It's been 8 months since I first picked up the viola.
I had long wanted to play the violin, and when I talked about it with Salty D., he said, "Why not the viola? It won't be as squeaky as the violin." What I didn't know is that the viola is a little harder to learn than the violin, in addition to being slightly larger.
I rented a viola that was pretty banged up from kids playing it in their school orchestra. I brought it home and Salty D. said. "Oh...I meant cello, not viola." Too late. I had found a violin teacher who also taught viola. I jumped in, stoked to make music again.
We found out that a few Velvet Underground songs featured the viola, as well as The Who's Baba O'Riley. I could play anything on the viola. This was very exciting.
I found myself telling my teacher Viola Gail each week that my brain was working really hard to understand the notes, to find them on the strings, to hold the bow the right way. Still, I was having fun. Throughout the summer, I'd sweat so much practicing (a mixture of heat and anxiety) I'd take off my pants to be more comfortable, and hope that nobody came to my door to tell me to knock off the squeaky folk music (because, yes, violas squeak just as much as violins.)
Then the music school closed. So I found a new teacher, Viola Ro. She recommended a different size viola, so I went to a new place that built a beautiful new correctly-sized instrument for me to rent. I felt better already. And then... Viola Ro pointed out everything I had done wrong over the summer. Everything was wrong in the way I held the viola and tried to play it. Everything.
Why did I decide, at age 47, to pick up the viola? I wanted to work my brain, yes. I wanted to play music again. But more than that, I wanted to build up my confidence, and music is an excellent way to do that. Self-esteem soars when you nail a piece of beautiful music. Or even a piece of folk music you don't really care for, that has the word "cabbage" in its title.
But this has been having the opposite effect. I've actually gotten worse. I've tried several tools and techniques - a new shoulder rest, a bow-right to keep my bow from skating down the strings, leaning up against the wall to keep my arm straight, practicing my Suzuki book until my arms ache. And it doesn't sound any better.
Tears roll down my face at lessons, making my teacher uncomfortable and causing me to apologize for my frustration, discouragement, and poor playing. She struggles to compliment me. "That was a GREAT tone on that one." She takes hold of my bowing arm to try to make me feel the way it should be played. It doesn't work. In fact, I hate that.
47-year-old hands aren't as flexible as a child's. Our brains don't remember all of the memorized pieces as well.
I've told the teacher that I'm at a crossroads, do I want to continue? She says nothing about that, and just gets me to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star again and tells me which notes are flat.
I haven't decided whether or not to stick with it. It doesn't make me feel good. But I don't want to quit when I've given it less than a year. And maybe someday it will click. I won't need to use the little foot corn pad on the bow to help my pinky stay arched. I'll feel like I'm good at learning something new. But until that magic moment of transformation, I just continue to feel depressed and discouraged and frustrated.
Tai Chi. Flamenco. MBA. Oil painting. Tap dancing. Leading a board. The ongoing list of things I've tried and quit. I don't really want to add another thing to the "I quit!" list. But maybe it's better to keep trying different things until something really pleasurable sticks. Or, maybe the pleasure is in the initial approach.
Taking opinions in the comments section.
P.S. June 10: Thank you to everyone who offered me opinions on and off-line. I quit my viola lessons, I worked at it for eleven months. I thought I'd feel sadder to leave it behind but a huge weight lifted off my shoulders -- literally! -- instead. I'm glad I tried.