Part 1: Finding (and losing) the right path
It’s all about the journey, right? We’ve all seen that on a poster or a greeting card. The message is clear: Don’t get so focused on the destination that you miss the scenery along the way. Learning to play music has been that way for me – at least this time around.
When I was a kid, I longed to play piano. I begged my parents. The house was too small to accommodate a piano, they said. But I persisted. As a compromise, I got a guitar for Christmas. I think I was about fourteen. I took weekly lessons for about a year, for $3/hour, often walking the four-mile round trip, carrying my instrument. (It might have been uphill, in winter…)
Like most fourteen-year-olds, I was distracted and more interested in other things (namely, boys). I learned the basics – enough to spend many dreamy summers playing chords and singing popular songs of the 60s. I even taught my best friend to play. In high school, I took a Music Theory class. Thinking it would be a geeky bunch of students, I was surprised (and secretly thrilled) to find myself in a class with some of the local rock’n roll idols. Despite the distraction, I received an A+. Briefly, I considered becoming a music teacher. But in college, I again enrolled in a theory class. Maybe it was the teacher (or the absence of local heart throbs), but the magic was gone. I found it abstract and difficult.
Fast forward twenty years: I had joined my church choir because, well, I like to sing. Ability was not a requirement, thankfully. No music theory necessary either, although being able to read music was a definite plus. My guitar was collecting dust in a closet. Then, our organist/choir director quit without much notice. To fill the gap, my choir mates and I pooled our resources. We gathered at the home of a soprano who played a little keyboard. Encouraged my friend and chordate, Kevin, I blew the dust off my guitar. He brought his. On a Thursday evening, we figured out the chords to some hymns. On Sunday morning, we muddled our way thru the 10:00am service. We must have sounded terrible! But people were so nice: Apparently, bad music was better than no music. Heartened by their support, we began to practice. Soon, we were playing and singing anthems again! We were invited to perform at a local fundraiser for hunger as well as at another church. The following year, we hosted the hunger event. We actually had a small repertoire of songs that we proudly performed regularly.
Eventually, a new organist and choir director was found and we continued to play, but less often as time went by. Soon, we were back to being a regular church choir. But it was a great run, one that brought us closer together. When I look back on my life, it will always be one of my favorite times.
The guitar returned to solitary confinement and life marched on. I really missed playing and I thought about it. A lot. But the niche was no longer there. There were so many other things to do. But, whenever I’d hear live music, I would feel the inevitable pull. For reasons that I do not understand, I never acted on it. If the band had a fiddle player, however, I was interested. I loved the sound and the type of music. Not a stuffy, classical violin, mind you. Think bluegrass. Think mountain music. You simply cannot listen to it and not be happy.
I have always been told that the violin is the hardest instrument to learn to play. But when I was charged up from a performance of fiddlers at a local agricultural fair, I forgot all about that. When they announced a free, five-week fiddle class to anyone interested, I was hooked.
Now, you know that I believe the universe sends us what we need. Or God does. Or whomever or whatever to which you open your heart. I looked online for a place to rent an instrument. I discovered a renowned artist who restores violins for musicians all over the world. And he lives five miles from me. He is one of the nicest people on this entire planet. Bam!
Armed with my slightly battered rental instrument, I began the class. It was a big class, led by two members of the Old Fiddler Club of RI. A few people had some musical ability but most were clueless. But by the second class, we could eek out a tune. After five weeks, we could fumble our way, slowly, through three or four. The playing field was somewhat leveled. The leaders were extraordinarily patient and encouraging. Their love of fiddling was contagious and motivated us to keep trying.
One of the Old Fiddlers, Missy, invited us to her home for weekly slow jams. I went a couple of times and it was fun. Frustrating, at times. I still felt awkward and lacked confidence. It was December and there was little time to practice, with all of the holiday preparations and celebrations. I promised myself to work harder in January, when I could focus better.
But then my mother got sick. I spent a few weeks making daily trips to sit with her at the hospital before stopping by to check on my dad afterward. My mom passed away and there were so many things to do. Dad decided to move in with my brother and sell the place he’d shared with Mom the past ten years. He asked me to sort through their things and find suitable places to donate them. It was exhausting, emotionally. My fiddle joined my guitar, in a closet. Gone, but not forgotten.
Tomorrow: Part 2