Healthy Obsessions: Embracing Your Passions Leads to Success

Einstein: Obsessive Physicist


The successful theoretical chemist Henry Eyring once said to his son while working on complex mathematical equation, “We were working a problem just like this a week ago. You don’t seem to understand it much better. Isn’t this what you think about all the time?”

As the young man responded negatively, his father asked, “When you walk down the street, when you’re in the shower, when you don’t have to be thinking about anything else, isn’t this what you think about?”

Again, negative. The boy didn’t think about complex mathematics and physics in his spare time. His father, who had hoped all of his children would become successful scientists then said, “Hal, I think you’d better get out of physics. You ought to find something that you love so much that when you don’t have to think about anything, that’s what you think about.”


“Obsession”: A Bad Word?

In today’s world, the word “obsession” has been increasingly weighed down with negative connotations. When you think of an obsessed individual, you may picture a boy playing video games 18 hours per day, a woman who has spent $12 million on plastic surgery, or someone who washes their hands 100 times a day. You may view the characteristic of obsessiveness as a psychological disorder worth treating, avoiding, and fearing.

In truth, however, most of the greatest contributions to the society of man have been made by artists, scientists, inventors, mathematicians, writers, entrepreneuers, business professionals, and the like who have achieved greatness as a result of what may be labeled today as “unhealthy obsessive behavior.” The greatest classical composers and performers are those who have given their entire lives to their art. Thousands of hours of passionate thought and practice have led these self-made prodigies to such levels of success.

Einstein: The Passionate Violinist

Practice: Pleasure or Torture?

I remember as a student in my university’s school of music that I struggled to practice my bass three hours a day based on the curriculum requirement. Over time, I began to dread practicing, gazing out the window of my tiny practice room wishing to be anywhere else or doing anything else. Preferably, I would rather be hanging out with my friends, writing (my “other” passion), or playing and writing songs on the guitar.

As I showed up at my weekly lesson with my bass professor, he sensed my weariness and began to probe me with questions, like the scientist had his son. He wanted to find out how passionate I was about playing the bass, if it was something I truly loved to do, and if I dreamed and ate and breathed “bass” all the time.

Practice, of course, isn’t always “fun,” he said, but he wondered if I had the internal direction or desire I’d need to become the player he hoped I’d become. He asked if I loved to practice as much as he did when he was in school, painting a portrait of himself as a young student (with hair back then) who just couldn’t get enough of anything related to the bass. I just didn’t. I expressed to him my conflicting interests in other things, especially writing, and after some thought, he very sadly, but genuinely proposed that I reconsider my choice to major in music, encouraging me to do what I was most passionate about.

Well, I did finish my music degree and still perform classically. But I also endured a fifth year of college to complete an English minor and take as many writing classes as I could. And since I graduated, I admit, I’ve spent much, much more time writing that I have practicing. And while I feel most myself when I’m playing classical music and take every gig I can get, it’s writing that I think about in my spare time, when I shower, and when I walk down the street.


Embracing Your Obsessions

The word “obsession” and the word “passion” are practically synonymous. But notice when someone says, “I have a passion for music,” it doesn’t sound like a psychological disorder, but  like a wonderful thing—and it is! In order to become a truly great musician, yes, you have to practice your brains out, but you also have to love it enough to practice your brains out when you could be doing other things. You’ll find yourself practicing and listening to classical music because you truly, deeply, love it to the point of obsession.

Allowing yourself to embrace your passions and be “obsessed” with what you love takes a lot of courage. It means setting aside other activities you may enjoy doing to do what you love doing even more. It means letting yourself be crazy enough to spend hours at a time learning or creating something that thrills you to no end. It means doing something you feel you “shouldn’t” be doing if you were a rational person.

So no matter what you’re passionate about, whether it be your violin, your children, or the novel on your nightstand, don’t be afraid—for once in your life—to be a little obsessed. Live a little. Be a little crazy. You may be surprised to see how far it takes you.

Stringed Instrument Care and Maintenance Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Instrument Care and Maintenance! If you missed Part 1, read it here. This time we’ll discuss some routine maintenance that is necessary for keeping your instrument in top condition.

Bow Hair – The hair on the bow needs to be replaced regularly. If you are unsure of how often to have the hair changed, it is best to consult your teacher to see what they recommend. Most students need to have their bow rehaired every six months to one year. Under extrememly heavy use, the bow will need to be rehaired more frequently.

Strings – Over time, any brand or quality of strings will gradually lose their quality of tone and quick, sensitive response. Since these changes happen slowly, many players many not notice them take place. If you’re unsure of whether your strings need to be replaced or not, it is best to ask your teacher or instrument dealer. When replacing strings, it is best to replace the entire set, rather than only part of the strings. This will ensure the most evenness in response and tone. It is a good idea to save the most recent older set of strings to use as an emergency backup set. The time between changing strings depends greatly upon the type used, the playing style, and how long the strings have been played.

Case – It is normal for the instrument case or bag to accumulate some amount of wear and tear. Since the case is designed to protect the instrument, it is important to inspect it regularly and to make sure it is still in good enough shape to continue protecting your instrument. The case handles, straps, latches, and zippers should be checked often, and replaced if necessary. After several years is it often necessary to replace the case or bag.

Bridge – The bridge often needs to be replaced several years after the purchase. This part of the stringed instrument is under a great deal of pressure when the instrument is under tension. The bridge can often bend or warp. If this happens, the bridge can be replaced by a qualified luthier. If you happen to move to a new area, the climate changes can usually cause the wood of the whole instrument to shift and change somewhat. This makes a whole new setup and some important adjustments necessary. In certain parts of the country, the seasonal climate changes can make it necessary to have two or three different bridges that are switched out during different times of the year.

General Setup – It is always a good idea to take your instrument to a qualified luthier every few years to have it inspected and readjusted if necessary, similarly to having a car tuneup. You will get the most enjoyment and best performance out of your instrument if it is kept in top conidition. If you have any questions or need more specific advice on care and maintenance, feel free to contact the Kennedy Violins staff.

A Touch of Class: Concert Etiquette for Dummies

Maybe you’ve seen it before. You’re at a symphony concert in your best evening wear to find yourself seated next to an obvious newcomer. The lights dim, but a glow next to you reveals your friendly neighbor whipping his phone out from the pocket of his oh-so-fashionably torn jeans. After a storm of texting, he answers a call during the first movement of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, leaning over to you, mid-call, to ask for a piece of gum. The movement concludes, but not knowing the piece is entirely over, your neighbor bursts into applause just as the conductor is about to begin the second movement. And just when you think you might settle into the peace of the evening’s repertoire, he stands up in the middle of the piece, edging through the aisle and loudly saying, “Sorry, when you gotta go, you gotta go!”

Well. We’re all newcomers to the classical music scene at some point in our lives. So if you’ve wondered what to wear or when to clap, here are a few etiquette tips when attending a classical performance, be it a solo recital, symphony concert, quartet salon, or the like.

1. Dress appropriately. As public events become more and more casual, symphony halls may be one of the few venues around where a higher standard of dress is not only welcome, but encouraged. As a general rule, avoid jeans and tennis shoes. Collared shirts for men are appropriate, as are skirts, dresses, or nice pants for women. Dress as if your grandmother were your date for the evening–and she never leaves home with a run in her stockings.

2. Be punctual. There’s no sneaking into a classical concert during the first piece if you’re late. If you are, many venues may even ask you to remain in the lobby until intermission. If you’re lucky, you may be able to sneak in between pieces, but not movements. Keep in mind that classical concerts may only have 2-4 pieces on the program (with multiple movements), so if you are late, you could end up missing out on a sizeable chunk of music. Try to be in your seat about 15 minutes prior to the concert starting.

3. Applaud when appropriate. Unlike during jazz or rock concerts when applause and shouting are welcome as the music is going on, applause at a classical concert is reserved for when

  • a) the conductor enters,
  • b) the conductor or announcer speaks or thanks patrons,
  • c) an entire piece concludes (not a single movement),
  • d) a soloist enters the stage, and
  • e) a concert concludes.

4. Know when to make your escape. If you must use the restroom, try your best to hold out until intermission. And even if you find the concert a little tiresome, try not to leave at intermission unless you must. Don’t stand up to exit mid-music or even during the silence between pieces or movements. An important element of classical concerts is each individual’s effort to preserve a quiet, peaceful atmosphere for everyone’s enjoyment, so avoid doing anything that will draw attention to yourself.

5. Don’t talk, whistle, or whoop. Save the commentary for your friend/date/mom for intermission. A quick, “That was beautiful!” to your pal during applause is passable, but keep quiet during the performance. And unlike at other types of concerts, whistling and whooping for performers during applause isn’t appropriate in a symphony hall. If you really like the music, feel free to give a standing ovation instead of offering your best cat-calls.

6. No munching. As tempting as it may be to sneak out that crinkly, cellophane-wrapped chocolate bar, next time leave the snacks at home. Don’t even chew gum (or blow bubbles!) Some venues offer refreshments during intermission or following the concert, but hold out during the actual performance. The one exception? Cough drops! We can excuse one wrapper opening if it means saving your neighbors from a cacophony of coughs.

7. Turn off the phone. Don’t even put it on vibrate. Classical music has its quiet moments when even the scuffle of a shoe, the scratch of a head, or the buzz of a phone can be heard clearly. Let the music speak for itself without interruption.

8. Lastly, relax! Okay, maybe you’re getting the impression that classical concerts are only for the uptight and unforgiving. No way! Mind your manners, but enjoy yourself! After all, that’s what it’s all about.