Well, I’m into my second year of lessons. I’d say I’m very committed to learning violin. As a retired adult learner, I have the time to play and it is a rare day when I don’t get in at least an hour of practice. Indeed, I average around 75 – 90 minutes a day. I’ve done two recitals, two intimate soirees with other students, and I even went full-tilt-boogie in May and played just about everything I know in a pub.
I knock out practices in 30 minutes sessions, doing scales – major and minor – for 30 to 40 minutes a day, new material for 30 minutes, and golden oldies for the final 30 minutes. I’m better than I was six months ago, and I anticipate I’ll be even better six months from now. .
I wake up each morning eager to practice.
I think if I’d given this much focus to my years of guitar and mandolin playing I’d be some sort of studio musician by now. By the way, those two instruments – my guitar and mandolin – are not happy campers these days. I haven’t really played either in months. It’s like I’ve moved on in relationships, but don’t have the heart to say anything. But they know. Both of them sit on their music stands and watch me practice the violin.
Oh, I’ll patronize them on occasion. I’ll pick up the guitar, tune it, and strum a few chords. I might even do a flatpicking song or two, but that’s it. The same goes for the mandolin. I’ll tune it, play it, realize it’s so much easier than a violin, then put it back down and walk away.
Alas, it’s hard to tell old lovers things have changed.
Should I sell them? I don’t think so. What if something happens and I can’t play the violin anymore? What if my fascination with the violin is more of an infatuation than a long-term relationship? (It isn’t.) Is that just plain tacky that I’d just keep them in reserve like on deck substitute reserve players in a sport? What if I actually buckle down and practice on all three instruments everyday? (No. That ain’t gonna happen. I just know it.) I mean, it’s a great mandolin and a beautiful retro Martin guitar. I know I could sell both on eBay, get at least $4,000 for the two of them, trade in my current violin, and get an amazing violin!
But I can’t do it.
I have no reason to upgrade at this point. I’m better than I was, but not ready for prime time. The newness is over, and now I’m just digging in and focusing on the moment. My pitch is improving, although it tends to go sharp if I don’t focus, my left thumb is still pressing too tightly against the instrument, and I have to be careful my right wrist doesn’t curve upward. I have a way to go, but I’m doing it.
Also, I can’t think too much about next year or the year after. Not to get morose here, and this is a topic our western culture doesn’t really like to talk about in any practical contexts, but at my age there are two question marks hanging at the end of each sentence, year, and decade. How much more time do I have? And, does that matter?
To me, the answers to those questions are rather simple. Focus on the moment and let the next moments simply happen. Enjoy what you have at the age you are because – face it - the options aren’t good.
On the one hand, I do a lot of that older person stuff – I walk into rooms and forget why I walked in there in the first place. I’ve spent five minutes looking for my glasses, only to realize I’ve been wearing them all along. I have to make sure I turn off the gas on the stove, and close the refrigerator door. I have to check my thoughts so I don’t become fussy and petty.
On the other hand, I exercise every day. I do yoga, Pilates, walking, hiking in the woods, weight lifting, and bicycling instead of driving a car. I have 10 pounds to lose, but I’m working on it. (Sort of.) I read three newspapers a day, novels, books on science, the New Yorker, I watch dumb videos on YouTube, binge crime shows on Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime, see friends at least once a week, and enjoy a glass or two of wine. I don’t take myself too seriously.
I do all of this knowing there is a clock ticking. When you get to my age – and I know a lot of you are already here – things happen. A friend calls up and says there is a lump. Someone else says they found something somewhere in their body. I watch a friend smoke cigarette after cigarette and wonder if I’ll see that person in 10 years. Someone is on chemotherapy. Stuff happens.
It could get depressing, and a lot of people surrender, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The violin, above anything else, keeps me centered. It’s like meditation. When I do scales, it’s not boring. I play a drone with each key and get lost in the sound. There is something about these weekly lessons, about this daily practice, and also about moving that bow on those strings that grabs me hard.
Will I ever play in an orchestra? Who knows? I’m not going to automatically erase that possibility. I do know I will get out to Irish and Bluegrass jams sometime within the next few months. For my 70th birthday next year I’m treating myself to a week a Fiddle Tunes Workshop in Port Townsend, Washington., and if that goes well I may do it every year. For the most part, however, I’m just going to take it as it comes along.
So, I’m into my second year, I’m making progress, and right now I’ve got to stop writing this and go practice. Keep it focused, keep it light, work hard, and avoid negative people.
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