On Playing the Violin

4.12.2012


Last week I was asked to play violin at a Good Friday service for a church in Amber, Oklahoma. It was a small town located a good 45 minutes out in the middle of nowhere, and it had an even smaller church sitting right in the middle of deserted Main Street.

The week before, I'd randomly received a call from the music minister in Amber, saying that he got my name from the music minister at my church and wanted to know if I would be available to play for them. He seemed relieved when I told him that yes, I would be available. He thanked me effusively and said, "I've called four churches so far, and no one has a violinist!" 

Having lived in Oklahoma now for three and a half years, this was not surprising. It's band all the way down here, and I recently had an epiphany: it's because college sports are such a huge deal, and they want people to play in the band at football games. 

In Illinois, however, it's quite the opposite. There's band, of course, but orchestra is offered as an elective as early as the fourth grade. That's when I started playing the violin. One day during music class, they brought in all the different instruments and let us try them out. If we were interested, we could come to school early once a week and start learning.

Looking back, I'm not sure why I initially picked the violin. It could have been because I didn't want to carry the bass or cello around, and I think I liked how the violin played higher notes than the viola.

I played for the rest of fourth and fifth grades and all though middle school. When I was eleven, it wasn't considered "cool" to be in the orchestra, and I hated carrying the ugly rental case back and forth every day. My parents bought me a violin case in seventh grade, but what I really wanted was a violin of my own. They said they wanted to wait to buy me one until they were sure I would keep playing. 

I entered high school and signed up for orchestra as my elective, where I became part of a sixty-piece orchestra. For Christmas freshman year, my parents bought me a violin. I started crying when I saw it. To this day it's my most memorable Christmas present.


My senior year I made first chair of the second violins, which meant I got to sit in the front row next to my best friends, who, incidentally, sat first chair first violin, first chair viola, and first chair cello. We had good times in the front row avoiding being hit by our conductor's baton or sprayed by his spit. 

Then I joined my college orchestra. It was much smaller and included members from the community--older men and women who still enjoyed playing. We came together with the choir and played The Messiah every Christmas. I loved it.

Every once in a while I would bring my violin to my grandparents' house and play for them. When we went back to Illinois for my grandma's funeral in December, I considered bringing it with me. Just because I knew she would have loved it. (We could barely fit ourselves in the car, though, so the violin stayed at home.) I remember once playing hymns from an old green hymnal my grandma found while my family sang along. 

When I moved to Oklahoma and found a church I liked, I immediately asked about playing violin on Sundays. They didn't have anyone who played; I was actually the first person who'd ever asked. Since then, I've played almost every single Sunday morning. I've also gotten the chance to teach two people, and I've played in three weddings.

This was all flashing through my mind as I drove to Amber last Friday, and I realized that it had been seventeen years since I first held a violin. 

I'm not trying to sound all poetic about it or anything, but this overwhelming feeling hit me that I am so thankful I started playing all those years ago. I don't know how hard it would be to pick it up later in life, but I do know that they say it's easier when you're young, and I don't know if I would have the patience now to learn.

I just love the way the violin sounds. I love that the old people in church come up to me on Sunday mornings and tell me how much they enjoy the music. It's not because I'm so great; I just love that I can use my talents to serve. 

And on a slightly more selfish level, I love that the hobby that wasn't "cool" in the sixth grade is now something people tell me they wish they could do. If I could, I'd go back to eleven-year-old me and tell myself not to feel stupid for being in the orchestra. 
"Self," I would say, "don't run past the eight graders in shame." Of course, middle school was a bad time for me anyway, so I don't know if that advice would have helped all that much. But a little self-confidence wouldn't have hurt. 

I guess what I'm really saying is that I'm glad I didn't quit. I could have, and I think I almost did a few times; I remember hating to practice, and I know I sounded terrible for the first few years. But my ability to play the violin is something I like about myself. It's something I'm good at, something I enjoy. Something I'm grateful to be doing now and something I hope I'll be doing in the future.

7 comments:

  1. I'm jealous of your violin skills. I'm glad you didn't give it up...such a pretty instrument!

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  2. I'm glad you still play too. I don't play as often, so I'm rusty. But I too am proud of the fact that I can (and do) play.

    I think the reason I chose violin over the other instruments in school was that I finally wanted to do something different from my brother (who had joined the band the year before), and a violin was the only stringed instrument I had heard of. And I also knew I *could* learn it because I'd already been taking piano lessons for the last year, so I knew the clef. I was in 5th grade.

    -A

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  3. Violins are the most gorgeous instrument. I never played anything - but wished I had. How wonderful.

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  4. Audra,
    Having piano lessons would definitely help with playing a string instrument, and that makes sense that you would want to do something different from your brother. I'm glad you still play too! You should see about playing in church!

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  5. Good for you! I wish that I could play the piano, though I quit lessons when I was young. I sure do regret it now!

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  6. I also play violin, and I share some of your same feelings about it. (I also hate practicing.) I didn't have orchestra at any of my schools, so I started private lessons when I was 9. I remember telling my parents I wanted to play it because "it sounds beautiful." haha. But, I think, like you, I also didn't want to play a big, bulky instrument and loved the higher notes of the violin. I only played in an orchestra for a short in my life--when I was 11. It was a community orchestra (my violin teacher was the conductor), and I was the only kid. Sometimes I felt a bit intimidated by all of the adults and got called out for stomping my foot too loudly. haha. But looking back . . . I think I was more fearless when it came to performing than I am now! My favorite Christmas gift was/is my electric violin that my Dad gave me when I was 17. It's helped me broaden my musical horizons and experiment with other sounds/textures, but there's something beautifully raw and comforting about breaking out my non-electric one again. I help lead the church band on Sundays (yay for fellow church players!) with the electric one (usually) and with vocals. I have definitely had a few years in which I wasn't playing as much because life gets in the way, but like you, I'm glad I didn't quit. Thanks for the reminders and for sharing your violin story! I don't know if you were expecting others to share theirs, but I hope it's okay that I did. :-)

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  7. This was so fun to read!!! I'm slightly obsessed with violins and people who play them mostly because I want to learn! I played clarinet way back when and like you totally hated carrying the case around and in middle school I was a loser because I was good at it. I didn't stick with it but don't really regret it because my main instrument has always been the piano and I still can do that fairly well.

    I think it's SO cool that you took the initiative to ask to play at your church and you've been able to for so long! I've always gotten intimidated by asking at church and have therefore never done singing or piano in a worship setting- something I would LOVE to do. It's awesome that you are able to serve with your talent and let other people enjoy it. What do you think is the hardest part when you first start out learning the violin? Also, I think you should do a vlog where you play us a tune :)

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