Ask The Teacher
A violinist from New Hampshire asks:
“I enjoy blogging and writing.
Does this help my violin playing at all?”
Answer from Trisha Park, Concert Violinist
How Creative Writing Could Make You a Better Violinist
By Tricia Park
In classical music, we accept nothing less than perfection. We mustn’t miss a shift or play out of tune. This perfectionism made me relentless and hard-working and followed me from The Juilliard School to the M.F.A. classroom. But it also made me deeply afraid to take risks, to grow. I suspect I’m not alone in struggling with toxic perfectionism. If you struggle, too, consider putting your violin away. Not forever, just for a pause.
There’s an idea that I like called “wabi-sabi,” the embracing of flaws in pottery where, instead of throwing away broken pieces, they’re mended with gold lacquer so that the restored object is gilded, made more beautiful. In Korea, we have the idea of “mak” or suddenness. A welcoming of imperfection that’s present in architecture and aesthetics. An affection for the unrehearsed, the unprepared. The surprise of unplanned delight.
Like meditation, writing has provided surprising lessons that have helped me become a better violinist:
1) Create distance from the inner critic.
Our inner critic is a bully who doesn’t want us to change. Through writing, I’ve learned to grow fond(er) of the “sh**ty first drafts,” a term coined by writer Anne Lamott. Crappy early work is necessary. A willingness to tolerate it without self-loathing makes it possible for me to accept “sh**ty practice days” on my violin, too.
2) Curiosity NOT judgement.
This is a mantra from the writing teacher, Megan Stielstra. When I’m too tight in my writing (or violin playing), it’s because I’m trying too hard to be good. Judgement is heavy, mocking the toilet paper stuck to our shoe. Curiosity is lighter, gazing at our mismatched socks wondering, “hmm, how did that happen? Do I want to fix it? Maybe I like it this way?” Curiosity helps us grow in spite of our flaws. Judgement keeps us stuck in our flaws.
3) Clarify your thoughts.
Everyone’s a writer. If you think, you’re a writer. If you talk, you’re a writer. The legendary pianist and pedagogue Leon Fleisher said that if we can’t articulate what we’re trying to do with words, then our intentions aren’t clear enough in our minds. Writing helps us understand ourselves. The clarity of mind that comes from writing makes you a better problem-solver and musician, not to mention better human, citizen, and advocate.
4) The importance of “play” and making something of your own.
Writing teaches us to follow our creative impulses. Making my own stuff is like being a kid, playing for play’s sake. I’ll write something that I might throw away or put in a drawer. But it's mine, something I made for myself. What do I want? What do I think? Instead of: Am I doing it right? What will other people think? Writing cultivates a creative mindset instead of a corrective mindset.
A term I use with my writing students and violin students is “creative courage” or the willingness to:
...be brave and take risks
...make mistakes and fail often
Writing has made me more creatively courageous and a better violinist. I think you might enjoy writing, too!
Subscribe to Tricia's newsletter and check out her courses on her blog,
Tricia Park is a concert violinist, writer, and educator. The recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, she has performed on five continents. Tricia is the producer-host of a podcast called “Is it Recess Yet? Confessions of a Former Child Prodigy” and is the Artistic Director of MusicIC, a chamber music festival that explores the connections between music and literature. She is half of the violin-fiddle duo, Tricia & Taylor, and is the founding member of the award-winning Solera Quartet whose debut album, Every Moment Present, was praised by The New York Times as “intoxicating.” Tricia is a graduate of The Juilliard School and she received an M.F.A. from the Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her writing has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Alyss, and F Newsmagazine. Tricia teaches creative writing online and has taught at the University of Iowa. Currently, she is a Lecturer and Artist-in-Residence in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago.