“In order to survive as a musician here you have to be a hard worker, have talent, have guts,” violinist Sarah Franklin says in her “tiny” Upper West Side studio apartment. She’s lived in New York City for nearly nine years, and has called the one-room abode home for almost three.
Aside from a big bed in the corner, a jumble of violin cases and case covers, and a pair of music stands by a window overlooking a busy street, a noticeable attribute is the empty space in the middle of the room—for practicing. Practice, the 30-year-old musician says, is key to keeping up with the city’s competitive music scene. “You have to constantly be practicing and up your game.”
Like many young performers, Franklin is a freelance violinist. She’s filled her time with a diverse array of gigs since getting her master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music in 2009. Any given week, she’s switching gears a lot, preparing to play in a quartet at a wedding one minute, an orchestra the next. There’s a lot of repertoire to get through.
It was about a half hour before her building’s designated quiet hours began when she heard stomping in the unit above. She had been playing with her rubber mute, but switched to her Yamaha Silent Violin, playing more softly.
“You have to learn pieces really quickly and be very particular about your practice,” she says. “You have to be very focused, you have to find your spots that are really difficult and work on those, so you’re maximizing your productivity . . . . This is my job; I have to do it.”
But as many urban musicians have come to know, not everyone is supportive about practice time. One evening, while preparing for a big orchestral audition—“I was playing on overdrive all the time,” Franklin says—it was about half an hour before her building’s designated quiet hours began when she heard some stomping in the unit above. The stomping upstairs turned to stomping down the stairs, which then abruptly stopped, Franklin says. She had been playing with her rubber mute, but switched to her Yamaha Silent Violin. She still sensed something was off. She stopped practice at 10 pm. The next morning she found a typed note in her mailbox: “Would appreciate it if you could hold down the noise a bit at night.”
She said it wasn’t comparable to other “horror stories” she’s heard that range from intolerance and annoyance to outright hostility—of neighbors constantly complaining or landlords getting involved.
Some strategies, like installing expensive or heavy sound-dampening panels, renting out a regular practice studio space, or moving somewhere outside of the city are not options for many city musicians, so, like many, Franklin turned to tech. She bought a Yamaha SV-130 Silent Violin, which she plays with headphones. “It doesn’t have the resonating properties of my acoustic violin,” she says. Demonstrating, she explains that she doesn’t have to hold back with the bow pressure and, while quieter, the SV 130 still has the same sonority. She also has a heavy rubber Ultra Practice mute by Glaesel, which is ideal for the beginning stages of learning a piece.
Besides the hurdle of practicing without disturbing anyone, city life also poses other challenges to the busy musician, such as navigating crowded trains and buses, being at the mercy of the elements, and finding proper storage for gear. Here are some products that could help.