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.
When I dreamed up the idea to start a YouTube channel and an essay series about playing the violin again, I never planned to delve deeply into the video editing. I was focused on the writing.
In fact, I was so focused on writing that for the first six months, I produced all the videos with the free, bare-bones software that came with my phone.
This month, I “leveled up,” as they say on YouTube, and invested in a higher-end video editor. Why?
Because I’m not going to let my essays die in written form.
I had expected that the…
Brain science, a cardiac workup, and how the violin is ripping me apart. Literally.
April 24, 2021:
I woke up extraordinarily cranky after making a lot of headway on the violin. My fingers are back.
Somehow I remember this feeling from when I played before. I wonder if cranking up your capabilities has something to do with it.
I spent the morning reviewing research on how music education — and specifically violin training — changes the brain. It turns out, there’s a ton of research on the neuroscience in that area, complete with MRIs. Learning the violin specifically seems to…
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. …