writing down the sun

Still in Love

Posted in strung out by annie on April 21, 2007

We’re still in the heady honeymoon days of the new relationship, my violin and I. I love him, he responds with – well, as much fervor as his $50 little body can muster.

So far, I’ve practiced every day since picking it up from Earl. I have graduated from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to my first semi-classical piece, “Ode to Joy.” (Semi- only in that it’s a very simplified arrangement.) I’m still having trouble keeping a nice intonation shifting from the A string to the E string and back again. Oddly, I don’t have that same problem between A and D – wonder why that is?

I’m concerned about my wrist placement and the bowing movement in general. I keep wondering if I’m doing it right. And then I bump headlong into the real problem with teaching yourself – who’s going to correct those bad habits before they become ingrained? Perhaps a teacher is more of a necessity than a better instrument, then, at this point.

But the category for this post is “passion” and so I’ll return to that topic. It’s something that’s been lacking in my life lately, in massive quantities. Even the breakup of my marriage wasn’t terribly passionate. Sad, surely, and a little bittersweet. Yes, there were some arguments but  mostly civil ones, promptly resolved. We’re not angry at each other, we still hang out periodically as friends, and we’re both very much “as one” where our daughter’s concerned.  I’ve missed that passion – feeling a deep longing for something has got to be one of the most amazing sensations in the world, a gift of being human.  So, I’m particularly intrigued by this development, or realization of the previous passion I’d felt for the violin. Why now? What made it jump from what it’s always been – a pleasant “someday/maybe” fantasy – to what it is now – a fully realized “MUST do this” project?

Was it the separation? Or are both those things merely symptomatic of a larger awakening?

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No Pain, No Gain?

Posted in strung out by annie on April 20, 2007

I got the bright idea today to schedule out my day carefully, using violin time as a reward (which it is, absolutely – at least for now, hopefully for a long time to come).  So I decided to start practice at noon – giving me an hour and a half to play before going to pick up the kid. Basically, I tripled my playing time between day 1 and day 2.

All I can say is “Ow.”

My finger tips – especially the index finger, left hand – feel like I’ve been typing on the Devil’s keyboard of FLAMES.  I have learned my lesson and will adjust practice time accordingly, at least until the callouses start to build up. I never thought I’d say this outside of pointe class back in my ballet days, but “Yay for callouses!”

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.

Is It Me?

Posted in strung out by annie on April 17, 2007

I ordered my violin off eBay – no, I’m not kidding. Sight unseen. It was, not the cheapest, but close to it. My thinking on this was that I didn’t want to put a lot of money into something I wasn’t sure I’d keep up with. That might sound odd, given the passion I professed earlier. But I do have something of a reputation for starting things exuberantly but letting them go weeks later in a fit of apathy. So, I didn’t want to go buy a $600 instrument until I was sure I was going to stick with this.

It arrived over the weekend, in a long rectangular cardboard box. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited over a delivery, any delivery (except, you know, my daughter’s delivery but that’s a very different thing). I nervously installed the bridge – after having searched the ‘net for instructions. That went fine but then I realized that one of the strings was loose. I tried to tighten it but it had slipped off the tuning peg.

So, I took the violin in to the music store half an hour’s drive from my house. That’s OK, because I got to meet Earl. Yes, as in “My Name Is ___” except he’s not as goofy, but just as endearingly nice, and a bit younger. Also, without the slightly off brother following him around.

Before we get to Earl, though, let’s talk about what happened on the way down. Thirty minutes is a long time to be in a car by yourself and not have your little voices start speaking to you. You know those voices – we all have them. The one that popped up today belongs to a judgmental bitch that lives inside me and expects everyone else to judge me as harshly as she does.

“They’re going to make fun of your violin,” she whispered in my ear.

“Say wha?” I was confused. “How so?”

“It’s a piece of crap. The guy’s gonna laugh, and call over his buddies and they’re gonna laugh, and then one of them is going to call over a really good violinist who just happens to be in the store at the same time and HE’S gonna laugh …”

“Enough, enough, I get the picture. Why on earth would they do that?”

“Because. It’s a piece of crap. And you’re just going to give it up anyway, so why you even bothered….”

Whereupon I slapped some duct tape over bitch’s mouth and shoved her back in her box. I mean – damn. Who do I think I am, talking to myself like that?

And, for the record, no, of course no one mocked. Someone did laugh though – me. Then Earl. See, it started when Earl cautioned me, kindly, that this wasn’t “the best quality violin” – I laughed heartily and said, “For fifty bucks off eBay? Yeah, I’m aware.” He laughed. We both chuckled some more. He gave me a slip of paper, and said “Call back in the morning and I’ll have it all fixed up for you, ready to play.”

See, you horrid little critical voice? Nobody judged.

Unfortunately, Earl has now fallen out of my good graces as I’ve learned he didn’t finish my violin last night, as we discussed, so it’s not ready now. I have to wait a whole day. Another day. You’re dead to me, Earl. (I’m just kidding, Earl. We’re still buds, right?) This is actually a good thing, since I’ll be able to focus on work-type stuff, which has sadly been neglected in the distracting amber glow of all the violin goodness.

Should I name my violin?

In Which the Heroine Buys a Violin

Posted in strung out by annie on April 16, 2007

I find myself here, on the wrong side of 40, recently divorced and a single mother, struggling for cash and sanity.  So what do I do?

Get therapy? No. Nothing against it. Just (a) no time; (b) no interest; and (c) no insurance. Also, no cash. Ergo, no therapy.

Buy a sports car? See above.

Get laid? Hmm. Definite possibility. But … no.

What I do is … I buy a violin. A cheap one, off eBay. And I, who have never played a string instrument a day in my life, intend to learn. No – more than that. I intend to teach myself how to play the violin – widely believed to be the most difficult of all instruments to learn, nearly impossible to do so on one’s own. But there you have the essence of my personality, right there – I am drawn to the impossible. I crave it, like crack-addled monkeys in a lab. If there’s a project near and dear to my heart, that’s great. But if I can find a way to make it impossible, or at least much, much harder on myself, then – ah, bliss.

I’m sure that therapist I can’t afford would have a field day with that disclosure. But since I can’t afford therapy, this blog will do.

It may seem “out of the blue” but there is some precedent in my backstory for a violin obsession. I grew up singing, playing the piano, dancing. I spent long, blissful hours cocooned in a beanbag chair in my room, huge pod-like earphones cradling my adolescent head as an eclectic mix of tunes carried me off.In high school, I joined a competitive choir, classically trained and very, very good. I participated in that choir for four full years, and it was the anchor for a turbulent teen-hood. In conjunction with that, I received classical solo voice training – also some in college, where I branched out into musical theatre and straight theatre as well.

And then, my relationship with music rather suddenly ended upon graduation. I had no daily outlet, no choir or show cast to rehearse with, no time to lose myself in a beanbag chair. I went to law school, graduated, and moved to the coast to begin my career. I married, had a child, and dealt with some health issues.  I quit my job, launched my own practice, and buried my mother in the space of three months. By the end of the fourth month, my marriage was over.

And that’s where I found myself last week – broke, overweight, overloaded with obligations (most in relation to my struggling law practice), battling some health conditions (hypertension, fibromyalgia), and longing for … something. I didn’t know what.

Then two things happened that helped me figure out “what.” One – my brother came to visit. T is 14 years older than I am (so, mid-50’s) and last year, he picked up the cello. Just like that. Out of the blue. No prior experience. So, T came to visit and while he was here, he received two phone calls from people who wanted to learn the play the cello, too, and were asking his advice about how to get started. These were obviously grown-ups calling, and it planted the seed. That seed sprouted two days later, as I was tooling around on eBay, after selling some stuff to make a little cash, when I happened across a listing for a violin. It was listed for $50. I was shocked. I didn’t know you could buy a violin for so little cash!

I made the decision within a few seconds. I said a “holy yes” to the wild-assed idea and bought the damn thing.

Right now it’s at a local music shop. When it arrived, the G string had slipped off the peg (more about that in a future post), and it needed to have the chin rest attached. I’m awaiting a phone call telling me it’s ready, and also the arrival of three books and a DVD from Amazon.com, some rosin (also from eBay), a scales chart from another online store, and the Suzuki for the Violin – Book 1. The music stand ($5, also eBay) arrived Saturday. I’ve spent over $100 already. For someone struggling for cash, it was an odd choice.

But it made me gleefully happy for the first time in – well, several years  – when I opened that long rectangular box Saturday morning and unzipped the dark blue case.  It’s a feeling that hasn’t gone away entirely, at least not yet.

I know what I’m up against – more on that later, too. I don’t want to write everything this first time out.  Suffice to say, I don’t expect to be playing anything but “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by the end of the year – and that, badly.  I have realistic expectations – and I’m still insanely giddy over this little project. That has to say something about the authenticity of my dream. This is real passion.

At least – so far.