I used to play the violin – what an admission, huh?
Out of all the instruments I could have asked to learn as a 9-year old child – the guitar, the saxophone, the triangle – the violin stood out to me the most.
I honestly can’t say what about it appealed to me at the time either.
I got my first violin a few weeks before I started lessons. I was so excited. The first day I got it home I went straight to my room and got it out of the case.
I held it in one hand and placed it on my shoulder. I held the bow in the other.
I placed the bow to the strings to start playing some notes and create my own music.
I moved the bow back and forth a little faster.
I was convinced the instrument was either broken, or to actually enable it to make some sort of sound required mythical skill.
I was wrong about both.
It turned out a new violin’s bow doesn’t produce any sound when pulled across the instrument’s strings until you’ve applied rosin to it. The rosin creates friction on the bow hairs.
That was a good thing to know, because if the first lesson hadn’t proven to me I could produce some sort of sound – I would have quit before I’d even started.
But without access to a teacher who knew it, and could teach me how to apply something as simple as rosin, I would never have known it. Google didn’t exist when I was 9.
There were three of us in the beginner’s class – myself, Andrew and Aaron. Boys club.
As the year went on, after each lesson we would be reminded that two practices a week at home (in our own time) was an absolute minimum if we were going to learn to play the violin well enough to progress.
All I heard was “two practices at home”.
At the end of the year, the entire strings ensemble had a mini concert at a retirement village.
By that stage, Andrew was by far the best out of us three beginners. I remember him telling me he would practice every night before dinner. From memory, I don’t think Aaron would practice as much as Andrew, but I’m comfortable in saying he was better than me. I can’t remember how many times a week he would play at home, but it was more than twice.
I thought they were both crazy. Why would anyone willingly practice more than was required?
I was a little nervous going into the end of year concert. I could only just play the pieces we were going to be performing, and couldn’t read music well enough to play anything more advanced.
“Hot Cross Buns” was my staple.
Not to mention, some of the pieces we’d started practicing in class required a bowing technique I’d not yet mastered.
Thankfully we weren’t going to be performing any of those pieces.
The concert rolled around, and we all got to take time off school to go.
We arrived at the venue and all lined up in front of what at the time, appeared like a pretty packed recreational hall to me.
We played through the planned pieces and got to the end of the concert.
I survived. Nailed it even. I felt like a strings rock star.
And then reality hit.
Our instructor decided we’d do an encore performance. They’d been saving the best for last.
We all got told the surprise piece they wanted us to play for the audience. I slowly turned to the music sheet in my book.
I couldn’t read half of the notes beyond the first line. And this piece required a bowing technique I couldn’t do. I hadn’t practiced it enough. I didn’t think I’d need it. And our instructor’s ears were as sharp as a hawk when it came to hearing music.
I had nowhere to hide. I ditched trying to read the music and attempted to copy the bow movements of everyone else instead, while holding my bow just off the strings so as not to create sound.
Much like the member of a dance troupe who doesn’t know the moves, I was half a motion behind everyone else.
I felt eyes from the audience starting to glue to me. I must have stood out like a walrus trying to be a penguin.
The encore felt like it went for an eternity before it was over.
We were packing up our instruments and music stands when the instructor came over to me.
I can’t remember their exact words, but it carried the same gist as “Do you know why we practice?”
“Yes,” I replied.
It wasn’t a lie. I thought I knew the answer. And I had been practicing.
Just two times a week clearly wasn’t enough for me to stay on top of what we were now learning. And despite knowing I couldn’t read more advanced notes or properly produce the bowing technique to play them, had not done anything to focus on improving in those areas myself.
The instructor’s eyes were fixed on mine now. They just weren’t saying anything.
I was already embarrassed from the performance.
I don’t know what else they were waiting for.
Silence was marring our exchange.
Until they finally said, “Because you play how you practice, Nic.”