I played my violin this afternoon, but it was scary. My right hand was shaking so much that I couldn’t control my bow. Sometimes I bowed on two strings when I only wanted to bow on one string. My left hand was confused about where it should be to play in the first position. I really felt like I was losing it. Is this like senility? I used my stubbornness to best advantage and did not give up. I played everything very slowly, over and over, until I got it right, and then I quickened the pace. Then I got back on track. I played for about two hours. This has never happened to me before, and I hope it never happens again.
A few friends have been like light in the darkness. One of my neighbors told me to call him any time, up to 11 PM, when I’m at the entrance to my condo complex, and he’ll come and pick me up. He even drove to the grocery store to bring me home. Another friend has been responding very well to my need for hugs. My friends at v.com have said such sympathetic, supportive things. It must be true what my hugging friend told me: People do care about me.
My violin understands me. I picked up O’Neill’s, a very large collection of Irish tunes, and opened it to a random page. The tune that greeted me was called “My Little Bag That Was Stolen.” I played for a long time and now I feel better. I hope my neighbors will forgive me for playing until 1 AM.
Now what am I going to do? I don’t have a car and I often go out at night alone. Even if I take public transportation, I have to walk home from the bus stop. Even daylight is not a cover, since my neighbor was mugged right near her door in broad daylight. Fortunately, it doesn’t get dark until late at this time of year. Around the winter solstice, darkness falls around 4:30 PM. I could deal with going out at night, staying in well lit places, and carrying pepper spray near my home. What would I do elsewhere? Tonight I wanted to go to an event that I’ve gone to for several years, over a two week period of time, at night. Even before tonight’s mugging, I was concerned about walking from the Metro station to my destination, a big hotel. Last year, I felt creepy walking there at night by myself. The streets were almost deserted and, worse still, my walk took me across a grassy area and then up and over a dark, deserted footbridge with turns and corners. I was thinking about trying to get a cab from the Metro station to the hotel tonight.
So many women are affected by such crimes. We are affected even more by fear of crime. We don’t go out at night, especially to places where we feel uncomfortable, because of the fear. Single women are especially vulnerable, and I resent that. I feel that I can’t go places and do things that other women can because I don’t have a man to watch over me. Damn!
One of my male friends told me that he, too, is concerned, not only about me, but also about himself. Men get mugged, too. I had forgotten about that. Now I remember something about a trainer I had in a gym about 10 years ago. He is African American, big, bulky, and in great shape. He lives in a middle class neighborhood. One night he was held up at gunpoint just outside his home. He told me that the gun was almost against his chest, and he was awfully close to being dead. He is very sensitive to the fears of women. He often crosses a street to avoid walking behind a woman, especially a white woman. A few white men have told me that they do the same thing.
Crime stalks everyone, men and women, black and white, at any time of day and in any neighborhood.
Afterwards, in the war room, I assessed the whole experience. I seemed to get along with the interviewers. They laughed at my jokes. The Boss asked some tough questions, but I had answers. The woman from the job service, who had been at the interview, told me that she thought it went well. She said that I had asked some good questions and that I made it clear that I would really enjoy the work. BUT I could tell that I did not have enough experience in the task the Boss was most interested in. I revisited the results of my Internet search on thank you letters for job interviews and found the one I was looking for: the “damage control “ job interview thank you letter, which I will write and send within 24 hours of the interview, as I’m supposed to, although I don’t expect it to save me.
Then I cried. I am so tired of this. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’m tired of rejection and failure. I’m tired of trying to be brave.
Now to prepare for my next interview…
Lady Tennant is a Stradivarius violin made in 1699 and sold at auction recently for over $2 million USD. The buyer gave it to a young Chinese violinist, Mr. Liu, on a long term loan. Yesterday I went to hear the first public performance of the Lady Tennant Strad in a generation. I’m glad that Jim, a fellow v.commie, encouraged me to go. My fears about the venue were completely unfounded. There were no crowds milling around the vast corridor outside of the concert stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. There were only 50 or 60 people in the audience, including some family and friends of the violinist, a young Chinese man named Liu. (I didn’t recognize Claire Blaustein, a fellow v.commie there.) The audience listened in rapt silence.
I’ve never heard a Strad played solo before. This one had a very distinctive personality. I could tell that even when he was tuning up. It’s hard to describe it in words, but I’ll try. The sound was rich, warm, and full. This was especially evident in the higher registers. Sometimes the high pitched notes on a violin sound thin or skin deep, but not this one. There was a very rich and full sound in every note. I’m sure that this was due, in part to the age of the violin and its long history of use, but there was something more than that. I could almost feel the wood speaking to me, telling me of its generations of playing and all of the life learning behind it. It was almost religious.
Liu was, of course, a wonderful violinist. I still prefer recordings of the great masters playing Bach’s Chaconne, but the current player put his own life and spirit into the violin and made it richer.
You can hear the performance online at http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/search_results.cfm?RequestTimeout=500# , but he sounded a lot better in person. Claire, please let us know when the review is published in the Washington Post.
My newest student is an adult (20 y.o.) beginner who wants to learn to play bluegrass and Irish fiddle music. Her father is of Irish descent, several generations back, and her parents brought her up with a lot of Irish culture. When she was a kid, she took lessons in Irish step dancing. Irish step dance, which was featured in River Dance, is a performance or exhibition dance rather than a social dance. She was quite good at it. She won competitions at the national level and went on to compete in Ireland. When her family moved to a different city she stopped step dancing because there were no teachers nearby. More recently she developed a love for bluegrass music and had a great time at a bluegrass festival. Her boyfriend, his parents, and a lot of their friends are music lovers. In fact, her boyfriend’s parents were Dead Heads. Last year her mother gave her a violin for Christmas, and now she has come to me for lessons. Her mother got her a rather nice violin, not a just-for-beginners piece of junk. I gave her my usual first lesson. I talked about the care and feeding of the violin and worked on posture and setup. I had her draw the bow smoothly and slowly across the open strings, one at a time, so she could have the satisfaction of getting a pleasant sound out of her violin on her first lesson. Before the lesson, she had tried to play on her own and produced screeches and squawks. She was very happy when she played the open strings and made pretty sounds. As she was packing up to leave, I played some tunes for her to give her a taste of what she will learn to do. I started with Swallowtail Jig, a well known and loved Irish slip jig. She said, “Oh, that’s a slip jig…It’s Swallowtail Jig…I’ve danced to it.” She listened to the tune with tears in her eyes. When I finished playing, she told me, “That was my music… I was a step dancer…That was me.” I told her that she might be able to resume step dancing some time or to play fiddle music for step dancers. She said, “That’s it. I want to play Irish step dance music on the fiddle.” I felt so happy. I had just opened a whole new world of possibilities for her.
I had a totally different experience with a prospective adult beginning student. We exchanged a few mails and talked on the phone. She told me, “I just want to do this for fun. If it turns out to be a pain, I’ll drop it.” I responded, “Playing violin can be a fun and a great escape from the toils and troubles of everyday life, but it is technically a difficult instrument. You have to commit to practicing and learning.” I haven’t heard from her since then.
Another one of my adult beginning students is an immigrant from Central America. Her English is somewhat limited, but I have worked with immigrants before and I know how to adapt to them. In her case, it’s often easier to communicate by playing then by talking. She is talented; her intonation was almost perfect from the start. She is also very committed to learning how to play. She told me that she listens to the CD that goes with Suzuki Book One every night. She especially likes one of the Bach menuettes at the end of the book and looks forward to being able to play it. I recently discovered that her literacy skills are not good. I’ve been teaching her – what else-- Twinkle, which she knows in Spanish. I wrote her a cheat sheet to help her remember the notes. It has the names of the notes with the fingering written above the letters, starting like this:
0 0 1 1 00 3 3 3 2 2 11 0
She had trouble understanding this, and when I said, “Play this note, with no fingers on the D string, three times,” she was still confused. She was also confused by my instruction, “Play one note with each bowstroke.” She is neither stupid nor unmusical. I had her watch my hands while I played the tune and then play it with me. Now she is catching on. I remembered that Dr. Suzuki taught preliterate children to play the violin by ear. I asked her whether it would be easier for her to learn to play by watching me and listening rather than by reading my cheat sheet. I told her that many folk musicians do not know how to read sheet music and they play by ear. She asked me what “folk music” is. She then insisted that she would practice with my cheat sheet until she learns to play it correctly. I don’t doubt her motivation or her capability. She had told me that when she first got the violin and tried to play it, her kids had laughed at her, but she was going to learn how to do it. I asked her whether her six year old daughter listens to her play Twinkle now. She said that her daughter sings along when she plays it. Imagine! Another miracle!
I’m not devastated about losing the job. I don’t take it personally. It’s still a bummer, though. I’m looking for another job, and I’m also looking into freelance science writing possibilities. I got my first freelance job. It’s very small and pays very little but it will help build up my resume. If I could teach violin and freelance as a science writer and make enough money to live on and get health insurance, I’d be happy.
When I feel myself getting sick, the first thing I do is deny it, and the next thing I do is get uptight about losing my job, finding good medical care, paying the bills, etc. This time was no exception. When I started feeling crummy, I tried going to bed early and getting lots of sleep. When that didn¡¦t work, I tried working out at the gym. That made me feel better. Finally I realized what was happening. I had the same illness I had once before, years ago, and it was terrible. I was hospitalized for a couple of days and then spent a couple of weeks at home recuperating, only to relapse again. I got really uptight and started packing a bag to take to the hospital. I tried for a couple of hours to get in touch with my doctor. Finally, I spoke to a physician's assistant, and she was good. She told me that I could try taking an antibiotic at home and, if it worked, I wouldn't have to go to the hospital. Yippee! I have started taking the antibiotic and I'm getting better. Yippee!
Now I alternate between feeling good about getting better and feeling bad about still being sick and missing the things I can't do. The biggest disappointment is missing my orchestra's concert and the last few rehearsals. We only give two concerts a year, so missing one is missing a lot. The music we're playing is challenging and I've been practicing hard. At rehearsals the orchestra sounded pretty ragged. The last two rehearsals went very well and the orchestra sounded much better -- or so I'm told. I couldn't be there. :-( I missed the concert, too. :-( I'm so disappointed. I always have a big post concert letdown because we won't have regular rehearsals during the summer. The rehearsals are so much fun in so many ways. They are very important for keeping my spirits up. Another disappointment is missing a big folk festival here which is a gathering place for a lot of my friends who are musicians, singers, or music lovers. However, I know that, even if I weren't sick, I wouldn't be able to go to the festival because I don't have a car or any friends who would give me a ride. Next weekend, I'm scheduled to spend the whole weekend at a Celtic festival doing volunteer work. A friend who is leading some of the volunteer work got me some crash space at a hotel with her so that I can hang out with her and help all weekend long. I really, really hope that I can do that.