I started violin when I was twelve because I switched to a school that had a mandatory strings program. I was halfway through grade seven so the other kids had five months on me, and I didn’t like being behind, so my first order of business was to catch up.
I wanted to play the cello because lets face it: the cello is sexy (of course I didn’t think about it that way when I was twelve, but c’mon, it’s the cello). But then my music teacher didn’t even ask me what I wanted to play. He said, “Well, I guess we have some extra violins lying around. Here you go.” And thus began my violin adventure.
I wanted to quit music when I got to high school, but my mom told me I had to do at least one year. There was so much pressure and there was a definite hierarchy of the different skill levels. You know, you had the kids who had been playing since they were three years old and who knew that they knew how to play the violin way better than anybody else, and then there were the people who only started in grade nine who were like, “I don’t know what’s going on, this is horrible” and then me, doing my best in the middle.
After high school I was so done with being stressed about letting my conductor down at competitions and trying not to make a fool of myself in front of the really good players that I was done with the violin. But then I went to university at King’s College and found a posting about auditions for a new community orchestra on their website. I pulled out my violin and played around on some stuff that I’d done before and asked myself, “Do I even like doing this? Let’s see.”
I decided to audition, and told myself that if I don’t get in then I’m meant to set that part of my life aside and do other things, and if I do, then that’s great. And then I got in on the condition that I take lessons with the program, which really upset me because I couldn’t interpret that as a clear sign from the universe. Like a clear vote of confidence or a clear “No, you shouldn’t do this.” It was an, “Okay, if you want this, you’re going to have to work for it.” I decided to give it a try, and music has never been the same for me since.
After joining the HMC music became something totally different for me. I’ve always been a high achiever-perfectionist who has to do well in everything (blah blah blah), and that was where so much of the stress with violin had come from before. And now I was in this environment where I was playing music but it was divorced from achievement. It was just fun. I could put in as much as I wanted to put in, which slowly increased, but I was never shamed if I didn’t some kind of achievement bar.
In my second year with the orchestra our conductor John made me principal second. I’d never been principal anything before, and it kind of went to my head a little bit. Not in a “Now I’m queen of the world!” sort of way, but in terms of thinking, “Wow, John made me principal second…he must think that I can at least kind of play my instrument. Could I…like…become good?” It was a startling thought because I’d learned all through high school that I was stuck in this mediocre range; that my place was ahead of the beginners who were really struggling and below the “actually good” people who were going to go to music school. So I told John, “Okay, you’ve made me principal second,now I want to get my s*** together. I want to work on this, I want to fix up my technique, I want to play real music, and I want to improve.”
So I started practicing an hour a day, and the violin slowly became a fun project where I felt like I could grow, try things, mess up, and work on things for myself, not because anyone was evaluating me. I think that sometimes we get stuck in the idea that there’s only one way to be a musician, or that there’s only one goal. There are actually a lot of different kinds of musicians you can be.
When you let in anyone who has an interest in music and not just people who want to be Itzhak Perlman (though, I mean, can you blame those people who want to be Itzhak Perlman? He’s a great guy. I want to be Itzhak Perlman. There are much worse people you could aspire to be. But anyway,) you’re including the doctors, and professors, and bakers who just love music and want to be a part of the team creating this beautiful, emotional, communicative, sharing experience between the orchestra and the audience. What it creates is space where people from different backgrounds are free to grow and create and explore their creativity, and develop as much as they want to, in ways that maybe they never would have come to on their own.
The HMC has been a catalyst for change in my life. I definitely have been the kind of person who forgets that there’s more than one way to be successful, or that there’s more than one career path. I was always the girl with the plan: in grade eight I was researching universities, in grade twelve I assumed a PhD was a thing that would happen. But now, for me, I just love being able to be a part of this great creative project where who you are and what you bring to the table is celebrated and mistakes are just as important as successes.
I’m about to finish my fourth year of university. Sometimes I think about how it’s gone, and honestly, King’s is a great school, but my university experience hasn’t come close to defining me or changing my life in the way that four years of playing with the HMC has. I went from being in sciences because “that’s where the jobs are” to freelance German translation work and learning to become a music teacher. I have no idea what I’m going to be doing next year other than that I definitely don’t want to go to grad school. Four years ago I never would have predicted any of that.
Starting with that moment when John made me principal second I’ve had this ongoing thought process of, “I can do this thing that I love? Hmm…there’s other things that I love. Maybe I could try them too.” Now I have this wonderful problem in which there’s so many things that I love that sometimes I’m a bit stressed out by all the things that I love that I’m doing. But other than that, I’ve never been happier. Something that makes me this happy can’t be wrong, right? I hope not. ‘Cause I’m not stopping.