Reuniting with an Old Friend

Tonight I spent some time with an old friend ...

I'm a little rusty, but it's always comforting to hear that familiar wooden creak, so intimate only I can hear, as I settle him under my chin, and to feel the taught cold strings slide under my fingers.

I was in third grade when I first picked up a violin. We'd been given two options: violin or cello. Although I must admit that I am drawn to the voice of a cello, I happily chose the violin to be in the company of friends and my older sister Kirsten.

Although I played in youth orchestras and then in college, most of my post-college years so far have found my violin tucked away in its case, the last concert program still lingering in its zippered pocket. But this year I decided to rekindle my relationship with the ol' violin and joined an orchestra: the Linden Hills Chamber Orchestra. I'm excited to be playing Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony (which has undercurrents of A Might Fortress is Our God), but the music is rather challenging, so I've spent some quality time with my violin this fall, brushing up and reminding myself of the old road map.

Besides practicing fingering and retraining my brain to think across strings, it helps to notice the little details of the violin itself that make me feel at home.

I forgot how much I love the delicate scroll carved at the top, in perfect cinnamon-roll fashion. At my first rehearsal this fall I was happy to find it still feels natural to sit with my violin resting on my lap, waiting patiently for my part to begin. As I learned to do when sitting in my youth orchestra, I found myself resting my lips on those wooden grooves.

And the moon shaped notch behind the neck, where I rest my thumb as I wait to begin ...

There's something in the waiting. It's such a great exercise for kids and adults alike, to sit within the music like that, just absorbing the sound. You don't realize it at the time, but you are imprinting the music into your brain -- your soul? -- so that years later when you are flitting through radio stations as you drive home from work you catch a snippet of sound that causes you to pause and brings you right back to that chair you sat patiently in when you were twelve years old and could hum every stanza of the Symphony.

Boredom is not an option. For when you're in an orchestra, you not only learn your part, but the flute solo and the clarinet's sad intro, the trumpeter's call -- even the conductor's stance.

One of my favorite moments is the very beginning of a piece when just a few instruments lead us out. It's oftentimes pretty quiet - just a flute or an oboe perhaps - and you wonder if the audience is tired and bored with the soft, lilting music. But this is simply the brink of The Beginning, and when you are familiar with the avalanche of exciting passages and harmonies ahead, those beginning moments hold anticipation.

... thanks again, old friend.

Read more about what my violin means to me in my previous post: Horcruxes. It just might have to do with Harry Potter : )

What are your favorite musical moments? Have you ever strayed from your instrument and then picked it up again? If anyone in the area wants to join our orchestra, let me know!


  1. I love this post - I need to get out my violin again! The pictures are great, too - did you take all of them? Lucky you to be playing Mendelssohn. :)

  2. Glad you like the post : ) Yes I took the photos earlier this fall ... they didn't actually look that great so I added a little bit of sepia to most of them. Makes everything more contrasty and looks nice with the wood. I should scrounge up some old photos from SPO! I love how serious we were back then ... in my orchestra now we don't even start with a scale, and I miss practicing walking in together and then standing in unison. Good times : )
    Will I see you in December?! I hope so! We might actually head into NYC or even Brooklyn this year!

  3. Love this post too! Wish I could be at your concert in December. I miss those SPO concerts.
    As far as picking up an instrument after time away, I've done that with the piano throughout my life. I can't say that I play as well as I did in college, but I certainly love the time I spend at the keyboard. I haven't been able to play this past month because of my broken wrist, so I am anxious to be healed and able to play some Christmas music...I hope!

  4. Great one -- mayhaps I shall break out my trusty sax at Xmas!


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