It Starts With a Thought
I didn’t intend to buy a violin yesterday. I didn’t put it on a list, I didn’t draw up a chart detailing the how, when, where or why I wanted it. It was just a passing thought, a memory of a long-ago summer staying at my Aunt Grace and Uncle Tom’s. A summer when I was in love with music, my intent was to be a concert pianist and I was away from my piano. They didn’t have one. I was starving for music (“hands-on” not “listen to”) and I’m sure they must have been tired of hearing me sing (though to their credit they never said so).
Uncle Tom, possibly in a moment of sheer desperation, got his violin (he called it a fiddle) out of his closet and handed it to me. He showed me a couple of things, played a few songs, and left me to my own devices. I played for the lightning bugs flitting around the back yard. I played with the salty ocean breeze that blew in through my bedroom window when it was too hot to sleep (which was most of the time in a house with no air conditioning in Neptune Beach, Florida in midsummer). I played for the peach tree where I liked to sit and read and write and draw when my fingers were too tired to play any more.
There was no pressure, no lessons to speak of, no goals, no practice in the form of scales and exercises, it was just a time of pick it up and see what happens.
A few days ago while setting goals and doing charts I thought about where my life is now and contrasted that to where I thought I would be (a concert pianist/flautist, an Oscar-winning actress, best-selling author, and prima ballerina). Music, once a huge part of my life along with drama, art, dance, and writing, had faded into the background. My piano, my first love from the time I was tall enough to reach up and plunk my baby fingers on the keys, is dusty. My beautiful professional model silver flute sits more often than not in its case. Singing in the church choir, karaoke in the car on the way to and from my day job and performing in the occasional musical are the only links I still have to my past as a working musician. I asked myself “Where did my music go? What happened? How did it slip away?” Other things took precedence over the years – good things, worthwhile things (earning a living, helping with homework, taking care of people and things that needed taking care of). Somewhere over the years music had become one more “to do” in an already crowded life.
I hadn’t thought about Violin Summer in years. I remembered and relived the joy of unfettered exploration. I got good enough to play Amazing Grace at my aunt and uncle’s church, which I did my last weekend to what seemed to me at the time to be thunderous applause. The memory made me smile and I realized one reason I rarely play the piano and flute any more is because I’m not nearly as good as I was when I was a music performance major and doing it in my job every day. It’s not a joy to stumble over passages I used to fly through flawlessly. It stresses me out and makes me sad. It also makes me sad not playing because I was born to play. I told myself as I used to tell my students “the more you do it the easier it gets” and I nodded in agreement with my teacher self, but the pain was too great to put it into practice (particularly since said piano is in need of tuning).
I thought “If I ever have the chance to play a violin again, I’ll take it.” That was it. No list, no plan, no official goal. Just a thought and a fleeting one at that.
Yesterday my daughter and I met for lunch and what we call our Girls’ Day Out. We talked about work, memories, good times. She said “You need to have a blog, Mom.” I said “I have one. I just haven’t written anything lately.” She said “You need to fix that.” I promised her I would. We hadn’t planned to go shopping, but over lunch it sounded like a fabulous idea, so we went. Our goal was clothes, shoes, and objects my daughter collects. Traffic was horrendous. The company was great. My daughter spotted a little thrift store in a strip mall I had never given a second glance. For the first (and only time) all day there was absolutely no traffic in the three lanes between us and the little shop. I went in with no thought of buying anything. I only wanted to help her find what she wanted.
And there it was. A violin hanging on the wall a few feet from the front door. I smiled and remembered my thought of the other day and marveled at how a violin appeared out of the blue. Then I went to look at books. Then I wandered back to the other end of the store just to see if it really was there or if I had imagined it. It was. I hadn’t. I looked at the price. Reasonable.
I needed work clothes. I needed shoes. I did not need a violin.
But I did. My soul needed it. It was in great shape. A student violin in a beat up case with a bow that was missing a thingy to hold the hair in place. Some kid whose mother probably made him take lessons and threw it in a closet where it languished for years. She needed to be played. I needed to play again. She begged me to take her with me, not to leave her silent when she was made to sing.
Was it Uncle Tom going “Here you go, Kid” one last time? Was it my guardian angel going “Look over here! You’re going to have so much fun with this!” Was it a reminder from my heavenly Father who made me a musician, a writer, an actress, that He expects me to make the most of the talents He gave me? Was it my mother and father up in heaven going “We were not musicians, but we spent a lot of money on music lessons, a lot of time at your recitals, and a lot of time encouraging you and letting you get out of doing dishes so you could practice. Is this all we get?” Maybe it was all of the above, a communion of saints reminding me of who I was meant to be. Reminding me I still have things to do in an area outside of doing the dishes and paying the rent and those things are also worthwhile.
I now have a beautiful violin in a beat up case and a bow that needs to be put together and I haven’t the foggiest notion how to do that. I also have a feeling either I will figure it out or an out-of-work bow will find its way to me as surely as my violin did.
I also have a Twitter message from Charlie Daniels, one of my favorite musicians, telling me to “go for it.”
Thanks, Charlie. I think I will.
On a day that started with lunch with my daughter and ended with a new violin and a message from Charlie Daniels, anything is possible.
Violin update: The serendipity continues – discovered from one of my actress friends that I live just up the road from a violin shop! Also discovered that she also owns a violin as does one of my favorite directors! We’ve worked together on many productions and I never knew that about them. Took my violin there. Sandrine tweaked a couple of things, tuned it, pronounced the bow DOA and outfitted me with a new one (after testing until she found the right one – reminding me of Ollivander’s Wand Shop). My violin sounds delightful (when she plays it) and as luck would have it she is also a violin teacher for beginners! I came home, hid in the farthest corner of the house, hesitantly touched bow to string and discovered I can still play C scale! Hurrah! I sound rather like those screechy violin students I used to accompany so many years ago, but they got better and so will I.
Update 2: Just heard from a former castmate – our Ho John from M*A*S*H* – that he is also studying violin! I continue to laugh and marvel at how I was surrounded by violins and violinists all along. And another former castmate of a long-ago show wants to play but wondered if she was too old. I know conventional wisdom says start early, but I’m of the “If I’m still breathing it’s not too late” school so I told her, as Charlie told me, “Go for it.”
Update 3: Charlie says “Rock on.”
Thanks, Charlie. I think I will.