Back to Basics

I generally try to block out as much of my middle school experience as possible.  I was bullied pretty frequently from sixth to seventh grade, with a small respite in eighth.  I’ve had all those cliche moments, including bursting into tears in front of my gym class and running away in shame because someone called me a bitch.

Good times.

But one of the few wonderful memories I retain from middle school is my time in orchestra.  One upon a time, before I was a drummer or guitar-playing wannabe, I was a violinist.  I started in the fifth grade and quickly fell in love.  I memorized my first song (“Can Can”) and played it all the time. I still memorize the notations for most of it and find myself thinking of it in my head if I’m running in haste somewhere (“D-D 1-3-2-1…”)

I flourished as a violinist in middle school. I had natural talent and by seventh grade, I was the first chair, first violinist in my orchestra.  Even though I was only 12, my teacher told me that I was already playing at high school level and giddily told my parents I was “going places” with my talent.

And, like many people, I was unraveled by one thing – ego.

I knew I was good, so why practice? Why try to better myself by taking lessons? I remember my orchestra teacher being so frustrated with me by the time I reached eighth grade, and I completely understand her frustration now.  I was a stupid, egotistical teenager and my lack of respect for my talent is the reason why I don’t play today.  I could have been really, really good. But I was lazy.

By high school, my lack of practice had finally hindered me.  I moved from first violinist to second violinist, which was a huge blow to me. After a disastrous Youth Symphony audition, my conductor recommended that I switch to viola, since the violin was starting to get too tiny for my abnormally long arms.

I enjoyed the challenge of learning a new instrument and a new clef, but viola never held the intrigue that violin had had for me.  All-day symphony practices were starting to wear me down. I had too much impatience to play the same measure of music, over and over, in practice.  By 15, I quit Youth Symphony and at 16, I left orchestra all together.

I didn’t regret it for a long time, but every so often, I would find myself feeling incredibly wistful about orchestra and the violin. I bought a violin when I was 21, but was discouraged by how terrible I was at it, and put it away.  I didn’t play it for a long, long time.

Lately, I’ve been trying to get back to basics on what defines me as me after a tough emotional month.  I’m slowly returning to running.  I’m starting to get back into writing again. I am practicing my drums more frequently.

And one day, I looked in the corner where my violin case sat. I opened my music folder and was overwhelmed with nostalgia for middle school.  One song in particular takes me back:

I performed this song as part of a special ensemble when I was 12. I was so proud of this song and my fingers used to adeptly speed through the song.  I still memorize most of the piece now, but my fingers are not as loyal now.  They hit the wrong notes; my younger self would be shamed.

But I didn’t put the violin away. I took it out again the next night, to the chagrin of my neighbors, who knocked on my wall furiously.  I didn’t take it out again until a respectable afternoon hour the next day and kept playing.  It was soothing.  And the epiphany hit me – I may never be good enough to be in a symphony orchestra again, but I want to play violin.

I miss it. It is a part of me.

This weekend, I briefly played for Boyfriend. I wanted his opinion; I was quite nervous because not only does he really know his music theory, he is very honest and would tell me if I sounded bad.  After prefacing how much I suck, I started playing Brandenburg.  I heard my fingers hitting some wrong notes and cringed inside.

When I was done, he said, “I thought you said you sucked. You’re really good.”  “No way,” I said. “I was out of tune at some points.”  “Oh, there are intonation problems, for sure,” he said, “but you’re good.” He told me that scale exercises would take care of my intonation problems.  Then he said, “If you keep up with practicing, in a year or so, you can be really, really good.”

Hearing that made me want to cry with joy.

I picked up a bunch of exercise books at Half Price, as well as some music books. I picked up a really awesome book.  It has all Led Zeppelin songs from the first five albums.  Not only does it have the melodies in the book, but it has guitar tabs; so I can learn guitar parts too, if I’m so inclined (that will be a work-in-progress).

Right now I’m trying to decide if I want to take lessons.  It would be nice to have a lesson here or there to make sure I’m on the right track.

No longer will I be filled with regret for having given up a once well-loved instrument.  Playing violin gives me joy again, and that’s something I never thought would happen again.


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