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Adult Beginner, take 2.

March 5, 2009 at 4:07 AM

In reflecting on the 'adult beginner' thing, I realize that in my case at least, it is the sort of thing that is fed and nourished by a mindset, and by example.  While my parents were not educated people in the classical sense of the word, they both had an interest in the world, and a desire to embrace new things.  I can remember living in Spain as a teenager in the early 70s, when my mom got a typewriter from somewhere, and we all began to learn to type, drilling on the home row. (Now is the time....)  In those pre-computer/pre-keyboard days this was a skill that usually required training.  Later, when we moved to Michigan, my parents both took advantage of the fact that the Air Force had an arrangment with the local university to come and teach College level course work, and both of them enrolled in a few classes.  In fact, during that time, my mom decided to study for and take her GED, and dad did his High School completion. He graduated from the same High School I did, but a year behind me.  :) When he retired from the military at age 40, after 21 years of being a jet-engine mechanic, he went to college and earned, of all things, a degree in nursing.  Yes, nursing.... in fact, he is 70 now and still working.  

All of this makes me aware of the fact that I was raised in an environment where the unspoken (and spoken, too!) pervasive message was that it was never too late to learn something new, that a hunger for knowledge is a good thing to feed, and that, 'of course you can do it!".

To music, then.  After playing in the symphony as a clarinetist for a few years, I had baby number 3.  During my pregnancy, they found another clarinetist among the university student body, and I was told, just after delivering my daughter that I no longer had a spot.  This was devastating news to me...I don't think I realized how much rejection I felt in that until years later, when I realized I still couldn't bear to speak of it.  So, I put my clarinet away, and having 3 young kids, poured myself into the home and family thing.  I discovered that I was a creative....during those years, I learned to sew well enough to do it for money, learned to do basket weaving and fact, I taught both of those things in area enrichment classes.  I cooked, baked, canned and dabbled in woodworking (I made the bedside table in my room from oak from a tree on our own property), and in general stayed busy.  I was (am) a jack-of-all-trades sort of person.  I learned to do most things well, but wasn't a super-star at any of it. However, I do think this 'dabbling in many things' fostered an attitude of 'can-do-it-ness'. 

Musically though, I look back at those years as a sort of black hole.  I think I was so scarred by what had occured what the symphony that I sort of closed it all away.  I did sing in a community chorus, and continued to play the piano at times, but that was all for a few years.  In fact, I shut the music so completely away that I made good friends during those years who didn't have any clue that I was a musician at all. 

There were some tough years in those middle years, including some losses and a breakdown.  I mention it only because as it turns out, music in my life was an integral part of my recovery.  I'll just say that part of the 'walking through the valley' thing for me was a struggle with what I was made to do, and for me, a huge part of it was finally giving myself permission to grasp hold of that word 'musician' and hold it to myself. It was something I had to own, and it wasn't dependent on others.  There was a sense in which I had so totally lost myself at that time, that I didn't even experience emotions anymore...and I had buried too many parts of myself in order to get along, or fit in.  The music part of that turned out to be huge, though I didn't know how much so at the time.  It was an integral part of what was a profoundly spiritual struggle...  A God thing. And much of my recovery had to do with music...initially, listening to it robotically by the hour, then playing the piano and singing. It became like air or food... 

I had my youngest daughter when I was 32, about the time that I was beginning the long climb out of the pit.   When she was born, my oldest was in High School, my second son in middle school,  and my older daughter was 7.  So I was very busy.  Life was turning sunnier.  When she was 4, I decided, for whatever reason I still don't know, that I wanted to play the violin.  Now, at this time, the only time I'd even seen a violin had been the string players in the symphony (none of whom, at that time, would speak a word to a lowly wind player).  I'd never held one in my hands...but I decided I wanted to play.  I believe that God Himself put the desire in me to play, since what happened over the course of the next 10 years was so far into the realm of "you've got to be kidding me" that I never ever EVER could have even thought to dream it up.

So...I talked about wanting to play a violin for a while.  I knew there was a woman at my church who played, though I'd never heard her. I asked her one day, if I could get an instrument, if she'd teach me, and she said yes.  But, I didn't really know how to go about getting one, so for some time, I just talked about it. Finally, and unbeknownst to me, my beloved mom ordered me one from the JC PENNEYS catalog and gave it to me for Christmas!!  Yup....  a Chinese instrument (actually, with more knowledge, I realize that we really lucked out it.  It was pretty good for a $150 instrument!). I was 36  years old. 

The next part is pretty funny, and I suppose speaks to the enthusiasm that I had for the 'learning violin' project.  I happened to mention my new violin to a friend at church, and she told me that she had played as a child, and still had her violin under the I asked her, "want to take lessons with me?".  And she said, Sure!.  So we started...and we kept mentioning it to more and more friends, and by later that spring, we had a 'group lesson' of about 5-6 grown women taking lessons together.  It became a social thing...we'd drink flavored coffee and plow through the Applebaum book together.  It was a great and fun way to learn....I still remember cracking up over how one of my friends couldn't manage to slur at all...I finally had to hold her bow arm while she moved the finger.  Looking back, I realize that all of my best friends at that time ultimately began playing with us. By the end of the year, we had one viola and about 4 violins. The following fall another friend took up cello and another did viola. For a time, there were at least 5 of us trekking into Canada and taking lessons at the Conservatory over there. 

Music is social...and we were having a blast.  I have tape recordings of the early months, when we would get together on our own and try to play together, in 2 or 3 part harmony.  On one of the songs (I believe it was a hymn of some sort) we get to the end together, and mostly in tune, and I can hear us enthusiastically congratulating each other.  At other tiimes, we're cracking up over how bad we sound.  You can hear our early attempts at vibrato, and 4th fingers...  It was just fun.  I'm glad I have those tapes.

In time, most of the others fell away, though we did do a few years of chamber music camp together before that happened.  I can say initial hope was to eventually get good enough to be able to play basic hymns in church.  That was as high as I even knew how to dream.  I began lessons in January, and played in church by Easter of the first, had to dream a little bigger :).   

I though I'd be able to complete this in 2 installments, but looks like it'll be a bit more. However, we're now getting to the actual "adult beginner violinist" part of the journey.   So sorry for the length...I've never actually attempted to put it all down before, and it's all so interwoven that without all the details, I can't make sense of the outcome.  Who knew??:)


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 5, 2009 at 4:51 AM

is this a cool blog or what ?!!!!!

From Elizabeth Musil
Posted on March 5, 2009 at 11:00 AM

definitely cool!  When does the third installment come?

From Tess Z
Posted on March 5, 2009 at 2:59 PM

Dottie, your life's journey is so inspiring!  And how wonderful that your parents both got their GED's and your dad started a second career in nursing!  

We have a friend who did not graduate from high school.  It sits heavy on his mind as he is always telling his kids they need an education so they don't spend their lives working in a factory like him.  His wife started college part-time when their youngest started school and she has now been an elementary teacher for five years.  It is never too late to make changes in your life.

From Jodi Bernard
Posted on March 5, 2009 at 11:10 PM

I love your blog and I can honestly say that I am right in the middle of paragraph 3 in my life. I, too, stopped playing my flute because of a life-changing situation that made me cease all music (music was to blame for my situtation..or rather the scapegoat).

I have found myself always wanting to learn new things. It's like if I stop learning then I start to feel my age or something. :)

I dont know if I am brave enough to learn violin as I am finding that is is one of the harder instruments to master.

Good for you for wanting to learn to play and best wishes to you.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 5, 2009 at 11:22 PM

I love the whole social aspect that you had to learning the violin.  A group of women getting together like that must have been great fun.  That is one of the things that makes music so rewarding to adults.  I feel like I'm just starting to find that in community orchestra. 

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 6, 2009 at 4:54 AM

 Dang. Great stuff. I think this means you're about to discover you're a writer. (My sympathies! : ) )

From Dottie Case
Posted on March 6, 2009 at 1:07 PM

Thank you all for you encouraging comments. This did begin to feel a bit 'public' as I got into to it, but it's been a good look back for me too. You're very right about the social part's one of the things that has made the journey possible for me.

Jodi, if you are stuck in Paragraph 3 right now, I encourage you to walk forward through the next open door.  If you were made to have music in your life, you have to do it, or you stop being fully yourself.

Terez-part of the story that I haven't written yet addresses your comment.  I think I'll let you read about it then. :)

Gathering my thoughts for Chapter 3. :) 

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 7, 2009 at 11:17 PM

I've found that things often make more sense after you write them down.

Congrats on finding that playing the violin is just what you needed.

From Don Sullivan
Posted on March 8, 2009 at 12:03 AM

Thank you for such an inspiring story.  Don't worry about the length. Good stories deserve the space.  I too am an adult beginner and stories like yours help me to keep focus when my violin and I have a falling out.  God IS awesome and it totally makes sense that, YOU, would find your purpose in music.  After all we are talking about the benevolent Creator who spoke what we see into existence! And He made you in His image so you would have to be creative too!  Congratulations and I look forward to hearing more. God bless you.

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