Gutsy Player

A year ago I fell headlong into learning how to play the violin. Odd as it might seem, given what I do, I’d never actually even touched one before then. I’d made a brief personal acquaintance with the string family sometime in the ’90’s; I'd bought a beat-up cello with vague structural problems that I kept around just for a bit but I didn't have the resources to fix whatever was wrong with the neck, so I never got emotionally invested, nor the least bit serious about learning on a faulty instrument. Skip to a year ago and my daughter was embarking on the school instrument program that starts in 4th grade. She picked viola. I hooked my elbow into hers and picked violin, so that we could learn together.

We were lucky to find a caring teacher both vastly experienced and yet energetic enough to inspire. My daughter has been dutifully going through her books (motivated by the prospect of demonstrating enough responsibility to finally get that potential puppy we’ve been talking about forever.) I, on the other hand, have forged ahead like a bull in a Stradivarius shop, jumping all over the place, to the amusement and partial vexing of the teacher, who just isn’t quite sure what to do with me. My purpose in learning is partly to see what is most practical and fun to do on the instrument in order to better write for it, both solo and orchestral. Wanting to avoid the trap of subconsciously limiting my writing to what I myself can play, I’m trying to quickly absorb bits and pieces of various techniques just to remember that they are out there. Pizzicato, harmonics, double stops, unisons, spiccato, alongside the ubiquitous détaché.

I really did have trial by fire with this, being thrown in with two other adult learners to form the Valiant Trio for last spring’s recital. To get there, we sightread probably a dozen pieces to choose our favorites to work on. Simply keeping up was a miracle. We got through both a soirée and a recital playing from three stylistic periods and had a very warm reception. After that, it was time for me to get back to actually buckle down and improve my bowing. A piano background serves me pretty well in the left hand dexterity, but the bow is another beast altogether. I’ve just joined a community orchestra and the “second string” group is exactly where I should be, highly challenging but entirely doable.

My first lesson was on September 16 a year ago. When the anniversary rolled around I got a bit obsessive about capturing my progress to this point. The thing about recording, though, is that it shows you exactly where you need to fix things. So I would no sooner record something than have to record it again, but better. At some point I have to stop and freeze the frame, though, so gahhhh here it is. 

(**I did record some video, but I found the video element a little too much at once, too distracting. Plus, I have a cold. So I ended up recording audio, and the videos are for my own consumption for now, and mostly for bowing improvement.)

*changed my mind and added a video: