The Well Aging Fiddler - What I did on my Summer Vacation: Traveling with my Violin.

September 6, 2017, 5:47 PM · I’ve had a busy summer. In June I flew to Michigan and helped my sisters clean out our parents home in the wake of our mother’s death last winter. Mom never threw anything away, so it was more of an archeological dig than a house cleaning. In July I flew to Minnesota where I spent time with my son, sweated through Minnesota humidity. In August I flew to Vermont for a delightful reunion at Brown Ledge Camp where I was a counselor 44 years ago. Brown Ledge was more like a family reunion, but a family reunion with just the family members I actually liked. Then, during the solar eclipse, I took a train from Vermont to Maryland and played with my grandchildren for a week. That was the highlight of the summer. Throughout all of this I worked on some physical therapy for my knee, quit yoga because of the knee, continued Pilates, bike riding, walking, and took up yoga again at the end of the summer. I worked on losing ten pounds. The most important activity was learning the violin through weekly lessons and daily practice. Subsequently, during all these travels, I took my violin on airplanes, and I had to find times and places to practice.

I’d read about people having all sorts of problems bringing their musical instruments on airplanes. Guitars, cellos, and violins seemed to suffer the last minute authority of airline employees who checked passengers through the final entry to airplanes. Not to go into the outlandish details, but it was enough to make me come up with a surefire way to make certain I could get my violin on the airplane and into a safe place.

Here’s what I did.

I own a great violin case. It’s one of those fancy ones all burgundy on the inside; it has humidity and temperature gages, little extra boxes, and room for four bows. Plus there is a secret compartment for music. It’s nifty. Of course, with the violin lying in there, it looks like a coffin for a dead fiddle rather than a violin case. I feel I should buy flowers and play organ music when I open it. It is somewhat imposing. Clearly, this was not going to be a case I’d want to take on an airplane.

So, I went to an antique store and found an old beat up case hiding behind some boxes. It looks terrible. The main clasp is missing, the outer surface is worn and torn in spots, and it won’t hold a chinrest. It was perfect for my needs. I paid $20 for the case and took it home.

Next, I put some “Fragile” stickers on the surface, and wrapped a strap around it to hold the whole thing together. It looks frail and small, and that was the idea. Nobody would dare even suggest putting it in with the suitcases and general luggage, and nobody did.

case for travel

Each time I got on an airplane I was greeted by smiling flight attendants. I always took charge of the situation. I’d hold my frail looking violin case for them to see and ask, “Do you have a closet or somewhere for my violin?”

They would take one look at the case and jump into action. They’d find a closet or personally place it in an overhead bins and make certain it would travel well. Taking my case on an airplane was never a problem. Indeed, my violin case traveled in First Class for several flights while I traveled in coach – in the middle seat.

Of course, now I wonder if any of that was really necessary. I proudly mentioned my fiddle-travel-technique to my teacher, Mirabai Peart. She looked surprised. She plays viola and violin, and carries both instruments in one large case. As a working musician, she’s traveled the world with that case and never had a problem. Perhaps I’d been taking my violin-flight-fear too far. So the last time I flew, I took my regular case. Guess what? I didn’t have any trouble.

So, on the one hand, it may be a bit of a risk taking a violin case on an airplane. On the other hand it may be much ado about nothing.

In any case (bad pun), the whole reason for taking my violin was to practice and that presented other challenges.

As some of you know, I haven’t been doing this very long, so I don’t sound exactly polished when I play. (This was pointed out to me recently when I expressed interest in playing a little tune at a classical music open mic evening. I was told I was welcome, but I should be aware of the fact that the open mic/showcase was really for midlevel and advanced amateurs and professionals. The subtext seemed to suggest I’m Not-Ready-For-Primetime-Classical-Performance. Not exactly a warm reception, eh? I skipped the show.)

Plus, my family and friends never knew me to play a violin. They were expecting a guitar or a mandolin. This was uncharted territory. Playing alone in a room at home with the windows closed was one thing. Playing in other environments that I didn’t control was another. So what did I do? I threw caution to the wind and decided the heck with it. They were just going to have to deal with whatever I was creating with my bow and violin.

In Michigan I played in an attic above a garage. In Minnesota I played in a bedroom. In Vermont I got up early and played in an open field (I was at a summer camp. The mosquitoes were a total pain.) In Maryland I played in a living room. I practiced for roughly an hour each day and didn’t worry about how it sounded.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Surprisingly, people were very kind. My sisters, my friends, people out for walks in the morning air in Vermont were great. I played a House Concert for my grandchildren. Everyone who heard me play expressed both surprise and delight. Frankly, I wasn’t as bad as I thought I might be. The best part is I improved throughout the summer. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m on my way.

So that was it. That was my summer vacation with my violin. I traveled roughly 16,000 miles, played in a variety of places and had fun. That’s it. Oh, P. S. I'm still working on those ten pounds I need to lose.

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September 7, 2017 at 09:02 PM · Nicely done.

As for playing in a field, at one stage during a recent search for accommodation in shared apartments, I seriously considered having to walk to a local park to practice if I moved into a place with unsympathetic fellow tenants. Fortunately, I've moved into a far more ideal situation.

In hindsight though, maybe having to practice so publicly might have helped with my fear of playing for others.


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