I started fifth grade in a new elementary school thanks to district rezoning. It was distressing to be with a partly-new set of kids and have to make new friends, but one thing East Picacho had which Alameda lacked was a music program.
For the first time in my life, I held a violin in my hands. A tiny one, 1/16 scale, the smallest one the music shop had available. I was not the most dedicated student — practice requires consistent patience and focus, which have never been my specialties, and even less so as a child. But it thrilled me, using my own hands to produce a song I recognized, especially as the holidays approached and I began learning “Good King Wenceslas”.
Change struck again; we moved to another state over the winter break my fifth grade year. The new school had no music program. By the time I got to middle school and had to pick a music elective, I was more aware of the costs associated with band or orchestra, and I wound up going into choir. I don’t regret that choice — being in a choir has its own thrills, and circular breathing is a skill that has been particularly useful in the years since.
But I am considering picking up a violin again. I built a Pandora station for writing which has several string-instrument tracks and in the last few months the muscle memory has kicked in when they play. I vividly recall the pressure of the strings under my fingers, the smell of the rosined bow, the frustration and the delight of getting my short, stubby fingers around the neck to achieve the correct note.
I don’t think I’d be amazing at it, and sometimes that puts me off the idea. My brother and I were talking about difficulties my nephew’s had in school, which remind me a great deal of my own challenges in those years, and one of the things that came up was that my nephew gets frustrated because he doesn’t have A Thing. I particularly remember this from my childhood in the hothouse environment of “talented”/”gifted”/”advanced” classes; when you’re surrounded by people who are all there because you’re all smart, you become even more desperate to find the way in which you’re different, unique, stand out. Your Thing. And anything which you don’t particularly excel at — even if you enjoy it — feels like a waste of time. Especially if developing that excellence requires the patience and repetitive effort that a stubborn, scatterbrained child isn’t good at. (Ahem)
The violin is never likely to become my Thing. But the satisfaction of (re)acquiring a skill, of (eventually) producing beautiful music — they have value. Now that I’m on the far side of 40, I want to embrace these ideas: I don’t have to be excellent at something to enjoy it; simply enjoying something is enough reason to pursue it.
Embark on a journey with no thought of a destination.
For my own reference: A post on dwarfparents.com about LP adults/children playing violin