Each month, we feature one of the amazing members of Julia’s Violin Academy (JVA) and ask them questions about how they got to learn to play the violin as an adult. This week, we are interviewing our inspiring member Angelina Allen who started to play the violin just one year ago.
Started her violin journey in her 50’s
We asked Angelina a few questions about her violin journey.
In which country do you live?
I am originally from the State of New Jersey in the United States but, I am currently living in Greece.
In which age range did you get started playing?
Current favorite piece to play:
Well, since my repertoire is a little on the slim side, I would have to say Happy Birthday, because no matter, let’s say not perfect it sounds, you can almost always guarantee to bring smiles to the room just because of your effort and celebratory mood everyone, or the person you’re playing it for is in.
The current piece you are working on:
Minuet 1, the Academy piece, and Moon River as a duet with Josie.
Arnold Steinhardt, the first violinist from the Guarneri Quartet. He is my favorite because I feel I have gotten to know him on a personal level.
I took a class on Coursera called The World of String Quartets that he co-teaches, and from there read one of his books.
What motivated you to start playing the violin?
Boredom, and a mystery woman I guess.
Let me explain.
Moving here to Greece has at times been quite a struggle for me. I don’t speak the language and am not able to work because it is difficult to get a work permit, so let’s just say I have a lot of downtime.
A while back I talked to my husband about this. He tried very much to encourage me about our new life changes and suggest I find something to do, that I could do by myself and would take a bit of focus off my boredom so to speak. Thus the mystery woman.
So I had that conversation in the back of my mind for a while, nothing was coming to mind. I tried knitting, all that did was frustrate me. ? lol.
And then one day I was walking with friends in the tourist area called the Plaka, and while my friends were looking at gifts to buy for their family at home, I heard someone playing the violin in the distance. It was a warm day, so all the shops had their doors open.
So I told them to take their time, and that I would be where that sound is coming from.
I entered a music store across the way, and there was this woman just playing something so lovely. When she finished she noticed me standing there and asked if I wanted to try it out.
She was not Greek nor American, but her English was very good. I definitely was like… No, thanks. We proceed to have a conversation, I don’t remember it word for word, but the gist of it was her debunking any preconceived notion that I may have had about the violin.
It went something like:
Me: No I don’t play the violin.
Woman: Well, it’s never too late to learn.
Me: I am almost 50, I thought it takes years to learn and you have to start young.
Woman: You can start at any age you can learn. Here let me show you. She then puts it in my hand and kind of moved me into holding its position, put the bow in my other hand but yet she was holding it as well and kind of pulled my arm across the string. And said… There. You just played an A.
She then goes on to explain how you can buy a student violin fairly reasonably, but not too cheap because you can get discouraged.
Meaning no matter how much you have improved, it won’t sound pretty and so you will think it is you, but really it is just the sound of the violin.
She also explained that though yes it is better to have a personal teacher, it was still possible to learn online, that there were many outlets for education.
And no, I don’t have to know how to read music either, not at the beginning anyway.
I walked around with this encounter in my head for a while.
I found myself Googling videos, and researching violins. I came across the Kennedy Violins site and saw they had a 40-day trial money-back guarantee if I decided I didn’t like it, and a lifetime warranty if I did.
I talked to my husband, he told me to go for It! And thus my journey began.
Can you tell us what helps you make consistent progress?
Well… I do host a Practice Sprint at JVA 5 days a week so just showing up there helps to get some practice in. But what I think has helped me the most is focusing my practice on small specific goals like Julia mentions.
- Not trying to rush things.
- Narrowing things down to specifics.
For example, it’s not just enough to say oh I am working on G Major scale and arpeggio, but to say, I am working on getting the distance between the first and second finger on the A string exactly correct while practicing the G Major scale or smooth finger transition going downscale from the 1st finger on the D string to the 4th finger on the G.
So really I break down my practice like that, and Julia is the one who mentioned doing that when she showed us her Facebook live video of how she practiced. And really I focus quite a bit of my practice on the exercises that Julia has in her lessons and only a little bit on repertoire.
I feel if I can build my skill level with a solid foundation, my learning repertoire will be that much easier. I don’t have an offline teacher, just Julia, and so I pretty much follow her program with due diligence.
There are also 3 books I reference, and keep going back to as I add exercises.
- The Art of Bowing Practice by Robert Gerle
- The Art of Practicing the Violin by Robert Gerle
- Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching by Ivan Galamian.
I also keep a practice journal. I think that has also really helped me log where I have been and what still needs work and how I plan on working on it.
What have been your biggest challenges so far with learning the violin?
In the beginning, it was finding the right posture for me.
It took months to get my violin hold and left hand position right, and still when I am tired my right pinky will collapse.
I have to continually be conscious to get it back to proper bow hold position when that happens. But I am getting better as time goes on.
Now my biggest challenge is relaxing when being asked to play for someone, or when making a feedback video. I am a wreck. My hands get so sweaty and I can feel my cheeks getting so hot and turning pink, and I hold my breath.
What is that even about??!! This is supposed to be fun!
But I keep going. I try to volunteer to play something when Julia asks who wants to play, and last month I signed up for the recital and played something, so hopefully one day I will overcome this.
But also finding the rhythm of a piece when playing.
Not just playing the notes, a challenge…
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
PRACTICE SPRINTS FOR SURE!!!!
THE PEOPLE IN THE PRACTICE SPRINTS ARE AMAZING!!!!
I cannot emphasize enough the impact showing up for practice sprints has had on my violin journey.
The people there, the friends I have made, the encouragement I have received, and the helpful tips I have gotten, are too numerous to count.
I have to give a shout-out to them all in no particular order: Otto, Robert, Calin, Josie, Marianne, Nancy, Elizabeth, Dianne, Shari, Do’, Rahil, Wouter, Christopher, Dan, Annette, and the list goes on…
Learning the violin is admittedly challenging, and I would be a liar if I were to say I never get discouraged, but I know if I am ever not feeling like playing or feeling frustrated or don’t understand something.
I have a place where I can go, where there are people who will help build me back up with their helpful advice, encouragement, kindness, and humor, a group of like-minded individuals, who, though separated by distance, and quite often oceans, have kind of banded together in a common safe place, to achieve a common goal, learning to play the violin.
What do you love about playing the violin?
That is a very complex question.
For starters, it has opened a door to new friendships, many of which are around the world, so in that new cultures, traditions, a new way of seeing things.
I have learned discipline, perseverance, a sense of accomplishment, and gained a bit of confidence that I believe has also transferred into my non-violin life.
So I love how learning to play the violin has helped me with all of that thus making me more of a fun person.
Like I said earlier, I was really struggling before picking up violin practice and this took a lot of that away.
Plus, it’s really cool to say, yeah, I can play a bit on the violin.
(even if it’s just scales or Ode to Joy)
I mean how many of your non-academy friends can say that…
If I could go back in time to when I started playing the violin I would tell myself…
If I go back in time, I would tell myself to don’t let anyone get in your head that would take away what you have accomplished in your violin journey.
Scales and arpeggios are important!!!
But most importantly have fun!