November 7, 2007



The instrument under discussion

Maggie and the girls arrange for me to have violin lessons from M's instructor.

We already own the violin. A number of years ago, a different violin instructor came into possession of a somewhat beat-up used violin and offered to fix it up and sell it to us for cheap. So, I've had this violin for a while, and it was playable until we broke a string trying to tune it.

While it's appearance is a bit shabby[1], the old violin sounds great when it's in tune. Maggie had the instructor re-string the violin and it's wonderful to hear sweet sounds coming from it... at least when someone else is playing.

At the moment I'm practicing without using the fingerboard at all. I'm just trying to get my arm motions to be even, keep the bow on the strings without screeching, slipping or bouncing, hold the thing at the correct angle, and get a feel for keeping rhythm while moving the bow correctly.

I'm encountering a problem holding the bow. I have never blogged about it, but I have a "unique digital configuration" on my right hand which make some activities more difficult. Holding a bow correctly is one of them. It's safe to say that if I had to work the fingerboard with my right hand, I'd be in some trouble. Luckily, I just have to hold the bow. But my right hand fingers are really weak, and they get tired before I've finished a line of music. I tried holding the bow in my left hand for comparison and it doesn't cramp up nearly as quickly. So I've got some strengthening to do.

The instructor didn't seem surprised by my unique condition, so I wondered during the lesson if Maggie had mentioned it to her beforehand. It occurred to me that of course she would have. It's something we (and I) don't talk about much but it was weird to have it not be an issue in need of mentioning when I met my instructor.

Instructor tells me that M is quite talented on her own little violin. She came down to watch me practice last night, and is relishing the thought of being able to haunt me about whether I've put enough time into my practice. I guess it's novel to see me practicing something, because not three minutes into my practice I had both daughters surrounding me and giving advice, with K actually touching the fingerboard while I was in the middle of a screechy attempt at DDDD-AAAA-DDDD-GGGG. I had to shoo them off, which gave me a chance to rest my cramping hand. And my aching ears.

Bonus points for knowing where the title of this post comes from.

fn1. A chunk off one side of the scroll is missing. But it's otherwise quite nice.

Posted by James at November 7, 2007 8:20 AM
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Well, I know where the title comes from, so I won't spoil it. I did not say a word about your hand.

The extra bonus of James taking lessons on Monday nights is he essentially took M's lesson, so now the instructor comes to our house Tuesday afternoons for M's lesson. That's really nice, because on Mondays I was driving M to violin, driving home, picking K up and taking her to cello, driving back to pick up M, dropping M off at home, and then picking up K. It doesn't sound like much, but the two times I did it were crazy. If one of the instructors wants to talk, then I'm late to pick up or drop off the other child. This is much more relaxed -- one Monday night lesson and wait around for the Tuesday lesson to show up at my door! House calls! She doesn't mind teaching in our neighborhood on Tuesdays because her parents live here and she, being a young person living in an apartment, comes home to do her laundry! Heck, I'd let her do her laundry here if it meant she'd teach here!

Posted by: Maggie at November 7, 2007 10:49 AM

She must have been pretty excited about the laundry, because she told me about it, too.

Speaking of laundry, I realized this morning during my trip to the basement that the washer and dryer are the two oldest appliances in the house. We've had 'em for nearly 17 years!

I don't believe in jinxes, so I don't mind mentioning it. There is no way around the fact that those appliances are going to fail sooner or later.

Posted by: James at November 7, 2007 10:56 AM

I guessed correctly about the title, although I have not yet experienced it.

Posted by: Mike at November 7, 2007 11:07 AM

Funny - I've heard K practice her cello many a time, but I don't think I've ever heard M practice.

Posted by: Julie at November 7, 2007 11:30 AM

M never needed to practice to keep up with the little orchestra at school, so she didn't really practice much last year. Now that she's getting more challenging material from her teacher, she practices more, but she's pretty good about it -- she just practices when I ask. I think you've probably heard me asking K to practice more than you've actually heard K practice, plus she's in her fourth year, M's in her second.

Posted by: Maggie at November 7, 2007 11:50 AM

Hey good for you picking up an instrument now that you are officially over the hill;) My 40th seems to have kicked off the same instinct in me as I have recently gotten back to practicing my trumpet and actually joined a local community band. It's quite weird to not do something for 18 years that once came quite naturally and find it's not a seasy as you remember.

Is the title from the god aweful Kate Bush song of the same name from the other wise wonderful album "Never Forever"?

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 7, 2007 11:54 AM

It's from TMBG's children's album. ;)

And you never picked up one of the girls' instruments in all these years of lessons? Beanie takes Suzuki and I can play every one of her songs (albeit not well). I'd love to try on a grown-up sized cello. ;)

Posted by: pippa at November 7, 2007 12:04 PM

I took years of guitar when I was at the age my kids are now, but I never kept it up. And I fiddled with piano, but I'm really not motivated to play piano.

But, no, I've not picked up cello just by having one in the house and messing with it once in a while. I have a little bit of musical talent, but it doesn't go very far. I'm going to need a lot of practice.

Posted by: James at November 7, 2007 12:49 PM

And, yes -- I was thinking of the TMBG song "Violin" on the kids album "No!"

"One quarter of George Washington's head,
Half of George Washington's head,
Three quarters of George Washington's head,
All of George Washington's head!"

Here's a video, but it's not the original animation that came on the CD:

Posted by: James at November 7, 2007 12:58 PM

M's violin is *tiny*! She just moved up to a half-size over the summer, but I think it would be really hard for a grown man to play. K's given me "lessons" on her cello, but it was really difficult for me until she moved up to a 3/4. The smaller instruments just aren't sized for adults.

(Now K's hands are bigger than mine -- she has a tenth on the piano, and she'll be moving up to a full size cello in a month or so. M's also moving up to a 3/4 violin. They're growing really fast!)

Posted by: Maggie at November 7, 2007 1:09 PM

Recognized the title seeing as how you gave me the album and we were at your place until past midnight playing with the flash animations...

Good for you for picking up an instrument. I wonder if there is a bow modification that could be made that would make it easier to manipulate...

B.O.B. cool to hear you picked up the horn again!

Posted by: briwei at November 7, 2007 1:29 PM

Bob, Kate Bush was my first thought too, but then I realized it would be "Violin, violin, violin" (except the title is just "Violin").

James, that's fabulous! Good for you, picking up an instrument. Maybe we can all get together and jam (I'll have to dust off my flute).

Bob's return to horn prompted me (and he prodded me) to return to singing. A group connected to the band he's joined also has a chorale, so I finally went.

I sing tenor. There's a room full of sopranos and altos, then there are four guys who sing bass, and the instructor and I comprise the tenor section. Oh, and there's one woman who volunteered to sing tenor who sits next to me, but she lapses into alto.

As Bob said, it's not easy to return to something after ~20 year hiatus to find that what once came quite naturally isn't as easy as it used to be.

I can't hear myself sing! I'm drowned out by the S & A. I thought Bob could just play my music for me so I could familiarize myself with my part, but my part is in bass clef.


I'll finished what I started, but it feels like a chore. I shall most likely not return.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 7, 2007 1:52 PM

Maggie, Beanie is just now at the 1/2 size... she moved up from the 1/4. I just sit lower and wing it, hitting my knees occasionally.

I'm a frustrated music teacher at heart. My mother didn't think I'd follow through, and we didn't have a lot of money growing up, so I didn't get to take music lessons. I started working at 14 to pay for voice lessons and trumpet, and I took piano lessons for a while before I got pregnant with #2. Now there isn't any money for me to continue with the piano, but I miss it... and take advantage of Beanie's. ;)

Posted by: pippa at November 7, 2007 4:34 PM

Pippa -- Once your beanie gets up to a full size, I think you'll find the fingering a lot easier. I hope you get to complete your own lessons at some point! I took two years of piano as a kid and my parents put an end to it because I didn't practice. That's why I "encourage" my children to practice. I took two more years as an adult, but I don't have a lot of time and I'd rather spend it doing things other than practicing, so I keep playing the same pieces over and over...

Posted by: Maggie at November 7, 2007 5:11 PM

:) Congrats on taking up something new. I hope you stick with it.

Piano. Piano since the age of four here. No strangled animals. That was my sister's territory. "Twinkle twinkle little >aaaaaarghPOP

Eventually she learned how to play and does a lovely job now, but then. oh then. shudder.

Then other sister wanted to play drums. That was loud, but in rhythm. Then other other sister wanted to play guitar. That was quiet. We all sing, though, and only sound a tiny bit like strangled cats when doing so.

Posted by: leslie at November 7, 2007 10:40 PM

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