How playing the violin changed my life


When I was in elementary school, my mother pushed my sister and I to take up piano lessons, a prominent Asian stereotype. Grudgingly, we complied for a few years, but I personally never felt satisfaction or even enjoyment from the activity. Perhaps it was because our teachers weren’t the most pleasant, or because the recordings of the music sounded far superior to what I managed to produce with my chubby, tiny fingers. I dropped the activity around sixth grade.

But violin was a different story. I joined orchestra in 4th grade, and have never since stopped. Private lessons began in 5th grade, with Laura, a teacher that I stuck with until the beginning of junior year. She’s witnessed my growth over the years through our weekly meetings. She’s seen me at my positively worst – struggling with ambition and motivation – but she’s also seen me at my Sunday best – galvanized into repetitive practice. Our interactions have been professional for the most part – practicing scales and etudes – but there were often moments of genuine friendship between us.

While I’ve had to stop taking lessons from her, no one individual has pushed me to work towards a goal as effectively as she has. I find her lessons applying to many areas of my life. I would not have as much determination to work every single day, little by little towards my goals if it were not for her. She has not just demanded hard work, but has shown me over the course of six years the importance and value of working continually so that daily efforts culminate into something of which I can be proud.

I’m truly amazed at how successful we were together, because as a person, I loathe practicing anything really; this sentiment surpasses the extent of musical instruments and encompasses activities such as playing sports and doing homework. But as a wee little thing, I somehow found the endurance to saw away at my instrument for a half-hour or so every day. How I managed that without throwing a tantrum, I can’t figure out.

Of course, while one-on-one time contributed to my experience as a violinist, I’ve also been in orchestras for as long as I can remember. In school and out of school, I’ve played as a unified force, significant because very few activities that I participate necessitate a whole team effort; I’ve always been one for relying on myself or possibly one other person: tennis, debate, etc.

Even when we split up into chamber music groups (duets, quartets, quintets) it’s still been a group effort, except the responsibility magnifies because there’s at max two violins; any mistake or misplaying gets blown up, and thus I have more incentive than usual to perform at my absolute best.

When I was in elementary school, my mom took me to a Barrage performance (Barrage is an orchestral street band that played contemporary music), and that’s when my initial motivation arose. I wanted to be on stage, playing beautiful music, the center of attention. Of course, I haven’t reached that level yet, but every year, as my skills improve, my performances increase in quality.

Moreover, I can tolerate classical music with an air of sophistication that I would not otherwise have. There’s something about practicing a piece for weeks on end, becoming as intimate with it as I often have.

I’m writing this post at a time where I’ve forgotten the once-recognized value of playing the violin. In many of my posts you will find prevalent the idea that ofttimes the greatest satisfaction comes from progress.

I am facing the possibility of senior year being my last year of violin. I’m probably no longer going to participate in active orchestras, and might not even bring my violin along with me to college. If this ends up being the case, then this is a bittersweet goodbye, because violin has left me with nothing but memories and fond appreciation for a type of music that I would not have otherwise come to cherish if it weren’t for the time that I invested in orchestra.

And yes, it IS about how much of my life, time and efforts I’ve invested – the whole experience is worthwhile because of who I’ve met, and the way that it’s a unique extracurricular but at the same time, I feel uncomfortable referring it to just that. My involvement has molded my life to the extent that calling it “an extracurricular” would be insufficient for how bonded I am with the activity.

We’ve all got something like orchestra that we’ve recently been neglecting, but when it comes time to part with the activity, we all suddenly realize its benefits again. Rediscovering something we love is always worthwhile, and it’s an uplifting beacon of aspiration in my senior year.

Music? Let’s go classical today, shall we? For the past four years, I’ve been part of the school tradition where the orchestra performs in front of the entire school, playing Handel’s Messiah. We coordinate with the chorus, alumni are invited to come back and play in the orchestra or sing in the choir; it’s all just a very gay affair. The music is splendid. My favorite is definitely #18, Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion. When it comes to Messiah, and because I’m not religious, it’s less about the meaning behind the music than it is about the music itself. This is absolutely one of my favorite times of the year.


  1. Pingback: Dear Vicky, You’re a junior now… | Catherine Zhang

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