Although my parents never played musical instruments, I grew up learning the piano and then played flute and clarinet in bands in orchestras through school. Music was an important part of my life and I had always hoped that my children would also find joy in learning to play an instrument.
When I was thirteen, I took violin lessons along with my piano studies. For whatever reason, I disliked the violin because I had already mastered two instruments and didn’t have the gratification of instantly being able to master a third.
It was hard to make a consistently beautiful tone on the violin without the tell-tale squeaking of a beginner. My violin teacher was amazed at my progress over the summer, saying that I was an extremely fast learner. But in my teenage impatience and disdain, I gave it up.
Fast forward thirty years, when a friend who never learned to play a musical instrument became inspired to take up the fiddle. He suddenly decided in his late forties to learn music completely from scratch. I thought he was crazy to attempt this endeavor without any prior musical training, but he has persevered for about four years now and has become quite proficient.
When I visited my fiddle friend several years ago, he offered to let me try it. Fiddle and violin are the same instrument, where the only difference is in the music that is played. I picked up his fiddle and attempted to read through some of his music. Even though I picked up a violin about once every ten years, I was still able to play a resemblance of a fiddle tune. And it was kind of fun.
Two years ago, my friend bought another fiddle, and offered to loan me his old one to play around with. He set me up with some instructional fiddle books and DVDs and said that I would be better than him in no time. It felt very natural to play again and I was hooked. One evening I joined him at an Irish fiddle jam, and posted a photo to Facebook because it was so completely outside my norm. A strictly classical pianist loosens up at an Irish fiddle jam: what has the world come to?
But as fate had it, a co-worker spotted my post and told me that his wife taught the violin and asked whether I needed a teacher. Whoa, getting a music instructor requires serious commitment to practice every day. As well as renting or purchasing a violin. Then it dawned on me that both my kids could learn the violin as well. At the time, my son was 9 and my daughter was 6-years-old. They had already been learning the piano for a year, so a second instrument would be relatively easy to add (never mind that it wasn’t so easy for me thirty years ago).
I asked my kids if they would like to learn the violin as well as the piano and they emphatically replied No! Some parents let their kids find their interests on their own, but I subscribe to “you must try it for a year before you decide” philosophy. We all met with the teacher and got along fabulously. Collectively, we decided to pursue violin lessons as a family.
For my daughter, I purchased a tiny 1/8 size violin from another co-worker. I rented a 1/2 size violin for my son and bought my friend’s borrowed violin for myself (hmm, I think he probably had that in mind all along). Every week, all three of us learned the Suzuki method, standing on foot charts and endlessly playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star variations. In reading the propaganda in the foreword of the Suzuki books, I learned that the Suzuki method was really an Asian Parenting Manual and wholeheartedly endorsed the philosophy. We all practiced every day; we all listened to the Suzuki CDs; and we all bowed at the beginning and end of lessons.
Ten months later, we performed in our first violin recital (I’m the big student on the right). Now at one and a half years into violin lessons, we’ve progressed to the point where we’ve performed the original version of Pachelbel’s Canon as a family (including my husband on guitar; he is not immune to my insanity). I’ve played in a fiddle contest as well as at two Fiddle Hell sessions, and my son is entering a local talent show as a violinist. Whew! We’ve become the crazy violin playing family!
I have my friend to thank for inspiring me to learn the violin. As an adult with a job, two kids and no extra time, finding the time and energy to practice was not easy. There were definitely times when I wondered why I was bothering to learn a new instrument at my age. But in the end, I stuck with it because of the opportunities it gave to play music with my kids and because it was enjoyable. My kids feel a sense of accomplishment that comes with learning an instrument, especially when they play better than I do. Playing the violin is so much more portable than the piano, which keeps it fun and fresh. We often practice outside, and once I even played on a beach.
And now, inspiring the violinist in us has come full circle. My mother-in-law’s friend had once played the violin quite proficiently as a youth. Now at 80 years of age, he hadn’t picked up a violin in forty years. At a get together, I urged him to try my violin. After a couple minutes, he was able to play a Danny Boy with beautiful vibrato. He even became choked up over how much he missed the violin.
Whether it is the beautiful curves of the instrument, or the sheer joy of being able to making music so naturally, the violin has inspired several generations around me. I’m glad to be rid of my smug teenage attitude and finally embrace the violinist in me.
Contributing editor Angela blogs about music and other vices as mommy bytes.
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