Some Violin Stuff, and My Ear

Now that I have journeyed through five Maia Bang theory books, my violin teacher is giving me a break of sorts. She told me to pick up a copy of some Junior Festival pieces (ordinarily played by five year olds) and we will now be concentrating on style.

I have to admit, my style is still stilted and stiff. I am not one with my instrument. This week marks the fourth year I’ve been attempting to play, and I still cannot vibrate. It’s the classic case of not being able to do several things at once, at least, not on the violin. Ask me to answer the phone, drive a stick shift and drink a cup of coffee while cruising FM radio and I can do that. Vibrate and play the correct notes while doing so – um, no.

The other thing she wants me to concentrate on is dynamics, or getting different sounds out of the instrument. I’m a weak player. My idea of dynamics is pianissimo and more pianissimo. (This means very quietly in music lingo) No matter what I do, I cannot play loud. I also cannot distinguish when I’m playing softly and more softly.

I think my problem stems from having a violin right next to my left ear. All of my noises sound the same. This might be why I can barely make out when I am playing sharp. I always play sharp, I never play flat. Unlike my son, the talented Mr. Demonic Jr., I am not blessed with perfect pitch. I can sing out the first couple of notes of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and know that it’s G-G and C, but beyond that, I’m clueless. My electronic tuner gets a bigger work out than the violin does.

Since this is my four year anniversary, I’m trying to re-evaluate my goal. At first, it was to play with my family and others. My family dislikes playing with me (at least Mr. D does); and when I play with my son, he’s constantly correcting my sharps and counting. My teacher doesn’t think I’m ready to play with other people.

I might quit, but don’t think I will. My teacher is making plans. Her husband is older than just about anyone I know (she was a former student, and a child bride) and currently in a nursing home. When he is gone (which might be ten years from now when he’s 102), she is going to sell everything and move to Maine, where the rest of her family is. When she moves, I’ll look for a different teacher.

In the meantime, I will take one small step forward and slide back two steps. That’s how it is with me and violin.

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And Now, A Post About the Violin

As some know, I have been studying the violin for three and a half years. I’m not sure I have made much progress. According to the rest of the Demonics, I’m not much better than I was way back when.

Mr. Demonic doesn’t want to play with me. He thinks I practice scales too much. He plays the piano, but I have to beg him to accompany me. Ms. MiniD played the flute, but now that she is 18, she has fulfilled her obligation to music lessons and playing music, and she has retired. Mr. Demonic Junior, starting his fourth year studying piano at a prestigious West Coast Conservatory, says I still can’t count worth a darn.

This leaves me with my teacher. She’s nice enough, and competent enough (her husband was 1st violinist at our local symphony before he retired about 30 years ago), but I never see any of her other students. We also don’t have any opportunities to play in front of others, which I thought was helpful for my own children.

I’ve now progressed to 6th and 7th position, which means I am way, way, way high up on the neck of my violin. If I thought the instrument was tough before, now it’s practically devilish. It’s taken me two months to do four pages of exercises. Part of my problem is that my elderly brain is not able to comprehend a lot of this all at once. I know what’s right, but making my fingers do it is nearly impossible without hours of practice. The other thing is that I only have an hour or so a day to practice. I wish I could do more. (When I go on vacation, I bring my violin and find I can practice for hours at a time.) Being old, I’m also not as fearless as the little four year olds I know who can play circles around me.

My teacher speaks quickly. I am great at puzzling looks, so she takes the hint immediately. I know what she is saying, especially when it comes to relating my fingers to each other, but it seems to take me forever to put the theory into practice.

You can teach an old dog new tricks, but you have to be prepared to outlive him.