My friends and family said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Well, I was quite serious. After seeing several of my friends afflicted by memory problems I decided to push myself beyond crossword puzzles and board games and take up the challenge of playing the violin.
I made this decision at age 84, having just returned home from my 65th high school class reunion. Most classmates were in reasonably good health. However, I saw walkers and canes which can be expected at our age. But what impacted me most were my class friends having memory issues.
With my mind still in working order, and good health (despite a heart attack eleven years earlier) I was determined to “push the envelope” and tackle a project that would stretch both my thinking process and my dexterity…the violin.
All my life I enjoyed music. I sang first tenor for decades, yet I didn’t read music. Years ago our church pastor told me I was to be the new choir director. This was after our beloved choir director moved to another city. My plea, stipulating the fact that I don’t read music, didn’t deter his request one bit. “You can do it,” he stated emphatically.
At our first practice session I stood on the director’s platform and looked at the 30 grinning choir members. Each one had to be thinking, “This will be a disaster.” I looked at the music sheet for our first selection and said, “There’s a letter C next to the G Clef. This must mean our music is in the key of C.”
Our organist about fell off the organ bench as she said, “Don, tell us you’re kidding!” I learned for the first time, at that moment, it means there are four beats to each measure.
In spite of this very poor start I held the position of choir director for two years without the ability to read music. I memorized the melodies for each voice part and give full credit to our organist who labored above and beyond expectations. I thought of myself as an imposter choir director; however, with true grit we achieved much musical success.
Then one evening, a new member showed up carrying his music in a leather portfolio. He even had the audacity to challenge some of my limited directing skills. So, guess who became the new choir director? I stayed on as a choir member for 42 years singing both tenor and bass parts as needed. This experience reminds me that we can accomplish great things with the support and encouragement of others.
For Easter and Christmas programs we hired musicians to accompany our choir. The instruments included trumpet, kettle drum, and violin. The violin always intrigued me. One reason is perhaps the fact it so closely resembles the human voice. However, years ago, I never imagined music would sound forth from a violin held in my hands…especially in my “old” age.
My one regret is I should have started this violin venture at age three. But with life we can only look forward and make the best of the time we are given. To me, this time ahead is a true blessing.
In the U.S. we have a website called “Craigslist” where buying and selling come together. I paid $30.00 for my first violin which came with a case and bow. I’m sure the seller gave me such a bargain because she was impressed with my desire to play and learn in my advanced age.
My first teacher was a young man, age 20 something, who got me off to a really good start. Holding the violin correctly was a first step in my learning process. As much as I wanted to grab the bow and begin playing, I needed to learn the names of the violin parts and components…and how to pluck the strings. The basics are fun and really important.
Here I was, a grandfatherly type of student taking suggestions from a young man the age of my grandkids. Yet, he was a great teacher and encourager. I was sorry to learn he had to move to another city. Since my first instructor I’ve had other teachers. Each has been an outstanding encourager. And I’m learning to read notes and can recognize most music symbols. (If my former choir members could see me now!)
I truly enjoy reading all I can about the violin, its history, the parts of the instrument, watching instructors from around the world on the internet and yes, I still have my occasional private lessons. My teachers allow me to learn at my own pace, which removes any pressure and keeps learning fun.
One question you will be asked by a violin instructor is: “What do you want to achieve with your violin?“ My answer is: “For my personal enjoyment.” Don’t let your age hold you back from living life…age is no excuse. Follow your dream. Get started by taking a first step (baby steps are O.K.). Little-by-little you’ll amaze yourself by applying some effort and having fun in the process.
Written by Don Rada (Roseville, Minnesota, U.S.A.)
(one of the members of Violinspiration)