January 2024

Never Too Late!

I was 76 when I first picked up a violin.  I’d read that exploring new hobbies keeps the mind sharp and is suitable for “the aging.”  

That’s not why I started playing.  Not at all.  I started because decades ago, my Mom told me I couldn’t.  With six kids in the house, she could handle so much noise, and a screechy violin wasn’t part of it.  So, I took nine years of piano.  It was okay, but it wasn’t the violin.  I’ve always been stubborn.  And I’ve always loved the way a violin looks and sounds.  

About a year ago, I summoned all my courage and went to the local violin store.  They were used to dealing with beginners, albeit younger than me.  I left with a rented violin and the idea that watching YouTube videos was the way to go.  Turns out the violin is a challenging instrument.  After weeks of trying to hold the violin and bow without dropping it, I put it on a shelf where it languished.  

Fast forward a year.  It was time to either buy the violin or turn it in.  My year was up.  Honestly, the only responsible choice was to turn it in.  I hadn’t touched it in months and had yet to play anything.  But I’m just as stubborn as ever and couldn’t do that.  I went to the violin store, bought the violin, and left with a list of violin teachers.  

I started lessons with Ellen seven months ago.  She’s a violinist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and a gifted teacher.  The lessons are in her living room, which she has converted into a studio.  Eve, an adorable 4-year-old with a tiny violin, has the lesson slot just before me; Andrew, a very talented 16-year-old, has the slot after.   Ellen makes it fun for all of us, though I’m reasonably sure I’m her most challenging student.  

So many body parts must work together in ways I’ve never experienced!  The fingers of my left hand should be rounded, and my thumb relaxed, with enough weight in my left arm to adequately compress the strings.  On top of that, I need to stand straight with my right shoulder tension-free and my right elbow to connect my bow with the correct strings.  Really?

Not only that, but I must read the music, a challenge not just learning the notes but seeing them.  Which readers to use?  Would 1.5 work, 2.5, something more substantial?  I now own an array of readers with varying strengths.  I switch back and forth depending on the light and distance to the music. 

Then there’s the whole memory thing.  Need I say more?  I leave my lessons thinking, “Yup, I’ve got this,” but some days, by the time I get home, I’m thinking, “Got what?”  Eventually, the lesson pops back in, but it sure is a study in patience.

While I expected some challenges, I didn’t expect the trove of rewards.  The screechy notes my Mom dreaded are standard but mixed with some deeply resonant, soul-soothing sounds.  When I have a bow in my hands, it’s impossible to worry about whether the well water will finally run clear or the finicky garage door will open.  

Thanksgiving is coming soon.  It’s the first time I’ll host my family in nine years.  And my 17-year-old granddaughter Ella and I have planned a surprise.  We’ve been practicing two straightforward (trust me) songs, she on the clarinet and I on my violin.  Ellen will have us over the day before to “put the finishing touches” on our performance.  When I first picked up that violin, I had no idea it would bring me closer to a granddaughter I adore and we would be playing a duet for the entire family.  

There are so many unexpected rewards.

 Cecily Molak is a retired Attorney living in Rochester, New York