If there is one thing a violin can’t abide, it is neglect. Mine, I’ve decided, is particularly sensitive.
A violin can be a very demanding sod. Even if some unimaginably heartless cad has smashed your heart into a trillion irretrievable pieces, it demands all of your attention. It doesn’t care whether you have a husband, children or two big-eyed puppy dogs who might consider themselves perhaps higher up the pecking order than a lump of wood with a stick…a stick which the younger dog would love to fetch and chew, pulling out all that beautiful horsehair just for fun. Of course, this stick is very intriguing for a big-eyed, puppy dog with an investigative snout!
Your violin doesn’t even care if you’re dying!
No! A violin doesn’t give a damn about all of that “stuff”. It’s all just “excuses”. Oh no! Rather than being forgiving, understanding and compassionate, your violin is the most jealous and possessive of lovers, demanding all of your love. Everything you’ve got…or else!!
Or else, it will screech and we all know what that means!
Yes, violins certainly have a lot of attitude!
Anyway, for those of you who have only been following my blog this year, you might not know that I play the violin. At times, I’ve even dared to call myself a violinist. Not because I’m a professional or even very accomplished but because being a violinist is a state of being. You somehow absorb your instrument into your psyche, into your soul and the two of you become one flesh, one mind…even one soul. That is quite common with musicians and people in the creative arts. My grandmother, who was a concert pianist, actually had a miniature grand piano on her wedding cake. Like my violin, my camera is an extension, as well as being an integral part, of myself as well…a second lens. I was actually photographed taking photos at my own wedding reception and friends joked about me having a hidden camera in my bouquet.
I started learning the violin 3 years ago. Our daughter had desperately been pleading to learn. Although I thought she’d be better off starting out on the piano, I caved in. If she was that desperate to learn violin, I figured that I couldn’t stand in the way of destiny. It soon became apparent that she needed my help and her teacher allowed me to sit in on lessons. I didn’t know it at the time but this is what Suzuki recommends. That when children hear and observe their mother play, they want to copy her and they will absorb music in the same way they learn language…almost by osmosis. I got hold of Geoff’s Great Grandfather’s violin and tried to remember the lessons I’d had as a child and my daughter and I set out on this great violin journey together to terra incognita.
As it turned out, this convoluted path back to the violin, was destiny. After a few months of serious screeching, I had found a way to express a silenced inner voice, which was somehow incapable of words. That these partially-formed, embryonic emotions could only find expression through music. The violin is the instrument which most resembles the human voice. I have always loved singing but the violin sings without words. As I said, so many emotions and emotional nuances can’t be put into words. They need the mystery of notes.
However, while it is one thing to discover your great passion, it’s quite another to fuel the flames year after year and to persevere through the struggles and cold silences as well as the joy, bliss and ecstasy. In other words, continuing through life’s usual ups and downs. For my violin and I, this includes pushing through extreme muscle weakness where it’s been a struggle to even hold up my violin and my fingers can be pretty uncooperative too at times.
Yesterday, I performed with our violin ensemble at the end of year concert. This was our third end of year concert and as you could imagine, it’s quite a performance. I’m not just referring to the performance but also the preparations, which go on behind the scenes to enable those precious few minutes on stage. We’ve been practicing for that precious 10 minute performance all year. At 30 minutes a day, that’s 182 hours of practice. Well, perhaps I didn’t work that hard but I certainly made a consolidated effort.
Rather than necessarily enjoying all this practice, there’s also been a lot of guilt. Previously I was practicing 30-60 minutes a day. However, after my health setbacks at the end of last year, instead of trying to rack up my 10,000 hours of practice, I’ve just been treading water. I keep forgetting to practice the same way I’m forgetting so many other things. At times, I’ve started to feel my violin slipping away like a lover drifting off down the River Styx, disappearing into foggy Hades. Yet, so far, I’ve managed to hold on.
I don’t like going over and over the bad stuff I’ve been through. However, I do so not to paint myself the victim but to show the victory and to encourage others who are also battling the forces of darkness whatever they might be, that there is a light at the end of what might appear a very long and torturous tunnel. That while you might not see any sign of light today, tomorrow or even the next day, but the light is still there. The sun never goes out. We have hope and even when the worst does happen, we can be resilient.
Last year, as my Preliminary Violin exam (the very first exam you can do) and the end of year concert rapidly approached, I was struck down with pneumonia and a flare up of my auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. I was so sick that one night I briefly stopped breathing and when I coughed (which was a lot), I pulled muscles in my stomach and that absolutely killed. I’ve never, ever had that happen before. When I’d improved a bit, I staggered off and had x-rays and scans of my lungs, and these delivered the bad, the dreadful news that the fibrosis in my lungs caused by my auto-immune disease had spread and had progressed from mild to established. This is the sort of news that sends you straight for your bucket list and you and the family are off on that world trip. That’s if you can afford it or if you’re well enough to go.
And your heart cries buckets too. Our kids are only 10 and 8…much too young to lose their mum but thankfully the chemo and all my treatments are working now so the crisis has been abated.
Anyway, not long after the pneumonia when I was still very much gasping for breath and even a basic conversation was a battle, I had my preliminary violin exam down in Sydney. I did consider withdrawing but I’d worked so hard and had been so determined to get an A. I didn’t want to spend another year perfecting the same pieces and while I might be able to pull off an A for preliminary, it would be harder to achieve in higher grades. This was my big chance. However, after not being able to practice while sick, I was starting to dream of a pass. It wasn’t looking good and there was a serious temptation to withdraw. In the heat and with my nerves, my fingers were sliding down the strings with the sweat as I rehearsed but somehow I pulled off my A. I even made it through the end of year concert.
Two weeks later, I started chemo and that’s where my husband and I spent Boxing Day last year.
Now, when I look back, it seems crazy that I pushed through my violin exam and the concert last year when I was so very ill but my violin and the music we make together has become part of me. While my very life was seemingly passing me by, it was critical that life went on. I continued being active at the school. Made our Christmas cake and sent Christmas cards. Went to Church where the kids dressed up in the Christmas play as usual. For us, normal became nirvana. We just wanted to live our lives. Be together and do the basics. We didn’t even consider the world trip. Chemo was all I wanted for Christmas but just call me weird!
I’m sharing my story not to create my own pity party but to show you that living with difficulties is complicated and not really how many motivational speakers make out. Yes, you can move forward but that progress can be agonisingly slow and seemingly invisible. I have also found out that as much as I have taken on new challenges which have exceeded my wildest dreams such as playing the violin and skiing, I have only worked for 2 hours in the last 12 months. Something is wrong with my thinking, which could be chemo brain. The jury is still out. These difficulties create such frustration and embarrassment. I am an intelligent woman…a marketing manager and yet…!
No amount of positive or wishful thinking has enabled me to slip back into my old skin and just pick up where I’ve left off and I’m now starting to think I’m off on a different journey entirely and I’m not entirely sure that I like it. I am well and truly travelling the road unknown.
Yet, I have persevered with my violin through all of this. Not practicing as much as I would have liked or as often as I should but enough to inch forward. Playing the violin has been much a source of physical, emotional and even spiritual healing for me. The bowing action, whilst frustrating at times and difficult to pick up, is actually like Tai chi…smooth and relaxing. Locating the notes with my left fingers improves my ear and dexterity all at once and I have forged new friendships with other players and extended myself beyond my writing and photography. Please forgive the pun but the violin has added another very significant string to my bow. I have also not only shared my love for the violin with our daughter but also our son and my husband. It’s been over a year now but the four of us have played Twinkle Twinkle together on four violins. We might not be the Von Trapps but we’re not trapped within our adversity either. We seize the day.
All this brings me back to our future. Where is my relationship with my violin actually heading? As another year draws to a close, it’s time to reassess the relationship. Where do we stand? Do I stay or do I go?
That’s taken a lot of thought. There is a definitely time and financial commitment involved. As I said before, I never actually set out to learn the violin and it all came about by accident. At the same time, that so-called accident has had a sense of destiny. It was meant to be.
But can your destiny change or simply run out of steam and stop?
So many, many relationships which also seemed like destiny at the start, end in divorce or simply drift apart. Could it be the same with us? That my violin and I were just a passing thing. That it wasn’t true love, after all?
I don’t think so. I still believe it was destiny. While the highs may be ecstatic and it’s thrilling to pull off that tricky note and hear my violin singing like a nightingale, love also means riding out the lows and many screeches and squawks. That’s what it takes to maintain any long term relationship. Passionate new love settles down into something more substantial, deeper and maybe even eternal yet perhaps not so intense.
There might even be a bit of forgiveness.
But that will require more than confession.
We’re talking about more practice!
Do you play an instrument? How would you rate your relationship?