IIRY Podcast: 8. “The crisis of perfectionism in classical music”: Why a career is much more about the people than playing well. A Chat with Rebecca Fischer, violinist, writer, and educator.

In my conversation with violinist, educator, and writer, Rebecca Fischer, we discuss the challenges of maintaining boundaries, interpersonal health, and compassion within a string quartet; how we don’t talk about vulnerability in classical music and the damage this can inflict; and the importance of “creative courage” and the wonderful risk of not knowing.

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Rebecca Fischer

4:10 – The complexities of growing up in a musical household and striving to find one’s own voice and individuality

6:17 – How the Chiara String Quartet got its start.

8:49 – Advice to young string quartets and the importance of building community.

12:19 – The joys of making a life as a chamber musician and making sure everyone in the group feels equally seen and heard.

15:40 – Scrum and the emotional labor it takes to address the musical work in a string quartet.

18:39 – The Chiaras’ path towards playing string quartets from memory and the “wild transformation” this brought to the group.

21:43 – The “wonderful risk of not knowing what is going to happen on stage” and losing the barrier between performer and audience.

24:30 – My (the Solera Quartet’s) memory experiment and asking Becca for her advice on safety planning for memorized performances and how to build performance practice.

27:03 – How memorization increases connection within an ensemble and how trust and caring for each other increases vulnerability and musical intimacy on stage.

28:44 – How vulnerability is antithetical to a classical musician’s training. The problem of classical music training and its corrective nature with an overemphasis on noticing what is wrong rather than what is right.

30:10 – The extraordinary lack of self-consciousness in the folk music recordings of Bela Bartok. The many extra steps that most classical musicians need to make to lose self-consciousness and the struggle to find a balance.

32:09 – The delicate challenge of ending and disbanding a long-standing ensemble. Moving onto the next chapter in one’s career and seeing where creativity can take you.

37:51 – Becca’s other creative projects including Afield and her creative life with her husband, Anthony Hawley. Also, her work as a singing violinist.

42:11 – What are the things we need to cultivate “creative courage”? Also, the crisis of perfection in classical music and the avoidance of vulnerability.

46:13 – The lessons Becca has learned from the visual art world. The power of a daily creative practice and the joys of making things from scratch without judgement.

47:59 – How bearing witness to other examples of creative living can be liberating and important for classical musicians. The need for the permission to create and “make something” just for the sake of making it.

51:01 – The richness of a career as a result of cultivating interpersonal depth with colleagues, students, and community.

53:19 – Becca’s advice to her younger self: the importance of having fun, sleep, going to parties, and valuable friendships. “Never take for granted your creative impulses and act on them sooner.”

54:40 -Becca on her book of personal essays related to music, childhood, memory, travel, and “gifts for daughters.”

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