The Well Aging Fiddler: Well, this was a surprise. . .

March 21, 2020, 4:40 PM · This is one of those defining paradigm sifts people will be talking about like, “Where were you when Kennedy got shot?” or “Where were you during 911?” I imagine the current question may be something like, “When did you realize this virus has moved from a distant abstraction to an immediate reality?” or perhaps it will be far more basic, “When did it get personal for you?”

So here are three interrelated stories about when it got personal.

Four weeks ago, I took a train from Portland to Seattle to attend a music festival in Bellevue, Washington. I spent two nights in Kirkland, Washington, with one of my best friends and his wife. After I arrived in Kirkland, we went out for a pizza. It was great. The next day we attended the festival in Bellevue, just a few minutes away from Kirkland.

The festival was a huge success, with hundreds of people. Sitting in rooms filled with two to three hundred people we heard some great music, participated in jam sessions, and even sat in a rehearsal with Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn.


We had a great lunch in a crowded Irish restaurant. The whole weekend was a delight, and I had a great feeling sitting in the crowded train back to Portland.

Six days later the first death from the virus happened in Kirkland, at a nursing home less than a mile from where we’d had the pizza. The festival occurred just before everything went haywire, and there were no precautions for anything. It was wide open, business as usual. Still, it all seemed like it was somewhere else.

That was four weeks ago. Here is a story from about three weeks ago.

When I learned about the events up in Kirkland, two friends – one from Minneapolis, and the other from Hawaii – were spending a couple of days with me and my wife. We all had a bit of the gallows humor about the whole thing, but nobody felt ill, and the likelihood of anyone being affected by the coronavirus was remote.

They left on March second with layovers in Seattle. Shortly after they got home to Minneapolis and Hawaii, they both developed low-grade fevers. The fevers didn’t go away for five days. During that time, they did their best to find and get tested. After days and hours of waiting on telephone calls, waiting in lines to be tested, and more anxious days waiting for their results, both were told their tests had come back negative.

They’d dodged the bullet, but for me, that was the moment it when the virus went from being an invisible and remote abstraction to a new reality.

So, last week I told my son in Montana not to come to Portland for spring break. Music venues are closed. Restaurants, shops, businesses, the whole world has changed. As much as I long to see him, now is not the time to do so. He literally lives in a cabin on the side of a mountain, so I told him that was the safest place to be for the foreseeable future.

I fear that someday we will all have stories like these. As it stands today, Portland is about to require everyone to stay home. It’s here. It's not going to get better anytime soon. This is how our world is, and that's that.

So how do we get through this? Well, here’s a final story.

The first thing I did when the virus moved from somewhere “out there” to the Twilight Zone enigma of the present was I went into a funk. For a good part of last weekend and earlier this week I was obsessed with this whole nightmare. I’d get up in the morning and read The New York Times, Washington Post, Oregonian, and other newspapers. I’d watch the PBS News Hour. All of our conversations revolved around the coronavirus. I’d go to bed thinking about it, get up the next day, and go through it again, only to find things were worse than the day before.

And then I had a violin lesson, and that single hour changed my outlook.

Up until a few days ago I was taking private lessons, attending a weekly Old Time Fiddle Music class, and attending a Chamber Music class preparing for a May performance. For better or worse, I was in Violin Boot Camp, getting new fiddle tunes each week, detailed instruction in the private lessons, and focusing on playing with others in the chamber music class. I was delightfully swamped with violin challenges.

Now, almost all of that is gone. The Old Time Fiddle class has been canceled, and the Chamber Music class and performance are on hold. My private lessons are now on FaceTime.

I always record my violin lessons. Then, the next morning I sit down and type notes from the lessons. This helps me remember what happened in detail and it’s been quite a helpful tool.

So, when I played back the recording I was jolted into reality. Why? Because I sounded so hollow. I sounded like I was sleepwalking, and listless. My playing reflected my mood, and that was a real wake-up call.

I felt like I’d slapped myself awake. I mean, forget this nonsense! Listless? Hollow? Sleepwalking? Me? NO WAY!

There is an old saying – life has pain, and we can’t control that. It happens whether we like it or not. However, we can control how we react to the pain. Well, I could either let all of this get to me, or I could do something about it.

So, I no longer read the newspapers first thing in the morning. Instead, I listen to music while drinking my coffee. I can’t go to yoga or Pilates classes – canceled – so I do yoga and Pilates with videos in the living room. I get on my bicycle and ride 7 or 8 miles every day or so. While I like a glass of wine, I’ve stopped drinking it – it’s a depressant. I eat three good meals a day and have fruit for snacks. My wife and I go for long walks together. We FaceTime with our family members. I meditate and then practice my violin. We don’t ignore what is happening, but we do our best to focus on these sunny days, the emerging spring here in Portland, and we do our best to appreciate each other. Living with someone else can really push your buttons, but only if you let them get pushed. A joke or forgiveness goes a long way to keep things smooth.

Do this – create something for yourself to do. I’m retired, and one of the secrets of retirement is this. You have to retire INTO something and not AWAY from something. In other words, find something you are passionate about and do it. Don’t sit around watching television. You have to do something. Well, if you’re home with the kids, home from work, or just alone, do something for yourself. Paint a room. Clean the garage. Wash the car. Play music. Then play more music. Write, paint, read, play Scrabble, do puzzles, learn something. Don’t just sit there. That’s the secret – get busy.

As a result of my little wake-up moment, I’m fine. We’re going to get through this. My wife is 67 and I’m almost 71. Yes, we’re in one of those high-risk age groups, but there is little reason to be obsessed about all of this. Do what you need to do, stay clean, practice the social distancing we all need to do, and be kind to each other. Going dark or bitter doesn’t help anyone.

Play the music, let it sing, own your story as much as possible, and be in this moment.

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  • Replies

    March 22, 2020 at 09:06 PM · Thank my retired senior brother of another mother. I enjoyed reading your article. I play guitar and really appreciate your passion for music...and life.

    March 22, 2020 at 10:47 PM · Your dead right about retiring into something. I've gone from musician to instrument restorer, and although I still play contrabass occasionally and bass guitar regularly I've also started (at 70years) to learn the cello.

    March 23, 2020 at 01:51 AM · Even in difficult times, nothing like a violin, fiddle in a darkened room with light from the fireplace dancing around the room...and your instrument reflecting your mood, at it's own pace...not bound by rigid beat.

    March 23, 2020 at 02:03 AM · As a recent retiree in Seattle, and a beginning fiddle player myself, your recent column on how the pandemic is affecting our lives really resonated with me. One minor correction, though. The Wintergrass music festival you attended is in Bellevue, Washington, not Bellingham. B'ham is up near the Canadian border.

    March 23, 2020 at 03:38 AM · Is the festival you referred to "WinterGrass?" If so, please correct the references to location; you twice cite Bellingham, which is 90 miles north of Seattle; the WinterGrass festival is in Bellevue, about 10 miles east of Seattle. Thanks!

    March 23, 2020 at 05:15 AM · Hardly motivating to practice when all of your performances through September have been canceled.

    March 23, 2020 at 10:32 AM · My fiddles take me to a place away from the immediate pain and suffering of this crisis.

    March 23, 2020 at 07:13 PM · If you want to get out of the "funk", stop reading and listening to the fear mongers. They know that's what sells, at our expense.

    Ask yourself this... would "their"coverage be different with a Dem as Pres? I'd say for sure, but you can't say its a hoax, or else you are a right wing nutjob, racist, etc, etc.

    Clear your mind and enjoy your fiddle. I'm working on learning some tunes that have been in my bucket list for a while. You can't focus on other "stuff" when you are focusing on learning new tunes. And we can all learn a few more!

    March 23, 2020 at 08:12 PM · and Thanks for the editing. I corrected the blog.

    March 24, 2020 at 01:46 AM · For me, playing the violin has and will always be most therapeutic. I feel hugged after playing for even just a little while.

    March 28, 2020 at 03:17 AM · @ "Would 'their' [the media's] coverage be different with a Dem as Pres? I'd say for sure…."

    Judging from recent history, I'd say yes. In the H1N1 pandemic -- when we had a Dem as Pres -- there were many times more cases and far more deaths than we've seen so far with C-19. Yet there was nothing like this year's wall-to-wall coverage -- and nowhere near the level of shutdown and disruption we're seeing with this outbreak.

    "But you can't say its a hoax, or else you are a right wing nutjob, racist…."

    While the virus itself isn't a hoax, much of what the media mob and politicians are saying about it is a hoax -- which the dictionary defines, in part, as a "malicious deception." Plenty of examples of this -- examples that all of us can find for ourselves, I'm sure -- too many to begin to list here. These people have a sinister agenda.

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