Yesterday was my first official viola lesson. I was told to practice. I did – a couple of times, but whose counting? And at first the cats came in to stare at me blankly, then Sam walked into the hallway and delivered her criticism in the form of throwing-up all over the floor (am I really so bad that I make grown animals queasy?) My excuse then became, how can I practice when poor Sam has already been through so much? I’m doing her a favor. Oh, and those strings hurt my fingers. I think my ring and pinky fingers have atrophied. I don’t like sitting up straight. My rosin has died. Do I tune the A at 440? This is too hard. Oh hey, computer!
So, with viola slung on my back I entered the string shop and proudly proclaimed that I had nothing prepared to showcase my decaying talents. Patient Jason asked, “can you play a scale in C Major?” “Oh, I dunno.” Ok, I can. It makes beagles barf, but I can do it – still, I wasn’t owning up to my “skills” (note to readers: please be sure to make liberal use the air quotes as you read that word). “Well, can you hum a C Major scale?” I blinked. I don’t “hum”. Patient Jason then thought if he hummed I might join-in and we’d have a lovely little humming duet. I continued to blink as he hummed the scale and then he’d restart giving me the “join in” encouraging nod. I still blinked. “Do you sing in the shower?” “Yes! I love to sing… in the shower.” (I also love to loudly sing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in the car and do vocal exercises I learned from my choir friends. I can even do a small bit of yodeling that I learned from my father that is really obnoxious in confined spaces. I decided not to share this information. Post my shower singing admission, I just blinked. See, I don’t sing for anyone and in the hierarchy of people I don’t sing for, Patient Jason is on the lowest rung.) The ugly reality cloud set-in and Patient Jason thankfully gave up on this fun little humming exercise. (He does an amazing C Major, for those who are interested. It was only one octave, but I’m sure he had another in him if pressed.)
Basically, the lesson went as lessons do with a heavy emphasis on posture and technique as we tried to work out an issue between my shoulder and shoulder rest. You’ll all be glad to know, I stand with my viola quite well and was praised. I was reminded not to suck in my stomach (I think we’re beyond the point where I can suck that in), not to overly flex my tush muscles (someone plays like that?) and rock back on my heels (dangerous).
My favorite Patient Jason moment, as we discussed atrophied finger muscles, was when he quoted the Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski, “If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.” I gave a thoughtful, “hmm” (my own staccato version of a hum and the closest I came to humming that night – it wasn’t in C Major). “Of course, the guy was insane.” “Oh, that’s just great Jason, you’re quoting insane composers at me and I’m supposed to learn from that.” “Yep!”
Our lesson then wrapped up with a discussion of movies (April – a guy after your heart) while he helped me get new strings and rosin that isn’t quite as dead as the caked mess that hunkers in my case.
“Beth, you’ll find I’m sarcastic.”
“Great! Me too and if I make you cry, it’s not my fault.”
Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.