The Accidental Violist; Musings of a Musician Mom Op. 2 no. 7 To my Ma- the church (choir) lady, my first and biggest fan.

Rock on! When I was a tiny tot my mom dragged me along to choir rehearsals at St. Chumsford’s. For sitting quietly, the choir director rewarded me with a butterscotch drop from a bowl that sat on the piano. Butterscotch drops were my favorite candy in the world, so I was highly motivated to earn that weekly prize. I also memorized everything the choir sang. My next musical memory of St. Chumsford’s was the Christmas Pageant the year I was a four-year-old angel complete with blonde ringlets, choir robe and tinselwrapped halo. After our four-year-old class sang, I sang with the five year olds, then with the adults. The angel next to me poked me with her elbow. “That’s not our song” she hissed. I just shrugged my shoulders and kept singing. “We don’t know those songs!” she hissed louder. “I do,” I hissed back, and continued singing. She sighed deeply and rolled her eyes. Emboldened by our success, the Sunday School Director made big change in the following year’s Christmas Pageant. Instead of processing in straight down the center aisle, the church school choir would wend its way artistically through the congregation, walking in formation while singing. Although the choreography was challenging, everything went fine at the dress rehearsal. On the day of the pageant things were on schedule when suddenly I was walking down an aisle singing by myself. Apparently at some point in the wending process the other children zigged and I zagged. I looked around for the children’s choir but all I saw was a forest of tall grownups. The adult choir rounded a corner and bore down on me. I froze in terror. The line leader, a friend of my mom’s, winked at me and grabbed my hand as she walked by. I fell in step with her and kept singing. Afterwards, all my saviour could talk about was how I had all the songs memorized. My mom couldn’t get a word in edgewise- and didn’t have a chance to give me untold grief for messing up the choreography. Saved by a soprano! Fast forward a couple of years. I was eight years old, it was fourth grade and (insert drum roll) time to pick an instrument in school orchestra class. Instrument selection was a big topic of discussion on the playground, with most kids adopting a “wait and see” attitude pending “Instrument Trial Week.” I was already set on playing something in the string family. I’d been going with Mom to the ballet and string quartet concerts since the age of three, so I knew the string sound and found it appealing. The viola in particular had great allure because the man who played it in the quartet was very tall and thin with a mop of dark hair and a prominent nose. In other words- he was a dead ringer for Abraham Lincoln. As a

school child in Illinois, where Honest Abe’s picture was prominently displayed in every municipal building, I was profoundly impressed. This man was so tall he made the viola look like a violin and Mom would always point that out. But we couldn’t just cut to the chase and make our instrument commitment right off: school policy dictated that we first try each instrument. So I waited patiently while we honked, hooted and thunked through the brass, woodwind and percussion families, counting the hours until we got to the strings. Finally the big day arrived- and I was sick and missed the whole trying-the-strings thing. On my return I told the orchestra director I’d already decided on violin or viola. She replied that lots of people had chosen violin and hinted broadly that it would be spiffy to have another viola player in the orchestra . Although I was attracted to the glory of being a violinist and always playing the melody, helping out this kind, beautiful lady who had been my music teacher since kindergarten won out and I agreed to play the viola. The rest of my grade school orchestra days were fairly unremarkable. We learned short little ditties and played concerts. I took note-reading in stride. My mom had walked me through the notes-on-the-staff concept since I’d been singing in church choir for several years. All of my friends were in orchestra, and it was fun. In fifth grade, I began private lessons with the brother of our orchestra director. A gifted player and teacher, he had decades of experience in professional orchestra, university teaching, and studio teaching. Some of the best players in my orchestra studied with him. However, being of the “old school” he did yell on occasion when I wasn’t “getting it” quickly enough. After he yelled at me one time too many, I told mom to phone him and say I wasn’t taking any more lessons. I must have been really steamed, because I not only boycotted private lessons but stopped going to school orchestra. Every day I stalked into the living room and glared at the viola, which lay on the couch in its case, and left the room. After about three weeks of this I walked in one morning, picked up the viola and went off to orchestra. The director was astonished to see me but didn’t bat an eyelash. Everyone moved over and I plopped down and played. It had been so long I’d almost forgotten how to read alto clef. A week or so later I told mom to phone the teacher and tell him I wanted to take lessons again. At my next lesson he acted like nothing had happened; but he never yelled at me again. Several months later he looked at me and said “I knew you’d be back.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “I knew you were hooked.” he replied. It took me until last week to figure out that insight of his. How in the heck did he know I was hooked? Then last week a 6th grade student come for her lesson. After listening to the first tune I realized that in the week since her last lesson she’d been magically transformed from another 12 year old with a violin into a real honest-togosh violinist. I can’t exactly say how I came to this realization. It wasn’t that she played twice as well, or twice as fast. I think she projected a noticeable shift in attitude towards the violin. She even had this certain glow about her. I guess detecting these subtle nuances is part of the “teacher thing”.

Hooked on playing, hooked on teaching, hooked on music- and it all started with Mom and butterscotch candy.

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