In fourth or fifth grade, everyone in the class was required to choose a musical instrument to learn. They set up an “L” of lunch tables in the cafeteria/gym/auditorium, where they had various instruments laid out on the tabletops, and told us to choose what we wanted to play. I’m not certain if there were multiple of any, I feel like there weren’t. Looking back, I’m a little surprised this method of choosing something that takes such commitment was found to be the best way to go about it. Imagine having to pick something else like that, say another language for example. “Look, Tammy, I know you wanted to learn French but Kevin got to French first. Here’s Kaixana instead. Now go spend four years perfecting this language.”
The reason I am mentioning the limited choices is because the instrument I was most excited to learn, the violin, was immediately snatched up by a lovely girl named Rachel. I briefly considered the trumpet, despite disliking the sound of brass instruments even then, but my friend Jay got to that first. I then decided to take the next best to the violin, which was the viola. The viola and the violin are close enough that I should have embraced the opportunity to become familiar with the instrument, perhaps switching to the violin in the future, but at ten years old, there wasn’t room amongst the disappointment at having to settle to consider how lucky I was to not be stuck with the terrifyingly complex looking clarinet.
I took the viola home and began the process of learning to play, screeching out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in my required one hour of practice a day. There was music class, of course, where we were taught to read music, but there was no one-on-one instruction. No one taught me the importance of holding the bow a certain way, where to put my fingers, or anything else that would make sense to do. I don’t recall how long we had to play our chosen instruments, but as soon as I could quit the viola, I did.
I was put off by the instructor-less one-hour lessons, alone in my room doing the same thing over and over and over and over until I was allowed to stop, as well as the disappointment of having to dedicate so much time to an instrument I didn’t even want to play, that I didn’t consider playing another until I was twenty-ish, when the violin started to creep back into my mind. I went looking for one locally, didn’t find one, and put the idea aside for another eighteen years.
This past fall we were looking at a guitar for Brian, who has been playing his mom’s old guitar since he was fourteen or fifteen. While looking around at the instruments, “I’d love to play the violin,” came out of my mouth 4,026 times. “We’ll have to get one then,” he’d say, and we did.
Since it arrived I have had feelings of anxiety at the resurfacing memories of being shut in my room with the viola for an hour every single evening, but I’ve also had moments of excitement. I’ll have to get most of my information from the internet, which is verbose, but I have hope it’ll be more fun than it was the first time around with the viola, since chatty instruction is better than none at all.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star