Tag Archives: piano

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

 

Lungs, Lunch and Violin…Just An Ordinary Day in Paradise.

Yesterday, Geoff and I drove down to Sydney for what turned out to be: lungs, lunch and violin.

Well, that’s quite an over-simplication. Or, what you could call: “the bare bones”.

Starting with the lungs…

Lungs

Every three months, I have routine lung function tests followed by an appointment with my lung specialist to monitor the spread of fibrosis in my lungs and to manage infection and any other lung nasties. While my lungs aren’t great and I have about 60% lung volume at the best of times, the fibrosis has been pretty stable for the last two years and I even get the odd improvement. So, these appointments aren’t all doom and gloom and we usually have a few laughs with my specialist.

However, there is no denying the reality of these appointments. My lungs are my weakest link and so we’re pretty much staring straight into the face of fear, eye-to-eye, without so much as a blink. We are probing the depths, trouble-shooting and coming up with a detailed defense strategy. This is very sensible and naturally the more you know about your enemy and yourself, the greater your chance of victory. However, at times, these conversations hit a nerve and it’s like plunging a knife in a very raw wound and it’s not surprising that I completely freak out and leap out of my skin. Who wouldn’t?!!

Although I’m tougher than I used to be and am somewhat resilient, I’m not made of stone. I crumble and fall apart just like anyone else and wish I could cry. Cry buckets of tears but the well has run dry.

The key outcome of this appointment is that I need to start dropping my prednisone further. This is supposedly good news. I keep telling myself this is good news. That means that I’m doing well. The disease is being managed and the risks posed by the medication outweigh the likelihood of the disease flaring up. This is what I want.

I can say that more than 24 hours later when the dust has settled. However, yesterday I was beyond terrified and wanted to boot some poor innocent hermit crab out of it’s shell and move in. Lock myself away and shut the door. Never come out. I really had to remind myself of all those things you need to do when your journey hits a snag and the wind goes out of your sails ie walk, get some sun, play my violin. EAT CHOCOLATE!!

We are now getting pretty close to that invisible line where the disease starts to reclaim lost ground and if it isn’t managed like the precarious house of cards that it is, I could literally come falling down. Have a flare. Of course, this possibility terrifies me and for good reason and I feel like I’m about to drive a car over the edge of a very steep cliff and the waves down below are just waiting to wrap around me. Pull me under.

I don’t know how likely it is to go pear-shaped but my doctors seem reasonably confident. This would suggest that all my flapping around is mere “catastrophising”, even though I still see it as healthy self-preservation. I should be right dropping 1-2mg gradually over a few months but then the real test is on. They’re trying to get me down to 5mg. At this point, I’m very inclined to quote Darryl Kerrigan from the classic Australian movie: The Castle:

But sometimes, you need other people to have a bit of faith in what you can do and what is possible. Sometimes, you need that outside reminder and jolt that your dreams really can come true.

So, it seems, I have to swallow my own medicine and take a deep breath and swing from the chandelier!

However, our day was not all doom and gloom!

Lunch!

After dealing with the lung monster, Geoff and I headed down to Sydney Harbour for lunch at The Kirribilli Club in Lavender Bay. This was the perfect antidote. I chose this place due to its sweeping views over Lavender Bay, Luna Park and the back of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We could see the planes coming in to land in the distance and the ferries chugging their way through the harbour to places like Manly, Balmain and Kirribilli. It was so incredibly relaxing and the perfect antidote for a stressful morning. I still felt agitated inside, way too much like a churning washing machine but I could also feel that calming salve mounting a counter-offensive and could almost relax. Watching the water is so good for that and so incredibly therapeutic!

By the way, I should mention that it was unseasonably cold and the wind was whirling around, slapping us in the face. Yes, it hurt!

I was mighty glad I hadn’t got around to packing up my Winter clothes because woollens are back on. Indeed, where are my thermals?

After lunch, we went up to my parents’ place to pick up the kids and have dinner.

My beloved violin.

My beloved violin.

Violin

I’d packed my violin and decided to have a bit of a jam with my Mum who is an accomplished pianist. She’s taught the piano for many years and now that she’s retired, plays in The Lyric Trio with a singer, clarinet and her on piano. They play at Nursing Homes and retirement Villages, pretty much out o the kindness of their hearts.

Playing with my Mum was a huge step for me. While it sounds simple and natural enough, I’ve only been playing for 3 years and for the last 12 months, I’ve been struggling to keep up with my practice, especially given the ups and down with my health. The violin is a very demanding instrument and it’s not easy for anyone to develop good bowing techniques and get those awkward, uncooperative fingers to behave and find exactly the right spot every time. When you mix these difficulties with someone else playing the  piano, my mistakes become horribly magnified…especially to a trained ear!! These mistakes aren’t anywhere near as fatal when I’m playing alone. Sure, I know it doesn’t quite sound right but there isn’t that discordant clang, which is almost as painful as fingernails scraped down a chalkboard.

Just to exacerbate my violin battles even further, my bifocals were struggling to read the notes and I was making more and more mistakes. This infuriates me, of course, these mistakes aren’t “me”. Or, at least, not a true reflection on my playing.

I’m sure I can hear you pondering about me and the bifocals and wondering  how they fit in since I don’t wear glasses but is a sin of omission ie taking my glasses off for photos really such an unforgivable sin?

I think I’ve just stumbled into another post.

xx Rowena

Twinkling The Keys.

Coming from a “piano family”, looking at these photos, I could well stand accused of getting my children interested in playing the piano from an extremely young age.

However, as a swarming member of the paparazzi, the piano was merely a fabulous prop and, for once, I was lucky that my subjects “performed”.

These were taken on Easter 2007, when Mister was 3 and Miss was only a year old.

Aren’t they just adorable and hasn’t time flown! Our son starts high school next year and is now on the cusp of becoming a teen.

Good, grief, Charlie Brown!

xx Rowena

My Turn...Big Brother Seeks the Stage.

My Turn…Big Brother Seeks the Stage.

Look at Me!

Look at Me!

Mummy and Miss.

Mummy and Miss.

Goodbye, Farewell, Auf Widersehen...Goodnight!

Goodbye, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen…Goodnight!

The House Is Alive With The Sound of Music…

The house is alive with the sound of “Do-Re-Mi”, “so long farewell auf wiedersehen” and even the voice of the lonely goatherd: “lay-ee o-dl layee o-dl-o”!

If you’ve read my last post, then you’ll know that on Monday, our daughter will be auditioning for the role of Marta in Andrew Lloyd Webbers’s Sydney production of The Sound of Music. Marta is the second youngest of the Von Trapp children and our daughter actually looks very similar to the original movie version.

You can read it here:https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/climb-every-mountain-singing-towards-her-dream/

 

Miss on Stage Performing Marta with her Musical Theatre Class.

Miss on Stage Performing Marta with her Musical Theatre Class.

Miss closely resembles Marta, aside from the fringe.

Miss closely resembles Marta, aside from the fringe.

While looking the part and being the right height is all well and good, that’s just the beginning. The first stage of the audition process is singing. If she makes it through, then she’ll be back on Wednesday for the dance and drama auditions.

So, she needs to be able to sing and sing well. Even if she doesn’t get the part, we still want her to give a respectable performance, which reinforces her love of singing and doesn’t see her running for the hills. After all, we are all quite philosophical about her chances of getting the role.

However, when I mentioned that the audition was a competition and she said she was just doing it “for fun”, while this was good in a way, I also reminded her that getting to the audition was going to be an effort and she needed to take it seriously.

This was when the fun began.

Rewinding to Sunday, I decided that practicing on the keyboard would help etch in the notes without wearing out her voice. She has had trouble with vocal nodules and so we’re handling her voice with kid gloves. Naturally, we don’t want her to burn out beforehand.

Also, I have only recently come to appreciate that learning to sing is as much about training your ears and, of course, your breathing, as it is to use your voice and I was sure playing the songs on the keyboard would really help develop her ear.

However, just because I’d made these realisations, that doesn’t mean my daughter was on board.

Indeed, she wasn’t even at the bus stop.

I also wanted to see if she could learn to read music in time. We’ve had multiple half-baked attempts in the past but the audition swung me into action. You see my mother accompanies a singer and once he learnt to read music, it really improved his voice. It was definitely worth a shot.

So, armed with this awareness and the same sort of determination which encouraged my daughter to apply for the role in the first place, I transformed myself into a mean and nasty tiger parent and prepared for battle.

However, despite my best intentions, things back fire big time around here and our place is a veritable Faulty Towers. Somehow, things just don’t seem to run like clockwork and quickly blow-up in my face.

You could say this makes me a hero. After all, heroes need a quest, come up against obstacles and have the inevitable car chase before it all comes good at the end.

However, I don’t feel like the all-conquering hero. I’m much more of a Paddington Bear and should either have a sign saying: “Please Take Care of This Bear” or “Warning! Bear about to self-destruct!”

Miss playing my mother's grand piano, aged 1.

Miss playing my mother’s grand piano, aged 1.

In the case of preparing for the audition, the drama all centred on the piano. Our current piano is old and out of tune. I’ve actually given it away but they can’t seem to pick it up and time’s dragged on so we still haven’t moved up my mother’s Yamaha upright, which would be absolutely perfect right now. As far as I’m concerned, you need a piano to sing well. You need to know and feel those notes. I might be a bit rigid but I come from a family of seriously gifted pianists, myself excluded.

As usual, as much as we tried to have all our ducks lined up, someone must’ve thrown a rock at them because all our good intentions scatter to the four winds and have a very long, circuitous journey home. That’s if they ever come back!

Yet, we persevered.

My daughter has a pretty good keyboard and I thought that would do the job.

At least, it would if we could find the power cable.

Unfortunately, that was buried underneath layers and layers of “filing” in the office. I had been somewhat on top of this never-ending tide of clutter but things came up and I found it all too easy to ignore it until it gave birth. Now, the mess is constantly breeding like over-fertile rabbits and will soon start flying out through the chimney!

So, when it came to the piano front, you could say we were well and truly “stonkered” (that’s a great word plucked from my Dad’s vernacular).

Take 2 or is this Take 3?

So, without a power cable, I had to resort to a roll-up keyboard mat thingy, which I’d bought at a fete. I’d thought it was quite clever at the time and used it to teach the kids some basic keyboard skills but it was hardly the tool for this job. It seemed to play every note twice and was quite annoying.

I started to think about all those kids with the perfect lives yet again and were already accomplished on the piano and felt so inadequate. Yet, at least, I was trying.

Next, I had to get Miss to actually sit down at the keyboard. This process was like trying to catch and restrain a wild brumby. She couldn’t see what singing had to do with playing the keyboard. I tried explaining that singers are usually accompanied on the piano but that didn’t register…even when I reminded her that Grandma accompanies a singer on the piano. I asked her if she was the only singer who didn’t need piano accompaniment. When that didn’t work, I even resorted to the:

“How old are you? “

“Nine. “

“I am 46. Do you think I might know something you don’t know?”

A younger Miss with attitude.

A younger Miss with attitude.

Humph. She was in a thunderous mood with mighty bolts of lightning flying between furrowed eyebrows. I didn’t need to be Einstein to see all these arguments were going nowhere and yet I didn’t give up. Boldly marching where angels fear to tread, I persevered:

Perceptions of Knowledge

Perceptions of Knowledge

“There’s what you know. What you know you don’t know but over here there’s what you don’t know you don’t know and this is what you have to watch out for. Just because you don’t know what you don’t know, that doesn’t mean other people don’t know what you don’t know. “

I know it made sense to me but to her young ears, it must have been gibberish. I’d finally crossed that line into madness.

Persevering with the keyboard while on the nebuliser. I only need it a few times a day so not a big deal.

Mummy & Miss

I was stumbling for words. Remember that I have a severe lung infection and all of these words are being forced out in between violent coughing spasms. I could see some things which would really improve her chances but she just couldn’t see the same picture. She was only 9 and I couldn’t expect her to have walked in my shoes but why couldn’t she recognise hard won pearls of wisdom when she heard them? Why wouldn’t she open up? The keyboard remained a square peg. It just didn’t fit into her understanding of singing, dancing and drama and she wanted to evict it completely.

However, for every Drama Princess, there is also a Drama Queen!

Or, perhaps all that ranting and raving finally made a bit of sense. At last, I sensed some microscopic progress. That maybe, just maybe, I was starting to get a nibble, even if I didn’t have a bite.

The funny thing was that as frustrating as she was, I saw a mirror image of myself as a young child when my mother was trying to teach me the piano. I remember sitting at that baby grand swinging my legs from the stool and hating it. I wanted to destroy it. Indeed, I think I might even have scratched writing onto the ivories. ..just maybe. I’d fought my own mother with the same fierce intensity but I wasn’t going to capitulate. This process was all too much like childbirth. You don’t want to go through the pain but at the end, there’s your beautiful, little bundle of joy. Indeed, I continued to learn the piano with my own teacher until I was around grade 6 so I wasn’t a lost cause after all.

I went on and ordered the sheet music online and started writing it out for her so she could practice it and we were slowly, ever so slowly making progress.

Converting the musical score into

Converting the musical score into “Miss-Speak”.

Then, we found the power cable for the keyboard and we were in business. I started practicing the songs, scraping the rust off years of piano neglect.

Yet again, I marvelled at how the dreams and visions of my children have swept me right out of my comfort zone, learning new skills or dusting off old ones. They have stretched and pulled me in so many different directions that I’ve almost become flexible. Quite an achievement really as it’s all too easy to get set in your ways and limit yourself to what you love and know best.

After all, I could easily just write all day every day.

And then just when I thought this whole drama was never going to reach Act IV, the battle is over and she’s been at the keyboard playing the songs one handed from my notes. She is even playing C Major scale two octaves one-handed and learning to move “Sneaky Tom” (her thumb) underneath without detection. I also taught her that her hand was a fairy table and she had to hold her hand properly or their tea set would go flying. My much-loved piano teacher taught me that and now I passed it onto Miss and smiled. She was only just young enough to still appreciate it.

So our preparations continue.

Saturday night, Geoff and the kids are off camping in the Scout Hall overnight for Father’s Day and on Sunday they’ll be teaching him how to catch a fish.

Miss on a Cub Scout Camp.

Miss on a Cub Scout Camp.

This will be a good break from her musical practice and I kind of like the idea that she’ll be spending her weekend in between her musical theatre class and being out on the water fishing, kayaking, roasting marshmallows round a campfire, camping and simply being a knock-about kid.

After all, she’s not only auditioning for a children’s part. She’s still a child.

xx Rowena

Flirting with Elise

Although we never quite said: “I do”, my violin and I have had an unspoken understanding that we were together. That it was just the two of us and I had forsaken all other instruments. That I was done with the piano and had well and truly moved on.

That is, of course, aside from my occasional and very brief flirtations playing Moonlight Sonata on Mum’s grand piano when I visit my parents’ place. The piano was a memory, a relict from my past. While it’s nice, the piano has never spoken to me, connected with me or lit my flame the way the violin does.

However, life often has a habit of taking me by the hand and leading me along different and often deeply shaded garden path when I was just minding my own business happily heading somewhere else. Some people would call this “distraction” but as John Lennon sang in “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

While I’m still loyal to my violin, the piano and I are now having something of an affair, a flirtation, a dalliance. Perhaps, even a come back.

Yesterday, while I was at the op shop in Avalon, I found an old vintage copy of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Suddenly, in the words of Martin Luther King: I had a dream. I was going to master Fur Elise over the holidays.

While I had learned it many, many years ago and am not starting from scratch, this is still a fairly ambitious project and I’m already rather inundated with projects at the moment especially when you consider that I’m currently going through chemo. This should probably be a time of rest and relaxation and certainly not taking on more.

At the same time, it feels good to practice, improve and feel myself starting to succeed. That sense of achievement might even be more important than ever at the moment when I am feeling quite overwhelmed at times and so much is beyond my control. I can sit down at the piano and repeat and repeat and repeat those notes and there’s noticeable improvement. I have no idea whether or not the chemo is working and while I’m doing exercise and eating healthy, I don’t know whether they are helping either. I need something a bit more concrete.

While all these medical things are up in the air at the moment, we all know that practice makes perfect. The more I practice Fur Elise, the better I get. It’s not just a matter of talent. You have to apply yourself. When it comes to the medical world, these types of certainties just don’t exist. My disease is such a mystery, an unknown. The lines of Fur Elise on the other hand are so well-known, reassuring, predictable. I know what’s happening. I understand that certainty and being in control has only ever been an illusion but that illusion fitted like a glove and I was comfortable…at peace.

Fur Elise seems to be pondering some sort of imponderable question as well going over those same phrases over and over again like trying to remember something. Find something that’s been lost. It’s like the waves of the ocean constantly rolling towards the shore in their rhythmic, predictable way so unlike the twists and turns of life.

Even after all these years, I still don’t know who Elise was aside from my piano teacher’s teenaged daughter.

Given our new relationship status, perhaps, it is time I found out.

/

Chemo Sonata

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is almost fused to my path, my journey, memory. Well, to be perfectly honest, we’re only talking about the first movement. It seems to be a genetic family trait that we only manage the first movement and don’t seem to progress.

My childhood resonates with Moonlight Sonata. It is my father’s piece…his song…his dance. Dad runs like clockwork. He’s largely methodical. He has his routines and used to have “a place for everything and everything in its place” once upon a time. Dad didn’t concern himself with the things like feeding children and dogs, closing windows, settling rowdy children for babysitters or applying makeup before it was time to go out. He was just ready. This meant that while Dad was waiting for Mum, he sometimes calmly and often impatiently, sat down at the piano and played Moonlight Sonata its soft rhythmic tones contrasting with my mother’s rush and bustle.

One of my most precious memories of my grandmother Eunice Gardiner  http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/a-musical-career-honed-in-the-laundry-20090823-ev2w.html who was an accomplished concert pianist also involved Moonlight Sonata. She was in what you would call her twilight years. Her memory was failing in all sorts of ways as her bright intelligence and wit were not so gradually being attacked by the cruel ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She told me a story about how her older brother Les had asked her to play Moonlight Sonata at a party he was having when they were young. Although she was a brilliant pianist, apparently she too only knew the first movement of Moonlight Sonata at least from memory and when she didn’t play on, he brother apparently remarked “even I can play that”. After telling this story my grandmother went across to the piano and tried to recall Moonlight Sonata and instead went on to play a patchwork of snippets from a range of highly complex pieces including Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude. I wasn’t really into music at the time and didn’t know what any of the pieces were but I was amazed at how she’d somehow stitched all these complex pieces together like the squares of a patchwork quilt. Strangely, I somehow loved her more than ever then and was very touched by a musical gift that somehow transcended human frailty and the ravages of disease.

I learned the piano for many years and while I haven’t kept it up, I will usually sit down and play Moonlight Sonata on what used to be my grandmother’s Steinway Grand piano whenever I visit my parents. I tinker away from memory with many repeats and returns trying to kick start my memory and faltering fingers. I still like to believe I can play even though putting two hands together to even play C Major scale these days, is a challenge.

Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Quite often, I visit my parents  after trooping down to Royal North Shore Hospital for medical appointments and treatments. I was playing Moonlight Sonata after my latest chemo treatment last Thursday when I noticed my hands on the keyboard with the tell-tale bandaid “spots”. It had taken three attempts to get the canula in, largely because we were trying my more resistant left arm so I could write with my right. In the end, we gave up but I was lucky because I was still able to write. I am a determined soul and like most writers, quite the addict. I must admit that it does seem rather crazy now…pen pushing while you’ve having chemo pumped into your veins which perhaps could have used a little rest. All the same, you are who you are.

Anyway, I asked Geoff to photograph me playing the piano with my hands covered in my spots. It was another one of my laugh or cry moments and I mostly saw the humour of the situation. I love photographing hands and also love using the piano as a photographic prop. I have numerous photos of the kids’ hands in various sizes tinkering away on the keys.

Miss aged 15 months at the piano.

Miss aged 15 months at the piano.

A duet Easter 2007

A duet Easter 2007

I also asked Geoff to film me playing.  Not a perfect Moonlight Sonata but my version just how I always play it going over and over and over the various bit of the first movement and back to the start stumbling through the notes in a fusion of emotional expression, a question for perfection and even a touch of moonlight on a dark night. Another reminder that things don’t always have to be perfect and that it’s more important just to have a go and do what you can.

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!