Known primarily for my IT prowess, many would wisely guess my first love was either computers, technology or electronics.
Mom tells stories of my pinball wizard-like antics somewhere in the vicinity of 4-years-old. Grampa Rollie would take pride in watching his tiny little grandson play pinball perched on a stool, arms out-stretched like seagull in flight – leaving my chin on the glass and eyes fixated on the silver ball bouncing to-and-fro.
That may be an early tell of my life-long love of all things technological, but I don’t remember any of it. The first love I can recall happened years later, around the age of 11, and it had nothing to do with technology.
It was my first violin.
I played for a year, maybe two, and wasn’t particularly good at it. I usually played 3rd chair violin, though I think I was allowed to play 2nd once. This was also the only extra-curricular activity I partook in all my school days.
It began innocently enough with mom asking if I’d like to play a musical instrument during the upcoming school year. I’m not sure what, if anything, motivated her to ask such a question, but I do recall being caught off-guard by it. Having poor social skills, school was a literal nightmare for me prior to puberty (one of the few benefits I received from puberty was growing taller and wider, at wich point my schoolmates FINALLY left me the fuck alone). I don’t recall mom being all that involved in my life (for both good and lame reasons), so that may have also contributed to my shock. Strangely her idea, which had never occurred to me prior to that, caught my interest. I just had to figure out which instrument I wanted to play and she’d hook me up.
Even at that age I had a highly analytical mind, likely due to the extra elbow room given to “logic” and “reason” by the absence of “social skills”. I carefully weighed my options, choosing between wind, percussion or string. Percussion was immediately off the table due to the high annoyance factor and the fact we lived in one of three or more closely spaced apartments. I wrote-off wind either because the idea was un-appealing or the equipment rental was too expensive, I’m not really sure.
That left string. I just needed to choose the instrument, and here is where my mind goes fuzzy as I have no idea what drove me to pick the violin. Maybe it was my ignorance (I was in orchestra for quite awhile before I knew what a viola was), or maybe it was just fate – all I know is how certain I was of that choice.
And I gotta hand it to mom. In one of her more shining moments I recall from my childhood, she made it happen. It seems that almost overnight I had a violin, case, bow, rosin and a one of those chrome-plated portable music stands that fold into a convenient box (I hated that music stand – it was flimsy, could barely hold the weight of my workbook and eventually the chrome started flaking off making it look like crap).
Oh yeah! Let’s not forget the poster of Uncle Sam pointing at me, insisting: “I want YOU to practice every day!” While the poster was effective in instilling guilt (a simple feat for the likes of me) it wasn’t so effective with it’s stated purpose. More on that later.
I don’t specifically remember the first day I started in orchestra, likely because every day I had to go (I think it was 2-3 days a week) was an anxiety-laden adventure made worse by the fact I had to walk past the entire band to get to the orchestra room. I was terrified of the other children since I never know which one will decide to pick on me, but I felt, I dunno, motivated? Nah, that’s not it. ”Driven” is a better word.
You see, I had this odd relationship with my violin. I was totally mesmerized by it and everything about it. The instrument alone was a beautiful piece of work – warm-toned wood showing delicate stripes one could only see up close, pitch-black fingerboard and flowing curves all around the outside. The bow, likely synthetic horse-hair even back then, was soft and strangely technologic in it’s design and function. And, oh that wonderful rosin, which was made from REAL tree rosin back in those days. I’ve always been olfactory-oriented with the scent of evergreen being a solid favourite. In this tiny, delicate package, every one of my five senses were kept occupied.
Though I was mesmerized, I was also frustrated, confused and afraid of it. Learning the technicalities of playing was strangely simple for me, almost too simple. I quickly learned to read the music I was presented, able to translate notes on the page directly into (roughly accurate) finger positioning. While I did keep certain notes in mind, such as B-flat and F-sharp, I rarely thought about the names of the notes I was playing. It was all “see this note, put that finger there” in my head. Any touch-typist would quickly recognize this process.
This worked well for me, until the time I decided to program a Timex Sinclair 2068 computer (my first, by the way) to play a full 4-score piece for the science (or was it talent?) fair. How musically ignorant I was became quickly apparent when I learned things like: 1) The G-clef is not the only one, 2) Not all instruments have the same number of strings, 3) And even if they did, they aren’t necessarily the same notes, and 4) There are octaves out there not available to a violin.
My fingering wasn’t the best, probably because I had difficulty remembering to “KEEP YOUR DAMN WRIST DOWN!”, as our ever-sweaty orchestra teacher told us over and over and over and over again. Bowing presented an extra challenge, bringing me a deep hatred of the E-string. Again, I easily understood the technical underpinnings of bowing, but the nuances (pressure, angle, etc) frequently escaped my abilities. Tuning? OH MY GOD, tuning was a nightmare, and I believe this is one of the first examples of my long, painful obsession with perfection. I never felt I could get it right and would frequently avoid practice just because I didn’t feel like dealing with the anxiety behind tuning my instrument.
I think that’s what put this love affair on a path for failure. Having recently made attempts to re-kindle this passion, I know now it was practicing, above all else, that would have helped in building on those natural abilities until I became a decent player. Since I despised practicing almost as much as homework, I never really became that good. I had the passion and some of the natural ability, but that wouldn’t make me good - that requires work.
Well, for me it does.
I can’t recall how long that period of my life lasted. I especially don’t remember precisely why I stopped playing. At some point (before these violin days I think) I saw an Atari 2600, which was the catalyst for the second love of my life – technology. However long it lasted, eventually the violin was gone, replaced by whatever technology books and magazines I could get my hands on.
Even though my passion for technology has been the primary motivation since then, that first love has always been in the back of my mind. Throughout the years I’ve fondly reflected on those times, only recently taking action and practicing violin again. A few Christmas’ back, my brother and sister-in-law gave me a sparkly blue violin, which isn’t the best quality in the world, but perfect for my new needs and, hell, it’s so COOL looking! My goal? If I add some polish and sweat to those natural talents, will I reach that “oneness” I see and admire in skilled musicians? From my perspective, it’s a relationship. Right now, my violin and I are a couple – two individuals dancing around each-other, trying to figure where each fits in relation to the other. What I’m striving for is a partnership, where we operate as one and I’m not so much playing the instrument as I am part of the instrument (and it is part of me).
Will I get there? I have no idea, but intend to determine how far this rabbit hole goes.