Before The Fiddlers Have Fled…1

A friend insists that my pursuit of musical literacy is an experience worth documenting, so here’s the beginning of a documentary.

My daughter, who is five, can carry a tune and shows an avid interest in music. Five is the right age to start musical training, I hear. So when a friend does an Internet search for a violin teacher in my neighborhood and finds me a number to call, after tolerating my whining about how far I live from anywhere and how impossible it is for me to sign my daughter up for any extracurricular activities, I am left with no excuse but to call up said teacher. I do want her to acquire the musical literacy that I have always craved.

Except, as I am discussing her lessons with her teacher, something makes me inquire if the teacher will take me on as well, my question is couched within a nervous giggle and an intention of sounding as if I was only joking. In reality, although I doubt I knew it myself, I was dead serious. The teacher assured me that it was possible to learn at any age while the cynic within taunted with a quip that a tutor’s optimism is perhaps directly proportional to the promise of income.

The next step was the renting of violins, the short and sweet one required the tiniest violin I’ve ever seen – an eighth size. This is the only size that allowed her to touch the scroll of the violin with a ninety degree bend in her elbow. The taller musical troglodyte required a full size violin.

The mother and daughter duo have now been taking lessons for six weeks. We have learnt to play a scale and the nursery rhyme – Mary Had a Little Lamb. We practice the tune religiously at home. Thank God for our remoteness and unshared walls with neighbors; although we are probably sending many a deer from the woods all around us scampering away to their doom.

When I am done with my daily chores for the evening, and have finished practicing what little I know of violin playing so far – the one nursery rhyme – and when it is time to get online again, I check message boards and hunt and peck on the keyboard till the early morning hours, trying to find some assurance that it is indeed possible for a creaky jointed person to learn to play an instrument that needs the dedication of a lifetime. No such assurances are forthcoming. There are concerned eighteen year olds on these message boards, imploring, asking if they can hope to be respectable violin players one day. They are bluntly told that they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being any good. One is up against people who picked up the instrument when they were barely out of diapers! How is it possible to hold ones own against someone who has been doing it since they were in kindergarten? “Holding one’s own” should really be the last thing on the mind of an old person trying to learn. The wizened ones need to be doing it for the love of music alone!

So there appears to be some hope for my kindergartener and I need to tell myself that it should all be about her now; that I need to stop feeding the hungry monster that keeps pushing me towards a quixotic quest for “I-don’t-know-what”. I need to find indescribable joy in teaching, guiding and shaping a young person who can face the world with knowledge that I didn’t possess. Anyway, that is what should be happening. But it isn’t. It helps to have an “upper limit” – something to “tend to” as one learnt in Calculus. Doesn’t mean it is going to happen. Instead it seems like I have found the entrance to a cave of treasures similar to the one Ali Baba found.

In the past few weeks I have hungrily scoured every musical resource on the net, every book I could lay my hands on and tapped every person who possesses the tiniest bit of musical knowledge to help me feel less lost in the world of flats and sharps and majors and minors.

My five year old goes around saying. “Mommy, I think I know how to spell ‘STOP’ as we stop the car at a stop sign, she can also read ‘NO TURNS’ or ‘EXIT’ or ‘DEER CROSSING’ or almost anything that she can sound out phonetically and register sense. I feel like I am musically at the same level as she is with her alphabets…I can be found exclaiming, “Hey that curly sign that looks like and ampersand is a treble clef!” I now know the differences between the black and white keys on a piano and am developing a vague understanding of pitches and octaves, of equal temperament and just intonation, of the circle of fifths which anti-clockwise is also a circle of fourths.

I am thrilled that I can read music now; that is if I stare at a staff for 15 – 20 minutes while feeling the onset of a headache and red-rimmed eyes, but I can do it! It was a mysteriously alien thing just two weeks ago and now it’s getting demystified.

Whether my ear will ever learn to follow along trippingly and transcribe what I learn to the strings of the violin remains to be seen. The hope is that the different pieces of the musical jigsaw will come together someday and culminate in an “aha” moment of sorts. After all if one sets out on a path it is bound to lead somewhere. How my friend’s bow seemed to magically hover over the strings, producing the most delicate of notes and how our violin teacher’s hands move so swiftly over the strings remains something from the realm of fantasy, a mystery that seems so out of reach. A mystery that I am sure my fellow student will have better luck resolving if I can do my job of sustaining her interest.

In the meantime I’ll keep plodding away at torturing some form of consonant notes out of my instrument while taking baby steps toward the all important CORRECT note – the one that seems to be so conspicuously lacking from nearly all aspects of life; the one exception being the one she uses when she calls out my name and asks me if it time for us to practice what we’ve learnt.

I wonder what makes me think of her luscious tones as ‘plummy’. Have I ever heard a sound described that way or is it my own invention? I am not sure. We collect impressions and sometimes it’s difficult to tell acquired thoughts apart from original ones…but when she calls out my name I picture a round, juicy plum and I sense richness…it’s as if I can hear, taste and see the rich outlines and hues of all her words. When she calls it seems like the only correct note I recognize is the sound of her voice. It travels through my inner reaches and hits the spot where it can give me utmost satisfaction.

Perhaps one day we’ll both come close to producing a similar note from our instruments, or perhaps we already have.

1 Comment

  1. I've always dreamed of being a talented pianist, myself. 😛

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