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The one year milestone.

March 18, 2012 at 4:27 AM

I began the violin as a sort of 50th birthday present to myself, and what an extraordinary year it has been.

There is a quote that impressed me back in my 20's. Like many people I thought it was by Goethe, but I just discovered it is not. Here it is:


“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”


The particular source is unknown, for good reason: turns out that Goethe didn't write it, as decided by a Goethe Society investigation of some years that finally attributed it to...

The “Until one is committed...” quotation often attributed to Goethe is in fact by William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.


The confusion arose, it seems, because the latter author said he was inspired by a verse of Goethe's.

Well now that I've dealt with that, and re-reading the quote in full after 25 years, may I simply say, with only delicate irony, and much as a Victorian adolescent might write next to a line of poetry in a scented, marbled, gilt-edged volume of Shelley: 'How true'.

What I have experienced in a year has been tremendous.

'...raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way...'

Many people and events stand out: the deepening of my friendship with and admiration for my work colleague Dr James Chan especially. He loaned me not one but 2 of his family's gorgeous violins at different times, as his own violin-playing had to give way to work demands, or as his siblings took ill. He has encouraged me, played duets with me and shared many subtle points on technique. Above all he has believed in my potential as a violin-player, and such encouragement from an accomplished player has been so welcome.

I have also had the joy of working with my wonderful teacher, Georgina, who has made every lesson enjoyable and interesting, with her enthusiasm and lively humour.

At the one year mark she feels I am now ready to tackle the Allemande of the 2nd Partita by Bach, and along with various bowing and shifting studies I am feeling ready as well. She says that as a youngster, this was the piece that made her feel like she was becoming a proper violinist, and with allher bowings and fingerings, I will be following in her finger-steps.

And I find that progress can be dramatic sometimes. I had neglected scales of late, and on hearing them (a bit better in tune than either of us expected) she joked I should keep up not practicing them, as that seemed to be working! Well of course I'm inspired to do the opposite, and today for fun I decided to push the speed up dramatically, after doing lots of slow careful work on intonation. I surprised myself what I could manage, obviously not fantastic, but flowing and fairly accurate, and best of all, feeling quite comfortable and enjoyable for both hands.

I am lucky, I am under no pressure to practice or improve except for the sheer love of it.

Other people and experiences; I visited family and friends in Australia (I have lived in London for 6 years now) and played easy duets with my 11 year old niece and 75 year old mother.

My mother told me more about her own father, from whom she inherited her violin, a rather superb instrument by a maker of the Gagliano family. My grandfather was a professional violinist, trained at Kiev Conservatory, and escaped the Bolsheviks to Shanghai, Singapore, and Indonesia, before settling in Sydney later in life. My mother had photos of the group he led, playing in grand hotels, the salon music and popular classical repertoire (much of it virtuosic pieces by composers like Wieniawski and Sarasate) of that era. She had kept a small amount of his music, it seems he had vast quantities more - that were thoughtlessly thrown out or burnt after he died.

I also pursued various internet resources, and found the superb site from Cincinnatti, with the videos of Professor Sassmanshaus and his students, a site that I'm sure many of you know. What a fabulous resource! I especially enjoyed his video on his discussion with Dorothy DeLay on 'What is talent?' and her surprising yet completely persuasive declaration that it is an attitude, a belief in one's self and one's capacity to succeed.

I see a parallel in Buddhist philosophy, the realisation that happiness is no accident but an active choice, an attitude that can be chosen and cultivated.

But most of all, I am reminded when I begin each practice session and relax into the rituals of carefully settting up my violin, that I am entering into a great tradition: of composers who wrote for or themselves played the violin, of the vast community of string players tackling this extraordinary instrument and also my own family's history, 4 generations of violin players.

'...Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

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