There’s no crying in music.
I cried today – not in solitary privacy at home, but out in public, in front of a nearly perfect stranger. Worse yet, it was over a perfectly inanimate object – a violin.
She is a lovely, deep red-gold, made by an unknown violin maker somewhere in Germany, coming into my life in my early teens. My parents, overly proud of a few years of moderately successful violin lessons purchased her for me. They thought her more worthy of my budding musical talent than my student instrument. I accepted it reluctantly as I knew the truth – I was a fraud. I avoided practice and confined my preparation to biting my fingernails on the way to lessons lest my indolent habits be discovered. Consequently, I never reaped the rewards of hard work. To add insult to injury, I convinced myself I was not musical – how else to explain my struggles? The violin endured the insults I inflicted, its tone and voice never fully realized through my high school and college years, much like me.
Despite this rocky relationship, I wanted her and kept her with me through the ensuing years of work, travel, marriage, and children. She was packed, shipped, stored, and resided in far corners of closets in homes from California to Ankara, Turkey. Occasionally I would take her out for a special occasion only to relegate her back to her battered case with the broken clasp.
Now well into my middle years, our oldest about to graduate from college, I again took her out from the dark recesses of her case to take part in a Christmas program. She was showing her age – her bridge bowed at an angle that defied gravity; rosin build-up marred her finish; bow hairs had long ago lost their ability to provide needed friction. Maybe it was the age and patina we had both acquired over the years, but this time I heard her voice, and the hint of beauty within. I coaxed her, laboring over tempo, intonation, and tone quality. It was pure joy. I looked forward to rehearsals and relished the part I was learning and how it fit into the fabric of the orchestral score. When the performance was over, I couldn’t put her back. I kept playing.
This is what brought me to the violin shop and the violin maker who was going to help me make amends for years of neglect. As Valery examined my instrument, he carefully explained how he was going to bring her into full musical flower, from smoothing the fingerboard to fashioning a custom bridge to fully restoring the bow. Even my ill-fitting chin rest would be replaced to better partner us together. “You need to know how to properly care for her; I will show you how.” It would be all right after all. She would be her best self and we would release her music together. As I looked at her curves nested in the old case, I thought of the years past and the music to come. He was not only talking about repairing my instrument, but it was as if he was talking about restoring me. It was overwhelming.
I wasn’t even fully aware of the tears that were perilously cresting on the verge of full expression. Valery, however, alarmed at this development, took notice. Having diagnosed my instrument, he turned his analytical attention to me, taking swift action. “Suzanne!” he said in that sharp Russian accent, akin to the proverbial “snap out of it!” It had the desired effect. I snapped to. “What?” I asked, struggling to regain my emotional footing. He continued to regard me closely before pronouncing in no uncertain tone, “May I suggest you save your tears for a more appropriate time?” Of course. For him, my tears equated to distress and sadness; certainly not appropriate for this interaction. “Don’t worry,” I replied. “They’re just tears. I am very pleased.” At that, his face brightened, a broad smile spreading across his mustached lips. “I understand. These are happy tears.” I smiled and nodded. Happy, happy, indeed.
sm – 3/2010
p.s. I wrote this about a year ago. Since that time, I continue to be blessed with my violin and the opportunity to make music. God indeed works in mysterious ways!