A Long Time

It’s been a long time since I have blogged. This past year I have been teaching grades 6 and 7 Biology at a private STEM-oriented school in Silicon Valley. It’s my first year teaching full-time and often it feels like I have 2 jobs, not one, and hardly any time for orchestra, let alone blogging.  I had started to feel like I was barely keeping my head above water, technique-wise, and I wondered, am I going to have to quit playing altogether again, at least for a while, to make this job work?

But now, my school, like all the others in Santa Clara county California, has been closed for almost 4 weeks, and we teachers and our students are slowly adjusting to distance learning, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, Zoom Zoom.


I am privileged to still have a job and roof over my head. And I have a box of masks left over from the CA wildfires last year–not sure whether I can call that lucky, but I do have them. Introvert that I am, I may not be minding the current situation as much socially as some folks are. I need quite a bit of alone time, and I remember many long days of childhood spent at home with only books, dolls, and imaginary friends. In some ways, I’ve been doing this before it was cool. Or necessary. I even have a husband who shops and cooks, so I don’t have to!

But one aspect of this quarantine that has bothered me and made me disappointed and sad even more than I expected was the complete loss of my musical outlets and opportunities. First it was my remaining chamber group: no, we can’t go to the organizer’s house this week. He and his partner are in the high-risk age group. Then it was the South Bay Philharmonic concert that got cancelled. In honor of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, we had planned to play Beethoven’s 4th, one of two Beethoven symphonies (#4 and 8) that I need for my bucket list. We had been through all the rehearsals but the dress, and then the news came: no gatherings of more than 250 people allowed.

Things moved quickly after that: I went home from school for a short March break and haven’t been back since. My son’s high school closed too; my Googler husband is working from home.

And here we are.


For some reason when I finally did pick up the viola to play again, I felt the need to go back to my viola roots, to the basics. When I first started playing the viola, switching from violin around 14 years ago, that meant Bach suites. I played the Courante from #1, which had been my favorite back then, and the Allemande. Then I found suite #2, with its D-minor prelude. It seemed darker and more serious than suite #1. That was when I really started feeling like I had gone over to the “dark side,” the viola, and there was no turning back.

Instead of putting my viola back in its case after that, I put it on a hanger in my spare bedroom/office. I started taking “Bach breaks” from online teaching or lesson planning. I would just run through something, work on a little bit here or there . . . and then something else occurred to me. My daughter stayed in Oregon, where she attends Willamette University, because she lives off-campus and dorm closures didn’t affect her. Her room, sitting empty, has a balcony, which is why she claimed that room when we moved here in 2015.

Inspired by the quarantined Italians I had seen singing from their balconies, I stepped out from my daughter’s room with my viola. Would this work, or would I look ridiculous? A few joggers and dog walkers went by, and I brought out my music stand and played some Bach.

Later I set up my phone and livestreamed it on Facebook. I think I had a larger audience on Facebook than I did live on my small, quiet street, but that may have been for the best. If a real crowd had gathered I might not have had the courage to continue.

That balcony session led to some surprising and delightful responses. One was the reaction of my new friends and colleagues at school. I decided to go out on a limb and share it with my fellow teachers and my students in our online platform. They were very sweet–“that sounded awesome!” said one. The video got shared in our school newsletter too. And then there were the oranges. One of my neighbors left some oranges on our front porch from a tree in their yard, with a nice Thank You card for the “beautiful music while working in the garden.” I eat one orange every morning for breakfast, and I still don’t know who it is!

I’ve also had a Skype lesson with my viola teacher. We worked on Bach–the prelude from the 3rd suite now–and also on Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, which I think might be my next project. The lesson worked quite well and I think I’d like to continue this type of lesson with my teacher even when the quarantine is lifted. Not having to drive to Palo Alto and back saves me almost an hour, and might enable me to fit more lessons back into my regular schedule, even when school starts again.

And, I’ve played some fiddle tunes in what I’ll call “Zoom church.” It is the UU Fellowship of Sunnyvale’s answer to having to close down live services. Instead, we have Sunday services on Zoom, with everyone calling in from home. At this point I’m still not a pro with Zoom by any means (just ask my students) but any squeamishness I may have felt about being recorded on video is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

But, what about orchestra? I still miss it terribly. When I moved to CA, orchestra was both my greatest loss for what I left behind in MA, and my best source of new friends and experiences in CA. But I’m no longer just finding my way in these orchestras. I’ve been here a long time. It surprises me and brings me up a little short that now, here, I’m at the point of grieving another musical loss rather than exploring something new and exciting.

I’ve seen many wonderful videos of orchestras playing together at a distance, some of them on violinist.com. George Yefchak, our conductor at the SBP, had the idea to do a video like this as well, using the Scherzo from Beethoven’s 4th that we were going to play in the concert. He had the vision and did a heroic collecting and editing job to make that vision a reality. I’m there in the third row on the left, wearing an alto clef T-shirt. Fellow violinist.commer Gene Huang, the SBP concertmaster, is up in the top left corner too.

It’s not the whole symphony, and my sympathies go out to Roger, our horn soloist, whose concerto had to be postponed. But I’m still going to count it for my bucket list. Only Symphony #8 to go!

I know this quarantine has been a disaster for many professional musicians who live from gig to gig. I appreciate every one of them who has been sharing their talents with the rest of us to inspire hope and help us get through this difficult time. This is also a time when some of those distinctions start to fall away–professional, amateur, rich, poor, famous, ordinary, even young and old–the virus, and the need for human contact and hope, don’t know these distinctions. We may be here a long time, and we can all share with each other, and need each other. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best.



20 thoughts on “A Long Time”

  1. Great to “see” you again, Karen! No doubt these are trying times. Thanks for your resilience and way-showing as we muddle through them in the hopes of coming out on the other side. Keep on playing your viola! xox

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Karen – well done … loved your piece – and then hearing the orchestra – both quite delightful. You’ve accompanied the post with some lovely moving words – and it’s great to hear your news. Take care and enjoy those oranges – they look delicious … all the best to you and and yours – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your capacity for turning negative events into positive experiences. I have been following your difficult journey here, since the beginning of the school year, and I have shared with you the loss of my own musical world during the last few weeks, and also it’s resurrection ala Zoom. You speak the truth, and it gives me hope to see the good things that have emerged. While I’m still not keen on Zoom for large group enterprises, I have to admit I actually LIKE my personal lessons better in that mode and may decide to continue. Anyway, thanks for a great blog!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks! I’m probably enjoying social distancing more than most people. I like being home with my husband. He’s a little too into playing Pokemon GO, but that is how he’s getting exercise so I’ve been trying to join him many days. My work schedule before the quarantine was too much and I wasn’t managing it very well. Now, although distance learning is a challenge, at least I’m getting enough sleep.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was fortunate to be able to work part time when my children were small, and then switched to full-time work later. It was never my favorite mode and I always felt more productive when I spent more time at home. I’m all for women’s lib, but when one person stays home more (whether man or woman) I think you end up spending so much less money on not eating out, fewer clothes and luxuries, and not hiring out as much work around the house that I wonder if financially you don’t end up better off? For one thing you get used to a little less expensive lifestyle. The planet also seems to be benefitting with less travel taking place.


      2. You’re probably right, but I don’t think the point of working is primarily to make money. I also don’t like the division of labor in a family into “one person works, one person stays at home” regardless of who does what. I do believe that with everybody in the full-time work force, that the home front–many home fronts–are being neglected to our collective detriment. But if I were in charge, I’d make it possible, and expected, that everybody put in some time both inside and outside the home. Full-time work is too much for most people, I think, and can only be sustained by the support of someone else, who is often (but not always) being exploited and not paid enough.


      3. Sleep is good! Sleep is not overrated. 🙂 Anyway, I’ll second the opinions of many in here (third? fourth?) and say that I liked both your viola solo and the orchestra piece. I was going to ask you if you had seen the Bolero performance done by the French National Orchestra, but I have a feeling you have. 🙂 I think it was the AP that covered that one, although they didn’t post the whole performance. But when I found it on YouTube, it was worth the find.

        Be well, my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. No, that’s one I have not seen. I think my favorites so far are the Ode to Joy from the Rotterdam Symphony Orchestra, and the one where 40 violists play the Prelude from the first Bach suite, each one measure at a time. Violinist.com is compiling some great lists of these classical videos!


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