Mama, How long have you been playing the violin?

Heart of fresh tulips

That was an interesting one for me. My son, who was 6 at the time I started and actually started with me, does remember me starting, but he also doesn’t really have “memories” of having a mother whose identity wasn’t tied to the violin.

I’ve had conversations with other adult starters about what one says when asked how long they’ve been playing. Or, when you have to say that you play the violin… How you say it and what you are communicating tells you something.

Amongst the adult starters who engaged in this conversation, here were some thoughts that were shared:

  • Saying you are a violinist is out of the question. You are not a professional.
  • Saying you are a violin player is also out of the question unless you can pick up your violin and produce something for public consumption on the spot. It implies that you see yourself as someone who can show up and be the “violin person.” Same with saying you “play the violin.”
  • Saying that you are an adult starter on the violin is what a lot of folks say. But, for some of us, we aren’t a starter any longer, and our status as an adult is not necessarily germain to the question.
  • Saying that you are learning the violin is pretty safe, AND, it’s not very helpful sometimes. We are all learning and will be until we lay the violin down for the final time. I personally don’t think it conveys how seriously I take myself.
  • People who have other instruments they play or a musical background will often simply brush over the violin part and rely on the identity they already knew.

Everyone was somewhere along the spectrum of secure in their identity with the violin, to very insecure. I personally see that as a natural progression – when you first start you have all these fears and insecurities about even attempting it. Then, as time goes along, you develop more comfort with the idea that you play the violin, whether or not you’d share that with others. Some people keep it secret, and some shout it from the rooftops.

But, I always thought it was a given that my children would see me in the context of creating a musical life as an adult. It never occured to me that, to them, Mom+Violin is and *has always been a thing.* That made me start to wonder – if my children see me this way, what will it take for me to? Who is the decider on all of this? What you call yourself is a reflection of how you see yourself and how you are hoping others see, or don’t see you. But, who sanctions it? If my children see me as “a Violinist”, what will be the point that I see myself that way as well?

I started a new FaceBook group for people who started or restarted their strings (of any kind) journey as adults, and who don’t identify as brand spanking new beginners. Notice that the word here would be intermediate. But, no, we can’t use that word. Why? No one would join. No one would have the audacity to self select as an intermediate player and risk the outing that comes from being found to be a fraud. Why? Violin culture – classical music culture – that starts children at the age of 3 and has them playing repertoire that is considered “intermediate” by the time they are 8. Any adult beginner who looks for intermediate classical repertoire is going to be humbled when they flip through book 1 of Solos for Young Violinists, which has pieces that are very difficult. And, legitimately, I do think very few adult starters are actually intermediate level in their ability. Maybe it’s because they are self teaching, or they don’t care to get too technical. But, just because they may not be able to play intermediate repertoire does not mean that they identify as a beginner, either. It’s very individual. So, I settled on the term Transitional – stuck in the space between beginner and whatever fantasy you think represents an advanced player. Transitional- in a state of growth, transition, going somewhere, not stagnating. People dig it. And they join- because we aren’t the deciders on who qualifies to be there beyond a rudimentary understanding that the group is not meant for beginners. (The reason why we needed a transitional group is another story).

I have long since settled on my title. If I have occasion to be asked or volunteer this part of me, I choose to say that I am a Serious Amateur Violin Player. I’m serious – I dedicate my free time and my money to the process. I sacrifice for it. I have goals. I’m not serious from the standpoint that I feel pressure or have professional ambitions. Hence, the amateur piece as well. This fits for me, for now. And I suppose, that in my children’s eyes, I have always been a serious amateur player.

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