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.

Dreaded Double Stops

My violin lesson was yesterday, and that particular lesson was another case of “two steps back.” I’m of the opinion that maybe if I skipped every other lesson, I would be congratulated and patted on the back always. Of course, I’m a glutton for punishment, so I go every week, and risk being dressed down as a result.

I’ve always had a problem with double stops. (Double stops means striking two or more strings at once with your bow.) I don’t know why. I have an etude book full of them, and I still can’t do them with any skill. I’ve been playing (if you can call it that) my violin for over three years, and you’d think (or my teacher thinks) I’d be able to do at least the simplest double stops.

As a guitar player, I was always able to strike at least three strings at the same time. Heck, they call that “strumming” the guitar. Of course, I couldn’t read music back then and compensated for my lack of sight reading ability by only strumming. Plus, it’s easier to strum with a pick than it is to try to maintain a melodious double stop with a long narrow stick with one end in horsehair.

Now that I can read music, it takes me a while to cypher where my fingers should go on which strings and why. Because of this, I will sometimes pause ever so slightly just before the double stop in order to find my place. Doing this makes for a choppy performance.

If a piece has a passage with double stops, I work almost exclusively on those. I can play single notes just fine. It’s those damned double stops that drive me nutty.

I can’t figure out if I have a psychological aversion to double stops, or if I’m physically unable to do them. My inability could be the result of skinny arms and weak wrists. Or my brain could be working too hard. I tend to over-analyze everything.

*Sigh*

Where I Come From, Musically

Dr. Bibey came up with a post about where he comes from, and invited his readers to explain where they come from. I know from reading the good doctor’s posts that he’s somewhere in the southern US and plays bluegrass. His love of music and medicine coexist in a rather pleasant play one on the other. It’s nice that music is an intrinsic part of his life. Music is the universal language, and it mellows the hardest of hearts. I wish my doctor played bluegrass. (To be honest, I’ve never asked my doctor what types of music she likes, but I think I will during my next visit.)

In my comment to him, I briefly went through my own musical influences. It was a comment that was too short, so I thought I would elaborate here.

My first memory is of show tunes. That’s because my mother liked to sing them. “The Sound of Music” and “Oklahoma” or anything Oscar and Hammerstein. My mother was an operatic singer, but ended up being a housewife. She was also the loudest singer in church, which was an embarrassment to me as a child. I kept thinking, why doesn’t she sing normally like all the other mothers? Now I know why. She was honestly moved by God, especially in church.

Back to childhood songs: I can vividly remember her teaching us “You are My Sunshine” and “California Here I Come” and even though her grasp of English wasn’t all that great, she picked up quite a song list. My father, on the other hand, grew up in the Frozen North Woods, where he developed a love of country music. His favorite was Johnny Cash, and we knew all of Johnny’s songs and also knew not to touch Johnny’s albums without permission. Toward the late 1960s when I started my love affair with rock and roll, I started to think Johnny Cash was a rube. Later on, as an adult, I came to the realization that Johnny Cash was an absolute genius.

Now, about that love affair with rock and roll: I didn’t like the Beatles, and I thought the Stones were scary. Motown, as well, did nothing for me. I tended to gravitate toward the Doors, Jefferson Starship, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Country Joe, as well as Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. You could say that I had a Haight-Ashbury influence back then. As those bands and singers faded away, fought with each other, died or otherwise self-destructed, I picked up on Cat Stevens, Linda Rondstadt and Joni Mitchell. Storytelling songwriters were high on my list. Besides, by that time, I had purchased my first guitar, and it was easy to learn their songs.

After graduating from high school, I started listening to heavy metal, and not so heavy metal. That’s probably because I started dating a guy who was into it. We listened to Boston, Ted Nugent, Foreigner, AC/DC – you name them, I’ve probably seen them. I also started listening to the music of my father’s father, the bouzouki and mandolin music of Greece, which interested me in other world music, like from India and Africa. This was also when I really started listening to classical music. At the time, I especially liked the sound of the harpsichord and violin.

My main focus back then, though, was with female singers. Bonnie Raitt, Heart, Stevie Nicks, Carly Simon, Joan Jett. I could listen to one girl singer after another for hours on end.

My husband, who I met in the early 80s, introduced me to Elvis Costello, and also the Beatles and the Stones. Neil Young is his favorite. Although he hates for me to say it, when my son was little, he could only be soothed by country music, and that’s when we started buying Tanya Tucker, Patti Lovelace, Roseanne Cash and Tammy Wynette. After my son started playing piano, he shifted to classical music exclusively, and we were introduced to the dark and foreboding Russian composers, as well as the complete works of Beethoven and Bach.

As my son was preparing to go to college, I started learning the violin. At last I could study the instrument I really loved! At first, I concentrated on classical, but I’m branching out to other pieces as well.
Music has always been at the core of my being, and I can’t imagine a world without it.

This is where I came from, musically.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Today, I’m going to write about my last violin lesson.

Perhaps I should preface this post with a little history. I’ve been taking lessons for a little over three years now, with a very nice woman who plays semi-professionally. Her husband is a retired concertmaster of the local symphony (a major name symphony), and even though he’s very elderly, he still plays a little and has a few students too. I like this set up, because if my teacher is sick, he can step in. I practice (most days) at least thirty minutes a day, sometimes much more than that. It just depends on my schedule and what’s going on in the house. My husband, who minored in piano, plays regularly (but he won’t accompany me) and my daughter plays the flute (she, too, thinks I’m unworthy as a musician). So in between one or the other yelling at me that my music sounds more like two cats having a fight, I have to find time to practice.

You would think that after three years of lessons I should be able to play fairly well. According to my son, who is majoring in piano at a major conservatory (see, I’m surrounded by perfectionists), I still play off-tune, and I still can’t count worth a darn. He knows this because he IS the only one who will play with me. When he was here at Christmas, we exhausted the entire Christmas repertoire. Even though I’m perfectly awful, he still likes to accompany me. He’s actually a very humorous accompanist, but that’s another story.

Most of my lessons are very informational. Much of the time, my teacher and I get along well. She’s only made me cry once, and that’s because I was so frustrated at my total incomprehension that it was the only thing I could do. At my last lesson, I felt the same level of frustration once again. I avoided tears by playing really stupid and sidetracking her to another problem of mine. I can’t remember how I did it, but I’m getting good at deflecting her frustration and saving my own face.

For one thing, my teacher thinks I should be able to know the notes. I have a confession to make. Before taking up violin, I was a frustrated guitar and piano player. As an adult, I took lessons for both, but could not comprehend reading music. I fault my parents, who provided us with musical instruments but were too poor to provide us with lessons. I taught myself both instruments and played by ear. Reading music didn’t make sense to me until I took up the violin. I am able to read the notes on the lower part of the scale now, but for those ear-piercing high notes, I’m left to guess.

The other thing she thinks I should be able to do is vibrato. Vibrato pretties up even the most mundane pieces. It makes an F major scale sound like the fluttering of angels’ wings. I have been trying unsuccessfully for two years to vibrate. I dream of vibrating. I practice it daily. I’ve found instructional videos online but even that hasn’t helped much. I’m finally able to do a very baby one, but only on one note. I can’t do it on a real piece of music, or even on a scale.

There are some lessons where I leave thinking I made two steps forward and one step back. This might have been one where I went one step forward and two steps back.

I went home and did something I never, ever do. I tried to figure out a piece (New Harmony Waltz) by ear. After having concentrated so hard on learning to read music, I found that I failed to do this miserably.

I guess it’s back to the salt mines.

General Silliness at the Conservatory

My son and his girlfriend decided to surprise me with their rendition of the theme song to the Greatest American Hero. (A largely forgettable TV show from the 80s.) For some reason, my husband told them I had a crush on the star. NOT! Gag me with a spoon, will ya?

Bounding Through the Snow and Yesterday’s Dinner

We were more or less snowbound, after having received about a foot of snow. “Snow-schmow” I said, and we dug ourselves out of the driveway to attend a Christmas recital that my daughter was performing in. She did not want to leave the house, having not awakened until past noon. My husband did not want to leave either, since golf was going to start about the time the recital was ending. I didn’t want to leave either, but we committed to the recital, and the conservatory did not postpone it due to the weather. I figured if they were hearty enough to get to the recital, so were we.

It was a hair-raising trip to the faraway northern suburb where we were supposed to be at 2 p.m. We barely made it off our side street and onto the main thoroughfare. On the way, we saw numerous cars in the ditch. It was still snowing and the snow was drifting in the stiff wind. Conditions were treacherous; however, we made it safely.

On the way, both my husband and daughter were complaining about having to attend with the weather being so nasty. My daughter accused me of being a “stage” mom, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Music is very important to me, as is fulfilling commitments once you make them. If I was a bona fide stage mom, I’d have had her butt auditioning for serious parts years ago.

I like these little recitals. I’ve actually attended some where my kids weren’t even playing. They start with the youngest kids and work their way up from there. Attending them always makes me reminisce about my children’s first recitals. The first pianist was a little girl who could not have been more than four years old. She was preciously plinking out “I Saw Three Ships” with her mother. By the time they ended, with my daughter playing a rather tricky arrangement of “The First Noel”, I was feeling all warm and glowing. Her tone was magnificent, and even though she stumbled at the end, she recovered nicely.

When we finally arrived home, I started making dinner, which was a stuffed roast chicken. Soon after, my daughter’s boyfriend arrived, in his big Cadillac. As I was finishing up making the gravy and the vegetables, he proceeded to make Kraft macaroni and cheese, at the bequest of my very spoiled daughter.

I could tell he had made this dish for my daughter before. He knew where all the pots and pans and utensils were, and where all of the ingredients were in the fridge. I teased him about being Chef Boy-ar-Dee, and we successfully dodged each other around the kitchen island. Then I thought that the poor boy is totally whipped. My daughter was downstairs in the basement begging my husband for something. Then she was going to subject The Boyfriend to yet another viewing of “The Notebook.” I sympathized with him and told him that even I would not subject my husband to a viewing of “The Notebook” because it’s too much of a chick flick for him.

Though we offered, they didn’t want to have roast chicken for dinner. Too bad, as it was the most delicious roast chicken I’ve made in a very long time!

Why I Don’t Bring My Violin To Work

I was asked by a co-worker today why I don’t bring my violin to work.

There are several good reasons. To begin with, it’s very cold outside, and my violin is a newer one. The slightest change in temperature causes the strings to go out of tune. This used to be a major problem, until I bought myself a digital tuner. Now I am much better at tuning my instrument, although not much better.

Another reason is that I’m not very good yet. I don’t want to subject the masses to my terrible playing. I sound much better when someone accompanies me, but I don’t have much of an occasion for that to happen. My husband won’t. Ditto for my daughter.

I think I need to find some new people to play with!

Anyway, a violin is not a good thing to bring to the work place. I can see a possible worker’s compensation claim if I ever decided to play here.