Lisa Riley Fogler, moderator of Facebook Violinists, cannot play solo. She’s happy to play within a group of any size, but she cannot let a living soul hear her playing the violin alone – thanks to a teacher who drummed into her all the fear in music and none of the joy.
After reading a psychotherapist’s essay about performance anxiety on Slipped Disc, Lisa decided to share her experiences, for the benefit of other players and the elimination of bad teaching. Here’s Lisa’s story.
I’ve been playing the violin for forty-eight years. Wow, I must be good. I probably am. But, I don’t think I am good enough to play in front of you. Alone in my little music room, I was channeling Jascha Heifetz. I would hear myself and think, “Wow I’m good!” But I played with the windows closed and only if nobody was home to hear me. It was extreme, I know.
I know when this started. When I was young I was very dedicated to the violin. I wanted to play the violin very much. I had a great teacher and I took lessons from him and his wife. In Jr. High my teacher told me about an audition for a District Orchestra. I started practicing Dancla’s Air Varie No 5. I auditioned and made first violin, second stand. I wasn’t afraid during the audition, just a bit nervous. Then, my Dad convinced me that I needed more in depth lessons. He hired a well-known violist from the Boston Symphony Orchestra to be my Professor. This is when the problem started.
This man destroyed my confidence. From the minute I arrived at his house until the minute I left, he told me how useless I was. He would yell at me. The more I shook, the more he rolled his eyes and insulted me. I cried for the entire hour, or shook like a twig. I didn’t learn anything from him, except that I wasn’t worth his time. I became convinced he was right. I stopped practicing entirely. I was afraid to hear my own mistakes.
I loved the violin and wanted to continue, but there was no point in making an effort because I was useless. Every tiny mistake I made was proof of my complete lack of talent. It didn’t matter that I was a first violinist. It didn’t matter that people were telling me how good I was. They were doing it because they loved me. They had to say that.
I acquired an aversion to playing when anyone who loved me was in the house. I would only play alone in a room where nobody could hear me, with the windows and door closed. The minute someone showed up I would instantly play badly and stop. I moved to France in my late thirties and married. I never played when my husband was home. If he did happen to come home I would get upset if he heard me.
Out of sheer boredom, I brought my violin to the rehearsal of a local amateur symphony orchestra, that was open to letting anyone sit in. To my great surprise, I could play. I joined another orchestra and today, twelve years later, I am a first violinist. I have no stage fright at all when playing in the orchestra. But I still don’t want to be seen. Violinists play with a stand partner. I cannot play on the right, you may see me. I can’t have that.
I’m better these days, thanks to playing in a symphony orchestra. When you know you are blending your voice with others and you can hear their foibles, it makes it easier. I play duets with other violinists. I play duets with a pianist. I play duets with a harpist. I can play with the windows open now. I can play if my husband walks in the room.
But I still won’t play alone in front of you.
My advice to parents and violin teachers? Don’t think you are doing children a favor when you are being brutally honest about their skills. You may be 100% correct and yet it can be so wrong for some children. Be aware of the child you have in front of you and listen to them.