I recently posted an article at the dance blog, Grown-Ups at the Barre, that references the recent popularity of adults taking up ballet, either returning after years away, or starting up in their middle age. Although I am a “returner” and not a beginner to ballet, I am most certainly an adult beginner to the violin. And the two artistic endeavors, while quite different from the other, run decidedly parallel courses. So I’ll rephrase the question for a violin audience. To all the adult beginners or “returners” reading here, tell me, what sent you [back] to the music stand?
I love hearing the reasons why others have decided to pick up the violin as adults. Some people say it’s because it sounded fun, that they’d always wanted to try. Others started in fourth or fifth grade, dropped the practice, and now hungered to take it up again. My own reason was odd: I’d decided to write a novel with a violinist as a main character and felt that renting a violin, taking a few lessons, would help my research. Even though I’d never even seen a violin up close before, nor played any musical instrument prior. Although I harbored a hunch I would never be a natural musician, something about the violin, and its music, was calling my name. And after those “few lessons,” the urge to really learn, for myself and not just for research, grew stronger.
I’d heard my share of the stories, how hard learning to play the violin was, and I understood that as an adult beginner, given my personal constraints, mastery was unlikely. But you know what? Maybe I didn’t want something to master. I didn’t want to arrive, five years later, only to say “done,” check it off the list, and go searching for a new thrill. A lifelong challenge, you say? Fine, I’ll take it. Something in me craves the “long term project” nature of it. This endless quest for something so beautiful and ineffable, something almost Zen-like in its pursuit.
So I signed on for more lessons. And kept going, through seven years, through many a dry spell, a learning plateau, losses of motivation, bouts of renewed determination. I’m still so inelegant-sounding on the violin. Who would have thought all these years of lessons would have produced such humble results? The rage kicks up in me periodically. I’m used to being good at my art—I dance, I sing in choirs, I write—and having it come easily, naturally. On the violin, I’m just a graceless adult beginner struggling with something I’m not very good at, nor will I likely ever be.
And yet, something important is synching. I can feel it, deep, deep inside me, when I’m holding my violin. The first time I heard the sympathetic vibrations of the open strings ring out when I played the same notes elsewhere, it made my heart leap and something in my throat catch. The thrill of that hasn’t gone away. And I love how beautiful my violin is, how delicate yet strong, with its curves, its lines, the wood’s rich warm glow. I love holding the violin close, tucking it under my chin, right up next to me. When I have bad weeks of too little practicing, too little motivation, I miss this part of it, and always find myself whispering an apology to the violin when I finally return. “I’m sorry,” I murmur. “It’s me, not you. I’m so sorry.”
In my busy life—likely every adult’s life, unless you’re retired and/or childless now—I struggle with keeping up with practice, with motivation. But even at my lowest, I can’t imagine ever giving up on this journey. As an adult learner, it feeds me in so many different ways. I’m willing to bet other adults out there feel the same.
And to those of you who are nodding, I’d love to know: what sent you [back] to the music stand?
© 2013 Terez Rose
More entries: July 2013
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