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Stop Me Before I Do Violins Again

As a child I developed as a virtual virtuoso on the violin. By the third grade I could apply rosin to my bow in an expert manner and knew how to wipe rosin off the violin with a clean, soft cloth.

By the fourth grade I knew how to snap the clasp on my violin case shut so that the violin would not fall out when I ran home on the gravel road.

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By the fifth grade I knew how to crack open a walnut, cut the meat in pieces, then wipe the pieces across the scratches on my violin that resulted when the violin case flicked open and the instrument dropped onto the gravel.

And by the sixth grade, I could tell if the music we played at school was right side up or upside down. Sometimes my music sounded better when I played it upside down.

Through playing in the school orchestra, I developed exceptionally strong arm techniques. Whenever the conductor hollered, "Someone is playing flat!" I found that if I lifted my bow a quarter inch off the strings, but kept sawing up and down, he'd then call out, "That's sounding much better!"

As soon as I put my bow back on the strings he'd holler, "Flat! Flat! Someone is playing flat again!"

I perfected the art of holding the bow just above the strings so my raspy music wouldn't be heard.

By concert time, the class sounded quite musical. The conductor arranged a signal. If we should sound flat or off-key during our public performance, he'd gently tug on his tie with his left hand so we'd know to get back in tune.

Concert time was so exciting! All the parents and families waiting to hear the great works of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Most of the pieces consisted of whole notes, half notes, and an occasional flurry of quarter notes that caused my bow to flutter up and down in discord, like pigeons on the wing - certainly not in time with the bows in the front violin section.

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We giggled, squirmed, and surreptitiously waved to parents and siblings. How marvelous to be producing music with the orchestra! This time I dropped my bow onto the strings. How I played!

The conductor tugged his tie. I played louder and faster. When the concert concluded, the conductor sagged, perspiring heavily. His face had a reddish hue.

Initially, solo performances caught my heart. The practice session for my first solo appearance in a community talent show arrived. Awed at the older youths who masterfully blew on French horns or sang complex musical pieces, I stood in the wings, hugging the thick, red velvet of the stage curtain.

When the announcer spoke my name, I stepped forward, pointed my violin toward the microphone, grabbed the bow with the grip of a logger, and dug in. As I sawed out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" the audience gasped - but not at the beauty of the performance. The microphone amplified my playing, and through the speakers came sounds like those emitted by an angry, hungry cougar on a lonesome peak.

After the performance, a friend commented, "Your music sounds rotten. Don't you want to quit?"

But I didn't want to quit, considering that I was a budding virtuoso. My musical talent lacked in only one respect: I never played in tune.

The music teacher attempted to teach me to match the notes to the music. "Sing 'aaaaaaaah,' " he'd admonish, sounding like a baritone at La Scala.

" 'Aauuugh,' " I'd sing, sounding like an angry, hungry cougar on a lonesome peak.

Matching notes on the violin proved impossible for me; my music made babies cry and adults flee. I offered to play for holiday celebrations or spring lawn parties. Someone noted that my violin music resembled a cement truck wiping out a line of power poles.

Then the day of our school's Big Election arrived. Tension ran high. As dutifully reported in the Grade School Gazette, my classroom was pitted against the rival sixth-grade class, clearly a two-party election. The class voted as having the most talented act would represent the sixth grade at the All School Talent Show.

Ballet shoes appeared on budding ballerinas; polished horns blared in the band room; poetry readings were practiced in home room.

A FRIEND who'd also had a few years of violin lessons urged me to tune up my violin for a duet. Too commonplace. An idea exploded. We'd revolutionize music with a show-stopping act. We'd both fiddle on the same fiddle! She'd hold the violin and finger the strings while I'd run the bow across the strings. Her curly hair, luminous brown eyes, and dimples stopped marble games. She was to smile nonstop while we played.

At performance time, we perched together on a single stool. She started fingering as I sawed. "You're bowing on the wrong string," she whispered.

"Smile harder," I whispered back.

She finished fingering four measures before I did. I was still sawing back and forth when she put down the violin and walked off the stage.

We lost the Big Election to an accordion player in the rival class who pumped out "Swanee River" while he shuffled a soft- shoe number. The two-party electoral system survives, but our two-man fiddle team passed into oblivion.

Years later, my violin sits retired in the back closet except for an annual event. For producing ghoulish, scary, scratchy, eerie music, my violin and I are stars at Halloween parties.

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