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Friday, October 5, 2012

The High Violin Hurdles

Pity the poor novice violinist...their efforts are so often met with comments about fingernails and chalkboards, or romantic cats under a 3 AM moon.

There are undoubtedly thousands of violins sitting unloved in cases at the back of suburban closets, slowly drying out, and never again to carry a tune (I didn't hear that quiet chorus of "Thank God", did I?).

But...it's a shame that it should be that way, because not only the mastery of the violin is sublime. So is the journey.

  1. It's a leap of faith - taking up the violin, especially after the first, and probably most bewildering lesson, is one of the purest 'reaches' into the future you can make. The distance between 'want to' and 'can do' is almost never so obviously great.
  2. It's a leap of culture - in a time when Justin Bieber and Lady GaGa are High Art, deciding to learn the violin is an in-you-face snort of derision to Pop Culture. Take this step, and you're standing with Vivaldi and Mozart and Beethoven and Jack Benny.
  3.  It's a leap of discipline - mastery of this almost diabolically fickle instrument, dependent as its performance is upon humidity, temperature, and for all I know the phases of the moon, requires discipline...the knowledge that each day you will spend some time making noises that will make strong men weep, and dogs reach for Valium...and the dedication to go back and do it again tomorrow.
  4. It's a leap of learning - the violin can't be mastered through mindless repetition. You have to study both the music, and the instrument. You have to know how a violin works, both in general, and in the specific...you have to know your violin. Nothing in your life, except possibly your marriage, requires this.
  5. It's a leap of tolerance - you will have critics. They will be the people closest to you, and their criticisms will range from helpful to vicious. Helpful criticism can be the worst, because a well-meant comment may address something you simply can't do.  Yet.
  6. It's a leap of the imagination - every day, you have to picture yourself jamming with Itzhak Perlmann, while today sounding like Janis Joplin with a head cold.
  7. It's a leap into your own heart - the violin will learn to talk to you, far sooner than you ever thought it would (after it stops screaming "Help!", I mean). It'll tell you how it wants to work with you, to produce sounds of which you'll both be proud, and these entreaties will open up secret rooms of emotion that you never knew you had...and which are essential, to play the violin. You don't play the violin with your hands and arms - your heart plays it.
  8. It's a leap into a whole new world - one day you'll wake up, and you'll realize that you can pick up this assemblage of wood, varnish, and gut, your fingers and chin will slip into positions that are now comfortable, and you'll be able to play for the enjoyment of hearing the music. It'll feel normal.
Remember, even Itzhak Perlman and Anne-Sophie Mutter were once beginners.

Just like you.


  1. I'd LOVE to learn to play the violin, but the arthritis won't allow that now. I applaud anyone who has the patience and ability to learn.

  2. Time to applaud Barbara, then!

  3. I love violin music. Both the hero and heroine of my debut novel are violinists. I don't play, but I listen to violin music while I write. According to iTunes, I've played Vivaldi's Four Seasons over 1,000 times. My research included attending Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell concerts. A real sacrifice, I know, but such is the life of a writer. =)

  4. Your research IS tough, Keli!
    Mine is tough, too--living in Luxor Egypt! (Novel set in ancient Egypt etc.)

  5. Oh, and, Andrew, is this meant to be an analogy on the novel-writing life? Because it fits on almost every point! (My WIP might make me howl at times, but doesn't affect my dog that way!)
    You are very good at this list thing. My brain doesn't work that way!