Looking back on my life, I’ve made many choices that I regret now. But there is one choice that I made in 1984 that I would do all over again in a heartbeat; re-starting playing the violin.
When I was a kid in the Seattle Public Schools in the 1950s, it was understood that when you reached fourth grade, you had to decide which instrument to play in the orchestra. I don’t remember how, but I decided to play the violin. So we rented me a violin, and I started group lessons at school. I did pretty well, too. A friend and I traded first chair back and forth for a school year (if you wanted to advance in the orchestra, you had to “challenge” the person ahead of you, and whoever “won” got the seat). At the end of the fifth grade, my parents took me to audition for the concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony, to see if I was good enough to warrant private lessons. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. He had a beautiful big house at the foot of Capitol Hill, and I was quaking in my boots while I played for him. He said that, yes, I should have private lessons, and he recommended a lady in the Second Violin section who lived near us.
I took weekly private lessons, and improved enough to get into the All-City Elementary Orchestra. I started at Stand 10, at the back of the Second Violins, and by the third week of rehearsals I had moved up to Stand 4 (right under the conductor’s nose). At school, I played in a string quartet, and we went around to the various classrooms and played for our classmates. I thought that was just the most fun and rewarding.
The one downer was that I really didn’t like me private teacher very much. I would normally go to her house for lessons, and she had an English Bulldog (named, of course, Ole Bull, who was a famous violinist) that really frightened me. Perhaps I should have mentioned my feelings to my parents, but I didn’t. So, after the sixth grade, I told them that I didn’t want to play the violin any more, and I quit.
The rest of my school years were spent enjoying music, but not playing. My parents had season tickets to the Seattle Symphony, and when my mother’s back was acting up, my Dad took me to concerts. I finished high school, went off to college and grad school playing only the stereo. I got married in 1973 to my college boyfriend who was a music lover but not musician, and we had our own Symphony season tickets. We had the best seats in the old Seattle Opera House, first row of the second balcony. I loved watching the players from above, and noted that my old private teacher was still there, outside second stand of Second Violins. I would often notice that I was “playing along” with the violinists, thinking about waving my arms and moving my fingers the right way. I thought it might be fun to learn to play again.
Nothing happened until May of 1984, when we went to my cousin’s wedding, at a nice resort on Puget Sound. There was a string quartet playing at the reception, and who should be playing first violin, but the (now former) concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony who heard me play when I was a kid! When they took a break, I made a point to say hello, and it turned out that he did remember me. I got to talking with their second violinist, and she seemed really nice. I had had a couple of drinks by then, and I remember thinking to myself, “If I don’t do it now, I may never do it”. I asked her if she gave lessons, and she said yes. I asked how she’d like an adult student, and she said she’d love it, as most of her students were kids.
So as soon as we got home, I went out and rented a violin, and made an appointment for a first lesson. That was, as they say, “the start of something big” in my life. I had to totally re-learn how to read music, and start at the very bottom. Rosemary complimented me on remembering how to hold the violin and bow, although I’d forgotten that if you want the bow to work you’ve got to put rosin on it! I made rapid progress, and by one year of lessons I had returned to where I left off, in the sixth grade. I played in a recital with her kid students, and that was actually fun. And Rosemary and I become friends, too. Both of our husbands were engineers, and we would have dinner together often.
The next big step happened in 1986, when my husband and I were returning to Seattle on the Kingston Ferry after a nice day trip. There was also a group of musicians on the boat, and they set up and played on the deck. We stood around and listened, and they seemed to be having a great time. Turned out they were going home from Midsummer Musical Retreat, an adult music camp held at Fort Worden in Port Townsend; they just didn’t want camp to end, so they played all the way home too! Someone handed me a brochure, which I showed to Rosemary at our next lesson. She told me that I absolutely HAD to go next summer, so I signed up. That first year at Midsummer Musical Retreat completed the new direction my life was taking. I played in two orchestras, for the first time in 25 years, and played chamber music too. I met a whole new group of people, played my fingers to the bone, had fun at skit night, and was recruited to play in two community orchestras.
I now had a hobby that was totally exhilarating. I got together a string quartet, and we were together for many years. I played in the two orchestras, ended up on the board of a new community music school, and made another new group of friends. After two years of Midsummer, I went to a new adult music camp that was only for chamber music, and that lasted for eight years. When the quartet broke up, I played in a piano trio with two of my friends, and we went to music camp together to work on our pieces.
I did, however, have a crisis of employment, because I was a hospital pharmacy technician, which required me to work rotating day and evening shifts. So I had to quit my job, and find something that would give me my evenings free for orchestra rehearsals (but that’s a whole other story). It took me a couple of years, but I did the career change.
So, that wedding in 1984 completely changed my life around. I was just perking along in one direction, and re-starting the violin moved my time line at right angles. Re-starting the violin was the best decision I’ve made in my adult life, and it’s one that will give me and my family and friends pleasure for a very long time. I play in a new orchestra now, and the picture below shows me in 2010, as part of the largest string orchestra playing one piece at once, setting a World Record.
And here I am, at Carnegie Hall, in 2006, with the Everett Symphony:
In my not-so-humble opinion, there is nothing better in life than to be able to say “I can make music”. You can too, if you want to. Just look for a community music school, and get started-you won’t regret it a bit.