Take A Moment Of Nostalgia: Back When I Played The Violin
I've seen the story in the local news about the Marshall Philharmonic concert this weekend , and it got me a little nostalgic again. About my connection to music, to orchestras - specifically here in Sedalia. When my Mother was a little girl, she was given a violin to play in school. She played for a couple of years, and it fell by the wayside. Then, years later, she gave that same violin to my sister, who played it for maybe a year in school and then... it fell by the wayside. Cut to a couple of years later, and little me is about ten years old.
I heard about an after school, free class you could take in the gym of the Horace Mann School. It was Orchestra. If you wanted to join, you could, but it wasn't anything you'd play in music class that year. A couple of friends of mine were doing it too, so I was pretty excited. I took that old violin with the crack down the middle and took to playing. It was just the basics, stuff to get you started.
Gwen Kappleman was my teacher, I'll never forget her. She was so patient with us, but definitely knew how to take a disciplinarian tone. I remember one time I was waiting in line for her to tune my violin (something we did most days) and I was smacking my violin bow on the floor of the stage. She told me that I should NEVER do that, that I could break my bow and not be able to play. I still vividly remember that. She instilled a love of the orchestra for me that would stay for years and be definitely nurtured by the genius talent that was Harold Johnston.
I took private lessons from Mr Johnston, five dollars for a half an hour every Monday right after school. Sometimes it was in the church on the way home from Smith Cotton, and sometimes it was at his house. He was such a smart, kind man. He was SO talented (even if he did tune his strings a little sharp). Anybody who heard him play knew that. So I have two memories of Mr Johnston to share on that.
The first was in high school - our drama department was doing a stage production of West Side Story. I was ambitious - I took a small part in the play, and spent the rest of the time in the pit, playing second to Mr Johnston, of course. It was a very difficult score for me. It involved a lot of precision timing. At one point, there was a song where Mr Johnston and I were resting (not playing) for a long time. The time was calculated by measures, and you had to count the beats and keep track of how long it was. I think it was a twenty measure break, or something. Anyway, about 15 measures in to this break in the first show, Mr Johnston moves his bow to turn the page. He had lost track of where we were. I quietly counted out loud for a measure so he would catch up, just loud enough for him to hear....
17... two, three, four
18... two, three, four
I was so proud of myself. I had actually HELPED Mr Johnston at something!
My other big proud moment was when I was finishing up lessons the summer after my senior year of high school. I was at his house, and as we were packing up, I told him that I had gotten a scholarship to what was then CMSU to be in the Orchestra there. It wasn't a big one, it basically just covered the cost of the class. But I got it, and I got in. Mr Johnston had no idea I was even going to TRY to be in the university orchestra... and he told me he was proud.
I played the violin for about ten years, all told. It was hard, but I enjoyed it. We made a lot of trips to Wilken's Music over the years (It still looks, feels, and smells the same, by the way. I hope it never changes). I got a little indentation on the ring finger of my right hand, where I held the bow. I kept the fingernails on my left hand short. I got a little bruise on my neck from the chinrest. I made it up to second chair in the high school orchestra - there was one girl who was just miles more talented than anybody, no matter how hard I practiced. But we had a good time.
Then college happened. Yes, I had the class. We met twice a week. I won't tell you the name of that professor but I bet you could figure it out if you wanted to. I was last chair in the second violins, which meant I was the lowest rung on the totem pole. But I was TRYING. These people were music majors, virtuoso's, child prodigies, people who lived and breathed music and planned to do it for a living.
So I suppose the girl who was thinking she would be an English teacher was a little out of her depth. Still. Like I say, I was TRYING. I would practice every day and go to the shared space and try to practice a little more, whatever I could do. But... it was really hard for me. So I just tried not to stand out. I put my strings on mute (not really muted, just very quiet) and played very softly.
But then the day came. It was a night practice. Second semester. The professor was not pleased with how the second violins sounded. So, he drilled us. He had us play the same section over and over again (not uncommon in any practice environment). Then, he started yelling, and told us he was going to go down the line and listen to each and every one of us and find out who was the idiot.
You can guess what happened next. It was an orchestra of at least a hundred players, watching this section of maybe eight. Percussion, winds, strings... a lot of people. He got down to last chair, and I did my best. But... it was not good. The look he gave me was brutal. He looked offended. It was like he thought I was personally out to destroy music. He didn't say anything else other than I should leave to go practice. We were halfway through rehearsal. So... I left. And in a way, I never came back.
It just kind of... broke something in me. After that semester, I didn't apply to the Orchestra again. I don't think he was surprised. He was probably relieved.
It was a little bittersweet when my stepdaughter Meaghan started the violin last year. She was about the same age I was when I started (though a lot taller). I took her down to Wilken's, and we got her her rosin, a metronome, a tuner, and a couple of music books. She was so excited. I looked at her and wondered if that's what I had looked like to my Mom. I looked around the place and got some flashes of memory - from back when I used to play. It kind of made me wonder if I should try again. I still have the violin, it's still got the same crack down the center.
I don't think I have it in me to try again, though.
My neck bruise is gone. It was nice, but.. it's gone.