The trials of a violinista

All the ingredients to make a mix (or mess) of music

I have wanted to play the violin for a long time. As a kid I did not have that opportunity, which I always regretted. I would have loved being a prissy classical violinista, able to do something that many people can’t. I also didn’t realize/learn until I was older that most people don’t have this magic music talent that others made me feel that I lacked, that most people who are talented musicians just work really hard and practice countless hours. I would have been willing to do that if I’d had a wonderful instrument, the violin. I am doing it now, though, as much as I can.

I finally had the opportunity a few years ago after a traumatic accident left me with a head injury that had only positive results. Yes, I said “positive” results. For example, many head injury victims have varying degrees of uninhibitedness. Fortunately, for me the effect was just enough to open up a path of creativity that I hadn’t known before. But I also realized that I had to re-connect some brain synapses that had apparently been damaged as well, and learning the violin, since I already wanted to, was a natural solution.

The violin can be frustrating. It took a very long time to get past the stage where all I could do was make a screeching sound. I still am trying to figure out bowing technique, among other things. There are just so many variables, like the violin itself, the kind of strings that can be used, the rosin used, and the bow. You can spend thousands just on a bow, and as I have often said, it is like a wizard choosing a wand.  Sometimes the most unlikely one chooses the violinist, and it’s not always the most expensive one. Within the bow choice is the material from which it is made, wood or synthetic. Not only that, sometimes I use different bows for different composers. I have a bow that I call the “Bach bow” that I use when playing Bach because it can dig in, sound more brilliant, than other bows that I have. On the other hand, I need a less flashy bow for fiddling, one that’s a little more malleable and “softer,” so I get out one of two others that I have. Is this making you crazy yet? It does me sometimes! But here I am, working hard, practicing Bach as much as I can, trying to figure out the complexities of playing the violin. At least I already knew how to read music from playing the piano and the flute.

Last Monday  I got new strings. That in itself opens up a whole new can of worms, at least until the strings finish stretching and get “played in.” It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to change the strings before the concert next week, but the old ones seriously needed to be replaced. In fact, I had already put a super-old G string on when the one from the previous set broke. I always save my “old” strings so I have spares in case of an emergency!

I keep working, I keep practicing as much as I can. My violin teacher tells me mystical stories of playing for as much as eight hours a day while she was in college – practicing on her own, playing with a quartet, playing with a large group, then practicing some more on her own. I can only dream of that now. Sometimes I feel lucky to even get 30 minutes, but when I get a larger block of time, it’s a real luxury. You know I can spend an hour on as little as four measures of music on the unaccompanied Bach. But I like the challenge of a nice “juicy” piece of music, and laboring to make a complicated piece of music sound just right is so worth it in the end.


3 thoughts on “The trials of a violinista

  1. Not everyone spends so much time on their G string as you. I will take that comment no further.

    I took voice and piano lessons as a child, but never violin. And for each lesson, I know I never put in the amount of practice I should have. So now, as an adult, while I can play the piano, it is not as well as I would like, causing me to recognize the limitations I placed on myself by not spending sufficient rehearsal time.

    So, keep it up. You love it, it challenges you, and I am sure the results will speak for themselves at your concert.

  2. I love music all genres of music (except country). Have done all my life. My greatest disappointment is that I have no musical playing ability. I had a friend growing up who took piano lessons for years. He too had no innate musical ability and had to work hard to learn a piece. Your statement “most people who are talented musicians just work really hard” I find unusual since I believe if you actually are talented, you do not need to “work really hard”. Yes there is a lot of practice involved but I do not feel that it is working really hard. I am just envious and it is so wonderful that you found your talent with or without being hit upside the head but sometimes that is what it takes. I have been hit many times in the head but I think the donkey in me is my barrier.

    • I disagree. I was led to believe that natural talent was everything, and those who had it didn’t have to practice, it was just a gift. That was wrong, as I have seen many times. Some talent is innate, but working hard and practicing is 95% of it. I do not know anyone who can “not” practice and be good. Every serious musician practices for hours and hours, even if it’s just fooling around, playing something relaxing, listening to someone else’s recording of whatever he or she is working on at the time, playing with a group, whatever. Any time with the instrument of choice is a form of practicing. Best case is immersion, but unless you are a professional (or in college!), most people don’t have that luxury. I wish I’d done this earlier.

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