I’ll never forget the first time I played in the school orchestra because that was the start of a year of bullying by the conductor, who was also the head of music teacher.
I was way out of my depth. My musical skills were not good enough to play at that level. I tried to hide at the back of the orchestra unnoticed. But the conductor couldn’t take his eyes off me. I can only assume that I was so bad that even air playing drew attention to itself.
Whatever the reason, he took great pleasure in making an example of me. I was completely overwhelmed just trying to read the music and keep up with the other musicians so I had no come back to his taunting. I had to endure the laughing from the rest of the orchestra until my playing improved.
I begged my music teacher to let me quit the Orchestra. She refused. No matter how much I begged. No matter what I said.
Today I can see that this was the tough love that I needed. The weekly humiliation forced me to get good as fast as possible because I wanted to avoid the bullying. If I could just get good enough to be invisible.
After a year, my playing got good enough to be invisible. Believe me, that felt like a great achievement. For the first time, I could feel like I was part of the Orchestra. For the first time, I felt like I contributed (in a positive way). And… for the first time, the bullying stopped.
I became a second-class citizen when I started playing the Viola. If you’ve never played in an Orchestra and don’t know what a Viola is then let me tell you that it’s basically a big Violin. Because it’s bigger, it has a lower sound. Possibly a more pleasant sound and if you ask me that's down to the musician, not the instrument.
No one wants to play the Viola because it makes you a musical second class citizen. No one tells you that you are a second-class citizen. But you soon discover this when you take your new seat in the orchestra.
The head of the orchestra is always a violinist or a cellist. Never a Viola player.
The Viola players are those that can’t hack it as a violinist. At least that’s what I thought.
So how did my music teacher convince me to start playing the Viola? She told me that there are lots more jobs for Viola players than Violinists. She said that everyone plays the Violin so there’s a lot more competition for professional positions.
I love that! Even at 14 years old I wanted to turn my passion into a profitable business. Even at 14 years old, the way to persuade me to do something was the promise of a job.
When I started playing the Viola, I was no longer invisible. I was not buried in the middle of the violinists. Now I was sat on the front row because I was one of two Viola players in the school.
I can't remember how long I played the Viola. It might have been a year. It might have been 2 years. All I remember was that when I quit, I was determined. Determined to carve my own path.
My own path was playing Jazz. This is strange because I didn’t listen to much Jazz before my commitment to play.
Steven King says that the secret to great writers is to read a lot and write a lot.
There’s a similar secret for musicians. Play a lot and listen a lot.
So, I listened a lot. I read a lot. I wanted to know the history of Jazz as well as who the giants were. I learned from whatever source possible. Then I wanted to play like them… haha, only in my dreams.
But that’s what motivated me. That’s what made me get good. That’s what made me practice, a LOT.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
You see, when I started down this road, I’m sure my friends and teachers thought this idea would burn itself out in a few weeks. As my commitment and determination grew, so did my playing ability.
It reached the point where my classically trained violin teacher told me that I had to find another teacher. She could teach me to play the violin if I was prepared to play classical music, and I'd have to find another teacher to play jazz.
I had no idea who could teach me to play jazz. My violin teacher suggested that I try and play with a trio that practiced on a Tuesday lunchtime.
The trio consisted of piano, bass, and drums. The engine of a jazz band.
I showed up, unannounced trying to look calm and cool. The reality was there were butterflies in my stomach, and I was terrified. When the piece that the band was playing came to an end, the teacher asked
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, I’d like to play with this group” I replied.
The teacher looked at me, he looked at the violin case and then he said
“Okay, let's start with a Blues in C."
I rushed to unpack and tune my violin. He counted us in and I started to play. I can’t remember what I played. What I do know is that it wasn’t that great. It was good enough that he would let me play with the group. In other words, I passed my forced audition.
That was a huge line in the sand! That was the moment when I saw that vision and determination would take you wherever you want to go.
The music teacher was a professional jazz guitarist, and I convinced him to teach me how to play Jazz. He was more than a little shocked that I asked him to teach me because he knew nothing about the violin. That proved to be the best thing that could have happened. He pushed me harder than anyone else because he knew nothing about the Violin. He didn’t limit his teaching to my playing ability. He pushed me to play at the level I wanted. Which was way, way, way beyond my comfort zone.
One of the first things he told me was that I had to learn my instrument. If I wanted to play Jazz and improvise (to play music without reading the music), then I had to know my instrument inside out… and I had to learn music theory.
This pushed me in directions that my classical teachers had tried and failed to do for years. You see, playing scales is part of classical music training. But I couldn’t see the point of it when you read the music. None of my teachers could give me a good reason why I should learn to play scales, other than you have to, so I refused to play them.
Learning my instrument got me playing in ways that I could only dream of a few months earlier. Learning the theory and listening to what the other musicians were doing improved my musical ability way beyond the limits of the instrument.
For the first time in my life, I was practicing enough to get good. I practiced for an hour or two 6 days a week and 4 or 5 hours on a Sunday.
This focused attention on theory and technique improved my classical playing in ways I never imagined.
Getting good at classical music gave me the opportunity for revenge.
I had hopped around the orchestra. I started way at the back of the violinists. Then I moved to the front row of the viola players. Then I moved to the middle of the violinists and finally to the front row of the violin players. This meant that I was good by other people’s standards. Being good by other people’s standards gave me the confidence to get my own back on the conductor. The teacher that had humiliated me every week for a year was going to experience that pain… with interest.
There were two reasons for doing this. The first was revenge. The second was to protect my younger brother. He had moved up from the junior school and had taken my old position at the back of the violin pack. He wasn’t going to suffer the weekly humiliation that I did. Not if I had anything to do with it.
So, every time the conductor did something wrong I laughed as loud as possible. If there was the chance to throw an insult, I took it. I became so vicious that the other teachers asked me to back off. I didn’t have the courage to explain that this was revenge for my first year in the orchestra. I was still too ashamed to say that out loud.
I was made Head Of The Orchestra.
This was a great honour. This was proof that hard work never lies. This was proof that hard work can take you beyond your wildest imagination.
You see, I thought that the conductor hated me. He had good reason to because for the last 2 years I had sought revenge for my year of being bullied. The bullied kid had become the bully. Something I’m not proud of and something I had to do. I wanted the conductor to know how it felt to be humiliated on a weekly basis.
If the conductor hated me, I thought he would never make me Head of the Orchestra. It was my friends that told me the good news. I thought they were joking until I saw it for myself on the notice board.
This new position created a truce between the conductor and me. An alliance of enemies. We stopped fighting with each other and focussed on the music. Something we should have done years earlier.
It doesn't matter where you start in life. If you have the desire, work ethic, and expert help, then you can achieve anything you want. In fact, you can enjoy success beyond your wildest dreams.
It takes work, that's for sure. And if you enjoy what you do, then you could say it takes focused determination rather than work. After all, getting better at what you love is fun.
It takes learning new skills. I had two teachers and wouldn't have achieved that success without their help. My jazz teacher pushed me in ways that nobody else could because I was following my heart.
My violin teacher improved my violin technique and my classical music playing.
Ultimately, if it wasn't for those two teachers and the opportunity to play music with other people (the orchestra and the jazz band), then I wouldn't have pushed myself to improve. I would never have seen how good I could become. I would never have silenced the doubters. I would never have enjoyed playing and listening to music as much as I do today.
Don’t let your current situation limit your dreams.
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Roland Eva is a copywriter and marketing trainer, mentor and consultant.
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To contact Roland, please email him on: Roland.Eva@RolandEva.co.uk