Breaking the Habit of Self-Doubt

Several weeks ago, I experienced something nearly every so-called “creative entrepreneur” has dealt with at least once in their career (if not once a week): Project Meltdown. I was only a few days away from a video shoot I'd been planning for several months when a major part of the preparations fell through at the last minute. I'd never taken on a media project with so many moving parts, and as I felt the support for the awkward load I'd been shouldering shift without warning, I was staggering to keep my balance.

Following this setback, there were plenty of technical and logistical issues to consider. Could I learn what I needed to know about the technology in time to fill in the gaps? Would I physically be able to make everything run smoothly? Would I be too distracted to play my best? Was my playing even ready, anyway?

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The Radical Act of Being Ordinary

This past February I had the good fortune to spend two idyllic weeks in rural New Mexico for an intensive viola retreat. I enjoyed a respite from the bustle of NYC freelance life, luxuriating in the wide-open spaces and sweeping silence of the high desert, and I also worked hard, incorporating a new approach to physical and aural coordination into my technique. I interspersed practice sessions with long walks in nature and relaxing drives to local tourist attractions. But the most unexpected benefit of the time away was an exchange I shared with a friend I met on my trip, who taught me a difficult but valuable lesson about the power of being ordinary in a profession where specialness is often the most coveted currency.

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The Transformative Power of Caring

A number of years ago a conductor I knew from a handful of previous engagements invited me to be a guest principal for a concert with a chamber orchestra in Europe. When I arrived at the first rehearsal, exhausted from the trip, I was feeling a little apprehensive at the prospect of leading such a formidable ensemble as a guest—I had prepared well, but I'd never played with the orchestra and was the sole American flown halfway across the world to fill out and lead the ranks of more local players. After glancing around the rehearsal room at the other musicians taking out their instruments, tuning, and warming up on tricky passages, my eyes drifted to the principal viola stand, where I saw my would-be stand partner intently marking something in the part. I strode over to the stand and turned to her with a smile.

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On Acceptance and Letting Go

A few years ago, while I was serving as the acting principal of the viola section of a regional orchestra, I played a concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that taught me something about letting go in performance and accepting the result. The orchestra had been looking to fill the position for several years, and I had been invited to sit in numerous times, never sure if I would be hired again, or for what chair, or who else they had in mind for the job. I tried to take each performance as seriously as a job interview: I had to demonstrate that I was competent and not afraid to take charge, even though I was a relative newcomer to the ensemble, much younger than the other players in the section, and had never held a permanent principal position in a professional orchestra.

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Being an Artist in Challenging Times

As I write this, I am recovering from a difficult week. November is a busy time for musicians, and after more than a year of paying intense attention to the swings of political drama in the American presidential election, I was eager to set aside the fear and disgust that the campaign had surfaced and put the daily distraction behind me. Furthermore, I was more than ready to elect the nation's first woman president, a gesture of visibility and empowerment for women and girls worldwide and a sign of national progress toward gender parity.  

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In Defense of Doing Things That Scare You

A few weeks ago, my husband and I played a show together in New York that I had plenty of reasons to be nervous about. For one thing, it had been a while since we'd played a formal concert as a duo--the previous year our free time had been consumed with planning our wedding, and the ongoing work of trying to build a teaching studio--so we felt a little rusty. I was also exhausted from driving 425 miles back to New York from the weeklong Art of Practicing Institute summer program the day before. In addition, the pieces we'd chosen to play were fairly virtuosic, and since we hadn't rehearsed in over a week there was no telling what kind of shape they would be in.

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The Raw Wisdom of Anger

Several weeks ago, as many freelance musicians must do from time to time, I chose to play a gig that really frustrated me. It paid decently, wasn’t that far away, the orchestra sounded great, and the music was wonderful. The problem was the conductor: though he meant well, he had a maddening habit of stopping the orchestra every few seconds to make a correction or insist that the players weren’t following him. He sought to control every detail of the music, forcing the players to render his idiosyncratic interpretation of the piece or risk being called out as incompetent or inattentive.

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The Missing Ingredient is Love

A few days ago I was grudgingly contemplating the prospect of writing a long-overdue post to my blog on the inner life of being a performing musician. I had a collection of unfinished articles that had begun with promising ideas, but then fizzled out once I felt the inspiration wane. After posting my inaugural article “On Jealousy and True Belonging,” in July 2014, I had received messages from the thousands of musicians, both friends and strangers, who responded positively to its message about finding a sense of belonging no matter where we are in the world of music. Some of the messages were heartfelt thanks from people who felt my words had reached them at a critical time. Others were full of good-natured advice from older musicians. 

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Loving Your Mistakes

One night after a concert I was having a drink with a colleague who told me a bizarre story about a graduate school audition he'd taken. While entering the subway en route to the audition, weighed down by his violin case and a large suitcase, he walked through the service gate behind someone else rather than swiping his card at the turnstile. Since he had an unlimited monthly pass, he had essentially pre-paid his fare and assumed there was nothing unlawful about walking through the gate. So he was stunned when a police officer stopped him, arrested him for fare evasion, and took him to jail.

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Creativity and Freedom

A friend recently told me about a master class he’d observed at a world-class chamber music festival. The young pianist in the class played a stylish and virtuosic showpiece with dazzling technical mastery. Then, something strange happened. As the coach leading the class began to work with the pianist, it became clear that while she played the piece with great panache and flawless technical command, she couldn’t work with any of the teacher’s ideas about shaping the music differently, and the energy in the room dissipated as he found himself without much to say.

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Finding Your Natural Grace

When I was a sophomore at Brown University, my teacher asked me to perform in a master class for one of the best violists in the world. I’d never played in a master class before, but despite my limited solo performing experience, the opportunity excited me. I chose a movement of Bach to prepare and worked on it with greater care and attention than ever before. My teacher seemed pleased with my progress and happy to present me as his student. When I stood up to perform, I felt eager to share my work with the audience, who included this world-renowned soloist.

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Handling Your Vulnerability as an Artist

A few years out of school, I happened to meet a prominent and well-connected freelance violinist. She was several years older than I was, very skilled and street-smart, and I asked her to lunch so that I could glean some useful career advice from her. After some pleasant small talk, I got to the pressing question: “How can I get more work in New York?” 

She sighed, thought for a moment, and gave me the names of a few people to call. But she warned me that I wasn’t likely to get anywhere by asking other people for help—I just had to stick it out somehow until people got to know me. At the end of our meal, I thanked her and asked if she had any parting words of counsel. She looked me squarely in the face and said, “Just remember, no one is your friend. Act confident, and don’t open up to anyone. Go in every day with your armor on.”

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Nora Krohn
On Jealousy and True Belonging

Several years ago I was confiding in a friend, an accomplished cellist, my persistent feelings of self-doubt as a violist. This friend attended one of the top conservatories in the world on full scholarship, went to the best summer festivals, had been a member of an acclaimed chamber ensemble, and was touring and recording with a high-profile artist. Naturally, I felt envious.

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