Tag Archives: guitar

Off With Her Fingernails!

Just as well my violin teacher is nice. After all, if she was anything like the Queen of Hearts, she would’ve cut my fingernails off with a guillotine weeks ago. Too bad if she also took off my fingertips! The Queen of Hearts doesn’t care about little details like that! If you refuse to cut your own nails, you pay the price.

All this is rather new to me. Although I am heading down the other side of 40+, I’ve only been playing the violin for a few years. Indeed, I only took it up after sitting in on my 5 year old daughter’s lessons. After she quit mid-term, I kept going. That was four years ago.

What nobody tells you about taking up an instrument is that so many of them require you to cut your nails. Seriously, cut your nails so there’s no clicketty clack all over the piano keys and if you’re playing any stringed instrument, so you can play the notes. Trust me! You want to play in tune and that means no nails. Not even the hint of a fingernail.

There is no middle ground.

So, even if you’re half-serious about playing the violin, you need short nails…especially on your left hand. It’s the same with the guitar.

That’s just the price you have to pay.

When you‘re a serious musician, you don’t even think about cutting off all those precious fingernails. No regrets. You just want to make music.

Of course, if you have crappy nails, it doesn’t matter either. You have nothing to lose.

However, when you finally have beautiful, long, strong nails for the very first time in your life, you hang onto them for as long as you possibly can. Cutting them off almost feels like murder.

So, despite being back at violin lessons for three weeks, I still haven’t trimmed my nails. I’m still hanging on!

It’s not that I’m vain or even fancy myself as a bit of a Princess. I’d just like to pretend I was Sweet 16 again. Be pretty!

Surely, there’s nothing wrong with that?!!

Yet, there comes that point where things no longer compute. You can’t call yourself a violinist when you can’t hit a note and you’re playing out of tune.

When your violin is how your express the inner beatings of your heart and those notes are infused with such emotion, even the best set of fingernails can’t stand in the way forever. They have to go. They might look good but if you’ve ever heard fingernails scraping down a blackboard, you know they can’t sing!

However, while I can sort of justify the long nails and dreadful playing to myself, it’s quite another thing to face up for yet another lesson with super long nails and painful playing. After all, I’m paying for these lessons and they don’t come cheap.

Either I shape up, or I ship out.

Deferring the inevitable only makes it worse.

So, it’s off with my nails!

If only that’s all it took to make it all the way to the Opera House!

xx Rowena

 

Sowing the Seeds of Love

This morning our family, all four of us, played the violin together for the very first time. It was an incredible experience. Not because we were any good. We weren’t but that wasn’t the point. The important thing was that we were doing it together. While I had carefully prepared the soil, we were all planting the golden seed. I have to admit that this seed didn’t come nicely labelled in a packet so we have no idea what it might grow into. Yet, we’ve planted it in good soil with plenty of sunshine and must remember to water it. Even the most robust seeds need a bit of TLC to thrive.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

While I have no idea what this tiny seed will become, I’m sure that it’s the start of something beautiful that could take an entire lifetime to grow. It might have nothing to do with the violin but that seed will know what it means to be nurtured, loved and given the best opportunity to reach its awesome potential. Isn’t that all that really matters in the end?!!

The family playing violin

The family playing violin

This morning was also Geoff and Mister’s first real official violin lesson. You see, Miss and I play the violin together while Geoff and Mister play the guitar. Mister has been learning the guitar for about a year.  He is steadily improving and can now play Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars. Last year, he actually won the Junior Enthusiasm Award at the music school. He’s slowly but steadily improving and  is now starting to have a bit of fun. The other night, he said: “I was born to play guitar.” That might be a fleeting thing but it was great to see him so happy!! He had found himself…at least for the moment.

While the guitar might be his instrument, he has also expressed a keen interest in my violin, which is hardly surprising given my own unbridled enthusiasm. I practice for at least an hour most days and I now think and breathe the violin along with writing, of course! He has seen me start out as a scratchy beginner and improve and has been very encouraging throughout this process. He has also picked up my violin and had a go himself. Impressively, it didn’t squeak and seemed to like him, which is quite unusual for a violin. They can be very anti-social at times!

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

It’s been quite difficult to know quite how to respond to Mister’s interest in the violin. Whether to encourage it by buying him a violin and giving him a few simple lessons myself or whether to keep him firmly focused on his guitar at this early stage. Learning the guitar is hard enough and the violin is known for being a notoriously difficult instrument. Naturally, I didn’t want him to fail.

Miss cuddling her new violin. I'd found someone selling two Stentor II violins on Ebay.

Miss cuddling her new violin. I’d found someone selling two Stentor II violins on Ebay.

At the same time, I sensed Mister was feeling a bit left out. While he practices his guitar with his Dad, Geoff often gets home too late from work, which has left Mister to practice on his own while Miss and I play our violins together. He could see how much I love the violin and that I was sharing my passion with his sister and he wasn’t a part of that. Sure, we have listened to him play his guitar and have even danced along but it wasn’t the same. I wanted him to feel more included but I didn’t want to overwhelm him either.

Decisions! Decisions! Decisions!

Some might describe me as a pushy, ambitious mother trying to fulfil my own failed dreams through my kids. I certainly encourage the kids with their music but playing the violin was never my dream. It wasn’t even on my radar. Rather, it was my daughter’s dream and somehow the violin chose me. I had no intention whatsoever of even learning an instrument or doing anything vaguely musical. I wasn’t into music and didn’t even listen to music unless I was driving. Writing is my thing and I prefer to write in complete silence so music and I were pretty much incompatible. Or so I thought.

Mister playing his new violin

Mister playing his new violin

In the end, as crazy as it seemed, I asked Mister if he would like his own violin. He was really excited about it, especially when I was bidding on ebay and those final minutes were counting down. He really wanted his own violin and couldn’t wait to play it!!

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Well, the violin arrived yesterday and we decided to have a “jam”.

As we all know, doing things as a family can be fraught with disaster as all our best intentions crumble into an all out brawl.

Violins can also be very badly behaved.

Moreover, I don’t know anyone who has successfully taught their own children a musical instrument and everyone tells you never to learn an instrument from your partner or spouse. It’s doomed to fail just like learning to drive! So who do I think I am? What makes me think I can succeed where others with so much more experience have failed?

Yes, I know I’m a dreamer but sometimes your dreams can actually come true and for us, even for this brief moment in time, the impossible happened. The four of us played the violin almost together and it was a truly beautiful thing.   I’m not quite sure whether you’d call our experience an adventure, an experiment or simply having a go.  It’s too early to tell but it was good. The biggest problem was trying to fit us all in the lounge room. Bowing takes up quite a lot of space.

I went through the names of all of the strings and how to hold the violin and then we got started on a very basic tune. Mister’s violin doesn’t have the dots on it so we were limited to the open strings. That was good because we all need to learn in small, manageable steps, even when we’re trying to catch up to our little sister! He played well without any screeches or playing two strings at the same time, although his bow did stray diagonally across the strings and he was struggling to work out where to put his chin.  With the violin, you not only have to struggle to produce a decent sound, you also have to learn how to stand, how hold your violin, where to put your fingers and how to hold your bow. Nevertheless, Mister was concentrating deeply and I could see the violin was speaking to him. I was just intrigued about what it was saying.

Meanwhile, Geoff was starting to play Silent Night by ear on his first lesson. He seems to be a very promising pupil!

Geoff playing the violin.

Geoff playing the violin.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

By the way, Geoff and the kids gave me my first Minecraft lesson on the iPad after our violin lesson. That’s an entirely different language but I’m giving it a go.

 I can’t help wondering where this journey will take us. It certainly feels like we have chosen Robert Frost’s The Road not Taken and so far the risks have paid off. It will be interesting to see what will become of this seed and how this journey will make a difference.

Actually, I suspect that it already has.

Update 24th February,2013

Our little family quartet is steadily improving after what’s now been 4 family practice sessions. We are now getting started on Suzuki Book 1 and playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Variations. I know this is just the very beginning but to pull this off, well to be honest almost pull it off as a family, is beyond my wildest dreams. It encourages me to believe that almost anything is possible.

Keeping in mind that Geoff and Mister play guitar together, Geoff made these comments after our jam session today:

“We’re doing well for something deficient on strings and particularly frets.”

Mister says he’s enjoying playing two instruments.

The dog even hung around for today’s performance. We must be sounding better!

xx Rowena

 

Jonathon smiling during practice tonight. He looked so happy.

Mister smiling during practice tonight. He was really enjoying himself.