writing down the sun

My First “Lesson”

Posted in strung out by annie on April 19, 2007

Earl got sick of hearing me call in every few hours so the last time, he told Carl, who answered the phone, to tell me it would be ready in 20 minutes – knowing it took me 30 minutes to drive down in beach traffic. (April + beach = spring break traffic. Lovely experience, that.)

When I got there, I almost had one of those “critical bitch” moments again upon seeing a crowd around the front counter, including Earl. As I yanked open the glass door and started inside, I got a better look at the object on the glass counter around which they’d gathered – my violin. My poor, cheap, tawdry, 50-dollar whore of a violin. OK, I thought. I can do this. I mentally pounded on on CB’s make-believe head and shoved her ass back inside the make-believe box, making a mental note to get some make-believe duct tape and seal her up good and tight.

Earl and Carl were perfectly cordial, Earl being a bit more familiar with me and Carl and I only being phone buds. There was an older guy there, as well as a girl, probably teens.

Earl, the smartass (but a heck of a guy and an incredible repair dude), said “Well, I’ve got good news and bad news.” Everyone laughed, like they knew what was coming. Heck, they probably did. Probably had been jawing about this piece of crap violin for the past ten minutes awaiting my arrival. “The good news is that it’s in tune. The bad news is that it’ll probably stay that way for about two hours.”

Carl furrowed his brows for me. “What happened, pegs slipping?” Earl had mentioned to me on Monday that one of the problems with this quality of violin is that the pegs frequently slip, and won’t hold the string sufficiently taut to hold the pitch.

I smiled, and nodded. ‘S’OK, as long as we start off on the right note. So to speak.” They all laughed at my purely intentional pun.

“The chin rest – well, I put it in for you,” he continued, pointing out the large curved piece of plastic now attached via a metal prong near the tailpiece. “But this is, like, totally the wrong size chinrest for this instrument. This is for, like, a viola or something.” (It’s kind of fun to hear this laid-back, Southern drawl talking about things like bow frogs and chinrests and violas, you know?)

“And then there’s the bow … ” Earl continued, showing it to me. “I rosined it up for you but even as I was doing it, hairs were coming off.”

OK, this, he didn’t tell me before. Nobody told me the bow was crap, too. Although I suppose it stands to reason. Crappy violin, crappy bow. It follows.

He stuck the rosin brick in the case and didn’t charge me for it. Earl’s back in my good graces.

I drove home with the violin case stuffed carefully in the foot of the car on the passenger’s side. I had about forty minutes at home to myself before I had to go pick up my daughter. So, I loaded up my instructional DVD into my laptop, unpacked the violin and bow, took a deep breath, and began.

The host of this DVD is a woman probably a few years older than me – 5 to 10 years, maybe – with a pleasant, controlled sort of personality. She’s apparently got a teleprompter or cue cards or something just off to the side of the camera, because her gaze drifts on occasion and she’s unmistakably reading a script. She first teaches me how to tune the violin – I just go through the motions because my two hours aren’t up yet and it’s still in tune. She then teaches me my first violin terminology – pizzicato which means “pluck the strings.” I pluck the strings. Reading music (the staff and notes appear on the screen) comes back to me quickly, with only a few minor stumbles. Before I know it, I’m pizzacato-ing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Then we move on to bow holding and strokes. I learn the symbol for down-bow (moving the bow down towards the floor, which looks a little like an upside down cup that’s half filled) and up-bow (moving the bow up towards the ceiling, which looks like an inverted V).

And then, I don’t know what came over me. I just had to try. So I did it. I played “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” It was squeaky and the bow bounced, a lot, especially on the down bows.

But it was recognizable. And when I played it again for my daughter later, it brought tears to her eyes. OK, she was laughing hysterically at the time. Still.

Now she’s asleep, door closed. It’s 10:30, and I’m sorely tempted to go try it just one more time. She sleeps like the dead – she’ll never hear a thing.


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