The first time I held a violin I was eight. I don’t remember what I first thought. Fortunately I didn’t have to hear myself, since I was part of my school’s orchestra. However, my first subconscious thoughts were probably:
I’ve spent the rest of my life coming to terms with Number One.
My reaction to the precariousness of holding the bow was to shy away from full, unencumbered movements. Every exercise not only suggested the correct way of doing something, but also imposed limits which later made it more difficult to discover the true nature of the bow. For instance, while I learned how to draw a straight bow, I spent years unlearning the side effects: scraping the string, the hair and the string being too tightly wound around each other, etc.
The greatest truth I learned from playing the violin and making music is that, as difficult as they are, it is important to strive for the instrument's full potential. How can you listen to Itzhak Perlman playing the great music from the movies with John Williams conducting, and not hear the richness of his sound and the unlimited possibilities?
I always thought the bow was so fragile and mistake-prone. How many times did it bounce and send me into panic mode? However, that is the primary source of the bow’s magic. To swoop into the string for a sudden accent; to change direction and continue the soaring sound of an ever-uplifting phrase. Bows bounce! It’s as simple as that. Wind players manipulate tongues and mouths, I guess. String players have to embrace the fact that we’re working with a trampoline. Even when we’re not "bouncing", we’re still bouncing. We’re just not in the air.
I went into the aquarium shop to ask the owner why a couple of my fish may have died within one week of each other. I asked if I may have had too many fish in the tank, or that I wasn’t feeding them enough. He said "Fish Die." Thank you. For some reason, that was the perfect answer.
I played for years with a Playonair, the shoulder pad that’s like a pillow. It had fallen off numerous times. After years of frustration I had finally reached my limit. It fell off for the last time during an orchestra concert when we were on tour. I simply left it on the floor and returned to Los Angeles. My thought was that the violin is difficult whether you use a shoulder pad or not. I was happy to make it a little more difficult but never ever have to deal with something falling.
In music as in aquarium life, our lack of knowledge shouldn’t limit us or scare us in any way. Instead, it should make us want more and never be afraid.
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