I started playing violin in fourth grade. At my elementary school that was the earliest that they’d offer kids the opportunity to play a string instrument. There were only a handful of us, less than ten. Most of us chose violin, but there were a few violas and cellos, too. I don’t think anyone was brave enough to play bass…considering it would tower over a four-foot nine-year-old.
I’m pretty sure I chose violin because when I was younger, in first or second grade, I saw the “big” kids with their violin cases and thought they were really cool. I just knew that when I was in fourth grade I had to play violin.
I’ve never been that great at violin. Probably because I’ve never really practiced. Being painfully shy and playing a musical instrument did not mix well together for me. I hated solo contests. I much preferred duets. Even then, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed to play in front of teachers, parents, and judges. Each year we had to participate in a statewide competition. The way I remember it, we had to play one piece on our own, but then we could also opt to do performances with others if we liked. Then the entire orchestra played a piece or two together. I would do anything to get out of the solos.
I kept playing though. I’m not sure what kept me in orchestra through college, but I continued to play. I think I enjoyed it the most in college, which is funny because that is when I was 99% sure I was not going to continue playing violin.
My roommate was in choir and she urged me to go check out the orchestra. After playing for nine years, I really wasn’t interested. But something told me to walk from South Campus to Reid Hall and there I was listening in on a rehearsal. The instructor was very nice and encouraging, so I figured, “Why not?” I also recall being one of those freshman that was very concerned about being involved in everything – which totally bit me in the ass. I think I signed up for a sketch comedy group, a film society, the newspaper, Habitat for Humanity…and the promptly dropped out of all of them when I had zero free time.
After one of our first concerts, I knew I had made the right decision when I joined the Lake Forest College Chamber Orchestra. We performed music to the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera. The film played behind us on a large screen in the student center while we played the music below. Even better: we performed on Halloween. The student center was packed and it was an amazing experience. I remember saying to my mom that if I had attended that concert as a non-orchestra member, I would have been insanely jealous. We went on to perform other concerts like this. A few of my favorites were when we played an original score written by a student for Hitchcock’s The Lodger, and when we played, along with the choir, Sufjan Steven’s Illinois album.
Starting in middle school I used to go to Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts with my dad, either at Orchestra Hall or Ravinia. My husband and I found out early on that we both had a passion for orchestra music – he through soundtracks (movies, TV shows, video games) and me through playing violin. I surprised him on his birthday once with CSO tickets – he had never been. We also were able to see John Williams conduct some of his most famous themes (E.T., Jaws, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Star Wars) at Orchestra Hall. Jonathan was pretty psyched to be an arm’s length away from John Williams – we were in the front row for that one.
For the last five years, we’ve purchased the same movie night series at the CSO. We get to see great films and hear one of the greatest orchestra’s on earth perform the soundtracks live. There have been a few questionable concerts…Ben-Hur with an original score by Stewart Copeland of the Police (a whole lot of percussion in that one) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with the oddball organist Cameron Carpenter as the sole performer…but overall we love going. Side note: please watch this video…it makes Jonathan and I laugh out loud. How does this kid get taken seriously?! Here’s a photo as a preview. You’re welcome.
It’s been nearly seven years since I’ve played violin, but I’ve just signed up to join the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra. A friend from the LFC orchestra has gently nudged the last few years, and now the timing is right. I’ll need to retrieve my violin from the top of the closet in my bedroom at my mom’s house (I hope it is still in one piece…) and get it tuned up. I likely need a new bridge, some new rosin, and to see if I can still read music, then I’ll head to the first rehearsal in September.
I’m excited to return to music in this way. Like I said, I’ve never been an amazing musician (…maybe if I practice more), but there’s something about being part of a larger whole, bringing to life notes written on a piece of paper. It’ll be nice to be on that kind of team again. Plus, all the cool kids play violin.