Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Violin: (Part the Last)

When last we left our intrepid protagonist he was poised on the threshold of a bad 'Carry-On' film, trapped in the abode of an voluptuous violinist for sixty minutes a week with no barriers whatsoever between him and an vicious montage of sexual frustration and faux-pas. What lurid misadventures will our terminally-needy-narrator encounter?  With a set-up like this, who knows what zany shenanigans and wacky antics are about to occur? So tell us 'Tears Before Bedtime', what happened next?

Well, in short: nothing really.

(See, that was a rhetorical device I just used. I got you all excited with the big sexy cliffhanger at conclusion of the last episode, left you a fortnight to imagine all kinds of bawdy hijinks and then comically subverted your expectations by describing the reality in an anticlimactic manner. Writing: it's all about the craft.)

(You just got served)
 Yeah. Even though my teacher is a very attractive young lady, I've gotta be honest, after a couple of lessons her looks completely failed to be a big deal. Apparently I'm not all id: good to know. Only 96% of all my decisions are guided by a pressing need to have my end away, as opposed to the full 100%. Positivity!

It's pretty hard to have squishy-feelings when you're concentrating as hard as you possibly can to play seven little bars to the best of your ability. Unless I'm in a hypnotic trance, chances are that I'll fuck it up. This doesn't give me much room for fantasies or erections; being the dirty-minded, desperate bugger I usually am. I'm paying a lot for these lessons, and I can be filthy-minded in my spare time for free. 

With this in mind, you'd think that the learning process would be all hunky-dory from that point on wouldn't you? Well you'd be wrong. My teacher wasn't a problem, but EVERYTHING ELSE was.

(Violin: serious business for ugly virgins)
 Let me elaborate. I'm a pretty bright guy. I'm never gonna be in MENSA or anything like that, but I'm clever. I can also be the most moronic, knuckle-dragging, pants-on-head-stupid troglodyte to ever draw breath when it comes to motor skills and co-ordination. I wasn't aware of this particular flaw in my character until I started playing violin. It's fun to discover new things about yourself. I've discovered that I'm retarded.

Before you judge, hear me out. For all of you smug bastards out there with the good fortune to actually possess some self-confidence, let me just dispel that cute delusion you have about your own aptitude with a little exercise. After you've finished doing something you're proud of: a two-hour gym session, a lab-report, a shift at work, whatever it is that makes you proud, just go an pick up an unfamiliar instrument.
(No, not that one, pick again)

Go for that cello over there. Yeah, there you go pal. Right. Now play something. Don't worry, I'll give you time. Alright? 1...2...3 ...4


HA! AWFUL! FUCKING AWFUL! Put that down before you hurt yourself you clod! You don't know what you're doing do you? You cretinous fucking wazzock. Are your fingers stiff? Does you neck hurt? Yeah, you bet it does. You're feeling pretty slow right now, huh? This isn't advanced biochemistry or army-training or amateur bomb-disposal bitch! THIS IS STRINGS WE'RE TALKING ABOUT! AND IT'S HARDER THAN A METRIC TON OF DIAMOND! IF YOU CAN'T STAND THE HEAT GET OUT OF THE OVEN! PUSSY!

This litany of abuse echoes through the inside of my skull every time I fail to play 'Little Brown Jug' with any competence. I am my own drill-sargeant. This is my violin. There are many others like it, but this one is mine.  

 If you don't know how lazy your own brain is, try learning something new. It's a sobering experience, and afterwords you'll feel like going back to kindergarten and starting afresh. My grade 1 textbook is for children. I mean, there's no getting away from it, there are pictures of kids from the nineties with appalling haircuts on the cover, and wee cartoons in the margins. My pet-hate is being patronized, but there's nothing quite as patronizing as having to count crotchets for the millionth successive time. 

I often need to listen to the music I play on YouTube to get a feel for what each piece should sound like. I'm not kidding, virtually every video features a nauseatingly sweet five-year-old fiddling away, a beatific expression adorning their rosy countenance, with umpteen-hundred comments complimenting the little prodigy. These kids don't even know what they're playing, and neither do they care. It's all operant conditioning by this point. They just want to finish the next phrase so they can be rewarded with McDonalds and watch Cartoon Network.

(And who wouldn't after all?)
Meanwhile I, 20 years old, labor over each tune for hours, screeching and scraping away, struggling to keep my posture poised, my tuning perfect, the rhythm sublime, and paradoxically the music will sound progressively worse as practice drags on.

It's frustrating, but you can't be frustrated because it's frustration you've brought upon yourself. It's not an act of god to find yourself trying to get this lump of wood and horsehair to make a gorgeous sound, it was your choice. But that doesn't make it any easier.
(So calm right now)
There is so much to remember, so many niggling little things to pay attention to that, if left unheeded, add up to a cacophonous din. The violin has to be held under the chin at exactly the right angle, with the thumb of your left hand just touching the end of the fingerboard where the pegs are, you have to bow gently as you move away from the bridge, and hard as you move towards it. 


You have to press your fingers down at exactly the right positions on the strings as you play, which is bloody sore before they've had a chance to callus, not too sharp and not too flat, and you have to bow without swinging from your shoulder and some pieces have you start on an up-bow and others from a down-bow and if you don't remember which is which then you'll get muddled as you go along. 


And then there's some notes which are three beats, and one-and-a-half beats, which I can't even count in my head that well, and there's dynamics to take into account and you have to keep your wrist slack and your fingers curled, and remember to read ahead so you know what's coming next, and don't even get me started on slurring and eventually all this information is pureed into a nebulous hybrid of arbitrary rules and notations and your teacher's all like; "you just played this right, how can you not get it now?", which doesn't feel fair because she was probably on grade 3 when she was in the womb, and it feels like your cerebellum is melting and BLASTED FURNACES OF HELL WHY CAN'T THIS BLOODY THING JUST MAKE THE NICE NOISE - ARHJQSLSNEDBWHPI!@£*&£^TGDR£-!!!


So yeah, maybe the learning curve is so steep it's almost vertical. Maybe it's difficult to hold your violin steady when there's a cat in the room making you sneeze. Maybe sometimes it's like the relationship between you and the instrument is all-give and no-take. Maybe beauty is frustrating and hard and the exhausting struggle to attain it'll put you in a shitty mood most of the time.  

(Yeah, fuck you violin! See you in hell mate!)
But it's worth it. It feels good to make progress with something, even if it's only baby steps. Because we all need little victories in our lives. The world can be harsh and cruel and unsympathetic, so we have to make plans for ourselves. We invent obstacles to overcome to feel better about the ones we can't. Chaos governs so much of our destiny that those rare moments of power and control raise us to godhood. It's a natural human inclination; like Robinson Crusoe we make the best out of what we've been given. From the lumber of forests we build shelter, and reap fuel. From the earth and rainwater we grow and harvest food. And from out of silence we make music, from the dissonant discord we impose melodious order.

(I have no idea what he's supposed to be wearing here)
 I'm glad I found the courage to actually make a positive change in my life instead of whining and bitching about it. I'm usually too insecure or lazy to bother making progress. And learning a new skill changes you, so gradually you don't even notice, and if you make enough of them you end up a whole new being, separate and distinct from the person you loathed before. 

Think about it. What have you wanted to do but never got round to? What's on your bucket list that you could start today? Go on a trip, or learn a new language? Cooking, driving, shit I dunno, skydiving and gator-wrestling, there's gotta be something you want. I don't wanna get all preachy and life-coach on you, but it really is your choice. There's nothing holding you back but time, money and effort. Tell me about it; what is it that you want to learn?

I'm not a good violinist yet, not by a long shot. In fact in the last four months I've only really progressed from 'awful' to 'just-bad'. But that's okay, because all things strive. Even Mozart had to put in those 10, 000 hours somewhere down the line. There can be some dignity in failure, and the most important thing isn't that I'm practicing now, but that I'll still be practicing in ten years time, and with you guys with me that journey doesn't feel quite so arduous after all. :) 

So as a 'reward' (read; 'cruel and unwarranted punishment') I thought I'd treat you guys to a little performance for taking the time to stick with this blog so far. Don't tell me I'm good or I'll know you're a lying sycophant, and don't say I'm bad or I'll cry ... but comment anyway. Alright? Alright. 

(Today I read John Steinbeck's 'The Pearl', a book so short that it probably counts as a quantum event. It's Steinbeck, so the prose is peerless, the description sweeping and majestic, the characters downtrodden and hopeless. It tells the tragedy of Kino, a Mexican pearl-diver who is punished for the heinous crime of wanting his son to go to school after finding the eponymous ball of dried mucus. Don't get ideas above your station Mexicans. Go to school. Honestly, give them an inch and they'll take a yard.)
(Apparently it's ironic. Go figure)



  1. Self Improvement is certainly very rewarding. On a personal note I've decided to take up Sports and I now swim and play badminton regularly its great fun and the effort you put in at the learning stage really pays off but when I started Badminton I was the worst player ever.

    Also mate I know you said you'd do Waco when you ran out of material, did you get the reading list / documentaries I sent you. Another thing you should consider doing is a profile on Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) I've started to read Robert Caro's analysis of him in the monumental volumes and it is fascinating. Arguably more interesting than Waco.

    1. Exercise is by far the most positive forms of self-improvement. It's so knackering, but it genuinely just cheers you up so much. I was actually shocked by how much better I felt after going to the gym recently. It actually almost anticlimactic a solution just working out and living healthily was to feeling much better.

      Is Lyndon B Johnson related to Waco? On the subject of biographies I've recently had my interest piqued by a biography of Edgar J. Hoover.

    2. Nah Lyndon B.Johnson was US President in the 60's after JFK got shot. Totally different.

      What biography of Hoover did you read? Fascinating man even though he was a pretty awful human being.

      What subject you think you're going to post on next?

  2. Just as always your articles are a pleasure to read. The use of imagery keeps the page interesting. The thought of a video at first was great as reward to the readers of your blog. However I felt the intro talk was too long and felt that the use of self insulting humour was too much. In honest opinion, shorter intro - likeable performance - positive ending.

    1. Yeah sorry about that, I do feel that 5 whole minutes is a bit excessive, but I just got really nervous in front of the webcam and started rambling, so the majority of the video is just logorrhea. I would have changed it, but I'm not filmmaker and I have no editing skills whatsoever. But I think there may be more videos in future, albeit shorter snippits with less explaining myself.

  3. Cal, you're too hard on yourself! Ok the start was a bit shaky but you definitely got better- fair enough you're no Mozart but you are far from awful!
    I personally liked the long winded intro etc as you always make me laugh. Just my opinion though.

    1. It's good to have Team Wilderson on my side, in this as in all things :) Some of it is just the sound of the violin tbh, it's very old and the sound it makes is really creaky, and that's after I've spent half an hour tuning it to perfection.

  4. hiiii
    i am p impressed w/ yr progress - seems pretty standard for 4 months work - keep going!
    the violin is weird and gross and i can play like, any other string instrument, but not it. its rly hard just getting a single note out of it, tbh.

    -amber k

    1. The sound of it is not for everyone; a lot of people find it very grating, the scrape of the bow etc, and progress is incremental. But I've accepted already that it's gonna take me years and years to get anywhere with it. But I don;t mind so much, the violin is pretty much the only long-term-commitment I'm willing to make in my life currently.

  5. How come you don't comment on the comments we leave?

    1. Ah well I haven't actually had the time to check the ol' blog feedback until now friend, but I do take comments seriously however. :)