Ahhhh, so beautiful!

 Back in the old days (like 5 years ago) I played the violin…seriously. I still play it some, but I usually get it out just to play celtic music and I never actually practice anymore. Lately, though, I’ve been having an urge to start playing it for real again… This urge has been seriously magnified by the fact that I’ve heard two of my favorite peices on KSMU (the local classical music/NPR station) in the last two days. Yesterday, while I was driving in the car waiting for Fresh Air to come on, they played Capricio Espagnole py Rimski-Korsakov…When I was 14 I got to go to this amazing arts camp in OK that lasted for two weeks and we played this song there. *sigh* I must admit I teared up a bit because I missed it so much. Then, today just as I drove into the driveway, Violin Concerto no 1 in G, by Max Bruch, started playing. I ran inside so I could turn my stereo on and listen and the piece just finished about 30 seconds ago! *sigh*

Last year I took an English Composition class and the teacher asked us to write a personal essay which tells about a signifigant event in our life. I wrote (not very well, but quite passionately!) about my experience with the violin and how I became completely dis-enchanted by it:

The mother nudges two little girls, begging them to stay quiet as a wrinkled man bellows out an ancient country song to the sound of guitars. They begin to crawl on the floor with their dolls and the older one, only two, starts to hum until her mother taps her gently on the head. Her efforts have no effect until two lanky boys step onto the stage and nestle their violins beneath their chins. The oldest girl shoves her sister away and begins to clamber onto the bench. Her eyes grow round as she stands on the stone seat and watches the boys play. Afterwards, exasperated with her daughter’s insistence, the mother finally stoops down to meet the girl’s eyes, “Leah, if you still want to play the violin by the time you’re four, I promise you that we’ll buy you one, ok? We’ll take you to lessons and everything, but only when you’re four.” The words slipped into the girl’s mind where she held onto them for two years, reminding her parents every day of that promise.

On my fourth birthday I did get that violin. The sixteen inch piece of wood and lessons from a wiry gray-haired woman were all that I could think of for years. Every week my mother and I would pack the little violin and music books into our station-wagon and drive across town to the lady’s house. I would sit on the porch and listen to the sounds of the student before me while I waited my turn. When she finally let me in I would hurriedly unpack and wait for her instructions. After the lesson finished I followed my mom out to our car and we talked about the lesson over the sound of my violin tapes on our way home. My violin hardly ever stayed in its case when we were at home because I spent all of my time practicing how to hold it and later how to play various simple songs.

Over the years I became more advanced and had to change teachers several times. With each change, my instructors expected me to practice more. By the time I was twelve I practiced at least two hours every night and the saying, “Only practice on the days you eat,” had been drilled into my head. Whenever I saw someone from school or church they would immediately ask about violin. I began to think that my only identity was through my violin and I pushed myself to advance more quickly. While other kids in school listened to Nirvana and Third Eye Blind, I drowned myself in Fritz Kreisler and Antonio Vivaldi. Not only was I the concert master of my school orchestra, I was also the concert master of an audition only orchestra for our entire area. As the years passed, I began to forget how much I loved violin and instead saw it as a necessity. If I was to stop playing or even practice less, I would become another faceless person in the crowd. So I practiced more. I won every single competition I entered and people constantly bombarded me with phrases like, “You’re really going to go somewhere with that violin Leah, I can tell.”

My junior year in high school revolved around maintaining my position in the audition only orchestra and, so I thought, keeping my identity. I ignored homework for the month before the audition and my parents got phone calls nearly every week asking if there was a problem. They would explain and then urge me to finish the homework that had piled up. I would rush through it and hurry back to the audition music, refusing to spend more than fifteen minutes on the week’s worth of homework.

The night before the audition I sat on my parents bed with piles of scores around me. Everyone from our church had come over for a potluck, but I locked myself in the bedroom to practice. The heater whirred in the background and bursts of laughter clambered in from the living room. Hunched over the music I played but I only got worse. The music was not the hardest I had played, but I couldn’t manage to force my fingers to sound out what was written. Tears streamed down my face and sweat poured down my back and chest. The sound of my stomach growling grated into my practice; I had skipped school that day to practice and hadn’t bothered to stop and eat. A bowl of frigid gumbo sat on the bedside table from when my mom brought it to me at noon.

I glared at my violin when I noticed it was wet with tears. Setting it down gently I scrubbed my red face with the back of my hands. Why can’t I do this? Its so easy! Half-thoughts whirled around my brain. An urge to throw my violin swelled from deep inside of me and yet I picked it up and placed it between my shoulder and chin and began to practice again. The idea of the looks on everyone’s faces as they heard that I hadn’t made concert mistress drove me on through the sounds of cheerful singing coming from our living room.

Three hours later my mother walked in to find my violin sitting safely on her dresser and scores of music flung around the room. I sat with my knees tucked under my chin sobbing uncontrollably. Her tender arm around my shoulder only increased my weeping when I thought of the disappointment she would feel after I told her what I knew I had to. I couldn’t force myself to do this anymore. At one point I had loved the violin so much and now the only thing keeping me from flinging it at the wall was the thought of the money it was worth. I wasn’t sure if I hated or loved it, I only knew that I had to stop.

I didn’t go to the audition, something that may have been seen as cowardice by many of the people in my orchestra. They must have thought that I was afraid to be anything but the best and that’s why I didn’t try. They were right, but it was also the bravest decision I had ever made. Going forward I had no existing personality. I chose to reject the one thing that I had always depended on and I had to learn to face the world without that as a shield. It wasn’t easy seeing the disappointment in people as they learned of my decision. There were nights that I couldn’t sleep because I regretted what I had done so much, but over time I learned who I truly was.

I went to church gatherings and didn’t bring my violin along, instead I talked and sang with the people that were there. I began to listen to the music other people from school listened to; I could even play Green Day and Led Zeppelin on the guitar. Large sketchbooks appeared in my bedroom, replacing the concertos. I spent a year reveling in this freedom and my violin stayed in my closet behind two sequined prom dresses and some old coats.

One fall night our church friends gathered in our living room again. There were guitars, banjos, and even spoons spread around the room and those without instruments chimed in with their voices. People had stopped asking me to get my violin out at these gatherings long ago. As I sat next my friend, singing and watching him play his guitar, I saw something in his face that I recognized from a long time before. He loved what he was doing, and he wasn’t the best. In fact, he might have been the worst musician there that night, but he was playing purely for the love of music. I can do that too! The thought dropped into my head and I couldn’t get it out. I squirmed in my seat as I sang, finally standing and running quietly to my room. Satin and taffeta crunched around my head as I dug through my closet. I shook as I opened the case and slipped the violin out of the velvet. I was still trembling as I tightened the bow and ran it across the strings, making sure it was in tune. My legs could hardly make it down the stairs to the living room they were quivering so hard. I was clutched by shyness as I stood in the entrance watching my friends because I knew I wasn’t going to sound good after all the time I had spent ignoring my violin and I was afraid once again of their reactions. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a head turn to face me and I caught its gaze. A slight smile played at the corner of my mother’s lips as she looked at me and I knew that I didn’t need to be afraid anymore. Quietly I walked into the room and my friend moved to make room for me next to him again.

After the song finished a man looked to me and grinned, “You going to play something for us Leah?” I shrugged and looked around to find that everyone was anticipating my refusal. Seeing their faces and knowing that they didn’t expect me to play made me feel freer than I had felt the entire time that my violin had been packed in my closet. I knew then that I could reject the invitation or I could accept, but either way, the decision would be mine.

“Why not?” I slipped the soft wood under my chin again and began to play.

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3 Responses

  1. What a wonderful essay! I always loved hearing you play, and always wanted to have something that *I* could do that would give me an identity. It takes a while to learn that it isn’t who we are that matters, but what we are!

  2. Oh yeah, and I really like your header pic!

  3. Wow, that’s an awesome story…very inspirational, Leah!

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