Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Mysterious Wood

Inside my mother's violin. (Click picture to view larger image) Posted by Picasa

Sell me a violin, mister, of old mysterious wood.

Sell me a fiddle that has kissed dark nights on the forehead
where men kiss sisters they love.

Sell me dried wood that has ached with passion
clutching the knees and arms of a storm.

Sell me horsehair and rosin that has sucked at the breasts
of the morning sun for milk.

Sell me something crushed in the heartsblood of pain
readier than ever for one more song.

by Carl Sandburg

I took violin lessons for four years and while the bowing and fingering and the sound was beginning to come together, my heart was not in it. Today, I regret this as I regret not continuing with my piano.

My mother on the other hand, was and is an accomplished pianist. She can play almost anything, accompany a singer, add all the flourishes and chords to the simple melodies of hymns and transpose almost to perfection. She could not teach me piano.

When I was in sixth grade she decided to take violin lessons with me. She learned "how" to hold the violin under her chin and "how" to press her fingers into the string to produce different notes. She learned "how" to tilt the bow ever so slightly so that the very thin edge of the horsehair would glide over the strings and "how" to draw the bow in the long sweeping motion required to produce a smooth mellow sound. Yes, she learned "how" to do it, she just "couldn't" do it.

She couldn't get the feel for the bow. She practiced religiously and in doing so cleared the rest of us from the house. The sounds that came from that violin when she drew the bow across the strings can only be described as those of fingernails scraping down the face of a chalkboard or the piercing scream of a cat whose tail has just been stepped on. It was not music, it was not soothing, it was not beautiful, it was the musical equivalent of "pain". Dad went to the church, Stephen would hide in his room with pillows over his head and I would escape to the backyard to hide in the middle of the fragrant lombardy poplar trees where the squeal of her practicing was muted by the wind in the leaves.

The worst part was that she thought she sounded rather good for a beginner. Even as a beginner, I never made those sorts of sounds. We couldn't take it. We started dropping hints that perhaps the violin wasn't for her. When this didn't work we resorted to begging. "Please stop playing!" One day she asked me how she was doing because she thought she had a little trouble positioning the bow and I just had to tell the truth. "I'm sorry, it really is awful. I don't think it will get better. It may make Dad lose his hearing." I don't know if this did the trick or if Dad bribed her with something but the lessons quit. She went back to her instrument, the piano, where she is magnificent.

And harmony returned to our world.

Submission to MacroDay for topic "wood".

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