Lessons, a square peg, and the issue

February 8, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Posted in Very Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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You have no idea how much I have missed writing.  Not only the writing process itself, but even just having the time and psychic space necessary to sit with myself long enough for it all to pour out and come together.  Right now I am sitting in on Rachel’s violin lesson with my laptop, which I brought with me so I could attempt to keep up with my work correspondence.  Even though the icons in the lower right hand corner of my screen are telling me I am connected to some local wireless internet source (a mysterious wasteland to me at best), I cannot pull up my browser, and my email refuses to either send or receive.  Flexible person that I am, I seized the opportunity to write instead of fighting with the cyber void.

From my seat on this second-hand couch in this classroom/youth lounge in the church where Rachel has her lessons, and later tonight, in a larger room, her weekly youth orchestra rehearsal, I am privy to a quintessential winter scene outside.  There is still plenty of snow on the ground from Saturday night’s storm.  The clouds are high but beginning to thicken, and looming with a darkness that foretells of the next wave, due around midnight.  Even so, there is a wan slice of late afternoon sunlight breaking through the clouds just above the horizon, from behind the branches of the large neighborhood tree, my view of which is perfectly framed by the edges of the window, a striking arboreal silhouette.  I find this kind of picture to be one of the richest gifts of this stark and frigid time of year – how many shades of white, blue, and grey can there possibly be?  I would never find this palette satisfying during any other season, but these few minutes have been like a visual feast.

In this calm before the storm, I submit to the admittance that this has not been an easy year.  On top of the fact that my family is negotiating the bulky and uncomfortable transition of letting go of one adored offspring, and I am walking my own musical labyrinth toward I know not what, I have taken on one year-long working assignment that is siphoning too much out of me and failing to satisfy me.  In my typical fashion, I have been battling with, instead of listening to, my twice-weekly inner experience of engaging in this project.  Every week, as I approach Monday and then again Friday, my step lags and I feel a sinking sensation in my stomach.  I think they call it dread.

I have never thought of myself as an optimist.  I do not tend to look on the brighter side of things, except when faced with someone who is looking at the decidedly darker end of the continuum, in which case I usually feel called upon to find the more luminous lining.  Yet, amazingly, I find myself doggedly showing up, week after week, dragging along the frail yet stubborn hope that I may suddenly stumble into some kind of love affair with this work.  In my more desperate moments I have sworn that after I wrap this up in June I will walk away from it forever.  Yet two weeks ago, when I had to indicate my plans for next year, I found myself unable to make it final on paper.  “Surely we can make this work!” some inner voice sings (or is it whining?) in my ear.

As I write this, I can see the theme that is crying out for my attention.  How many times in my life have I forced myself to do something because my intellect judges it to be good and I am capable of carrying it out, ignoring all the while a tiny voice inside me that is saying, “But.  I.  don’t.  like.  this.”  Bully that I am with myself, I have driven myself straight into many a situation without it even dawning on me to hold an inner committee meeting first.  Even once it becomes clear that we’re not looking at what you would call a good fit, my self-appointed internal judge and jury has usually insisted, tyrannically, on saying yes to the next offer, and again to the next.  “C’mon!” the court-cheerleader is stridently urging my square self, “Keep it up!  You’ll nestle into this round hole soon!”

Warning:  Please brace yourself for what may seem like an about-face.  In all honesty, I am actually very glad I accepted this position.  And, in my own defense, I did confer with myself, heart to heart (okay, I know I only have one heart, but you know what I mean), before agreeing to it way back in August.  I admit, I only had about one week to decide, because it was offered to me on short notice, so it was a rush job.  But the truth is that I could never have known what it was going to be like without just doing it.  And if I had said no and moved into autumn the way I had been planning, I know I would have been annoyed with myself, many times over, for not having been willing to try it.  I have no doubt of that, knowing myself as I do.

What’s more, I’m good at it – certainly not stellar, since, after all, I am a novice at it, and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way – but in general people are happy with the job I’m doing.  And even I can see the results, and they’re good!  My co-workers seem to accept me as one of them, and I by no means have a corner on the market when it comes to my complaints about the challenges that are part of the package.  In fact, my colleagues are bending over backwards to help me, so I feel very supported, and those that have come to observe me have complimented me, saying I’m doing a good job.  It’s hard but it’s not bad.  There is a difference.  So what’s the problem?

I had a rabbi who once said to me, “The content is not the issue.”  Truer words have rarely been spoken!  As much as it always seems that it is these particular circumstances, whatever they are, that are causing the problem, it is always my view of and reaction to them at the heart of the matter.  I could list for you the details that continue to make my work difficult, but that is not what is at issue here.

Regardless of the fact that Dan and I are now paying for our FAFSA-determined share of college tuition and we are happy to have the added income, that my learning curve is greatly enhanced by this new venture and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to grow from it professionally, that I am doing something good and that is a pleasant feather in my cap, and that it is possible it could grow into something even greater over time; regardless of all that is good about it, it is simply not where I want to be putting my energy.

You probably don’t know that I used to be a bookkeeper.  It was before the computer age, so I would have to go through a considerable updating process to return to that line of work, but I could do it.  I am a perfectionist (NO! you are exclaiming, in shock.  I know.  But I digress.) so I was a darn good bookkeeper, accounting for every penny, and it always came out right at the end of the week.  I could do it again, but that is not where I want to be putting my energy either.

Okay, this is where I am cringing inside.  The battering voice rises up, and I will share it with you.  Who-the-hell-are-you, it rumbles, that-you-get-to-be-so-discriminating?  Other-people-would-be-grateful-for-a-job-like-this.

Well, I am grateful.  And I want to move in a different direction, even if (and here’s where I feel defenseless against the voice-with-hyphens) I don’t know exactly which, yet.  I love writing this blog and would like to try my hand at writing something bigger than a blog.  I gave up a career in folk music years ago, but would like to take my music into new venues and new rooms and begin to create a meaningful connection with new listeners.  I have for years wanted to bring the arts into the corporate domain to nurture the hearts and right brains of people whose left brains are very effective, to see what could be cultivated.  You should see the pile of books I continue to check out from the library on paper and fiber arts – I am itching to get my hands on color and texture and see what I can do!  I completed the first round of training a couple years ago to teach people how to improve their visual acuity through relaxation and good ocular habits, and found I loved working one on one with clients, something else I would like to expand upon.

And here’s the thing that came to me as I wrote the above.  Yes, I’m busy – too busy – right now.  Yes, I have too many pans in the fire.  And yes, that’s an old and familiar pair of shoes.  (Not to mention the obvious fact that I could add many more pans.  Or shoes.  I’m not sure which metaphor I’m carrying here.)  And, probably like most people, I don’t always love everything I have (over-) committed to.  But that is not the issue.  As true as it is, and as much as I have repeated that history, it is still just a deeper layer of the content.

What lies even deeper than that is the fact that I know what I need to do and I keep resisting it because my mind thinks it knows better.  But how can I allow my mind to rule on its own, without tapping into my heart and intuition?  Surely creativity and wisdom spring from something more than mere intellect.  Six weeks from tomorrow I will turn 57.  My father’s father took up oil painting in his 50s and died in his 60s.  What am I waiting for?

What am I waiting for?

Permission.

From whom?

I am finishing this writing a day later.  The snow came upon us last night with gusto, with a whipping wind and such cold that the dry white drifts squeaked under our boots and tires today.  That serene and achingly spare glimpse of winter beauty that bequeathed itself to me lasted but a few moments and then yielded to sunset, which yielded to darkness lit by a clear crescent moon, which yielded to more clouds, which emptied themselves upon us in a fury, all through the rest of the night and most of this day.  Not one of them asked for permission from anywhere, neither the clouds nor the moon, neither the sun nor the tree.  Each played its part with both grace and passion.  And acceptance, that divine gift of nature.  Thank you, God, for helping me pay attention and for making me teachable.

 

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Questions on a plane

October 31, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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(I wrote this almost three weeks ago and finally feel ready to post it.)

I am sitting on a plane, on my way to three days of study on baroque violin with a colleague of mine who is a sublime musician and an excellent teacher.  I am looking forward to the work though I am sad to say my circumstances are not ideal.  I have been feeling puny lately, especially during the past week, and do not have much stamina, which may prove to be at odds with the prospect of spending three days in lessons and practice sessions.

This book I am reading – Callings, by Gregg Levoy – together with my present status, are bringing up a lot of ponderings.  I guess sometimes a malady makes you go to bed, and sometimes it sends you to your journal.

1. What is important? I was standing in one of four parallel security lines at the airport.  Dan and I had picked this line because it looked ever so slightly shorter when we arrived.  Dan had accompanied me this far, carrying my much-too-heavy pack (actually Rachel’s school pack from last year) and my baroque violin, temporarily housed in a lightweight case for travel.

Our track record so far was astounding.  We got an early start (okay, not actually early when compared to our planned time of departure, but definitely early enough to provide a comfortable margin), there was little traffic, even the stretches of road construction did not delay us, and we found an exceptionally close parking space in a lot marked “full.”  (All the lots were full this morning, according to the signs.  It was a good call, we had to admit.  We were relying – as we always do – on my extraordinary parking karma, inherited from my late father – thank you, Peter!  As we neared the terminal, Dan spotted somebody pulling out of a stellar slot.  We definitely scored.)  So after saying good-by to Dan, I stood on this security line and soon realized I had chosen the wrong one.  My shoulder hurt, my pack was heavy due to the fact that I was carrying my new laptop (which, by the way, is functioning more reliably since Dan worked on it following the FATAL ERROR [see “The nature of moving forward” from my Sept. 27, 2010 blog entry]), and as I said before, I am not feeling well.  So I resorted to the Eckhart Tolle approach of coming into the moment by focusing on my breath, rather than projecting into the future (“It’s going to take forever to get through this line,”) or dwelling on the past (“Why did I choose this line?”)  Two or three breaths.  My shoulders began to drop and my jaw relaxed a little.  (Though I might note here that putting “my jaw” and “relaxed” in the same sentence might be the closest those two will ever get.)  “This is not important,” I heard in my higher mind.  Before I could bask in this momentary possibility of nirvana, another thought – the featured question – leaped right into the space created by the first one:  “Then what is important?”

To me?

My family.  Music.  And then something else.  Something that I have been missing, which may be the reason I am making this trip, even though I have been telling myself and everyone else that it’s all about improving my violin playing.  Maybe I need to remove myself from the trappings of my daily life to have a chance to listen to myself a little better.

2. What am I being called to do? I keep thinking that it’s teaching, because that’s what keeps coming to me.  Every time space is created I find myself being asked if I can take one more student, or teach two more classes, or teach lessons on one more instrument.  The irony is that I do not feel like I have the expertise necessary to be a good teacher.  Lest you think I am being overly modest, I assure you I am not.  I do know that I am by nature a good teacher.  It’s that I lack the years of technique and training on violin, piano, and recorder that most professional musicians have, so I often feel at a loss as to how to help my students when we bump up against an obstacle or challenge.  I could go on and on here to document my long gaps between studies and the patchwork style in which I have gathered what credentials I do have, but I won’t waste the space.  It may be that the universe simply wants me to explore the question, so I will not attempt any real answers.  I might add that I do enjoy teaching, and find it an excellent way to keep myself on the learning path.  I also know that I am a much better teacher, in countless ways, than I was years ago.  But just because the line of students outside my house seems to continue, does that mean it is my calling?  Maybe my life lesson is to learn to say no.  You can see my confusion.

3. Is this a virus or an infection in my spirit? It is an undeniable fact that when we feel a physical symptom such as pain or malaise, something is out of balance.  I will never forget the time I had a sinus infection brewing just on the day I had an appointment with my therapist.  It was a very revealing session, and during it I was able to release some emotional turmoil.  Amazingly, with it went the sinus condition.

The connection that has taken me longer to make is that my spiritual fitness is as important in the equation as the physical and emotional.  Where I stand – and how I feel – with my fellows, both those close to me and the masses at large, cannot help but affect how I sit with myself, in my body, in my hear t space, and beyond.  So what is my body trying to say right now?  Can I listen?  Can I allow myself to hear?

Homeschool for mom: an update

August 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 4 Comments
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In my first blog entry, I told how my family had come up with the idea of creating my own “university curriculum” since I was flirting with going back to school.  Since three weeks have passed since that post, I figured it was time for a progress report.

  • Violin lessons.  First and most importantly, I have found my violin teacher!  I had my first lesson last week.  I am happy to say that as much as I enjoyed getting acquainted with her over the phone, working with her in her studio was all the more wonderful.  I have been dutifully, and for the most part, eagerly, practicing all week on etudes (Kreutzer), scales (Flesch and just plain), exercises (double-stops), and one piece (Meditation from Thais).  It feels to me to be the perfect balance of challenge and manageability.  I am starting off with one lesson every other week, which seems to work well for my teacher as well.  And the bargain I have made with myself is my old standby – I will keep to my practice and lesson protocol imperfectly.  When I miss a day, fine, back to it tomorrow.  If we have to go an extra week or two between lessons, which will undoubtedly happen, I will have no trouble finding more to work on.

  • Composition lessons.  Not.  The husband of my teacher is a composer.  The night before my lesson I had listened to two of his compositions and liked them very much.  When my lesson was over, my teacher introduced me to her husband, and I asked him if he taught lessons in composing.  No, he doesn’t.  However, he went on, why don’t I just begin composing a piece on piano and violin and see how it goes?  Yikes!  This was a dive-right-in approach I had not expected!  And he was so pleasant and relaxed, almost innocent, about it, I found myself agreeing to try.  So…

  • Composing.  A few days ago I sat down and began to write.  It morphed instantly into a trio for two violins and cello.  I am very happy with the theme and the harmonies of the first section, of which I have written eight bars.  Well, seven and two-thirds.  It took me hours!  And I have no idea where to go from here, but then, I had had no notion of how to start until I did it.  It appears this will be a long-term project, and I promise to keep you posted.

  • Music theory school.  In the meantime, I have been tutoring a student in music theory to get her a little better prepared for her theory placement test when she arrives at her college, and Chloe has been going along for the ride.  It has been a great opportunity for me to review what I know and start to learn some more around the edges.  I have to say, it is quite dry to learn music theory from a book!  This is one discipline that is truly alive when using it, but utterly dead when on a printed page.  So I hope to find someone to work with this fall.  I know I will enjoy it far more in the company of another human being.

  • Writing my blog.  I am very excited to see that my list of subscribers and my readership in general are both on the increase!  Thank you all for sampling something along the way in the past three weeks, and for coming back for more!  Here’s the conundrum:  the more active in my home-university I become, the harder it is to keep up with the chronicles!  This is especially frustrating to me because I have been finding the writing to be a gratifying experience.  I’m pretty sure that once Dan and I return from getting Chloe settled at her college, and Rachel has settled back into her school rhythm, I will have a little more time to follow my own pursuits.  I look forward to that!

  • Sleeping.  Here on the home front we will be a little sleep deprived once school begins.  It is so very hard to get up over an hour earlier than we have been through the summer, and somehow so very easy to stay up just as late.  Darn.  Why is that?  Chloe, on the other hand, will have a class that starts at 8:00 only one day a week, and all the rest of the days she won’t start until 10:00 or later!  Hey!  I want to go to college!  Okay, that was kind of an in-house joke, just in case you didn’t pick up on it.

Insurance cards, faulty memories, and the muse

August 3, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 3 Comments
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The mystery arose late last week.  We were approaching the deadline to submit health forms to the medical clinic at Chloe’s college.  In addition, we were asked to photocopy her insurance card and then fax all three pages to them.  When I was Chloe’s age I used to love to fill out forms, but let us just say that she does not take after me in that respect.  Simply put, there was procrastination – and not just on her part.  I have to admit to having evolved to the point where I do not relish them anymore either.  And Dan was busy with other things.  Finally, two days before the deadline and hours before Chloe was to leave for the weekend, we hunkered down and with my guidance, she completed the task.  I went to my wallet to pull out her insurance card, and discovered it was not in its designated slot. 

Surprisingly, and with startling synchronicity, I had just gone through the same kind of sequence with Rachel earlier that same day, and with the same results.  Rachel had been invited to join a school friend and her family on a road trip to the west coast, and we thought it would make sense to send her with at least a photocopy of her insurance card.  As you have now guessed, when I went to my wallet said card was not there.

Hmmm.

So we backtracked.  When was the last time I had seen either card?  It was the week prior, when Rachel had gone with a different friend for a three-day outing (she has been quite the social butterfly and traveler this summer) and the friend’s mother had suggested she take the card with her, just in case.  So I emailed said mother (I’ll call her Ursula) and asked her if she could return the card.

Ursula’s response appeared a little later:  “I never had her insurance card.”  What?  Dan and I remembered the conversation clearly.  I emailed back, telling her as much.  (Nicely.)  Later she emailed back, admitting that maybe she needed to check her purse again, and promised to get back to us afterward.

In the meantime, I was tracing our steps through recent weeks to remember when we had last used Chloe’s card.  That was also no problem to recall.  Two days before she and Rachel flew to Florida for a dance competition, I finally took her to the doctor to check out the two-plus-year-old pain in the ball of her foot, which turned out to be a stress fracture.  (Another story, perhaps a future post.)  She was new to that doctor’s clinic, so we had had to give her card at the front desk to allow the receptionist to photocopy it for their files.  Had it been returned to me?  I was pretty sure I remembered putting it back in my wallet.

As I reviewed the sequence of those days, I asked Chloe, “We didn’t send the insurance cards to Orlando with you and Rachel, did we?”  She was sure we had not bothered, and I agreed.  I had no memory whatsoever of handing them to anyone – either Chloe or their friends’ parents – as we met up with their fellow travelers at the airport.  The trip was only for two days, and she hadn’t wanted to be responsible for carrying them.  Dan concurred.

Another email from Ursula appeared:  “I was thinking.  Maybe the card looks like my insurance card and I missed seeing it.  I’ll get back to you after I check again.”

A little perplexed, I called the clinic where Chloe’s foot was examined and explained the nature of my plight to the woman at the front desk.  She was exceedingly sweet and very helpful.  We spent ten minutes on the phone while she checked through the pile of abandoned insurance cards tucked away in a special corner of her drawer.  Apparently this is not an unusual occurrence.  Not finding it there, she continued to chat pleasantly with me as she combed every possible nook and cranny that might hold an unclaimed card.  And when she failed to uncover it she was truly apologetic.  I left my phone number with her just in case and said good-by to my new friend.

Ursula’s update appeared on the screen:  “I searched my purse and didn’t find it.  Sorry.” 

Okay.

Dan ordered a new set of cards from our insurance company and we decided to wait another two days to fax Chloe’s health forms, just in case the old card turned up.  By this time, my mind resembled the ball on the green and white table. 

On one side of the net:  Ping!  “Am I going nuts?…”

Other side:  Pong!  “What a weird coincidence that both cards are missing at the same time…”

Ping!  “I could swear I remember giving the card to Ursula…”

Pong!  “I can’t believe we lost two cards in two different places in the same week…”

Chloe left for the weekend.  Dan and I joined my mother for dinner in a noisy restaurant on the edge of town.  We were waiting for Rachel’s call from some hotel in Las Vegas.  Yes, my 13-year-old was spending the night in a resort casino hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Dan’s phone was on digital roam and Rachel was taking forever to call. By my admittedly long-distance reckoning, they should have arrived at the hotel hours ago.  As we ordered and then dined, the image of the crash on I-15 was beginning to sketch itself in my mind.  And of course, they don’t have Rachel’s health insurance card so they won’t know who they are treating in the emergency room.  Assuming they are willing to treat her seeing as she has no card.  I kept all this to myself so as not to worry Dan and my mother.  Finally Dan’s phone rang.

Dan cupped his hands over his cell phone and his other ear.  It was clearly not Rachel on the other end.  At the end of a short conversation he chuckled lightly.  “Okay, thanks for letting us know!”  Probably not the ER.

It turns out Chloe’s cousin was aimlessly sifting through the contents of Chloe’s wallet sometime between dinner and the Shakespeare play.  Hidden way in the back, stuffed safely in the midst of various gift cards from graduation two months ago, were the wayward health insurance cards.

(Rachel finally called us at home much later.  They had indeed arrived hours before, but went swimming in the hotel pool before calling.) 

What I find the most fascinating about this story is how none of us could piece together a complete memory of actually taking the insurance cards out of my wallet and handing them to Chloe who then stuffed them into hers.  Dan and I remembered the conversation with Ursula, but not the upshot.  And Ursula in turn began to doubt not only her memory but even the tangible hands-on search through her purse.   Chloe and Dan and I could remember discussing whether to send the cards with Chloe, but not one of us had even a vague recall of the actual decision.  And the receptionist at the medical center, who had no reason to remember the details of Chloe’s card – for all I know she wasn’t even working the day we came in – was totally open to the possibility that it was floating around there somewhere.  It happens.

Dan is currently reading Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan.  From the little he has told me about it, it is the perfect companion to this episode, examining what we do and do not remember, and how we tweak our actual memories to fit our view of the present.  I plan to read it when he is done, as I find the implications staggering.  What does this tell us about eyewitnesses in a court case?  Just a few weeks ago Chloe’s senior class did a production of “Twelve Angry Men” (it included women, of course, but I just don’t like the ring of “Twelve Angry Jurors” so I’m holding to the old, though gender-biased, title) and I wondered all the way through it, Would I be able to remember anything clearly enough to testify under oath?  I don’t think so.  Even as I am telling all of this to you I am very likely committing errors in the sequence, timing, and what people said, felt, and did.  The gist is only as true as I can make it.*

And in the context of music, how well do I remember what my teachers told me to practice?  How accurate is my understanding of their appraisals of my musicianship and skills?  How well do I hear myself play?  One of my teachers demonstrated for me that, while playing out of tune with terrible tone sounds – not surprisingly – terrible, playing out of tune with gorgeous tone sounds amazingly tolerable, even passing for, well, playing in tune.  I’m obviously not campaigning for inaccurate pitch, but there is a kernel here that is immensely helpful to my paralyzingly perfectionistic self, and it goes something like the following.

Can I make a bargain with myself to practice all the ingredients – fingerings, shifting, articulation, phrasing, vibrato, dynamics, expression, etc. – and then let go of the belief that I need to micro-manage the performance?  Can I apply the perfectionism selectively and use it “mostly/only” during practice sessions?  In other words, if I do my homework long, hard, and well enough during the practicing and rehearsing, can’t I trust the muse to sprinkle a little magic on the stage the night of the concert?  Assuming one is a good musician, how much of the performance is “fact” and how much is “illusion”?  Is it really all about a million tiny details, or is the music greater than the sum of all its parts?  I really do know the answer to that question.

I can now see that I always relied on the magic of the muse throughout the decades of my folk career, and she always proved herself to be reliable.  So apparently I have piled all the perfectionism into the arena of classical music.  Perhaps the learning curve that lies before me (or am I already ascending?) is to tear down the wall between those two worlds.  I wonder who built the wall in the first place.

*With two disclaimers.  Number one is that Chloe claims she did not procrastinate.  She needed my help and I was busy, which is totally true.  Number two is that after Dan read the above, he reminded me that we actually photocopied his insurance card and Rachel took that with her to the west coast.  Here’s what’s perfect about this one:  I have no memory of it!

Violin lessons: a retrospective

July 30, 2010 at 11:59 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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Yesterday I called a local violinist to see about taking a trial lesson from her.  As I wait for her to return my call, I will share some of my violin-lesson memories through the years. 

  • I was lucky enough to be raised in a school district where music was valued, at least back in the 60s.  Every summer, for the first few weeks after school ended, instrumental music classes were offered through the public school system, for a very reasonable fee.  It was there that I began, in a class of what seemed like a hundred freshly-graduated third graders, squeaking and grinding on half- and three-quarter instruments.  Toward the end of the (three- or five-week – it’s a little vague in my mind) session, I came home and triumphantly announced to my mother, “Mommy!  Mr. Seguine said I’m the BEST ONE!”  Years later, my mother shared with me her actual reaction to this happy report.  She closed her eyes and said silently, “Then God help the other mothers.”

 

  • Because I was the BEST ONE, and given that my parents were already stretched by paying for my piano lessons, my instrumental music teacher at school told my parents she would teach me privately for no charge.  So every week I spent a half-hour with Charlotte Hilligoss, may she rest in peace.  I adored her, but unfortunately did not feel the same about scales and etudes.  I didn’t have the words to tell her that I didn’t like the pieces she assigned me, and having no idea there was repertoire I would have enjoyed, I never asked for anything different.  As much as I liked Charlotte, (and my god — she was so generous to give me lessons on her own time!) I was not inspired to work and I was certainly having no fun.  So after a year or two of dragging myself there, feeling guiltier and guiltier about how little I practiced, that chapter came to a close.

 

  • Charlotte handed me over to a grad student at the university whose name was Henry Kolar.  I have no memory of Henry-the-person.  What I do remember is that he made me practice with my left thumb flying in mid-air, away from the neck of the violin.  I had developed a tight hand vibrato (which I’m confident was my own fault and not Charlotte’s) and had a habit of squeezing my thumb very hard against the side of the neck, resulting in a collapsed base knuckle.  Henry saw his mission:  SAVE THAT GIRL FROM A TIGHT LEFT THUMB!  He took it seriously, and I whole-heartedly resented him, every lesson I had with him, and each and every practice session at home.  Poor guy – I pity him for having had to work with me!  He must have been either very persuasive or incredibly intimidating because I actually did do what he told me to do.  In truth, I now bless him and the ground he walks on.  Having watched people play violin with a tight left thumb, I am happy to have escaped that fate.  Henry Kolar’s mission was accomplished!

 

  • I stayed in school orchestra, but had no further private instruction.  My junior high and high school orchestras each won best in the state, and the former even made a record album, which was pretty big stuff for the 60s.  (Our conductor chose what I thought was a lame photo for the cover, however.  Just saying.)  While still in high school, I played in the local community orchestra, which I continued to do for two or three non-consecutive years through the 70s.

 

  • Violin confusion ruled through my twenties.  I was by then studying fiddle music from the traditions of Sweden, Norway, Romania, Greece and the Greek Islands, Hungary, and a little conjunto music, all with native teachers.  I took lessons briefly from a classical teacher, but here’s where I got stuck:  the more ethnic folk music I was exposed to, the less “pretty” I wanted to sound.  It seemed to me that classical playing sounded smooth and lovely, and to my ear that didn’t mesh with the repertoire I was exploring.  After one or two lessons I quit, feeling somehow misled and lost, but I placed the blame on myself.

 

  • Fast forward to summer of 2003.  Chloe was 11, and I took her on a three-day trip to experience the Aspen Music Festival.  This, after two decades of enjoying a full folk music career, followed by a very clean and complete break, and then eight years devoted entirely to being a full-time mom and having a mid-life identity crisis.  (Life would be too mundane doing one at a time.)  What made me suddenly choose Aspen?  I have no idea.  But while there we attended a master class in piano, taught by Misha Dichter.  I found myself welling up throughout the class.  Why had I left this world of classical music?  I could no longer remember what had possessed me back in the 70s, but I was now determined to re-join it.

 

  • Immediately upon my return home I decided to work toward an audition to music school on piano and violin.  Okay, I can now see this was not only over-ambitious but also a bit hasty.  But at the time I was the most euphoric I had been in decades, which must count for something!  I practiced on both instruments every minute I could find.  On piano:  Bach’s English Suite V in E minor, Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, K. 330, and a Chopin Nocturne, Opus posth. 72 nr. 1.  On violin:  Mendelssohn Concerto and the Allemanda from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor. 

 

  • So what happened?  Opening that door seemed to welcome in the music universe.  Suddenly all sorts of opportunities began to avail themselves to me, at my synagogue, in the folk music community, my teaching studio began to attract more students, and it began to dawn on me that hunkering down as a full-time student would narrow my world more than it would expand it.  Plus Chloe made a little comment about all the books she had read in which some character’s mom went back to school and became mostly unavailable to her kids, not to mention irritable, sleep deprived, and stressed out.  “Please don’t do it, Mom,” she pleaded.  Okay, slow down and rethink my whole life plan.  That put the cap on the school idea.  I continued to study piano with my teacher, and just practiced violin on my own.

 

  • Two years later I was having dinner and catching up with an old musician friend.  It’s amazing to me how it can happen that just as some idea is coming together enough to put it into words, there sitting in front of you is the perfect witness for that very thought.  I found myself telling her that what I really love the most is early music, and that playing in an orchestra that emphasizes that repertoire would be like a dream come true.  Immediately following my words came her timely announcement that a mutual friend was forming just such a group.  The universe lined it right up for me.  Within 24 hours, I ran into the mutual friend.  I told him I was interested, and within two months I was having my first lesson on baroque violin with the concertmaster of said new orchestra.  Eight months later I joined the group for the final concert of the first season. 

 

As I was writing this, the prospective violin teacher called me on the phone.  All I can say is that so far I LOVE HER.  Okay, I know it was only a ten-minute phone conversation, but after all, first impressions do count heavily, don’t they?  I go for my trial lesson next Tuesday.  I am excited and nervous.  I am fairly certain there will be more about this soon.  And hopefully also later.

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