Claudia Fountain is a professional musician, playing the violin and the viola. She also teaches the stringed instruments to 3rd – 5th grade students in public school, and the violin and the viola privately to students, beginning around 7. Claudia shares why she sees God as the performer. Read on to learn how she overcame self-imposed limits, why she believes "going for it" is important, and how she lets inspiration guide her progress.
How do you approach your work as a professional musician and music teacher?
One of the questions that I ask myself is, "Who's doing the work?" I like the answer I find in the Bible: "For he [God] performeth the thing that is appointed for me" (Job 23:14 KJV). Of course, we need to take all the human footsteps, like taking lessons and practicing diligently. But I try not to see myself as a limited mortal trying to play the violin better. I trust that God does the work, and I (we) reflect God. God's qualities help give me the inspiration and dissolve limitations so I can progress to a higher level of playing.
I was preparing the Mendelssohn violin concerto to play for a jury of the string faculty. I couldn't play this one passage because I wasn't very clever at a particular technique – even though I had practiced it thoroughly. When I went in to perform, I played that passage exactly the way I wanted. I'll never forget that feeling of freedom. The excitement and the nerves I had been combating yielded to spiritual inspiration when I let loose and just did what I needed to do. All the preparation I had done paid off, and my teacher was just beaming. Playing the passages in the situation made me realize I could have played them all along. I had just been holding a limited view of Claudia.
How were you limiting yourself, and how did you overcome that?
Everything in the piece I was preparing was technique that I had known for many years, except this one technique, which had not been introduced to me until college. I became afraid of it. When we're afraid of something, we can get so locked up that we can't let go, and we limit ourselves. I got nervous because I was not able to be "in control" or feel that I had enough experience with this technique to play the difficult passage. When I gave the control to God and just played, I realized the problem had been in my own thought. I had been keeping myself back from being able to play a passage that I really could play. This realization freed me tremendously and has helped me many times with auditions.
It's like wanting to do a jump or flip on the trampoline, but just standing there, hesitant, nervous, afraid. If you just stand, you can't do the flip. You have to go for it. Once you go for it, you can gauge how much more or less you need to give to do it better, but you can't gauge until you go for it. Sometimes, trying to be in control of something actually keeps you from being able to do it.
It's the difference between holding on tight, trying to control something, versus letting God do it.
That's right. God performs what's appointed for us. I like to think of my consciousness as not being my own, but as an expression of God's infinite consciousness. Jesus said, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). I really try to see my unity with God, which frees me, and indeed all of us, to express the highest sense of accomplishment in any endeavor.
I also like to think that when I play, I'm playing for the glory of God, not for my own ego. I'm playing for the beauty of the music and to express the intention of the composer. When I think of music as spiritual ideas, I let go of myself and express the music freely.
How do you prepare spiritually for auditions and performances?
I take time to pray. At the audition, there are so many people prepping in the warm-up room. Rather than being overwhelmed by the situation, I shut out all the noise and clatter and pray to know that the right person will get the job. I trust that there's a right place for all of us. I acknowledge that God is in control, giving us calm intelligence. I like to see the divine Source in everything I do -- seeing rhythm and concentration, beauty and joy, dominion and order as coming from God. As God's expression, I can feel Spirit's excitement and brilliance animating all the phrases I'll be playing.
I like that concept of Spirit's brilliance. The Holy Spirit does amazing things. Inspiration is so important in music.
It is. One of my teachers always told us, "Don't just play a section of the piece the same way every time." My friend and I were preparing for a concert. We were playing a Beethoven sonata for my friend's master's recital. The day before the recital, as we were practicing, we had a brilliant idea about how to play the piece. We had so much fun playing with this new idea – both in practice and at her recital. She passed, which inspired me to go back later for my master's.
The same thing happened the day before an audition where I was playing Brahms. I realized I could do a crescendo in a different way. The conductor liked it and, as a result, moved me up in ranked order to a higher seat, which also helped me get more calls for work. It was clear that God gave me this inspiration. I was playing for the glory of God and tapping into the infinite source of creativity. The ideas are there for all of us.
As musicians, we're always trying to get better -- looking towards the pure ideals of music and musicianship. In the same way, we work to become better individuals -- allowing more of God to shine through us, becoming purer reflections of God. Improving in our field of expertise and in our own lives keeps us from getting old and cranky.
We can always find new vistas, arenas. I'm always trying to find new inspiration, new ways to interpret a passage, different ways to help my students. Each lesson is different. What I tell one student is not the same thing I'll tell another student because each individual is different. As I listen to that person's needs, I'm inspired as to what to tell them. I find that I learn as much as they do from all those experiences.
Playing music really isn't about ourselves. It's about letting go and realizing the truth of what Jesus said: "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30). It's God that plays through us.