Tag Archives: concert

Back to “The Con”…the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

As you may recall, a few weeks ago I went back to Sydney University for the first time in decades. Well, last Wednesday night, I  found myself back at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music doing the time warp again. This time, I was attending concert pianist, Gerard Willems’ Twilight Recital, which marked his retirement from full-time teaching at the Con.

While it only seems like yesterday, I haven’t been back to the Con since my grandmother’s Twilight Recital around 30 years ago. At the time, I was in the throws of leaving school, but now I’m married with two kids and our eldest isn’t terribly far off leaving school himself. So, clearly a lot of water’s flowed under the bridge, and even much of the landscape has been swept away by the tide. Yet, I still felt remarkably at home.

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Gerard Willems and his former teacher, Nada Brissenden.

By the way, I wasn’t just attending this concert out of interest. Gerard is almost an extended member of the family via one of my mother’s “secret societies”. Mum and Gerard both attended Wollongong Selective High School and learned the piano from  Nada Brissenden who, along with her husband Harold, introduced Suzuki Music to Australia. Mum was a year ahead of Gerard, and their paths have crossed over the years, which included studying piano at the Con. There was also a rather significant-to-me soiree which my grandmother Eunice Gardiner put on to give Gerard further performance experience. Not that Gerard was one of her pupils. Rather, he was studying under Gordon Watson. This soiree was also interesting because Australian authors Ruth Park and her husband D’Arcy Niland were there. Knowing Mum knew Gerard and possibly also because she had some single sons, my grandmother also invited my mother to the soiree. So, it was actually Gerard who first introduced my parents at Lindfield Station for the very first time on Sunday 26th March, 1967. That’s a connection you never forget and was brought up again recently at my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.  There’s still is a group of Mrs Brissenden’s former students who get together, forming an extended musical family of sorts. After all, you have your genetic family but as a musician you also have your musical family.

However, I also had an ulterior motive for going back to the Con. I wanted to revisit my grandmother’s old studio. See if I could find my way through the old rabbit warren and back to her door. I remember going in there as a young child after visiting my grandfather who had a dental practice in nearby Macquarie Street. The Con itself was stark white back then and I remember some weird story about how they cleaned it using Coca Cola. I remember going up some stairs and along a longish corridoor and there was a grand piano in the room. Dad told me that it overlooked the Botanical Gardens. So, that narrowed things down quite a lot. So, I planned to arrive quite early for the concert to ensure no regrets.

Conservatorium Sign

A Sign Promoting one of my grandmother’s concerts at the Con around 1960.

By the way, the Conservatorium building is famous in its own right. In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie commissioned ex-convict Francis Greenway to design the government stables. Macquarie had a grand architectural vision for the fledgling colony and what emerged was more of a “Palace for Horses”  in the Old Colonial Gothick style. Indeed, it reminds me of  Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria’s architectural extravagance. The cost and apparent extravagance was one of the reasons Governor Macquarie was recalled to England. In 1916, the building was extensively renovated and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music was established under directorship of Belgian conductor and violinist, Henri Verbrugghen, with the aim of ‘providing tuition of a standard at least equal to that of the leading European Conservatoriums’.

As I said, it’s been 30 years since I was last at the Con. For better or worse, a massive extension has been built and the original building has had an extensive facelift. Of course, it’s been tastefully done and if I didn’t have an intense personal attachment to the original, I’d only be impressed.

However, as much as I know we couldn’t let the old girl fall apart and that the building itself is representing Australian classical music on the world stage, a facelift is still a facelift. I miss the white paint. The cracks, wrinkles and crooked appearance. Indeed, I’d love to wipe all the beige away and bring her back out of her glamorous shell…even if only long enough to take a photo and then send her back to sleep.

The ticket office is in the new part of the Con and I noticed a sign saying “No Public Admittance” where I’m needing to access my grandmother’s studio. However, as soon as I explained the situation, I was granted access and off I hopped with my camera. I was so excited, even though I was warned that it had changed and the “rabbit’s warren was gone”. Dad had also told me that her studio looked out onto the Botanic Gardens, which narrowed things down quite a lot. I climbed up the stairs and slowly walked along the corridoor. I could hear piano music on my right and saw a grand piano through the window. Her room was further along from memory but very soon I was distracted by the sound of a violin tuning up downstairs. I found it rather strange than when I, the closet violinist come back retracing my grandmother’s footsteps, a violinist was playing. (As it turned out this was  Evgeny Sorkin who played Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Major Op. 12 No. 1. with Gerard during the concert.

Yet, the main reason I was at the Con was to attend this concert. So, we’d better head upstairs into the gallery where I had an absolutely fabulous seat with a bird’s eye view. Verbruggen Hall seats around 550 people and as far as I could tell, everyone there loved Gerard, not just as a pianist but as a person. He exudes such warmth and embraces the audience. Gerard introduced each piece himself, usually with an extensive preamble and I was hanging onto each and every word. Indeed, I was voraciously taking notes up in my seat. Among so many other things, Gerard is a teacher and I felt like this concert was also his last hurrah in that department as well trying to share as much of his knowledge and somehow try to encourage the spirit of music which lives in each of us to soar.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, here are a few snapshots.

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Gerard Willems.

Firstly, I was struck by how Gerard would play that solitary, perfect note in a way that transcended our earthly realm and entered the heavens. Indeed, I was reminded of when you look up into the night sky and see the planet Venus twinkling almost like a star yet in its solitude. One of my great frustrations as a beginner violinist, was the difficulty of even being able to play one perfect note. I kept practicing and practicing and I’d play two strings instead of one. My bow would glide diagonally across the strings and screech like a flock of cockatoos. It was so incredibly frustrating and yet I was determined to succeed. Gerard made me appreciate the enormity of playing that one perfect note. That it’s nowhere near as easy as you think.

Secondly, I was completely blown away by his unbelievable physicality playing Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B minor Op. 20. Remember the man is retiring and this piece of music, is very physically demanding. Incredible.

However, while the other pieces were far more complex, I couldn’t go past Moonlight Sonata, which was followed by the Brahm’s Lullaby. He played these because these are the pieces he played for his baby daughter, Clara, and grandchildren. Indeed, as he played the Brahms, his wife appeared on stage hold Clara’s hands and helping her to walk across the stage to her Dad. She is only one year old and beyond cute. I noticed when I later looked at the photos that she was wearing a black jacket which looked a bit like a conductor’s jacket. As I said, she was extraordinarily cute and it was so touching to see how much Gerard loves his wife and baby girl. That was another time when you could feel all the stars twinkling in the sky and a sense of magic.

After the concert, I stayed the night at my parents’ place and had been so overstimulated by the concert, that I couldn’t sleep for hours. All my matches had been lit at once and I was firing on too many cylinders I suspect.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Conservatorium_of_Music

 

 

 

 

A Legend in My Own Hair Follicles.

Before the magic of the Royal Wedding and seeing Harry and Meaghan tie the knot in spectacular fashion, I hung up my pink washing up gloves and metamorphosed into a star. I, the greatest unknown violinist, legend in her own hair follicles, performed Minuet by Beethoven with my violin teacher at Gig Night. That’s the modern equivalent of what was known as a “Soiree” back in the day. Indeed, it might have been more like my grandparents’ day, but there we were performing in the studio with real performance lights and sound equipment and our very own stage. It was personal, intimate and my husband and kids were all lined up in a row in the audience…my support crew.

Well, behind every star performer, there’s also their teacher. When it comes to my teacher, however, she had special duties. She was not only accompanying me in our duet in the kind of way that compensates for what I’ll call my “idiosyncrasies”, she had to help me on and off stage. Indeed, we made a decision that I would enter from backstage to prevent me from having a spectacular trip and fall getting up on the stage. I’m pretty good at reconnaissance these days, and I needed to hold onto the wall climbing up the step and was rather concerned that I could fall into the amp. The good thing is that the team at the music school is well versed in my idiosyncrasies and were only too willing to help. Moreover, I’m also one to speak up.

I should also point out that the staff at the music school have experienced these idiosyncracies before. A few years ago when we were performing at the school Christmas Carols, I stepped on the edge of the where the asphalt meets the grass and my ankle flipped over (not uncommon) and then I heard this crunch and fell. The pain was excruciating. Blood was dripping down my knee, but did I pike out? Does a violinist ever give up, even when the ship is sinking? Of course not. I played on and was helped on and off the stage that night too.

My performance tonight wasn’t perfect. I knew it wasn’t going to be. Yet, I was hopeful. Moreover, despite my nerves, I really love performing and being a part of a performance. I like getting out of my cramped quarters in our corridor of a dining room where I usually have to hold my breath as husband, kids, dogs, tennis balls squeeze or fly past and put my feet on that stage, dress up in my blacks and even put on come makeup and lipstick and be a violinist on the outside too. A musician. Knowing I belong here. That this stage is mine, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I own this space (something I picked up from dancing btw).

It’s a space I usually have to grow into, because it’s all too easy to put my playing down. I’m not in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. So, how could I ever consider myself a violinist? I haven’t even tried to learn vibrato, because I really don’t believe in myself. Don’t believe it’s possible. Of course, as I said, I have a decent list of “idiosyncracies”, which let me off the hook. Moreover, be honest, it hasn’t felt that important. It’s been more important to simply be able to play without making mistakes. However, it’s something I come back to once in a while, and learning vibrato is a natural progression for a violinist. Just like my daughter will soon be getting her first pair of pointe shoes for ballet, I should be equally enthusiastic and bursting out of my skin to learn vibrato. Take the next step. I should be wanting to grow, even though it usually means a phase of going backwards as we tackle the new skill.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing about all of this is twofold.

Firstly, I wanted to share my violin world with you. I don’t write about it all that often, but I actually have a lesson each week. I am quite a fan of Suzuki method, although I use the music and don’t play by ear. For those who know Suzuki, I recently moved onto Book Three. I was so proud. It’s been a long journey. I have hydrocephalus and dermatomyositis.  So, I never thought I’d be able to play the violin at all and only took it up again when my daughter insisted on learning, and she needed some assistance. I sat in on her lessons and while she has a rather on and off again relationship with her violin, I’ve stuck with it. She’d probably get to my level after a few weeks’ steady practice, but I’d only be delighted to see her overtake me. Well, she already has. She performed at the Sydney Opera House with her school two years ago at the tender age of 10. Clearly, you’re much better off trying to play at the Opera House as a young beginner than a geriatric.

The other reason I wanted to share my violin journey with you, is to encourage you to consider taking up that instrument you’ve always wanted to play. To go back to the piano you played at a kid, which could well be used for displaying family photos and ornaments than it’s intended purpose. Have a go.

I never considered myself a real music lover or expert of any sort. However, I can sense this is changing. That something new is awakening within. Actually, it’s not something new. It’s like when you’re doing a big clean-up and you find something you haven’t seen for a good 10-20 years and you taken right back to that forgotten time and place and all the emotions come flooding back as there’s that sense of coming home. I have always loved to sing and was good enough, but my voice is rusty and my violin’s become my voice, and to turn to the words of Johnny Farnham’s The Voice I need to

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear

Do you have any musical dreams? If you could be any musician, who would you be? I’ll have to give it some thought.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Prodigal Violinist.

Last Sunday, I performed Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring at “MY violin concert”.

Before you start asking me for the details of my national tour, or how to order copies of Ms+e shar them in the comments. CD, in the interests of brutal honesty, I should confess that it wasn’t actually MY violin concert after all. Rather, I was performing at: “Music in the Orchard”, put on my the music school where I learn the violin. I know that’s just a minor distinction. A question of being in the fine print, instead of having my name up in lights, but a point needing clarification.

Anyway, as it turned out. I deserved to have my name my name up in lights,and that’s just for turning up. Ironically, playing my violin turned out to be the easy part.

You see, our household has a thieving poltergeist, and last Sunday morning it gave its best performance yet.

The nightmare started when my glasses went missing. Indeed, it hid my glasses  so well, that it took three people to find them. Every night, I put my glasses on top of the pile of books beside my bed. However, it’s not uncommon for me to send them flying during the night, but they usually land in the same old, predictable places i.e. down beside the bed or under the side table. However, this time they travelled further afield and had actually dived into my shoes. In an embarrassing moment of capitulation, I had to call my husband home from Church to find them.

The poltergeists next target was my daughter’s tap shoes. As no day is sacred in our end of year schedule and we’re double and triple booking and splitting the kids and ourselves up between us, my daughter had dance photos on the same day as my violin concert. While I’d really been looking forward to her hearing me play and being a part of my special day, I dropped her off at the dance studio as I headed up the hill. By this stage I was running late for my concert, but I figured that I wouldn’t be the opening act and would be well down the pecking order towards the end.

No such luck!

No sooner had I got there, and I was tuning up and praying to whoever it is who takes pity on mothers trying to pull off a performance while supporting their children and is lucky to be dressed at all, let alone made up. And, as for getting those fingers, strings and bow to cooperate, it was, going to take desperate prayer and serious pity. A case of the prodigal violinist… “I know you haven’t practiced enough, but I’ll help you play those strings and together we will make sweet music.”

As it turned out, I did have a guardian angel and that was my teacher, who was not just playing a duet alongside me. She was my accompaniest and a good accompaniest enhances the performer and compensates for their mistakes to make them look better. I knw she had my back, which gave me the confidence to get up on stage at all when I was only just adequately prepared.

So, let’s fast forward to my actual performance. I was playing Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. It is a fairly difficult piece, but it starts out relatively easy and gets more difficult as you go along. I usually managed it through the first page alright but struggle with the rest. Indeed, we had been looking at cutting out the middle section, but I really liked it and found it very dramatic so I bumped up the practice and went into prove it mode.

However, after all the stress of actually just getting to the venue and trying to find my bearings, I started stumling right from the start and my fingers weren’t getting into gear. There was part of me which was starting to feel my performance was doomed. That if I couldn’t even get the start right, I was really going to botch up the other bits. It was that same kind of dread which overtakes your stomach when you’re on a rollercoaster  and your peering straight down over the edge of the very earth. You are going to die! Yet, at the same time, there was also that awareness that the show had to go on. That I couldn’t give up. I just had to make it to the end.

Then, the strangest thing happened.

After stumbling at the start, I actually nailed the rest of the piece and it really did sound sensational as a duet.

I have a very patient and encourging teacher! A veritable angel!

Do you have any performance stories you’d like to share? Please share in the comments.

xx Rowena

 

 

Our Little Dancer & the Dance Solo.

Our Little Dancer gave her first solo performance today, and it was pure enchantment. More to the point, SHE was enchanting. Not just because she’s our daughter. Rather, because she’s reached that long awaited point, where she’s transcended years of training, commitment, lost ballet shoes, laddered tights, and entered the realm of magic. A realm so far beyond words, that I barely know where I am.

I don’t know whether you’ve been to this place yourself, but it turns being audience, into a flight without wings. One minute, you’re simply sitting in your chair. Then, inexplicably, you’re zooming off to unexplored realms and your feet are dangling in the air.  I suppose other people would simply describe this as their “happy place”, without all the flounce. However, as far as I’m concerned, a bit of flounce is quite approppriate. After all, we’re not describing a balance sheet here!

Unfortunately, at this stage, I can’t share any photos of her dancing or even in her dress. All I have at this point, is a photo of her costume hanging up last night. There was no time to even get that precious “before we leave” photo…her dark hair perfectly twisted into position, flawless makeup, lipstick, pink tuille all in motion swooshing out the door. Indeed, perhaps a shot of pink in motion, would have been more true to life than a staged shot in the hallway anyway.

Despite my spangled descriptions, my daughter wasn’t making her debut at the Sydney Opera House. Rather, she was performing with her dance school at a local nursing home. This was such a great place to start out. It not only gave students a chance to give to the local community, but it also allowed them to get experience in a less controlled but forgiving environment.  While the majority of residents were very attentive and could well have been seated in the Opera House, there was the occasional person walking through a performance on their Zimmer frame. A few sang along to one of the backing tracks and no doubt, there were those who fell asleep. Yet, this unpredictability is great, because it helps the dancers to  learn how to deal with distractions and adapt accordingly. A studio is a very controlled and largely predictable environment, which makes an excellent nursery, but the outside world is the stage.

Anyway, there I am in my seat wound up like a spring. I can’t wait and yet, I’m also absorbed in each of the other solos. I’ve seen them all before, and yet they still give me goosebumps. Take me on intense emotional twists and turns at 240 kph, which I can’t explain. I am just the passenger. A member of the audience. I don’t know how they make their magic. I just experience it.

amelia-ballerina

Ballerina Girl.

Finally, our daughter is centre dining room floor. She is beautiful. Beautiful, almost in an unearthly, ethereal way, becoming some kind of pink sylth whose materialized out of the air. Who is she? Where did she come from? Is she some kind of mysterious geni who escaped from an empty Coke bottle? I don’t know but she moves as light as a feather across the floor with such grace and poise that I’m totally spellbound. Me, the mother who gave birth to her earthly being, but this is a magic woven by her other “mothers”. Her dance teachers who’ve nurtured the butterfly out of her crysalis. Given her something I could not. Sure, I could give her the fire and the spirit, but I couldn’t help her mold and shape it into something that’s her own.

You see, as much as I love to dance and have even been doing adult dance classes for the last year, I have some disability and chronic health issues and let’s just say, that I’ve been unable to “reach my full potential’. Indeed, I try to resist saying “that she didn’t get it from me”, because I wasn’t me. I couldn’t be me with all that extra baggage, especially when I didn’t know it was there and what was causing my difficulties. I just thought it as me. Yet, despite having the hydrocephalus , I did ballet as a child and even had private lessons for awhile. I wasn’t always quite so clunky.

I often wish that I could experience more of my daughter’s dancing. At least in theory, I feel I could watch her dance all day everyday, which isn’t exactly true. However, as it stands, I feel like I’m peaking through a crack and I only get to experience the barest slither. Everything goes on behind closed doors, which it needs to, but I do crave for more. It would be nice if she danced more at home. Let me inside a little more. This is a comment lament of the parent, as sense of being on the outside when once upon a time, they were on the inside.

 

Yet, I know this is only the beginning. Not the very beginning but the beginning of her stepping up and starting to step out. Next year, she’s due to be getting her pointe shoes, and that really will be a huge development. That’s a ballet dancer’s coming of age…a right of passage. A ritual I never experienced, but I’ve been waiting for just as much as her. Indeed, I have my own pair of pink, satin ballet shoes with pink satin ribbons. They might not be pointe shoes but they’re beautiful, and they were my gift to myself. They were the materilization of a dream. That someone who struggles to walk, can also learn how to dance and dip their toe into ballet as a participant, and not always be a spectator relegated to the sidelines. After all, life’s too short to sit it out.

And now, my little dancer is asleep. All wrapped up in the world of dreams and I need to follow suite.

xx Rowena

Sense-sational Schools Spectacular 2016.

If you are one of those people who experiences creative overdrive when all your senses get stimulated at the very same time, then perhaps you’d better stay away from Schools Spectacular. It’s the largest variety show in the world and included 5,710 performers, which also gives the show its other name: “Schools Specktacular” as most parents require the Hubble telescope or a telescope to spot their kid. You’ve just got to hope you can find them at the end.

school-spec-amelia

Our daughter heading in to perform.

Anyway as you’re well aware, I see through the lens of my SLR camera. It gives me much better vision than my glasses and not only that. It saves that vision for later and I can watch it again and again and again.

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Photo: Rowena Curtin

However, those “Spectacular Powers That Be” banned so-called “professional” cameras. So, for the first time EVER, my extra long lens worked against me. My poor camera was banished to the boot.

Down but not out, I took over Geoff’s “camera phone”. Desperate times called for desperate measures. I was back to being a mere mortal again. It felt like the photographic equivalent of riding a bicycle in a Formula One race. Although the phone might be good at taking selfies, that’s not what I was there for.

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The Dancers…Rowena Curtin.

However, all wasn’t lost. It turns out Geoff’s camera phone has a curiously abstract perspective, capturing some interesting effects.Well, it wasn’t just his camera phone because there was still a photographer’s eye hard at work. I thought I’d get some interesting effects with the dancing sea of arms and legs. I  just didn’t know  how they’d turn out.

I would also like to recommend reading my previous post about some of the disability access struggles I had at the venue… Qudos Bank Arena at Sydney’s Olympic Park. I didn’t write this for my own benefit. These issues need to be raised for the greater good. Here’s Accessing Schools Spectacular.

xx Rowena

Violin…At last! You Make My Heart Sing!

A few weeks ago, I was starting to wonder whether I’d be playing air-violin at Sunday’s violin concert.

My fingers just couldn’t move fast enough and it’s been so hard to keep up the practice, that it’s felt like some kind of conspiracy. That someone or something doesn’t want me to practice and keeps sabotaging my best efforts.

Of course, we’ve all been there and know that familiar poltergeist!

Well, finally after considerable soul-searching as you do at the end of another year, my violin and I are talking again and our lover’s tiff is over.My violin might not be singing like a lark but it’s no longer a cockatoo and as long as I simply blend in with the group, I’ll be happy.

When it comes to the difficulties of mastering and even taming the violin, I’m hardly unique. The violin is notoriously difficult and renowned for sounding like a scolded cat. Indeed, it more than deserves its bad reputation and I have no idea how it could ever sound sweet and intensely beautiful let alone spiritual.

I guess like so many things, you have to go through the rough before you can reach the green.

Moreover, I’ve also realised that a new level of thinking was required. That mastering anything requires more than blind persistence and not giving up. That you also need to know why you took this thing up in the first place AND why you want to keep going. This goal setting and introspection becomes particularly important once you hit the higher grades and “your thing” becomes more difficult and more demanding.

You’re no longer a dabbler. Yet, you’re not a maestro either. Indeed, you’re along way from it. Moreover, as your expertise increases, so does your awareness of the treacherous mountains which lie ahead if you’re to advance. These next steps take all those nasty qualities like perseverance, persistence, focus, long hours of practice and potentially spending buckets of money as well.

Jonathon smiling violin

Mister smiling during practice tonight. He looked so happy. He has been learning the guitar but we did a few lessons as a family.

All of this isn’t something you can just drift into. It has to be a choice. You have to sign your life away on the dotted line and buy into that decision. No backing out. You might even have to put your life on the line either figuratively or literally. There can be no turning back.

That is, if you’re wanting to be a maestro!

Violin & concert violinist music

Well, personally, I’ve decided that  I’ll never be a maestro violinist and am best putting my time and energy into my writing and photography. Yet, at the same time, I’d like to take the violin as far as I can. Do my best. I recently started learning my favourite of all favourite violin pieces: Meditation by Massinet. This is actually about a 6th Grade piece and I’m around 2nd Grade but we’re taking it slowly. Some of the notes have so many ledger lines that they look like quadruple-decker buses. I know what the notes meant to sound like and use my ears instead of my eyes to find my way around. I guess it’s the equivalent to “park by feel”…another of my specialties.

Anyway, we’ll be playing Pirates of the Caribbean for the concert. This has some really fast sections I wish I could give my fingers something like Red Bull to get them moving without affecting the rest of my body. I find it hard to move my fingers quickly but given my assorted medical problems, I know I’m lucky to be playing at all. Indeed, my neurologist was amazed. We’ll also be playing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which is so pretty.

My violin teacher has actually doctored my bow to help keep my fingers in place. It was an inspired idea. I have no shame using a walking stick on public transports and crowds so why not use a prop to help my fingers do their job?!!

Amelia with violin

Miss cuddling her new violin in 2011 aged 5.

By the way, you might recall that I initially took up the violin to help our daughter. That learning the violin was all her idea. I’d suggested piano but she stood her ground in typical fashion and really seemed to have a thing for it.

I do believe that everybody has their own soul song and needs to find the best way of channeling and expressing it. That there’s no one instrument fits all. The violin supposedly sounds the most like the human voice and Miss and I both sing so it’s not surprising that we would love it.

Anyway, Miss’s affair with the violin reached a tumultuous end when the cat screeching became way too much and the less she practiced, the worse it got and I finished off the term’s lessons and kept going while she went “on sabbatical”.

family playing violin

The family playing violin

That was four years ago.

While I never gave up and didn’t sell her violin, even I with my over-inflated sense of optimism, was close to calling it quits. Besides, she’s doing dancing, singing, drama, cub scouts. She also needs some spare time, especially as she’ll be traveling to school next year.

However, today miracle of miracles, she announced that she’s wanting to start learning again.Well, that might have been more of a mention than a “tell the entire world on your blog Mummy” kind of broadcast. But, she did say it.

The inspiration?

A few weeks ago we attended an orrientation day for her new school, During the talk, they mentioned that they have a string ensemble. Again, this was more of a mention than a grand announcement but to me it was more like a “sign”…just like a heaven-sent bolt of lightening, the place suddenly lit up! They could have had a band or  cheer-leader program but no! They have a violin ensemble! I know that playing in my ensemble has really supported and encouraged my playing and got me through those periods of struggle or doubt. This was meant to be, even if Miss didn’t know it yet.

Then, today…miracles or miracles, she said she wanted to learn the violin again. I was hopeful because I knew how much she loved the violin at the start. It had been her choice and I always hoped that one day, she’d find her way back.

violin birthday cake

I was quite surprised when my mum ordered me a violin cake for my birthday in 2012. It was something of a premonition! Good on you Mum!

I still haven’t taken her violin out of the cupboard. Feigned indifference is definitely the way forward here. Treat em mean, keep em keep.

Anyway, yet again I’ve written about playing the violin instead of practicing and it’s now too late.

Writing about playing the violin and also taking photos…they’re my strength!

Wish me luck for Sunday but please don’t mention anything like “break a leg”. I actually broke my foot at last year’s Christmas Carol performance and that had better be a one off…no repeats!

xx Rowena

 

Perseverance

When it comes to endurance, perseverance and overcoming hurdles, I’d never put learning the violin in the same category as marathon running but that’s all changed.

As much as I love my violin, it is also hard work, endurance, perseverance. Never giving up.

Just like new babies look so sweet but makes some truly dreadful sounds, my violin also has its own theme and variations of the “witching hour” something akin to a Tom cat howling at the moon while being grabbed by the throat.

Two years ago, I took up the violin by default. I’d had no dreams, aspirations or even vague thoughts of taking up an instrument midlife. I didn’t like music. Didn’t even listen to music. I was a writer, a photographer and music interfered with my thoughts. It was at best distracting but mostly annoying. Turn it down. Switch it off. Although much of my family is incredibly and even professionally musical, I was musically stunted…the runt…despite many, many years of piano lessons.

That said, despite my best effects, I can still play the first page of Moonlight Sonata and play it whenever I visited my parents on their Steinway grand piano (the piano of serious pianists!)

Anyway, my daughter has always shown a strong love of music and when she started school, the big moment of choosing an instrument finally came. I was all set for her to start off on the piano but she wanted to learn violin. Was quite insistant on the violin. I wondered if she felt some kind of special connection with it and decided, against my own council, to let her have a go.

When we arrived at her lesson, the teacher said I could sit in and it soon became apparent that I needed to be more than just a taxi driver. She needed hands on encouragement. We pulled Geoff’s grandfather’s violin out of the cupboard and I joined in on her lessons.   I didn’t know it at the time but Suzuki actually believed the mother should learn the violin first in order to encourage the child and I was unknowingly following in his footsteps.

I actually had some background with the violin. My brother had learned Suzuki violin for many years and had actually performed at the Opera House a number of times at annual concerts. I had learned for a couple of terms but had abandoned violin in disgust when I couldn’t hold the bow properly. So whilst I couldn’t remember much about playing the violin, I wasn’t a rank beginner and could actually help.

Miss and I practiced well together through term one but after not practicing during the holidays, she sounded terrible when we went back to lessons. She had a few colossal meltdowns and I decided to keep her spot warm until she was fit to return. I never doubted her love for the violin. She just needed a bit of a break.

Another term went by and by this stage, I had fallen in love with the violin, despite all its quirks and difficulties. I read that it took 10,000 hours of practice to become a concert violinist and worked out that it would take something like 28 years at one hour a day and I joked about making my concert debut at the Opera House using a walking frame.

Playing my violin at the Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron Bay

Playing my violin at the Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron Bay

Meanwhile, our musical school put together a violin ensemble and we performed at the end of year concert at Lizotte’s, a local rock n’ roll venue. January, I packed up my violin when we headed to Byron Bay and had Geoff photograph me playing outside the iconic Byron Bay Lighthouse. Well, I wasn’t actually playing. Just posing. I wanted the shot.

While I still had my heart set on my debut as a concert violinist, I first had to sit for my preliminary exam. This is the first and most basic exam and to be perfectly honest, you usually sit for your preliminary exam at the tender age of something like 5 maybe 6 years old…not 44! To further put the pressure on, I had scored an A in my preliminary piano exam when I was around that age and I couldn’t recall doing a lot of practice. Therefore, logic argued that I should easily score an A as a more mature violinist who had actually bothered to practice. That is practice for at least 30 minutes every day and not just under duress.

However, as I said, the violin’s middle name is perseverance. While preliminary should have been easy, a piece of cake and my “A” almost automatic, it was actually hard work. I really struggled to get a true and pure sound without even the faintest squeak creeping in. In a real act of contrariness, my violin would play two strings when I only wanted to play one but when I was trying to play two strings simultaneously for double stops, I would only play one. Infuriating!

We all know how easily love can turn to hate…

Yet, at the same time, my violin was teaching me so much more than just how to make music. It was teaching me how to stick at something I found difficult and to keep practicing and practising until I got it right, instead of simply giving up at the first sign of trouble. That was a huge leap forward for me. When I couldn’t do something in the past, I’d simply say it wasn’t me and give up. “I couldn’t do it” but now I had the example that if I really wanted to do something and if I put the hours in, I could probably do it or perhaps I could find around my hurdles.

Here I am skiing at Perisher.

Here I am skiing at Perisher.

I really put this into action on the ski slopes when I found the whole skiing experience quite overwhelming. I remember sitting on the chairlift which I really, really loved wondering why I was putting myself through the stress of learning how to ski when sitting on the chairlift was so much fun and so effortless. Yet, at the same time, I found the challenge invigorating and it was great to learn a new skill and improve. As I was tackling the mountain, I reflected on how perseverance and practice had worked for the violin and these principles would also apply to skiing. I had private lessons with my instructor and practiced inbetween and I really started to improve. I become a skier. I was immensely proud and when we arrived home, I was really chuffed to hear my son tell the Deputy Principal that Mummy had gone skiing even though she was afraid. That hopeful told him volumes.

Getting back to my violin, I was working towards my exam and the end of year concert when I developed pneumonia and spent 3 weeks in bed. No practice. My auto-immune disease had also flared up and I lacked the muscle strength to hold up my violin. The first day I returned to ensemble practice, I made a zillion mistakes and it sounded like cat claws traversing the strings. It was disgusting and soul destroying. I wondered whether it was all just too hard. That trying to learn the violin while battling a life-threatening illness was all too much. Was I pushing myself too hard? Should I just relax and fall into the easy chair and stop?

You know what it’s like when you’re down on the ground and you are facing that fork in the road. Should I keep fighting or just quietly let go of the dream?

I didn’t know.

My Dad mentioned something about it being good to have goals but what was the point if I couldn’t breathe?

He had a point.

I was still coughing and coughing and coughing…the pneumonia leaving a nasty legacy.

Still, I was slowly improving. Practicing again and as yet, we hadn’t received any notification of my exam date. That probably meant I had a good 3-4 weeks of practice up my sleeve.

I hadn’t given up yet.

Then the date arrived and I was scheduled to be at the AMEB offices in Sydney at 9.15am. I live about 2 hours away and I couldn’t see how I was going to get there. While this could have been a sign to withdraw, instead I wrote a letter asking for my exam to be moved to Gosford. Mentioned my health and disability issues and was given special consideration and my time moved to 2.55PM. After this kindness, I felt I had to front up…even if I failed!

I found an accompanist.

It was on.

My violin and I caught the train down to Sydney and I had lunch in the park watching the Ibis prey upon hapless office workers. As much as I love my trips to Sydney, I couldn’t relax.

I turned up to my exam half an hour early. There is a practice room but apparently this is only for tuning your instrument. I had left home early so I could warm up and I needed at least a thirty minute practice beforehand. My body doesn’t work well at the best of times.

A selfie of me playing my violin in the bus shelter, Sydney.

A selfie of me playing my violin in the bus shelter, Sydney.

My violin and I exited stage left. There we were on Clarence Street in the heart of Sydney looking for somewhere, anywhere, that I could practice my violin with even just a modicum of privacy. Office workers were rushing back and forwards and lanes of traffic crawled past. I investigated a few brick walls outside a couple of pubs but then spotted the bus shelter outside the AMEB building and set myself up. I know that any decent musician would have been too self-conscious to play but I was desperate. I had to get my fingers moving. My teacher had emphasised long, smooth bow strokes and I tried to picture her long, flowing blond hair moving slowly through the water like a mermaid. It seemed to work, even surprising myself. I was quite impressed and thought that at last I had finally “got it”.

Not on your life. I wasn’t overly nervous about the exam but at the same time, I knew I made many mistakes. I just wasn’t comfortable and that’s the hard thing about the violin. When you stiffen up, your bowing goes jerky. Your fingers don’t move properly and I was mixing up C and C sharp. I just wanted to escape.

I told my teacher that I thought I’d got a C but harboured fears that there was also scope for a D.

Fortunately, the results were due out after Christmas and so I could get through Christmas lunch and not feel I’d brought total disrepute on the family. I was always so proud of my goals and so determined to achieve them but what with the pneumonia and my auto-immune disease playing up, I figured that it was okay to fail. Walk away. Focus on my writing. Be a writer. After all, that’s who and what I really am. The violin was only second fiddle and certainly not worth dying for.

Well, the results didn’t wait until after Christmas. I received a very nice, very surprising early Christmas present…an A! I couldn’t believe it and re-read my teacher’s email several times before I believed it.

Perseverance did pay off after all!

I’m a violinist!