounts to (I am not quoting directly):

"There are no good amateur players. You'll never play with anyone who's really good ever again, and it's hopeless for you to even dream you might be a worthwhile player again someday. But of course, you amateurs might be satisfied anyway, since you'll be too ignorant to know any better. Anyone who was *actually* talented, or truly loved music," (implying, of course, that I and other amateurs are not or do not), "would have at least done some professional musical training and would be earning a living from music, even if they had a 'day job' or something similar." (Of course, she expressed great sympathy for my lack of musical potential and future enjoyment.)

This woman's child just graduated from a highly prestigious college with a science degree, and will shortly be doing a performance masters' at Juilliard, as well as taking courses towards a technology-related master's at Columbia. The mother is a full-time teacher of the instrument, though she has no formal training -- she learned by practicing with her child (started with Suzuki). I will not give names, as her child has won a number of major international competitions.

This was one of those missives that didn't warrant a reply, and, I imagine, was calculated to sting as much as possible. I believe she's wrong, of course, but this is one of those bits of Asian culture that drives me to rage. I don't think I could ever say something about my life to one of my parents' friends, without them feeling obliged to snidely denigrate it -- with a kind smile and the "best of intentions", of course.

[This message has been edited by Lydia Leong (edited 07-25-2000).]

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When I told my daughter, who was sixteen at the time, that I was going to rent a violin from Kapeller's to begin violin instruction, she told her former viola teacher who said,

Well, she'll NEVER be any good. It's TOO late."

That made me angry. It's true: I'll never be any good. I can barely fan my fingers well enough to hit re-mi-do quickly in every key.

But it made me angry and it makes me angry.

There are oh-so-obvious reasons why a middle aged person shouldn't try to--but for an accomplished strings player to say categorically to an impressionalbe student,"Well, she'll never be any good" relays a not-so-good impression: If you're not going to be good professionally, then why bother?

That made me angry; it still makes me angry. It makes me angry when I consider that for me to attain the level of playing, say the Bach double, with any kind of profficiency is looked upon in a docile, perfunctory kind of manner. People who belittle are belittlers. They are superior. They giggle at attempt. They guffaw at sincerity. They have their noses held high and their hearts in the gutter.

When I consider: there may come a time when my daughter and I play duets for family and friends to the delight of both, then there is definite recompense in the vitriolic comments that have been thrown my way by professionals for even trying.

There is something poisonous in superior airs. One musician, whose talents I hold high and dear, was visibly disturbed when I wrote that I may stop trying violin altogether due to a deadly accident I encountered this past spring. She wrote to me, "Do not stop playing your violin. It means too much to you." And she is incredibly talented--she doesn't care about where my level is--or what it shall be. She simply understands immediately and directly why the joy of music--with it challenges and humblling experiences--is worth the work.

And she is vastly more talented than the teacher who told my daughter, "Well, she'll never be any good."

Sometimes when I don't feel like practicing, this one teacher's comments make me try again for another day--not to be good (I may never be, but that'll be one my own terms), but to show that I will not give up.

T.

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Lydia,

I was about to get off with my own rage, but you've completely deflected me! I've had a few things explained to me, over time, about Asian culture, but I've never heard of this.

All kinds of things happen within families, of course, where competition can be open and internecine. But with acquaintances and friends? This would get someone cut off and shunned, even in the loose circle I inhabit. Nearly all amateur activities of a creative kind are praised, and invidious comparisons with professional career paths in the same field are verboten.

Would you mind getting into this a bit in a general way? What made this episode an example of Asian culture?

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I had the misfortune of sittin next to one of my former teachers as a stand partner. He started the evening's rehearsal telling me I was lucky to sit next to him, and told me that this was an "audition" for me. (He didn't know that I had actually recommended him for the gig!) He tortured me the whole time, making comments about everything, from my violin to my bow grip. It put me in a dark depression for a couple days, until I realized that this guy really has nothing on me, and the reassurance from a violinist who is world class (as a violinist, but more importantly as a human being) put the experience in perspective. He pointed out to me that this guy is so mentally and personally "small" that he has sabotaged his own career repeatedly in similiar incidents through the years.

BTW - I have worked with other former teachers of mine, and they have been wonderful and supportive and inspiring. But this one guy - well, if you can't say something nice....

Lydia and Theresa - I teach and have taught many adults. As long as a person can play better today than they played yesterday, they are "good." And want you to know that many idiots play the violin or viola (and other instruments too I am sure), some of them pretty well. As my father would tell me - they still put their pants on one leg at a time. Furthermore, there are a LOT of personally dysfunctional musicians out there. The best revenge is living well and being happy, because they obviously are not.

People like your daughter's former teacher either don't know the pain they can cause, or they do. Either way, it diminishes them, not us. Unfortunately, it often hurts just the same. Remember that every improvement you make, and every day you continue to play, proves this person more and more wrong. Hang in there!

[This message has been edited by Jonathan Rubin (edited 07-25-2000).]

[This message has been edited by Jonathan Rubin (edited 11-21-2000).]

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When professionals look down on amateurs, I have to wonder not if the professionals are happy, because truly happy people don't feel the need to denigrate. What I wonder is if the professionals have discovered too late that the life styles available to a professional musician isn't really what they want?

Think about it. Orchestral players job disatisfaction is fairly legendary and comes from a lack of control over their own professional lives. International soloists spend their lives on the road and must have very difficult times developing and maintaining healthy family relationships. Gig players are probably the happiest professionals as a class (or so I read in Strings some time back) but there is a degree of financial uncertainty (and always working saturday nights) that I couldn't enjoy.

So, when a professional says unkind things about amateurs, is it envy?

Elaine

Norman, OK

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Well, American culture tends to hurl mixed messages at people, the ultimate being, "The sky is the limit--believe, and anything is possible; but, are you crazy, DON'T DO THAT." Does Asian culture pose such mixed messages?

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What a mean woman! mad.gif This is a kind of things that makes me upset. I heard something like that when I was young from my friend's mother! Back then, my main instrument was classical guitar. She said that my instrument was too unsophisticated compared to other instruments (i.e. her son's cello). This is a person who didn't even know who John Williams is! I think those people are self absorbed idiots who should be allowed to talk in public. It just happend that the person, who said those things to me, went bankrupt and her genius son is a recovering alcoholic. What do I think when I see this? Time is fleeting! When their empty glories are gone, they will spontaneous collapse into meaninglessness and regrets.

[This message has been edited by illuminatus (edited 07-25-2000).]

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What really gets me mad is when I'm told "You don't know anything about violin playing" by people who don't know anything about violin playing.

Even my grandmother is not spared my wrath when she says this.

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Things that make me angry:

1. Rosin Dust- that film it leaves on the violin. Yuck!

2. People who put seemingly no effort into the instrument and yet are brilliant. Why aren't I one of them? I'm prettier than them.

3. Hearing a piece of music on NPR and then not hearing what it is afterwards.

4. People who claim to be able to play the "Peanuts" theme better than me. You can have all the concertos, sonatas, partitas, etc. but you'll never have that!

Digi

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This is a very sensitive area for me also Not only can this be applied to music, but it can also be said for life in general.

one of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain:

(from memory, so may not be exactly word for word)

Beware of people

Who try to make you feel small

Small people do that

But only the really great

Can make you feel

That you, too, may be great.

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I think of us all as being on a continuum of learning and playing. I have made many connections, most very positive, in trying to solve my shoulder problem. Some people who work within the field are exquisitely condescending concerning modifications to instruments, or my attempts to find interim solutions to playing without pain. At such times I pray that they are at some time/age gifted with a spirit of empathy without having to experience the pain that prompts the request for their input. I presently work with a superb teacher who is about 1/10 my age who is shocked with how much I've been able to regain by altering technique in seemingly minor ways. Should the people who can provide info on playable instruments be any less generous?

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Lydia, ignore this boring woman and her comments. And feel sorry for her poor children, who only look good to their mom in comparison to other people, not on their own merits.

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A Chinese stand-partner I used to have explained the Asian-culture thing to me. Note: I first want to explain that this is not the case in all Asian culture. I have numerous Asian friends who are not this way, but it is something that is common in some Asian culture. It seems to have something to do with communism in China but I am not sure.

The theory according to a previous stand-partner I had who had come to America at age 7 and was born in Beijing.

In some Asian families, the parents consider what their child will do in life before the child is even conceived. They believe that this is the only purpose of the child's life. It is believed that if the child is "lazy" and does not excel in this area, the child has no purpose at all. From the age of 3 (or about that age), the parents have the child's life up to age 30 nearly all planned out. The most common things for the parents to want their child to be are:

1. Doctor

2. Scientist

3. Lawyer

4. Musical prodigy

In social situations with other parents and children, there is much competition as to whose children are "the most prodigious", "the most intelligent" etc. etc.

The children grow up with constant pressure to fullfill their parents highest expectations, and are often are plagued by insecurity of feeling that perhaps they are not the most prodigious. When they have children, they drill the same procedure into their kids in hopes to strengthen the family by producing "prodigiously magnificent people".

The cultural contradiction is: Be magnificent and all-powerful, prodigious, limitless and smart but only to our specifications, and only according to the boundaries set by your parents.

This is not the case with all Asians, it may not even be the case with most Asians, but it is an aspect that exists in all culture, it just seems that it may have been hardened and reinforced to an extreme in some areas of Asian culture.

I am sorry if I have offended anyone. If I have, I assure you that it was not my intention. I relate this to you only as I have been told.

It is my humble opinion that the definition of a magnificent person could be refined. Accomplishment is wonderful, but an insecure person is merely an insecure person no matter how accomplished they are in their career.

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Asia is a large continent with so many different races. Perhaps there is no such thing as an "Asian" culture. Chinese, yes; Japanese, yes; Vietnamese, yes; Indonesian, yes; Tibetan, yes; Cambodian, yes; Filipino, yes; Indian, yes; etc., but Asian??? Or are we equating Chinese culture with the so-called Asian one? Even in this regard we could be treading in treacherous waters. I work with a Chinese-looking, Chinese-speaking engineer. When I first met him many years ago, I called him Chinese (I do speak some "Mandarin" Chinese). This made him mad. "I'm not Chinese, I'm Taiwanese," he declared. "That's the same thing isn't it?" I asked. He got madder. "Absolutely not, and this shows how ignorant you are!" Now I always carefully refer to my friend as Taiwanese. I do have many Chinese friends, BTW, and my current violin teacher is from Shanghai, China.

Many parents compete with one another via their children. I suspect they are not truly good parents. However, I surely hope that's not an integral part of the so-called "Asian" culture, though it may appear somewhat prevalent with some Oriental groups. My wife and I are from Vietnam, and we are guiding our two kids to be the best they could possibly be in anything they choose to do, without comparing themselves to others. Our children know whatever endeavors they choose to pursue, there will always be greater and lesser practitioners.

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Semi-Professional Musicians who aren't good enough or have the time to play in the professional symphony, but 'are too good' to play in the local civic orchestra, (which is a catch 22 situation, because if they did play the orchestra would get better... you see where this is going) so they'd rather sit around and let their skills atrophy and play the occassional gig that comes their way. What happened to their love of music? Is it only about money, these people have jobs outside music, they don't rely on the music income, so I just can't understand it. The years and years of musical study to not play later in life.

This makes me angry.

I am fortunate, I've never ever had any one tell me I my playing sucks. Allcriticism that I have recieved was honest and truthful.

Asian Culture -

My best teacher ever was an Asian violinist from Hong Kong. He totaly retaught me how to play my instrument in 3 months when I was 18 (I had gotten by on shear talent and zero technique up to that time). Although he was a wonderful teacher an very good friend, I sensed deep unhappiness in his life, I think that his family wanted and expected him to be a doctor (hey HKV!) as he was from a prominent medical family in Hong Kong. He was successful as a violinist, but perhaps not successful enough. Last I heard is that he quit the violin, but unfortunately I have lost touch, whatever, I hope he has found happiness.

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Don't mean to be flippant - I certainly appreciate the gravity of this post -

just couldn't resist this:

Originally posted by DigiMark:

Things that make me angry:

3. Hearing a piece of music on NPR and then not hearing what it is afterwards.

Digi,

Yes, this drives me crazy. I've stayed up way past my bedtime many a night, just HAVING to know what I was hearing....only to miss it because of a car honking or something....

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Not all the omissions are accidental. WCRB in Boston has deliberately dumbed-down their broadcasts so that there is next to no useful information given about the music. The sketchiest ID of the piece and performers, with no dates, recording #, and certainly no silence to collect one's thoughts before it begins. AND they have the most annoying top-40 DJs who chirp soothingly. "Wasn't that a nice little piece? Brahms's Tragic Overture. Now here's something by Mozart..."

Dr. S's complaint has a flip side: the amateur who has no idea how bad he/she is and who thinks that general intelligence and a good education is a substitute for sufficient practice. One time, I was roped into an all-amateur orchestra for a concert or 2. Mostly Harvard alums. Not a terrible group, but the aura of self-congratulation went well beyond what was justified by the product. And while there were decent freelancers brought in to do solos in most of the concertos, the soloist for the Haydn D-Major was the principal cellist-- and he couldn't play the part. Great hair and a Byronesque wardrobe, but certainly not enough chops to make it all the way through in rehearsal or concert, even after cutting the cadenza without mercy. Such an abuse of those in the group who were somewhat serious about doing the right thing.

[This message has been edited by Stephen (edited 07-26-2000).]

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quote:

Originally posted by Lydia Leong:

This was one of those missives that didn't warrant a reply, and, I imagine, was calculated to sting as much as possible. I believe she's wrong, of course, but this is one of those bits of Asian culture that drives me to rage. I don't think I could ever say something about my life to one of my parents' friends, without them feeling obliged to snidely denigrate it -- with a kind smile and the "best of intentions", of course.

[This message has been edited by Lydia Leong (edited 07-25-2000).]

Lydia:

That must be infuriating, especially when it comes from someone nominally of one's own culture.

I think that sometimes the best response to such pettiness is the truly Olympian cluelessness of P.G. Wodehouse's hero(?), Bertie Wooster. Once, when Jeeves brought him news that Bertie's aunt might lose her French chef Anatole (and correctly perceived that this event would touch off chaos in Bertie's own personal life), Bertie would not discuss it. He was in the middle of solving several sets of inter-related matrimonial problems, and did not appreciate Jeeves' superior intellect intruding with some seemingly irrelevant information. Re-establishing his own grasp of the situation, he looked cross and explained patiently "Jeeves-- Anatole is foreign, and therefore excitable."

Sometimes it is good to keep this in mind, even if it does not help one's analysis of the correct next step.

Stephen

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Ha! Toscha's story sounds a bit like my experience. My first glance at the title of this thread immediately brought to mind the violinist in my community orchestra whom no one wants to sit with....I wrote about her in the annoying stand partner thread. It's not that she lacks the technical ability to play well, it's just the complete lack of attention, interest, and effort. Her overall attitude just really sucks..... when she's there, that is. Because of our group's attendance policy, she should have been out on her ear ages ago and earlier this month we nearly got our wish. She didn't show for a rehearsal- the conductor actually said she was outta there, but for some inexplicable reason she was back the very next day...... like a nasty cold that just won't go away. On the few occasions when I've had the misfortune of sitting with or near her I've try like heck to practice what I preach and use it as an opportunity to improve my concentrations skills to be able to play well despite adverse surroundings. I don't always succeed. On one of those occasions I tried a little experiment. By sometimes preparing for entrances well ahead of time and coming in as discreetly as possible , and other times deliberately coming in late, I discovered that she was relying on me for the entrances. Heaven forbid she should muster up the attention span required count a few measures rest.

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Toscha: Bravo on the entrance trick. I've done the same thing many times, only it's not because I'm mad at anyone, I just get a kick out of it.

There are many others things like that to trick people. Stand partners are generally very gullible, so long as you seem to be the one who knows everything.

In only a short amount of time, I've trained most of my stand partners to turn all the pages regardless of who is inside or outside, keep track of where we are in the piece so when the conductor starts again I can ask him/her where we are, bring all the music so I don't have to worry about it, etc.

None of this is nice, but nobody is hurt from it, and I get along great with most of the stand partners I've had. So long as they don't know they're being manipulated, they can't get angry.

I'll just have to be careful that I don't become the subject of "Things that make you angry" for anyone.

Manipulatively,

DigiMark

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quote:

Originally posted by Stephen:

"Jeeves-- Anatole is foreign, and therefore excitable."

Sometimes it is good to keep this in mind, even if it does not help one's analysis of the correct next step.

Stephen

Stephen: I love Wodehouse too! All I ever needed to know, I learned from Bertie Wooster; especially, "The F. of the S. is more D. then the M."

Stacy

P.S. Sorry about going off-topic!

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People that brazenly say insulting things are really describing themselves. . . or so I've observed. It draws attention away from their own perceived failures.

Lydia, this friend of your mother's never had formal training, yet she teaches full time. I bet she considers herself a failure, but you'd NEVER get her to admit it. She's too busy pointing at others.

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