Many years ago, when I was a tender girl of ten, I joined our elementary school orchestra. I had no idea what I was doing, but the idea of an “orchestra” was immensely alluring.
When it came time to choose an instrument, if I remember correctly, I wanted to choose the violin. I loved the idea of being able to create the gentle sounds I’d been hearing on my Mom’s “Nutcracker Suite” album. I wanted that violin.
But alas for me, there were too many girls who wanted to play the violin, so I was assigned to try the viola. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was still a beautiful stringed instrument. I accepted it happily.
And it was love at first screech. During that year of joyful musical exploration, I discovered the glory of harmony. I discovered the power of playing music with friends. I experienced the amazing mind buzz of hitting the rare perfect note.
It was so much fun, and so inspiring, that even 53 years later I can still remember the smell of the resin on my bow. I can remember how cozy it felt to be on our school’s small stage when the curtains were drawn every Thursday. That was when the strings would practice together while the rest of the grade was at recess. I loved those lessons!
I still remember that my viola was number 82, and that the case was lined with purple velvet. I used to rub my thumb along the velvet. So rich! So elegant!
I loved every minute of rehearsal, of practice, or screaking away on my instrument in my bedroom. I loved the full orchestra rehearsals on Friday mornings. I loved our concerts.
I loved it all.
Unfortunately, I had to give up my viola lessons at the end of that year. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for two kids’ music lessons, and it was my sister’s turn to take up the viola. I gave up my beloved number 82 with many tears.
(I still haven’t forgiven my sister, just for the record. Every few months, I call her up and moan piteously.)
Anyway, the years went by. I grew up. I still managed to sing harmony a lot, and I even tried a very brief stint of playing the guitar. But in the back of my mind, all this time, the idea of returning to the viola as been lurking.
So. Recently a good friend of ours took up the saxophone. He’s our age, and not much more musical than I am, but he threw himself into learning his instrument with joy and abandon. He was my inspiration.
I decided to take up the strings and the bow once again.
My younger brother (aka, the musical genius) had a spare violin hanging around his house. I learned that a novice like me should start with the violin and then move on to viola if all went well. I happily took Dave’s violin.
I signed up for lessons.
I rubbed the resin on my bow.
I made hideous zombie noises on my lovely little violin, but I was thrilled. It was all so familiar! So wonderful! I remembered the movements, the feel of the strings, the shiny glorious wood of the instrument!
Luckily for me, there’s a fabulous local teacher who was undaunted by the specter of an old lady rookie. I went to my first few lessons, learned my scales, practiced my basic fingering.
It has been so much fun!
My teacher, Susan, is endlessly upbeat and joyful. Her smile is the most encouraging thing I’ve ever seen. Even when I continually run my bow across two strings at once, she smiles. When her chickens run out of the yard at the sound, she still smiles, and encourages, and makes tiny adjustments to my wrist.
With Susan I feel like a musician.
So you can imagine how exciting it was for me to arrive at her house yesterday, ten minutes before my lesson time. I took out my instrument, tuned it with my phone app, and resined up my bow.
From the lesson room, I heard the sound of the same familiar song I’d been working on for two weeks.
Not Tchaikovsky, but still, it was a song.
It was someone working on two of the five variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” that are the first lesson in our Suzuki violin book.
That someone was doing OK. A little slow on the fingering, but not bad. The student did hit a few extra strings, (maybe more than I do) but it was still cool to hear it.
“Ah, another novice,” I thought.
As the other student played, I quietly played along on my own. I heard Susan’s voice, as joyful as always. I smiled to myself. “Self,” I told me, “You actually play a little bit more smoothly than this person.” I had an image of another woman, younger than me, but struggling to get the combination of finger placement, bowing and rhythm all correct.
“You’ll get it eventually,” I thought to myself as I smugly packed my instrument back in its case.
I heard the door to the lesson room open, and two women’s voices chatting happily. I made out the word, “Good job!” and “Thank you!”
I stood up, ready to head into my own lesson.
And a teeny, energetic little 6 year old boy came careening around the corner, his mother trailing behind.
“Hi!!!!” he called to me. “I just played my WHOLE SONG!!!”
Susan was still cheerful and smiling when she found me standing with my mouth wide open.