Ignorance, Stupidity, And A New Year’s Resolution


I often take for granted how much musical knowledge has been stuffed into my head since the first time I picked up a violin at age 10. And like many of my colleagues who have equal or more knowledge than me, it is so easy for us to judge others ignorance or stupidity when they thoughtlessly criticize the career of a musician.

So easy is it for me to get up on my soap box and defend the ubiquitous and offensive comments people make in the online newspaper articles about any given symphony struggling. How dare those people! Don’t they know how ignorant and stupid they sound?! Perhaps they should read up on the history of music, appreciate and absorb the countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears applied to the typical life of a professional classical musician.

When talking with friends and colleagues about the viewpoints of those that truly don’t understand our career, sometimes we come to the supposed conclusion that these people probably had started an instrument at a young age and then quit early on and their knowledge of a career in music is probably stunted. Heck, I quit many activities as a kid; most memorable was ballet.

My mother took me to see the Nutcracker and saw that I was interested in the ballerinas. Like many parents, my mom decided to let me have a chance at ballet lessons to feed my new obsession. I was even given a brand new jewelry box complete with a ballerina that spun every time you opened the box. I wanted to be that spinning ballerina! Ballet classes weren’t quite what I’d imagined; besides not being allowed to spin on our tip toes, we five year olds weren’t allowed the coolest looking aspect of ballet: point shoes. But besides that, one other memory of that art I quit still haunts me.

Why did the roses have to be yellow?

My first real memory of utter embarrassment was as a five year old during a ballet recital. The teacher’s instructions were simple but clearly I was more focused on the color of the roses that were assigned and then attached to my tutu. There were 30 kids in my ballet class and the teacher divided us into three groups. Absolutely devastated that I was not going to get to be in the group that wore the red roses, I was fixated on why I was stuck with yellow. I hated yellow.

The class was to make three circles of 10 kids each. The red rose group was center stage, and the two yellow rose groups balanced either side of the stage. Step one: hold hands out to create a circle with your group. Step two: walk in a clockwise circle while still holding hands. Step three: Stop, let go of hands and turn three times individually with your arms over your head (bras en couronne or fifth position). Step four: Stop after three individual turns and then hold hands with group once again and walk counter clockwise. How hard could it be?!

Alas, during step three I kept spinning and spinning and spinning. The teacher had to walk on stage and tap my shoulder to remind me that I was holding up my group for step four: hand holding circle walk. To this day I wonder how long I had been spinning while 29 other five year olds had their big number disrupted by me and my spaced out fixation on that stupid yellow rose.

I quit ballet a bit after that. It was a combination of impatience and not understanding the connection of my little ballet classes. The music box dancer that spun so perfectly every time I opened my pink jewelry box just mocked me every time I opened the box.

Decades later I get to play some fantastic music in the orchestra pits while the five year olds that kept up their classes and paid attention get to dance on the stage. I don’t like ballet still. I love the music but really don’t understand ballet. And this last time in the pit, I uttered something under my breath as I caught a glimpse of the ballerinas smiling ear to ear doing what seemed like a ridiculously pointless movement. I uttered, “This is so stupid.”

And then I realized I was teetering on the very line that I lectured other people who say the same thing about classical music. Usually, if someone uttered something like that about classical music, or violin, or musicians, I would promptly get on my soap box and proclaim that there is a fine line between ignorance and stupidity.

So at that moment in the pit, toeing the line with stupidity, I decided I need to educate my ignorant self on the finer elements of ballet.  So my New Year’s resolution is to read about the history of ballet. Luckily, I heard this fascinating interview on NPR and have ordered the book! Next time I sit in the pit, I will have an educated opinion about ballet and no more deep harboring resentments about my own failing so long ago.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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2 thoughts on “Ignorance, Stupidity, And A New Year’s Resolution”

  1. Cool article!! Really brought back some of my own memories. And, very well written as well! You paint a beautiful picture of the “growing-up” years.

  2. I was fortunate enough to have a much better early ballet experience, and so continued dancing until I was 17, at which point I gave it up to focus on music and academic work. My very first ballet school recital had all us “pre-primary” students participating in a staging of The Pied Piper of Hamelin – we got to be the rats!

    It was great fun and the spinning and the pointe shoes all came in good time. In retrospect, the three things I got out of ballet were (1) the sheer, glorious physical discipline of it, (2) the fantastic music and (3) the stage craft, which was something that was sadly lacking from all the training I encountered as an instrumentalist.

    And now I come to think of it, there was something else I learned in ballet (at the tender age of five or six) which most music students don’t learn until much later: the basic conducting patterns. That was thanks to the wisdom of the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, which included among the music tests the requirement to listen to an unfamiliar piece and conduct along in the correct metre.


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Ignorance, Stupidity, And A New Year's Resolution

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