Hi! I’m Rebecca, and I live near Los Angeles. For most of my life, I’ve been a reporter. I’ve written for some of the top publications in the country, including The Atlantic, Writer’s Digest and The New York Times.
Before I was a reporter, I trained as a violinist. Follow along as I learn to play again and recall the struggles of competing as a young musician who came from a terrible neighborhood.
A Progress Report from the Reckless Violinist
This month, I remembered why I would have never succeeded as a professional violinist.
During my teens, I was plagued by the sight of a competitor named K. — a prodigy who had studied with my teacher since she was 3. Like a Holy Sister, she spent every waking moment with her thoughts cast on a singular devotion. In her case, the devotion was the violin. By the time she reached her teens, her personality was completely subsumed by her focus. If you said hello, she did not know how to answer.
The day I received a call about a job as a classical music critic, I had already left everything behind.
The week before, I had driven across 1,000 miles of desert in a broken-down Ford, on my way to a three-month internship at a mid-sized newspaper in California. I poured a quart of oil into that car every day to keep it running.
On my first day in the office, I got a phone call from an editor at a large East Coast newspaper.
He said they had an opening for a classical music critic, and that a professor at…
Everything you need to know about society, you can learn from following Team YouTube
Team YouTube, if you don’t know, is the help desk for creators and customers of the megalithic video service.
The team prowls the back streets of Twitter and responds to complaints — and occasionally scares the hell out of people.
In short, they’re here to help.
Sometimes they appear in the manner of minor gods responding to people’s prayers. Other times, they pop up, unbidden, like a roving squad of guardian angels.
They respond to angry, impassioned pleas in soothing tones — and they do it…
When I played the violin in college, I thought I hit my breaking point with a sonata by Sergei Prokofiev.
At the end of a semester, I played one of the Soviet composer’s pieces for a jury of music professors. It received a solid B-minus. I was surprised I did that well; the dissonant, atonal 20th-century music didn’t make any sense to me.
“I’m not gonna play Prokofiev” became a common refrain for me, and it supplied one more reason to not pursue a career in music.
Then, 35 years later, when the pandemic hit, I rediscovered the Soviet composers…
Performance Diary № 1:
March 8, 2021:
I’m playing “Brindisi!” from La Traviata.
It’s like being 13 again.
I’m playing the way a 13- or 14-year-old would play.
This is good; it means that I’m not playing at the 5th-grade level. Also, it’s an excellent place to start; it’s close to the point at which you make the first Big Leap.
It’s surprising how painful it was to tackle the piece and decide to play it adequately — not at performance level — and move on. …
In a violin competition, the judges may consider at least 100 factors.
Like in figure skating, you have players who are highly technical and players who are highly musical, whose interpretations surpass the glitches of notes that fall a quarter-tone flat.
As for the players themselves, they’re thinking about arm height, elbow trajectory, finger strike, bow grip, shifting, and the five zones of play between the bridge and the fingerboard.
In 10 weeks of working to expand the reach of my work on several social media platforms, I’ve reflected on my training for music competition.
I recalled two important lessons…
Three months after I started a cross-platform extravaganza, with a YouTube channel linked to an essay series, the wheels started to turn a little more slowly.
The excitement over doing hair and makeup, and the demands of having a standing date with the camera, started to feel, ever so slightly, like a burden. I encountered days that I didn’t want to play — not because I was intimidated by the task, but because I didn’t want to do it.
Yet the demand to whack those algorithms every week wasn’t going to go away. …
In the studio of a great violin teacher, you will learn to disregard the audience.
The Great Teacher will tell you that if you blow a big chromatic run, no one will notice. Further, she will say, the audience needs to believe that the performance is perfect. Let them believe it.
So you forget the audience.
With a video camera, you can’t forget. The advice that gets you through a live performance — that if you blow it, the moment will disappear — does not apply. The moment will last forever.
I learned about the vicious intrusion of the camera…
When you’re an all-star, the world will fall at your feet. But when you live in a neighborhood that’s rife with drug trafficking, you can collapse under the weight of the world.
For all-star musicians, the spotlight works the same way as it does for athletes. When I made the All-State and All-American orchestras, letters arrived from out of the blue, with offers for full-ride scholarships, sight unseen, no auditions necessary.
If I had gone to music school, everything would have been so easy.
Yet when I think about the neighborhood where I grew up, and about the Lost Girls…