Playing My Violin Again

Thu, Sep 3rd, 2009

Photo of my violin and bow

Photo of my violin and bow

I have recently started playing my violin again. When I was eight years old I started taking violin lessons. I played the violin because my mom wanted me to play. She never asked me if it was something I wanted to do. Eight years later, after a talk with my violin teacher, I quit playing. I was 16 years old. At that time, I decided it was much cooler to play the guitar. So the guitar bug bit me and I turned my back on the violin, never looking back until now. One day I noticed my dusty violin case stored under my bed and decided to pull it out and take a look. I have done this before in the past, but usually after a quick examination I return the instrument to the case and place it back where I found it. This time was different.

I dusted the violin case off and opened it slowly. Instantly, my olfactory system was stimulated with the familiar smell of the instrument and case interior. Like a time machine, the sweet smell of the instrument's wood, varnish and bow rosin brought back childhood memories of practicing the instrument and of playing at violin recitals. The stress of playing in front of people was torture to me. I remember being extremely nervous. Memories of how much my mom wanted me to play the violin and thoughts of how much I must have disappointed her when I quit filled my head too.

Slowly, I lifted my violin from the case and handled it as carefully as a mother handles a newborn. I studied the instrument. It felt very light and fragile to me, much lighter than I remembered. Through the sound hole I read the labels inside. One noted the violin being made in Germany in 1982 by E.R. Pfretzschner and the other noted the model, serial number and distributer, Scherl & Roth. The manufacture date reminded me that this was my second violin. The first was a 3/4 size instrument which I believe my mom traded-in when she purchased this violin new. I noticed a small scratch on the top varnish near the fingerboard which I remembered being much larger. However, I don't remember how I scratched it. The bridge was bent over slightly. It had tired after holding the tension of the strings all these years. The fine tuner attached to the tailpiece for the D string was broken. How or when this happened escapes my memory. There are two bows in my violin case and I examined each. One I never used which is of lesser quality than the other. My main bow is worn slightly from years of use in the places my thumb and fore-finger make contact while being held.

After inspecting the instrument I went to work getting it in playing condition. First, I replaced the broken fine tuner for the D string with a fine tuner my violin teacher removed from the tailpiece for the G string and I stored in the case. The G string really doesn't need a fine tuner since it is the lowest string on the violin and doesn't tend to go out of tune as much as the others. Next, I replaced the bridge with a new bridge I purchased years ago and stashed away in the case knowing one day I would bring my violin back to life. While tuning the instrument, the A string broke which required a quick trip to the local music store to buy a replacement string. I returned home with strings, replaced the broken one and tuned the instrument.

For most of the eight years I played violin, I was taught the Suzuki method. I hunted down my Suzuki books, opened book one and began to play. The first notes played were awkward and didn't sound very good. Realizing my neighbors most likely could hear me play, I quickly closed the window in the room. I continued to play re-learning the instrument. I took my time and was very thoughtful about my finger placement and playing in tune. My fingers slid up and down the fingerboard like I was playing fiddle music; I was playing Bach though, so it didn't sound very good. After the first hour though I improved and was amazed at how well I could play. It was all coming back to me. My brain was tapping a reserve of violin knowledge I had gained from eight years of lessons and playing as a kid. I was overjoyed that I could actually play still! Sure, I was only playing the easy tunes from Suzuki Book 1, but after over 20 years of not playing I thought it was pretty good. My finger tips and back muscles could only handle two hours of practice so I returned my violin to the case with a smile on my face.

In the following weeks I practiced as much as I could and as long as my schedule would allow. After the first week my finger tips stopped hurting and my back could tolerate the practice sessions better. During the second week the speed and agility in my fingers improved. The notes my teacher had marked in my song books years ago have proved to be valuable reminders and have greatly assisted me in re-learning each piece of music. I frequently listen to the music CDs that accompany the Suzuki books, which has also been very helpful in the learning process. It has been fun re-familiarizing myself with the musical terms I had forgotten - Dolce, Largo, Forte and others. While I play my violin, I make a conscious effort to focus on intonation, producing beautiful tone, using proper bow technique and timing. Each new piece of music presents a different set of challenges. Couple this with the fact that I thoroughly enjoy classical violin, is keeping me motivated to play.

I'm currently half way through the Music in Suzuki Book Three and look forward to the next book for the Vivaldi concertos it contains. Eventually, I started not caring if I played my violin with the room's window open or closed. One time, I did hear a neighbor's door or window slam shut, making their disapproval known. It didn't bother me though. They obviously don't have an appreciation of classical violin, that's their problem, not mine. My daughter hums the tunes I play and tells me she wants to learn to play. I'll give it a little more time though before I purchase a violin for her. I'm not sure what possessed me to pick up the violin again, but I'm glad I did. I guess I'm getting old, I think the violin is cool now. Playing guitar is certainly cool too so I don't plan on turning my back on either instrument.

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