Learning the Violin

I feel as though I’m a caterpillar in hibernation…wait…no…that’s not it. A caterpillar doesn’t hibernate. In a…chrysalis? (Spell check isn’t working! Is that even a word?)

As if I’m going through something right now and I’ll come out the other end someone new. Still the same person underneath, but forever changed.

I don’t know if it’s a feeling you’ve ever had before? If you, dear reader, can relate? It’s not a life crisis. It’s just that “something has changed within me, something is not the same…” (Anyone a fan of Wicked?) It’s a feeling I’ve had before, and they mark the changes in my life.

And during this metamorphosis, I wanted to find something I could get lost in. So I picked the violin.

I went to a Catholic school for elementary school. And one of the things that did not exist in the Sioux Falls Catholic Schools, that did exist in the public school system, was orchestra.

In many schools around the US, fourth graders have the option to start learning violin, viola, cello or bass. Four string instruments that require parents to have ears of steel. For there is nothing worse than an out-of-tune violin. (Well, other than an oboe).

So the possibility of me learning a string instrument not only passed me by, it didn’t really enter my mind. I was already taking piano lessons. And when fifth grade rolled around, I joined the band playing percussion.

Flash forward to high school. While finishing my senior year of high school, I started seeing a therapist (for various reasons). And although this therapist was unfortunately trained to use the Catholic faith and faith in a god as part of treatment (which was unhelpful to me personally), she did start me on a track that I am grateful for.

She had me make a list of things I wanted to do in my life. A bucket list. (Except the movie The Bucket List didn’t exist yet, so it wasn’t called a bucket list). She thought, rightly-so, if I had some long term dreams (not all goals per se-just dreams) it might help me not feel so stuck in the dearth of high school.

It’s something I’ve fallen back on time and again.

As an adult, I often look back at how I wasted practice time as a child (specifically in middle school). How I could’ve been so much farther along if I’d given my instruments just a little bit more effort. Yes, it’s the age-old cliche where as an adult you realize the luxury of time you had as a child and regret how you may have spent some of that time. Cliches exist for a reason.

The bucket list that I had made in high school (and edited many times) was starting to get…sparse. I felt a pull inside myself telling me I needed to have a bucket list item to work towards. So I began thinking, what if I could learn something again? What if I could try again?

And that’s how I came to ask Tyler for a violin for Christmas. And then how I came to buy myself violin lessons with a wonderful instructor.

My junior year of high school I officially registered for orchestra. Because the orchestra and the top band met at the same time (and I wasn’t in the top band), that band usually lent percussionists to play when needed in orchestra. But I loved orchestra, it was strangely different than anything I had participated in before. And so, I became our high school’s dedicated percussionist in the orchestra. It was challenging (counting hundreds of measures of rests is common when playing timpani ) and it was interesting. The orchestra students were less concerned with cliques than band students (despite band students not being very cliquey at all) and a bit more likely to be into music.

Being in the high school orchestra, I lamented that I never had the chance to learn a string instrument.

And now, once a week, I leave Gus at home, and drive to the music studio. I walk down the sidewalk with the lightest instrument I’ve ever had to transport. And I open my case and tune my strings and have a lesson.

Back home, I pull out the violin after Gus and I eat breakfast. He hates it. He barks at it while I tune, thinking some imposter has come to the door. And I open my music book and play through the exercises. Slowly, carefully. Paying attention to the quality of sound from the string and if my pinky is curved on the bow and making sure my shoulder isn’t moving the bow. I have to stop and adjust the shoulder rest, because I don’t quite have the perfect spot figured out.

I play the exercise three times. I tap out the rests and count out loud. I get frustrated when I can’t stop the bow fast enough on a staccato and the note screeches. Then I take a breath and try again, remembering to relax the muscles in my hand.

And when my practice time is up, and I put the violin back in its case, I’m so excited. I’m so excited I made it through the eighth-note exercise or was able to make the fingering correct on Twinkle Twinkle and that real notes came out of the instrument. I can’t wait to try again the next day, to see if the rest between practices has helped my muscles remember just a little bit better.

When I attend my next lesson? I sit down a bit nervous. What if I practiced it all incorrectly? But my teacher is patient and answers my questions…even my absurd over-analyzing musician questions. We work on the next skill I’m to practice at home. And I walk out of my lesson so excited to get back home and pull the violin out again.

My goal isn’t to be an amazing violin player, I’m a bit too down to earth to have any visions of grandeur. But the excitement and pride I’ve gotten from learning something new? I can’t describe it. It’s a feeling I remember intricately whenever I’ve taken lessons. I’m one of the odd ones-I adore practicing.

I don’t know when or where I had lost that feeling, the feeling of excitement about practicing and learning something new. But the violin has reminded me that, like Dorothy, the power was there inside me all along.

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