A new series of first-hand stories from people learning the violin. Here's the journey of Setareh Mood (Violin Learner, Yoga Student, and Head of ViolinSchool Support)
My name is Setareh Mood. Since my childhood I've loved to play instrumental music, I've always found it fascinating. Living in different eastern and western countries, made me very interested in every kind of musical genre. I always wanted to work and study music, but rarely had the possibility of accomplishing that.
At the age of 12 I began learning keyboard and that was the first time I got familiarised with music notes. I played it for about two years, but the life of a student was very busy and I just used keyboard to perform some small school concerts.
When I was 18 I left my country (Iran) and went to Italy to continue my studies of Foreign Languages and Literature. After my degree from Milan's university, I taught Persian language and literature to Italians.
When I was 25 I felt that music playing was lacking so badly in my life. I didn't have any instrument
with me in Italy, so I borrowed a violin from my husband's cousin who was studying violin at that time. I played that violin for 1 year, which was enough time to make me fall in love with this beautiful instrument!
So after one year I bought my own violin. And went to some private lessons during two to three years. But a sense of community and setting goals was lacking in my playing and so I wasn't very disciplined and constant in my violin learning.
When I arrived with my husband in London in October 2014, life was very challenging. I tried to play violin when I could but it wasn't very easy without a guide or a community. Then one day last summer I found there was a violin orchestra for any age and level in London, run by ViolinSchool. The idea of being part of a group with my same passion thrilled me a lot. So I participated in the orchestra and I've got much more than what I was expected. I found a family, and my best English friendships came from this orchestra and ViolinSchool members.
I found that ViolinSchool gives us the hope that we can play the violin beautifully and enjoy it even if we have just begun to learn it.
And the eLearning program makes ViolinSchool special because we have access to the violin learning everywhere we go. And we have a dedicated advisory team who are always glad to help everybody with their questions.
At the moment I am studying Yoga to become an advanced yoga teacher, and my dream is to combine one day the unity of yoga to the harmony of music.
At the beginning of this year I began to be a part of the ViolinSchool team and my dream of working and studying for music became true 🙂
As Rumi said: Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames!
Are you learning the violin and would like to share your story? Email us at [email protected] - you could be featured here next!
Last year, I bought Simon Fischer’s The Violin Lesson. Definitely not to be read from cover to cover, but it’s fascinating as a reference work. Something that really resonated with me is the distinction Fischer draws between advancing and improving (Introduction, p.xviii). I was reminded of this when someone asked me “how do you know you’re making progress if you don’t take Grade exams?” Good question.
I find advancing easy to measure through self-assessment. I know that I can play more complex music than I could a year ago. On my recent annual visit to the Dartington Summer School, for example, I was more than holding my own in string quartets and the string orchestra (as opposed to struggling in the previous year). My first position sight-reading was pretty solid and confident and I even tried shifting. I know for sure that I’m advancing.
But what about improvement? Improvement, according to Fischer, is about how you play rather than what you play. He talks about learners who manage to advance to play complex pieces but without solid fundamentals in terms of intonation and sound.
I think it’s harder to find the evidence to measure improvement. However, I discovered one way of doing this at an Elementary Strings course at Benslow. The pieces we played were much easier than Violin Orchestra 3rd violin parts. Since I didn’t have to think about the notes I made a conscious effort to focus on how I was playing. I experimented with speed, weight and point of contact and could hear different dynamics and colours. I ignored the basic “as it comes” bowing to introduce retakes where it made musical sense.
That experience showed me the value of returning to previously learned or very simple pieces to create brain space to think consciously about everything other than the notes and shift the focus from the left to the right arm. Other forms of self-assessment, of course, include using a mirror and tuner.
But self-assessment, while useful, can take you only so far. I think improvement, as defined by Fischer, is ultimately best measured externally. I find, for example, that my lessons are increasingly focussed on how I’m playing and feedback from performances at ViolinSchool's Minihubs is invaluable. But it’s good to seek feedback from anyone who hears you play, or to record yourself. And, yes, Grade exams (whatever I might think about them in general) are designed to assess how you play as well as what you play so definitely have their place.
It’s tempting to focus on advancing because it’s easily measured and you get more opportunities to play with others once you’re at a certain level of note-playing competence. But if how you play gets out of synch with what you play, overall progress is compromised. This is what’s happening to me at the moment, and my current major challenge is shifting my focus from left to right arm to improve my sound. Once how I play matches what I play I really will be progressing.
Susan & Friends performing in the Summer 2016 Violin Orchestra