Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Road Tunes

Music has always been a part of my life though I'm not particularly gifted. Good, enough to do auditions on piano in high school and play in the youth symphony, but not near good enough to make any kind of career of it. That was fine with me, my interests being more science and engineering than the arts.

But the first thing I bought when I started making adult money was not a sports car, it was a Baldwin Baby Grand. But I only played for friends over for food and fun.Yet I still loved it. Then I got married, and the music that was to be my life went soundless. He sold the piano; I came home one day to find my beloved Baby Grand being loaded on the back of some ramshackle farmers truck, to pay off some debt he'd incurred, sold for 1/10th of what I paid for it. After that day there was nothing left in me that felt like making any more music. So I didn't play. For 15 years. Long after he was gone.

Then I put my foot back into the water again. A keyboard, a clarinet. Then something I had never played. Three years ago I got a violin. As far as the violin was concerned, I had the musical gift of a dyslexic tree sloth, but I tried. My fingers were a bit stiff and the some of the notes sounded like someone squeezing a cat, but the music was still in me.

Oh, please tell me you're going to just set fire to it.

The first step is always the hardest. Trying something new. Embracing something long forgotten that at one time you loved. Embracing something you've never done but wanted to. Tiny leaps upward propelled by longing and only held back by the gravity of timidity.

It's not much different than taking that first solo in an airplane. . You have been given the tools, you have the capabilities. But it's the fear of the what you don't know that holds you back, while upward a huge unknown, the sky, beacons. You've learned through your experience, through your lessons, that the sky is sometimes gentle, sometimes capricious, sometimes frightening, never the same two days in a row, almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in it's quiet, and almost divine in it's vastness. And you're just a little afraid of it at this point.---But it calls to you, and you know you are going to go forward. It's like that first solo. Suddenly you know. It's time.

So you gingerly taxi away from your instructor, who is probably as nervous as you are, and you turn your eyes upward, and drink the air and breath the light and like a eagle on the wind you climb the sky and make that leap. And the beauty and the vastness of what's out there envelopes you and the exhilaration of all that awaits takes your breath away. And life is suddenly fuller. So even though I got the "oh, is this for your child?" I did it. I got my first violin at age forty (mumble mumble).

It was a small family run business that specialised in renting instruments to students with the option to purchase. Quite a ways west of Indianapolis, and WAY away from where I lived, I thought at first I had missed it, but there it was. A small barn like building next to a beautiful old farm house. I pull up. You would not know it was a business but for the small sign out front.

Taking an admiring glance of the quiet stillness in which these folks, a husband and wife, have built a thriving little business, I entered the store. The two of them, high school sweethearts from this area, have taken a love of music and built it into something that allowed them to live out here and raise their kids in a small, quiet town. They rent to school kids across the country, and sell used, new and beautifully restored classics across the country.

I walked in and the smells and the polish of the wood just pulled me in, the sounds of Winter by Vivaldi playing in the background, like a siren song.

So many instruments of beauty, of power, love, lust, longing, faith, joy. So many ways to paint a picture on the silence of your life.

So, after holding and feeling and touching, I picked one. I had never played. I left, happily clutching the case and the name of a local teacher, the echo of the music from the store trailing like a contrail in the twilight sky.

As I've said on here before, one is never to old to learn. One is never too ingrained in their habits to take up the instrument that for them, will be the perfect blend of the joyous with the sublime, hands stroking a thing of beauty as it resonates with the sound of their dreams, the lingering notes of their need. I have no great musical talent, and it might be a pipe dream that I learn to play this thing well halfway through my life, but I'm not going to ignore a dormant desire because I feel that I'm too fixed in the routine of my life. So, be it an instrument, learning to shoot, or simply learning to craft somethings with your hands, try it. And may the music of your longings fill up those quiet spaces within, as you curl up between the notes and breathe deep the dreams that are in all of us.

I'll never be 20 again. You can't make the years rewind like a tape. The Roman Poet Ovid said "All things change, nothing is extinguished, everything flows onward". Yet my music will pull me onward, pull me forward, calming me, soothing my mind, giving it rest, becoming the soundtrack of my life.

If could have put some of my aerial adventures to music, what a song it would have been. Flying can be as mathematical precise as Bach, as fluid as Chopin and as restful as Brahmns. I've had landings that were as lyrical as Vivaldi and I've had some that should have been set to the theme from Loony Tunes.---Maybe that's why I love music as much as I love flying.

Music induces in me a sense of the infinite and the contemplation of that which is unseen. Music and flying are both wonder, or can be. The same visceral connection between the soul and what elevates it to the heavens. Both strike in some people the same chord, the same spark that is embedded in some souls. Something that, in certain individuals, is simply part of our most basic and natural inability to live with the gravity of silence.

Tonight I don't have my violin, for which the neighbor's are likely glad. or any other instrument. But I've got some YoYoMa plays Vivaldi on a tape. Maybe for tonight, I'll crack open the windows and let the music out.


  1. Yo-Yo is a cellist, isn't he?

  2. Yes, probably the best out there. A cello won't fit well on an airplane, so that was out as a choice of instruments to learn.

  3. Learning something new is always a challenge. It can be fun, or it can be work, depending on your state-of-mind, and how badly you want to learn it.
    I've taken lessons on guitar, piano, trumpet, and clarinet, and did miserably at them all. I wanted to learn, but not for the right reasons. I wanted to learn because my friends were playing those instruments, and not because I wanted to learn them for myself. I guess there's a lesson there about learning things, as the things I really wanted to learn, like Morse code, I learned quite well, and was/am very good at.
    And all my Flight Instructor said that fateful afternoon was "Don't kill yourself. I'd have to fill out a lot of paperwork, and I hate paperwork".
    Seeing he was a very good friend of my Dad's, I think it's safe to say he knew I was ready.
    And I'm still here.....

  4. I took lessons in both piano and trumpet when young. It did not go well, but I retain the basics. My favorite cellist was Micheal Edwards, cellist for Electric Light Orchestra. Not only technically talented with the instrument, he had the ability to turn the sounds from it into the main riff in a rock song Go to the 2:30 mark. Oh, bonus points for playing upside down!

    He was killed in a freak accident.

    I pale in comparison.

  5. Is it a violin all of the time or is there some small percentage of its life spent as a fiddle? Versatile instrument; not only for classical, play it Gaelic like Ashley MacIsaac, bluegrass like Vassar Clements, or Jazz like Joe Venuti. Oh and rock like Papa John Creech.

  6. Is Barkley really such a music critic?
    If he were a beagle, he would be happily howling along with the music.

    Played carefully, a violin can also be used to simulate a siren. Try it sometime near a house where teenagers are having a party, and watch them scramble to see where the police car is while they try to hide the beer.

  7. Brigid,

    Thanks for rekindling the memory of my first solo flight. My old curmudgeon of a flight instructor told me he was too afraid to fly with me any more and jumped out of the little 150.

    Maybe I WILL pick up a banjo!


  8. Well, it could of been the bagpipes.

    I was so musically talented I played the cymbals in HS marching band. They went well with my tin ear and lack of rythym.

  9. I'm currently tenderizing my fingertips... ah, learning to play guitar. It's really slow going, but I'm happy to be learning new things and tackling new challenges.

    Maybe, one of these days, I'll actually be able to play a recognizable bluegrass tune. I just have to keep at it long enough, build some calluses, bake enough apple pies and tasty dinners that the housemate and husband forgive the noise...

  10. In one of my college classes the question was asked"which would you rather lose, your hearing or your sight". Tough question but I chose sight. I could learn to read by braille or listen to books on tape, but to never hear music again would devastate me. I was fortunate to get to see Yo Yo Ma at Ravinia last year. He is simply marvelous. I think I might pick up that guitar again. Thanks for the great post Brigid

  11. I played the accordion from age 8 to 15. Never could improvise or create anything myself. Technically proficient, but never really a musician. Music literally kept me sane and alive through those terrible teenage years. My favorite album is "Cosmo's Factory" by CCR, the first one I ever bought. Still listen to it regularly. I have a cousin who plays piano, never had a lesson in his life, can't read music, and beautiful music literally flows out of him. He could easily have been a concert pianist if he had had the right breaks. It's genetic or spiritual or something miraculous.

  12. I took up the fiddle in my mid-forties, (I'm 58 now), when I was practicing my family thought that I was working hard but in reality I was having a hell of a good time, which hasn't stopped yet though I now know that I have to keep practicing and learning for the rest of my life, it all just keeps getting bigger.
    I can strongly recommend the Complete Irish Fiddle Player by Pete Cooper (you get a CD as well).

  13. I took up the fiddle in my mid-forties, (I'm 58 now), when I was practicing my family thought that I was working hard but in reality I was having a hell of a good time, which hasn't stopped yet though I now know that I have to keep practicing and learning for the rest of my life, it all just keeps getting bigger.
    I can strongly recommend the Complete Irish Fiddle Player by Pete Cooper (you get a CD as well).

  14. Long-time musician here (it's in the family), but like you, I only played for family and friends at home. I only recently started getting together with some friends to see if we had comparable skill levels and complementary styles. Now they want to (gulp) do an open mic night at an establishment here in town. I'm simultaneously terrified and intrigued. The place serves beer, luckily, so anything may be possible. Never listen to dogs. They make (with very few exceptions) terrible music critics.

  15. Baritone saxophone is on my list along with a cello.

  16. Beautiful post, Brigid. Music and flying.....nah, for me it is music and wilderness.

    The soaring mountains, the sighing of the wind in the towering trees. The babbling brook, the roaring rivers.The hoot of the owl, as we enjoy the evening campfire. The bugle of the elk, the howl of the coyote (and not that damned wolf!).

    Each has it's own melody, that has an integral part in the complete symphony. God has given us His wonderful creation to enjoy.

    Time to pick up that banjo again.


  17. If you want something fun and easy(ish) to learn, but is also easily portable, try the penny whistle. That will pretty much fit in any luggage.

    No comment on what the neighbors will think, though!

  18. Musically, I'm a (somewhat lapsed) guitarist, but in junior high I became fascinated with the violin.
    I had an album of Rosand playing Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy", and just became enraptured with the instrument.

    As luck would have it our band teacher decided to form a 5-piece string ensemble as a spinoff of the regular school band.
    I signed up, and was promptly told that it was "inappropriate" for me to play the violin; it seems I was the only male in the group, so I was assigned the double bass so the group would "look right".


    I would mess around some with the other instruments when we were practicing (LOVE the tone on the cello), but I was stuck with the Monster.
    I tried to have some fun and pluck at it jazz-style, but no - bows only. Damn.

    And to top it off, the thing was too big to carry home to practice with.

    I never fell oout of love with classical music, but after that my hands-on involvement revolved around the guitar and was inspired more by Jimmy Page than Sibelius.

  19. You always have a terrific way with words, but once in a while it's hard for me to relate...

    We don't have violins around here, just folks with fiddles, guitars and even a few banjos...

    Dann in Ohio

  20. Swell, the only instrument I can play is the radio. My fingers are dyslexic and non-musical - lessons didn't teach or help, it's like math to me - functionally illiterate.

  21. Some of my oldest good memories are of listening to my mother playing the violin.

  22. Every new instrument you learn makes the next one easier. Learn your theory, and why it works, and your limitations will only be physical.
    And get a ukulele - they're portable, fun, easier than a guitar. Even when played with little skill, they can provoke a smile - but they are capable of supporting virtuosity.

  23. I've always harboured a great deal of envy for anybody who could play any musical instrument. I've tried teaching myself the guitar on a couple different occasions and even attempted the banjo. I gave up. Maybe one day, I'll take the plunge again, but until then, I will immerse myself in the melody that flows forth from your words and your heart.

  24. Reading through this post many things came to mind. Music is obvious. It was the little music store. That little mom n pop business is America's dream. This is what so many came to america for, their own little piece of land, a farm, a shop a chance for another life. There are the few who still live the dream and are content to live a simple yet full life.

    The small little niche to be in to explore life at a pace that no one forces. Walk with the rhythm of nature. Like the musician follows the notes. That little store for me personifies a life I found again after I left the big city.

    Nice simple full life like that was available to me when I was growing up, I was to blind to see nor was it in my dreams. I saw big money, big houses, big cars, big this, big that yet what does all that stuff get for a person. Are they any better off?

    I live a simple life, almost no stressors any more, not rich but all my needs are met. I could go find me another clarinet but I spent to many years puffing on Camels. I have a harmonica I toot on at times, get a small keyboard and plink a few cords, instead i am content to listen to others bring their music to my ears.

    Each musician brings a piece to the orchestra yet it is the individual that full fills the key piece of the larger. Much like the little store, a part of the larger yet one little piece being a part.

    By each note, a person plays his tune, with a wrench, a calculator, pencil or a hammer. Life pounds on, sometimes in dis harmony.

    Puttin a brew of coffee.

  25. Piano, Accordian, Banjo, Trumpet, Sax, (and a couple others I would rather not mention) were instruments I received instruction on. The reason I was able to quickly assimililate the technicalities of various instruments, and hit that "Honor Band" high note, was because I could count. Seriously, I should have been drumming all along. At about age 40, I said, screw it and bought a serious drum set. That day will live in infamy forever in the neighbors estimation. But I came back alive inside.

  26. My only experience playing the violin was in the fourth grade. I did it to get out of my regular class. I did get out of fourth grade and moved on to playing the trumpet the next year. I also had piano lessons as a child and wish I never stopped. Good for you for doing something new.

  27. Lovely.

    At 47 I bought a bass guitar and a year-long series of lessons. I've been quite enjoying myself.


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