When I was at BUTI (Boston University Tanglewood Institute) for a second summer I was determined not to be a screw up any longer. I somehow always got into trouble. This is a family blog so I’ll save the details for when we have dinner at an ASTA conference. I was incredibly insecure. That led me to being rude, a know-it-all and a general punk. That summer everything was changing and I was going to be a good student. I practiced like crazy but I had no idea what I was doing. I cringe thinking about how I must have been choking the crap out of my violin and bow. Soon enough I had the nastiest case of tendinitis you could imagine. I couldn’t close my hand around a door knob or coffee cup. I drank coffee by balancing the cup between my wrists and lifting my arms straight up to my face. Getting ready for bed was a challenge. My girlfriend had to help me change because I couldn’t pull my t-shirt over my head. I had no idea then that this would dog me for almost a decade and that in some ways, still does today. I’m pretty certain that I caused permanent damage to my arms that summer. I can play almost as long as I want to these days, but it is only because I listen to my body very carefully. I know when to change what I’m doing or to stop and recuperate. But being injured has also been one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received. Like a recovering smoker I am fanatical about making sure that my students don’t suffer the same fate I did. I also realized that the biggest benefit of playing without tension is that it makes playing more fluid, easier and more beautiful. I am an immigrant through and through. I used to say about my mom that she would put in 150% effort when only 75% was necessary. I didn’t fall far from that tree and my first reaction to any setback is simply to try harder. That can sometimes be good, but it’s often one’s undoing. Which brings me to one of my most important principles: Don’t simply try to be better, make what you’re doing easier. Hard work is essential to getting better. In fact, Daniel Coyle in “The Talent Code” basically writes an entire book about why struggling is the true path to learning. But there comes a point in all aspects of life where we have to figure out how to get out of our own way. There needs to be a clear delineation between mental struggle, which builds the connections in your brain necessary for sticky learning, and physical struggle, which hinders fluid playing and might ultimately lead to injury. Our health will be the foundation for everything we do on this blog. It will remain in its subconscious no matter what we discuss. The point of this post isn’t to recount my suffering. The real point is to provide fortitude for those of you who are experiencing the same thing. Ultimately, I hope that I will help you find a path out of the wilderness and playing like you’ve always dreamed of playing.
Next Time: How I failed out of HS and at college/The teachers who saved me and How I ended up attending seven universities
Copyright Rising Tide String Project 2018 (Erik Bryan and Chung Park)
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like me to come and lead a workshop. I’m available for student workshops and teacher professional development sessions.