The Resonance of Strings: A Late Bloomer
I took up the violin when I turned 33. To this day, I’m not sure what possessed me. One day, the idea just popped into my head—it didn’t matter how old I was, I could learn the violin if I wanted to. A week later, I owned a good quality used violin, a lovingly worn second-hand violin case, an inexpensive bow, a small cake of amber rosin and the phone number of a violin teacher who accepted adult students (apparently, there’s a special knack to teaching violin to the less pliable adult mind).
I’d wanted to play the violin since I fell in love with fiddle music in my early twenties. But I scoffed at the thought of picking it up back then, pinned down by my own limiting belief that it was an instrument one could only learn in childhood. But, for some unknown reason that day, the powerful thought, an epiphany, really—that it’s never too late to learn—struck a deep chord in me and kept resonating until I finally acted on it. I had no goal in mind other than to play the violin simply for the joy of learning and, possibly, hopefully, one day, to be able to play well enough to strike up a few fiddle tunes as my partner strummed his guitar. I reasoned that if I only practiced fifteen minutes every day, in time I’d be somewhere—I didn’t know where exactly, but no matter how bad I was, in five or ten years I’d be someplace farther up the road. Since I was starting from point zero, there was no way I couldn’t improve.
The Wailing Cat
There’s a reason not many adults sign up to learn the violin. It’s an incredibly difficult instrument to pick up. It isn’t like playing a guitar. A violin has no frets to guide your fingers, so one must find the notes and search for perfect pitch entirely on one’s own. The beginning wasn’t pretty: a wailing cat is truly an accurate description of the terrifying screeching sounds that emanated from the strings being played by my trembling bow. Fingernails on a chalkboard come to mind. But once in a while I somehow created a pure, sweet, resonating note, and that was it—I was hooked.
My teacher had four adult students at the time, two guys and two girls, all basic beginners like myself. She made us all believe we had the ability to play the violin. She took a genuine interest in us, hosting cozy recitals for the four of us at her home so we could practice “performing”. We’d play our recital pieces for each other as her daughter skillfully accompanied us on the piano. While we were all exceedingly respectful during the performance of a fellow student, before, after and in-between performances, we did nothing but laugh, sip wine, eat tasty morsels of food and wonder what ever had gotten into us. We quickly bonded. Our teacher was truly special. She planted the powerful belief in each of us that we could learn quickly and easily and that we could excel. I was so inspired after every lesson that I couldn’t wait to go home and practice. I began to love practicing so much that soon, on my own initiative, I was playing three hours a day. Three years later, I was ready for the stage.
The Pinnacle: (Not Quite) Carnegie Hall
Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor for Two Violins. This is the piece I worked on for a full year, to be performed with my violin teacher on stage at the year-end recital in the small performing arts theatre of a local high school. Recital day arrived and the theatre filled with a zillion kids and two brave (“crazy” might be a better word) adult beginner students who would be performing at the recital. (The other adult students, the sane ones, politely declined.) And while I didn’t perform flawlessly, due to nearly incapacitating nervousness, I have to say I did a pretty darn good job of it.
The video below is a wonderful performance of the same piece I played with my violin teacher, Vivaldi’s Concerto in A MInor for Two Violins, performed by the string orchestra Perpetuum Mobile in Lugano, Switzerland. We didn’t have a string orchestra backup as in the video, but we did have grand piano accompaniment, played by my teacher’s incredibly talented daughter, a budding concert pianist. The part I played is performed by the violin soloist on your left. My teacher played the part of the soloist on the right. I didn’t play nearly as fast nor as superbly as the soloist you’ll hear performing on the video and I only performed the first allegro movement. But as imperfect as my performance was, I have to say that the entire experience was truly amazing—from picking out a violin, to spending a whole year practicing the Vivaldi concerto, line by line, right up to the actual performance of this piece on stage—I loved it all. It was one of the funnest rides I’ve ever had.
Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor for Two Violins:
Go For It!
Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Do it! But here’s something I believe is key: do it for the pure fun of it. Enjoy practicing your craft, whatever it may be. Take pleasure in the process of learning. Stay focused, but adopt a sense of playfulness in your practice. Enjoy the feeling of being challenged by something difficult. Allow it to become the impetus that inspires you, rather than frustrates you.
Make your main goal to simply take pleasure in your practice. You’ll find that you’ll naturally want to practice more and more, simply because it’s fun! Do this, and you’ll be surprised to see how far you come along. And here’s the most important part: you will have enjoyed the journey along the way, and not just some fleeting moment as you achieve one goal. It’s what all successful masters of anything will tell you—they do what they do because they love it. Because it’s fun. Because it inspires them. Because they get deliciously lost in the process.
Go for it! It’s never too late!
I must give a quick special thanks to my sweet partner, who is so encouraging of anything I do. If you have ever heard beginner violin being played, you’ll wince a bit, totally understanding my appreciation. The first six months were especially brutal. But the payoff was that it wasn’t too long before I could play a few fiddle tunes and he played the guitar alongside me. We spent many a sweet evening jamming away…
Do I still play the violin, you might wonder? No. Sadly, I do not. I wasn’t what you’d describe as a relaxed violin player. I tightened my neck when I played, gripping the chin-rest on my violin so fiercely that I sometimes feared I would break the instrument. Try as I might, I couldn’t play otherwise. Eventually I developed a chronically stiff neck and had to stop playing. But who knows? I’ve relaxed a lot about everything in life since then. I may just pick it up again. I never say never.
Salut Salon: Mastery & Fun
You MUST watch this next video. Salut Salon is a quartet comprised of four beautiful virtuosos—spirited and talented women, with a clever sense of humour, who all perform in ways you’ve never seen before. Brilliantly choreographed, incredibly musical and highly entertaining.
Violin Scroll, CC by Alex via Flickr
Stock Violin, CC by Bartosch Salmanski via Flickr