How many beautiful, sunny afternoons found me miserably imprisoned in my bedroom, mournfully sawing away at that dratted violin while my friends’ shrieking laughter testified to the fun they were having outdoors? I chafed at the unfairness of it all. Never mind that I was the one who had opted to ‘learn an instrument’ when the school music director came around our classroom soliciting fresh bodies for the band and orchestra. What had I been I thinking? And why the violin? Of all possible choices, what prideful foolishness made me think I could master this diabolical device, this mocking contraption of wood, catgut, and human misery?
With each labored stroke of the bow it howled my musical incompetence to the world. My parents wore their game faces but I knew that deep inside they yearned anew each day for that dreaded hour to pass with a fervor no less impassioned than my own. They hid it well, but I knew and suffered even more exquisitely for the shame I felt at my own lack of the least aptitude. My frustration at times reduced me to a gibbering beast and like a beast, I would gnash my teeth in impotent rage. In moments of absolute frenzy, I would bite my nemesis, leaving toothy imprints for my tutor to puzzle over at our next lesson. He was wise enough never to inquire as to their origin.
Nothing about learning an instrument came easily to me. It was as though I had been designed for something else entirely. To their everlasting credit, my parents persevered for twelve long years, forcing me to do likewise. That hour continued to roll around, day after day, year after year until at last one afternoon I remember listening to the sounds pouring out of my bête noir and thinking, “Not bad!” And just like that, my world was transformed. I forgave my old persecutor for the long bleak years of torment and hoped it would similarly excuse my gnawing on its integument. Bosom pals at last, love blossomed.
My instrument was another voice that I could use to speak of things which language could not capture. Through its subtle vocabulary of tones, I could explain my deepest feelings with a clarity that words could never match. The voice of the violin wove itself into my soul so deeply that life without it became unthinkable. I remember inadvertently dropping a dictionary on my favorite instrument one fell evening and hearing the top crack with a horrid snapping sound. My heart stuttered. Bereft, I wept for two days while waiting for the local Luthier to assure me that the crack was repairable. The mere thought of losing that peculiar dimension accessible only through the violin was enough to reduce me to jello. Is the road to mastery of an instrument is too demanding? Hardly. The greatest arts all demand sacrifices of their practitioners. But music will heal you and free your heart – and that is literally priceless.