A few weeks ago, the sirens sang to me. They tested me. They called to me. Unlike Odysseys, I was not tied to a mast. I wanted to buy a $5000 violin simply because I’d read somewhere it was the starting price for really good, professional violins. Now remember, this was after only four lessons on the instrument. I could barely play a violin, much less hold a bow correctly. However, I ran – well actually drove my car – to a violin store, and was tempted to buy a wonderful musical instrument. After only four lessons, I was intoxicated with the idea of owning a really good violin.
A couple of months ago I came into a modest inheritance. My first instinct -a good instinct - was to be smart and pay off some bills. Bills can lurk in the back of a persons mind, wake you at 2 a.m. and bother a good nights sleep.
I took care of them. I paid them off.
You know, it’s amazing how quickly money can disappear, even when doing the right thing. In a matter of minutes I paid off credit card bills, paid for the repair of a garage door, a couple other things that needed attention, and I found my inheritance dwindled down to a much smaller number.
The wise person would put the rest of the money in savings. The impulsive person would spend it. Guess what I wanted to do.
I was gripped with the temptation of getting a really good violin. I’d convinced myself I deserved it. I need it. Not having a good violin was simply silly. Along with that temptation came the hubris of assuming money equals privilege. Suddenly, my $400 student violin was something I felt to be beneath my consideration. I’d had four lessons. I had even played in public. It was time for a serious upgrade.
So, I walked into a fine violin shop in Portland, Oregon, the David Kerr Violin Shop. I asked if I could play one of the good ones. The clerk was very gracious. I was shown to a room filled with fine violins, given a bow, told to take my time, and he closed the door and left me alone.
So I chose one, held it correctly, and moved the bow across the open strings.
This was like drinking a 20 year-old single malt Scotch. This was seeing a Van Goth for the first time. It was like flying in my sleep. This was handmade vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. I swear that thing was alive.
I wanted it. I deserved it. There was no way I wasn’t going to own it.
Clearly, I was an idiot. Plus, my wife would kill me if I came home with it.
Sometimes, life can be cruel…. but fair.
Time for some cold water.
If a person is a professional musician, I don’t see any reason for them to have a violin worth at least $45,000 or more. It makes sense. I mean a plumber would buy a truck for more money than that and think nothing of it. It is a tool for his or her profession. It is a necessary part of the business. As a professional, I think spending lots of money on a tool for your profession is not only wise, but completely necessary. It just makes a lot of sense.
But being a student – a 68-year-old beginner – spending a lot of money on something I barely know how to use is flat out silly.
Still, I went home hungry for that SOUND. Indeed, it was the siren calling and I was weak.
But my wife, Juliana, put me straight. She'd heard me play.
“So…you can barely play one of those things, and you want a $5,000 violin just because you can afford it? I want you to think about that.” Then she walked out of the room.
I thought long and about what she said, and then surrendered to reality. I did not buy a new $5,000 violin. Instead, I spent $1,500 on a very good basic violin.
I even did a blind listening test. I went up to Kennedy Violins in Vancouver, Washington. I asked the woman who helped me to play the best three violins in my price range while my back was turned. Then I chose what sounded best to my ears.
I’m very happy with my new fiddle.
What is the point of this?
Be smart. Be wise. Just because you can get something, don’t surrender to the siren call.Pace it. Two years from now, if I'm good enough, perhaps I'll get a $5,000 violin, but not yet. Plus, it's not about the money. It's about the sound. I’ll get a really good violin once I can actually play one, and not before that moment. It is a goal worth working toward, and not a reward for simply having enough cash.
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