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April 28, 2019 12:23 amComments are Disabled

I played violin for 15 years before I finally gave it up. I took lessons generously paid for by my parents from a very young age. I learned the techniques and I learned the fingerings and I learned the sheet music. I got to a relatively advanced level where I was able to play technically difficult songs from composers like Béla Bartók.

But learning any instrument, or any skill, confronts you with increasing difficulty and requires increasing commitment. At the beginning, you are seduced by the art form and desire to learn the skill and are willing to put in the time. With the right teacher — of which I had one or two — you can be inspired to continue to improve your technique — you may even find yourself practicing without being asked by a nagging parent. But at a certain point, like all things, you must take the initiative to get better yourself. It’s no longer about someone pushing you, it’s about you pushing yourself.

My favorite teacher was named Tom and he lived in New Haven. Getting driven up there by my dad every Saturday morning was one of my favorite rituals. We would listen to Car Talk, Garrison Keillor or Don Imus on the way.

Tom was quite talented. He himself played in an orchestra, don’t remember which. He had two Rhodesian Ridgebacks and every time I see one today I have a flashback. He was an inspirational teacher I actually cared about impressing, which was strange for me given most teachers I had at the time in school were at best tolerable. I do remember disappointing him a lot. He noted several times over the years we played together that I wasn’t practicing enough, that I was capable of doing something but hadn’t put in the effort to learn it. Towards the end, most of my lessons were a waste of time for him and for me; it was clear I hadn’t practiced and I was struggling through the same passages over and over again. That was when he fired me as a student.

After that, I went through a slew of teachers and I failed to impress any of them. If I were an adult, I would have been able to be honest with myself that violin was just not something I was particularly seduced by anymore — I had reached the peak of my ability and willingness to learn. But as a kid, it took my years to slowly fail out of violin. My last teacher was employed at my high school as a music teacher there. He didn’t show much interest in making an effort to to rescue my potential, especially given my obvious disinterest. After a couple months of exasperation, either he or I just dropped it. I don’t remember which.

I can still pick up a violin and play it, not necessarily well. It doesn’t bring me joy. The feeling of failure—failure to improve, failure to practice, failure to meet my own potential—flows through my bow hand and through the vibration of the strings. I am grateful I had the chance to learn it, but every stop of my journey, in retrospect, was a disaster.

One good thing did come out of it: through violin I learned to love music, and through music I learned piano. And the piano has been my constant, loving companion since I first learned how to plunk out a tune.

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