A few weeks ago, my son and I visited a local violin shop (the Baroque Violin Shop in Cincinnati, Ohio) to try out violins. He’ll be attending the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) in the fall, and he definitely needs an upgrade!
After an hour of playing on a handful of violins, the owner’s son offered us a surprise trial of a mystery violin, with the instruction that we NOT look at the label inside.
I was aware, of course, that we were being handed a very special instrument: I could immediately see that this one was in a totally different category – light years beyond what we’d seen up to that point.
I accepted the invitation to play on the mystery violin with excitement… what would it sound like? What was it?? (And my son wanted to know later… how much was it worth?!?)
I literally had to stop playing to let my jaw drop after two notes. WOWWWW!!!!!!!
I gasped – the quality of this experience was far beyond anything I could have imagined.
I had a sneaking suspicion that this was the same Stradivarius I’d played on in this shop nine years before…but it sounded SO MUCH BETTER this time…and it was SO MUCH EASIER to play!!! What was happening?!?
Here’s the video of me playing around on what we found out later was, indeed, the same Strad. Below the video, I’ll tell you why my subjective experience of this violin was SO changed from just a few years ago.
So… why did the same Stradivarius feel and sound TOTALLY DIFFERENT to me, just a few years later?
The last time I played on this instrument was nine years ago, in May 2010. My father and son also had an opportunity to play on it, so it was a very memorable family experience (my dad was – understandably – quite nervous my then 8-yr.-old son might damage this violin worth $5 million – but everything went fine!).
That wasn’t the first time I’d played on a Strad, either: I’d had an opportunity to play and perform on Nathan Milstein’s Stradivarius several decades ago, as well.
Both of those earlier encounters playing on a Strad were wonderful, but they weren’t comfortable for me. In fact, I found it quite difficult to play on both those instruments. It wasn’t immediately easy to produce a sound I liked, and it took a lot of adjustment to figure out how to play them. I was left with the belief that Strads were “hard to play”.
But not this time! Now, the first two notes I drew from the instrument were so huge and resonant, rich, deep and luscious that I was stunned and had to stop playing, simply in AWE of what was coming out of that instrument. It was so amazing I could hardly believe it!
Here’s what happened: I’ve changed.
I’ve been practicing the Alexander Technique for many years, but I’ve gone through a lot of big life changes (a divorce after 25 years of marriage, several moves, first son off to college, second one about to leave, new love…. and so many more changes!) over the last nine years.
Learning to adapt to these big life changes with as much ease as possible has caused me to take the Alexander Technique to heart and apply it to my life in earnest on a daily basis.
Plus, I’ve been applying everything I’ve been discovering to my own violin practice in the most practical way. I’ve also been teaching the Alexander Technique more often and to more students online, and my online community where I share my ideas on AT and music has been flourishing (join here free: @‘Musicians! Mind-Body Practice Tribe’).
According to its founder, F.M. Alexander, the Alexander Technique is “a method for the control of human reaction”.
What does this have to do with my experience with the Strad? Everything!
When I played on the Strad a few weeks ago, I received very strong confirmation that I’ve changed in very positive ways: I’ve become much more flexible in mind and body over the last nine years. I’ve gone through these huge changes and learned how to adapt more and more skillfully to all of them. The way I use my mind and body (what Alexander called “use of the self”) has improved, so my overall coordination has improved…and therefore how I play the violin has also improved.
So, when I picked up that Stradivarius a few weeks ago, it was the same violin, but a new-and-improved HUMAN BEING was playing it. A better violinist with greater sensitivity and subtlety of movements, better able to respond and adapt to a violin that I’d played on nine years earlier, and which was totally different from the ten violins I’d played on just minutes before.
This experience drove home to me with stunning clarity what I’ve always known to be true:
The quality of a musical instrument is important, for sure.
But it’s the VIOLINIST that makes it sound better or worse.
A great violinist can make ANY violin sound good, no matter how much it’s worth – and vice versa.
The violin and the violinist become a synergetic whole: the one inevitably affects the other.
When a violin is played by a violinist who is paying attention and improving, the violin will respond and also improve; and a great violin will improve the violinist who wants to improve.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and watching the video.
If you’re a musician who wants to improve…
…and who if you’re interested in learning how to improve YOUR mind-body instrument, contact me. I’d be happy to help you – no matter your skill level (amateur to seasoned professional) or your musical instrument. You CAN learn to be more flexible in mind and body, and LOVE making music with more and more ease and JOY!
p.s. Join the ‘Musicians! Mind-Body Practice Tribe‘, my free facebook group!
And… check out The Musician’s Mindset Power Toolkit if you want to get started on an Alexander learning adventure of your own right now!