Violin Class

It was one of my better violin classes, I thought. There was some interaction with the teacher. He said my playing of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” sounded good. He even said the rhythm, the bane of my existence, in any musical experience, was fine. So I was thrilled.

We spent some of the class time discussing the latest violin book I had finished reading, Guarnieri String Quartet’s first violinist, Arnold Steinhardt’s book – Indivisible by Four. Mr. Steinhardt’s writing has the power to hold the reader’s attention through over forty years of recollections. I enjoyed every vignette, conveyed with a light touch, about the group dynamic that developed over the years, the democratic decision making that went into the formation of a group of equals. There were humorous episodes about fans thinking of the group as an individual entity presenting them with a single bottle of wine and other gifts that they then wondered how to divide equally. There was a humorous anecdote about a brain surgeon who collected violins for a living and had invited Mr. Steinhardt to take a look at them. The brain surgeon remarked at how he was unlike other collectors and actually spent five minutes each day with each one of his precious violins. Mr. Steinhardt writes about thinking how he felt like telling the guy that he devoted five minutes of each day doing brain surgery as well!

So my teacher and I talked about my latest readings and impressions. I mentioned how much I liked Mendelssohn‘s Op. 64 and he confirmed that it was one of the most popular orchestral violin works ever written. I was glad I learnt to appreciate something even before I knew it was a universally acknowledged favorite. It was a surreal feeling to sit with a violinist who has been training since he was nine and talk to him about major violin works since I am such a bottom rung novice. But hey, I know what I like and like what I like.

The next step is “The Song of the Wind”. I wish I had heard these songs before or knew the tunes, but somehow these nursery rhymes sat out my childhood.

So, to make up for this deficit, I am trying to see if I can develop that rare skill of sight reading. I can now read C#, C# B A A| B B C# B A| E E D C C|B A B C# A and sing it. I thought this was because I have been playing the tune on the violin and perhaps that’s the reason why I can read the music and hum it. So I tried doing it with “The Song of the Wind”, something I have neither heard nor played on the violin or the piano, and I was able to hum a ‘tune’. Later, when I got around to playing it, it sounded like the tune I had hummed!

Now that music is front and centre, everything I hear and see around me is music related. My attention is drawn to books on music, magazines, newspapers-all seem to be reporting more on music. Either the musical reporting levels have changed or they are the same as they always were and my antennas are picking up more signals.

I flip open my October 29th copy of The New Yorker and I am staring at Alex Ross’s article, “The Well Tempered Web” which talks about how the web is helping classical music. A few blogs dedicated to music and musicians find honorable mention in his article, the most impressive of them all was concert pianist Jeremy Denk’s blog. Alex quoted a passage from Jeremy Denk’s blog that simply took my breath away. These are his words that were quoted in The New Yorker:

Somewhere toward the middle of the last movement, I began to feel the words that Messiaen marks in the part, I began to hear them, feel them as a “mantra”: extatique, paradisiaque. And maybe more importantly, I began to have visions while I was playing, snapshots of my own life (such that I had to remind myself to look at the notes, play the notes!): people’s eyes, mostly, expressions of love, moments of total and absolute tenderness. (This is sentimental, too personal: I know. How can you write about this piece without becoming over-emotional?) I felt that same sense of outpouring (“pouring over”) that comes when you just have to touch someone, when what you feel makes you pour out of your own body, when you are briefly no longer yourself—and at that moment I was still playing the chords, still somehow playing the damn piano. And each chord is even more beautiful than the last; they are pulsing, hypnotic, reverberant . . . each chord seemed to pile on something that was already ready to collapse, something too beautiful to be stable . . . and when your own playing boomerangs on you and begins to “move yourself,” to touch you emotionally, you have entered a very dangerous place. Luckily, the piece was almost over. . . . When I got offstage I had to breathe, hold myself in, talk myself down.

A musician who expresses himself through his music and expresses how the music makes him feel in words such as the one above! I crave to reach this height of expression, this state of passion.

But I’ll probably die craving because my actions always fall short of achieving the thing that would make me the happiest. I don’t spend enough time practicing the violin, I neglect my urge to write, instead I spend a lot of time complaining about not writing anything. The fact that I haven’t practiced, that I haven’t written, that I’ve wasted too much time, keeps me awake most of the night and this lack of sleep seeps into the work day where I wake up late, I get stuck in traffic that just doesn’t move, I am late to work, I hate myself for losing my temper or for showing stress and then I come home, waste more time and am never able to break out of the vicious circle.

So something has to give…perhaps it all starts with writing something down. It should keep me focused and happy!


  1. Good resolve, Prags. Like I said earlier – perhaps reading such words that can inspire in us the motive to be true and sincere in our own efforts of weaving them – will take us to that point where the exercise will go beyond making us happy – make us pour ourselves out into it – and then we will know we, along with our words – have arrived…hope to see more activity on this blog henceforth. Good luck and may your Muse be kind! 🙂

  2. Excellent writing as always, and an obviously keen ear and mind for music. I think you should collect all your 'music' oeuvre and think of serious publication now!

  3. Excellent writing as always, and a fine and keen eye and mind for music. Your 'music' oeuvre now needs to be put together between covers!

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