Today I said goodbye to an old and loyal friend headed into retirement: my shoulder rest. I’ve had many shoulder rests over the years. Fixed, adjustable, inflatable pillows, velvet covered bars, carved hardwood. But my favorite was easily a $10 Resonans rest I bought more than twenty years ago.
It took me a while to find it. I tried lots of different kinds of rests after giving up the block of foam held with a rubber band. I tried fixed rests, adjustable rests, inflatable rests, soft velvet rests, and carved hardwood rests. Some were cheap. Some were expensive. But it’s the low-end Resonans that felt right and I’ve been using it almost exclusively ever since. It’s seen me through dozens of recitals, chamber concerts and orchestral performances. It’s been to more rehearsals than I can count.
But recently it’s been losing its grip. It happens to the best of us as we age. It clatters to the floor at inopportune moments. I had to face facts. It was time for retirement. But still, I resisted.
As a teacher, I talk a lot about building playing habits. Consistent practice and position helps build consistent, solid technique. But there’s a fine line between consistency and rigidity, and we’re not always good at seeing it. Sometimes it’s time for a change.
This week, spurred by the need for a new shoulder rest, I decided it was time for some other changes too. I bought a new Wolf Primo rest to replace my loyal friend of more than two decades. I bought a new set of Peter Infeld strings, a great extravagance, but I was curious after all I’ve heard. I bought two new books of Italian Baroque music.
Change begets change. The new rest is much like my old one used to be when it was new. In my holding onto the habit, I’d lost site of the reason I’d built the habit in the first place — it was easy. And now it’s easy again. Likewise the strings. I’ve been using the same setup for years (Dominant A-G with a Pirastro gold E). But I’ve been hearing about the PIs for some time and wanted to give them a try. I felt like I had a brand new violin. At $127/set, I probably won’t be using them all the time, but boy, howdy, are they fun to play.
So what happened? I played. And played. I didn’t want to stop because everything felt brand new. Change begets change. Trying something new can inspire you anew. If you’re stuck in a rut, try making a small change. Maybe it’s treating yourself to a new set of strings or maybe it’s making a new commitment to, say, playing scales in keys you find challenging every day. Or trying a new playing posture. Whatever it is that inspires you.
My New Year’s resolution is to keep trying new things, to pull myself out of the rut of making the same mistakes or just to see what else is out there. The goal? To be a better player, of course but mostly just to fall back in love with my instrument every now and again. To remember what it is that makes me keep at it. To play and play.
What changes will you make this year?