Every summer, I make the solemn pledge to myself that this summer I will take on practicing a different Paganini Caprice every week or challenge myself to an etude a day. “I will take advantage of the relaxed playing schedule of the summer to tackle a playing challenge,” I think. With the grind of the orchestra season over for a few months, I have less in the daily and weekly practice schedule to get through, and I can have more than two days between one orchestra concert and the start of rehearsals for the next! So, I think these brilliant thoughts on the first day of summer, but give myself just one day of a short and sweet practice session. This turns into a week, and pretty soon I am so relaxed in summer that the bare minimum of practicing before heading out for some fun in the sun is the daily routine. Hopefully, those of you who know my schedule during the rest of the year can appreciate how my body, mind and soul pine for this relaxation!
I used to feel guilty for taking it easier (don’t you worry–I haven’t completely given up on my responsibilities as a performer, teacher, and administrator!) during the summer, until I traveled to a little town in Austria called Portschach am Worthersee a few summers ago. It was utterly delightful in the most boring way to stay there for a week just trying to make do with my barely-passable German in one little corner of the world where English is still not so commonly spoken. The lake was beautiful, the air was crisp and clear, and the one coffee shop I found in town was open for such limited hours that for two days in a row I saw the same group of grumpy old Austrian men griping about politics.
Mind you, I did have some stress that week because I was there for an international solo competition! The Brahms Competition is held annually in Portschach to bring young musicians from around the world to compete for prizes and recognition in honor of the time Brahms spent in Portschach. For several summers, Brahms came to Portschach to take a breather from his intense work and schedule.
I tell you this story in part to say, “See, Brahms took some summer vacation time too! I think I should get summer vacation time with no side-eye from you!” But, there’s more to it than trying to find excuses for myself! Brahms wrote his Second Symphony and Violin Concerto largely while in Portschach. These are monumental works that took enormous amounts of energy to compose, especially from a perfectionist like Brahms. I am sure you have listened to them before. Go listen again because life is not long enough to hear them enough!
I suspect that many of my students feel a bit like me about their summer practicing. You have the best intentions for practicing–after all, you have seating audition music and ILMEA parts in hand ready to go!–but the relaxation of life away from AP Tests and waking up too early every day for school pulls you away from your instrument. Yes, summer is a great time to get extra practicing in with a clear mind, but the key there is clear mind. You see, having walked the streets of Portschach, I can see that Brahms really used his vacation surroundings to relax his mind, and release himself enough from his perfectionism to create two of the enduring works of the classical canon. Finding inner and outer peace can sometimes be just the thing to relax us from our hang-ups and restore in us the discipline and patience to keep pursuing the best from our musicianship.
So, I want you to enjoy the long, hazy days of your summer with a bit of lazy days thrown in for good measure! But, to help ease us all back into the productivity of the start of the school year, this year I am offering for the first time a String Boot Camp August 2-6, to throw off the rust and get back to work. Please click through to the info here and register for camp this year. As far as I know, this is a unique offering for students in the SW Suburbs, and I would like to see as many of you take advantage of it as possible. Please help me spread the word, and get your registration in by June 20.
Now go play some scales AND take it easy, too!