Paganini In No Time
In my continuing battle against terminal boredom I have taken up the violin. I am aware that at the frankly alarming age of 27 I have no business inflicting ‘Violin Star Book 2′ in the key of screech upon my poor husband. I am also conscious that by the sounds of it the neighbours are having problems enough without me introducing a wobbly and melancholic soundtrack to their upcoming divorce. However, I have always wanted to play an instrument of such soul and beauty, so play I shall. Besides, I’ve already bought ‘Violin Star 3′, a music stand and enough rosin to wax the arses of all the runners in tomorrow’s Grand National. I’m committed now.
To be fair I’m already reasonably musical having played piano and a few other instruments when I was younger to a fairly good standard. I’m not very good at reading music so I’ve always had to play everything by ear anyway and when you’re attempting to bow out a tune on a fretless instrument then playing by ear is useful. What isn’t so useful is being used to relying on the visual element. Let me explain; playing the piano is easy. If you were subjected to forced piano lessons as a child and failed your grade 1 exam then you may wish to fling your dinky little netbook across the room with contempt for my arrogance. Please don’t – it isn’t insured and I won’t buy you a new one. Hear me out will you? Playing the piano is easy once you’ve cracked the pattern. The notes are already tuned for you, all you have to do is push the right key. If you hit a middle C a millimetre further to the left than usual then nobody would ever noticed unless you habitually hit middle C right on its extremity anyway. Then you’ll be playing either a B or a D you fool. With a violin however I have discovered that even when you begin to remember where all the notes are, then in the middle of a delightful little ditty your fingers will be moving fast and you’ll think you’ll have pressed your clammy little digit into the exact same spot as last time. You haven’t and it sounds awful. Most people would carry on through the blip but at this point my latent obsessive compulsive tendencies will kick in and I have to start it all over again. Bugger.
Playing the violin is not easy, or at least it’s not easy for me. I’m having to work at it and I’m enjoying the work. I cannot wait until my fingers have developed sufficient dexterity and muscle memory to be able to write my own music with confidence. It makes me feel all gooey with excitement. No-one but my husband and the neighbours will ever hear them but I simply cannot wait. I have only ever played instruments that either need to provide their own accompaniament or are really only worth playing as part of a team sport. The violin with its sweet soaring trembles and heart-wrenching glissandos is something you can play alone in a darkened room or prancing about as part of a larger ensemble as the mood takes you. It’s like song but without the irritation of someone putting words to it and making it all about them. Quiet you buffoon, the violin will transform and transcend your emotions and make them all the more potent and real.
I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. I will never be that accomplished at the violin. The best I will ever be able to hope for is to the ability to pick out a tune comfortably and without too many burst ear drums in the vicinity. I should have started 20 years ago or more if I ever wanted to play in the way I rhapsodise about. I know that. I do. But so what? Even just one minim played exquisitely in an otherwise piss-poor five minute piece will make it worth it. The response I have had from many people when I tell them that I am learning the violin has been either ‘you’re too old to get that good at it’ or ‘God, my kid/little brother/friend/child next door learned the violin and it sounded awful’. Small-minded and terrible people. Is that all people can ever see – the end product? Learning something for your own pleasure is immensely satisfying. Look beyond what you think is the end product, concentrate on the satisfaction to be gleaned from progression and for God’s sake, stop commodifying it. And please please please – if you’ve ever wanted to pick up an instrument and learn it but you’ve always told yourself that you’re either too old, too busy or too tone deaf – ignore yourself and everyone around you. To rather sickeningly pinch a well-known advertising slogan, just do it. So you’re never going to be Paganini and make a living out of your violin, you’ll never be Elton John and play the piano all over the world, you’ll never be Bob Holness and play Baker Street in secret - prrrrft. Play for pleasure, for relaxation, for concentration, for the joy that comes from learning a new skill.
Just play it.