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My Great-Grandmother's Violin: My inspiration and how it all began

Rebecca Darnall

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Published: December 4, 2013 at 10:23 PM [UTC]

Hello friends of,

It's been awhile since I've posted a blog, and I thought I'd give an update on what I've been up to post-master's degree as well as take a trip with you down memory lane.

This past year has been wonderful to me; I've had many musically satisfying opportunities, exciting projects to work on, and I *finally* completed my masters degree. Since completing my M.A. degree last May at Washington State University, I've been performing in the Spokane Symphony Orchestra on a more regular basis as well as keeping myself busy with multiple projects. I am currently designing a theory curriculum for violinists ("Minding your Ps and Fs: A Music Theory Guide for the Young Violinist"), as well as completing a recording project for my studio. This recording project entails me recording the first three Suzuki books, and providing a DVD for my students to watch as well as "Teacher's Tips", where I give a few tips before performing each piece so my students remember some of the important aspects of each piece. I also have an accompaniment CD that goes along with the project (yes, I took a page from Nathan Cole's :) ). The main impetus for this project was to bring the tempo down for my students who are still polishing the piece, but need the experience of playing with the accompaniment. I've also developed a website, which is listed on my profile page. I'm sure I'll post more about my projects more specifically in the future.

You're saying, "Ok…so that's great…but that has nothing to do with the title of your article." I'm getting to that now :). Since completing my masters degree, I've had way more time on my hands, and it has been a fabulous opportunity to pursue projects and learn the way I wish/need to learn. This kind of time has been a gift I know won't last forever. But this time has also been a gift in many other ways. I've had time to stop and think about *why* I play the violin. I've had time to rediscover why I fell in love with this instrument, and reconnect with the violin the way I've been wanting to from the very beginning. And, in going down my memory lane, it all began with my great-grandmother's violin.

I remember being three years old in Ohio at my grandparent's house. On their mantel (which makes me shudder now), sat a violin. My great-grandmother's violin. I didn't know what it was at first, so I asked my parents. They told me about my great-grandmother (she had died years before I was born) and how she was an amateur violinist and a fabulous sixth-grade school teacher. My parents explained what the violin was, and I am pretty sure they played some violin music for me. All I really remember was staring into the f holes and feeling like the soul of that violin was singing to me. It called to me. I instantly became enamored with the violin, and determined from that moment on the violin would play a very important part in my life.

Shortly after my introduction to this violin, my family moved to the state of Washington. It wasn't until I was eight that my family found a fabulous violin teacher, and so that is when I began. It was a short three years later I decided music, and the violin most specifically, would be my career.


I have just come back from my Thanksgiving break with my family. Even though I've been married for three years, I still have an incredible amount of "stuff" at my parents house (and they remind me of this from time to time). My great-grandmother's violin has been at my parents for years (we inherited it soon after we moved to Washington, I think), and having recently reminisced about this violin I decided to bring it back with me. Partially to show my students, partially to get the bow rehaired since I'm in need of a back up bow so my other bow can get rehaired (I'm pretty sure the strings and bow hair haven't been changed since I was born, and probably haven't for longer than that), and also because, after all, the violin was given to me. I found an envelope in the rickety, old case I had forgotten about addressed to me, in the year 2005. It was a note from my great aunt, daughter of my great-grandmother, and inside the envelope were pictures of my great-grandmother. One was of her in her teens playing the violin, and one of her as a school teacher. What an amazing thing to see! I also have my great-grandmother's graduation ring from high school, coincidentally.

This is all to say that it's amazing to think about how that violin (which honestly isn't the best sounding violin) has shaped my life. Regardless of it's dollar value, it is priceless to me. It's as if I knew my great-grandmother somehow. I can only hope that I am as good of a teacher as she was. She has inspired me to be the violinist I am today.

And so, I am asking you, fellow violinists: what or who inspired you to play the violin? I'd love to hear some of your stories!

From Jeff Nelson
Posted on December 5, 2013 at 8:53 PM
I remember it exactly. I was eight years old, watching an old black and white movie on t.v., and there was a scene with a bunch of gypsies performing Cossack style dancing and playing gypsy tunes on the violin. That was it! I was going to be a gypsy dancer and violinist! (And live in the back yard in a brightly colored wagon, which my mom vetoed).

And so, over the years I became a professional ballet dancer, and played my heart out on the violin in pit orchestras, dinner theatre stages and the like. The only downside to having the gypsy spirit was that it led to some professional contretemps with the ballet and music establishment, but who cares? I loved it, and still do.

Years later, as I tried to pick up the violin again, it seemed my ability had left. Then, I remembered my teacher from high school talking about Kato Havas, a Hungarian violinist who taught and studied the Roma fiddlers. So, I ordered her little book online, studied it for a few months and voila! I can play better now than when I was young. The gypsy spirit lives on, lol.

From Alice Trimmer
Posted on December 6, 2013 at 12:09 AM
My story is far less colorful. I remembering seeing a movie about Mozart when I was 7 or 8 and thinking "It's already too late for me." I was not taking lessons at the time but had always been fascinated by the piano, which was the only instrument in our house. In 6th grade the band director came to our classroom to invite us to join his class. I first thought I would choose the flute because it was easy to carry around. My mother vetoed this owing to a concern that it would cause a recurrence of sinus issues (one of those illogical but harmless fears that mothers are prone to). So I chose the violin. My friend and I joined the violin class (I think we were the only two students) and made what passed for rapid progress in that low-stakes situation.
Posted on December 9, 2013 at 2:02 AM
Love your story, because I have my father's violins. He's been on the other side since 1987 and was a concert violinist. I was his student from 4th thru 9th grade, at which time, as a rebellious youth, picked up the guitar and put down the violin. After he passed, I got his violins, but still only played once in awhile. I was classically trained by him.

After having a car crash in '97, sustaining injuries to both hands, my ability to play guitar has diminished almost completely. My dad's violins summoned me to play them.

I play every day now and will look for a teacher soon. I'm just playing for fun, but do remember my scales and arpeggios. An amazing thing happened the other night, my fingers moved all over the neck and the bow kept up, I was playing something distantly familiar, very difficult passages.....I felt my father coming 'through me' - as this sort of thing is not unfamiliar to me (although it's never happened with my music) it didn't concern me, but rather, I felt like a gift was bestowed. As it turns out, I was playing two passages from Mozart's 5th Concerto, which was one of my dad's favorites, and on his death bed, requested I learn it. I never did learn it despite his request. Now I'm making up for lost time, and some nights someone more adept at playing "comes through" and it's an amazing experience, it flows....other nights it's just me, and the flow just isn't there. I love his instruments and have a photo of him holding one at aged 10, taken in 1920, and then again at about age 30, same position. It's a beautiful instrument and the tone is warm and magnificent!

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