Santa Lucia – A Neapolitan Boat Song

So I am learning how to play second violin on Santa Lucia – A Neapolitan Boat Song.  I am at the point where I am playing each note well and where practicing with an annoying metronome is finally yielding some rhythmically sound results.  The next task at hand is to make it sound not just technically sound but beautiful.  To add a lilt to it, to sway with it.  The teacher’s suggestion was that I should put myself in a boat in Naples, this song playing in the background.  How would I feel? How would it make me sway? She asked me to channel those imagined feelings for the right effect.

I see what she is saying.  I know how doing so would help.  I remember reading Arnold Steinhardt’s book – Violin Dreams – where he makes the point that a well played Ciaccona should make one dance.  Imagining a room full of people dancing the Ciaconna should help the violinist lend just the right degree of lyricism to his playing.

Playing Bach’s Partita for solo violin is too distant a dream for me and might even be several lifetimes away.  Though the point of feeling swept along in a Neapolitan boat is well taken.  What’s needed for this mental fugue however is a mind where the gritty and all too real images of being swept down Route 80 in fits and starts, flowing in a very different way than a boat in Naples, with the windshield wipers beating a quarter note at 110, don’t rudely intrude.

[I could have played with so much grace and so much fluidity if I was of a place where a musical gondolier ferried me hither and thither, if I wasn’t in a state called New Jersey, working my way east to a city called New York every morning.]

Even as I typed the parenthetical thought above I cringed at the notes of discontent with the grace notes of whining misery.  I do not approve of these sad and sorry notes creeping into my life.  I want to drive them away with as much determination as I want to eliminate the squeaks, the creaks the harshness and choppiness that creeps into my violin playing when I’ve had a rough day, when I’ve felt stressed and harried, when the hand holding the bow trembles and shakes and presses down too hard on the string.

Even if Naples or Venice or Hawaii and it’s swaying Hula hasn’t been in one’s past and isn’t in one’s future, one shouldn’t feel handicapped when it comes to letting the mind roam free, imagining the pleasures, the beauty that could take one’s breath away.  True misery comes from the jaded inability to conjure up even a mental image of a place where one can sway and float with eyes closed, carefree.

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