Monday, May 21, 2007

callous about calluses

I tend to wear my battle scars with pride. I think the first time my toes bled from a long rehearsal en pointe the sadistic side enthusiastically grabbed the nearest camera and snapped photos. I guess it just pushes the envelope a bit for the "good pain" we sometimes feel after a hard work out.

But this set of battle scares sort of boggles me.

If you will, for reference, look at your left hand with the palm facing up. I provided this nifty pic of someone else's hand just in case you get confused:

The left side of each of my finger tips (excluding thumb) has a substantial callus from playing harp. Sometimes I refer to this as the top edge. And no, you don't play harp with your fingernails. I know some people who do this, but it's very VERY bad form. The tipy-tips of my finger tips have a smallish callus from my sporadic attempts at playing guitar. I'm sure typing on the keyboard has toughened up that area a little too over the years.

Now, that leaves one other spot, the right side or rather, bottom edge of my finger undealt with until now. It was this weekend that I discovered that the bottom edge of each finger tip is precisely where you press violin strings with. Violin strings are substantially thinner than guitar and harp strings, so prior to growing a tough skin you get a nice sharp groove that turns into a blister. I'm currently at the blister phase. These I obtained because I spent all weekend working my ass off on my violin out of necessity for an artist I uphold with utmost respect. To not put in my best effort for this opportunity would be ridiculous.

The good pain is sort of veering into the "bad pain" category though as I still can't lift my arms over my head. (Saturday was 4 hours in the recording studio for flute, theremin and violin. Anyone who thinks doing music is a walk in a park should be shot.) Furthermore, my left thumb pad is bruised and my finger tips are starting to look bulbous with all the various callouses forming, kinda like an alien. I suppose that could be cool in a very messed up way...Like I said. I wear my battle scars with pride.

As you know, violin is the instrument that has always been the bane of my existence. Concerning why I even started playing, well, my rationale was incredibly silly: I'm Asian. All Asian kids play violin (and piano, which fortunately, I have covered) so theoretically, I should be able to play violin. I mean, I play a bunch of other instruments. How hard can it be? I think part of me just didn't want to be left out or feel inferior to the ever growing ensemble of string players in my family, let alone my race.

Anyway, I took lessons for precisely one year in college. My instructor was the lovably cranky Dr. Donald B. Wright from the Austin Symphony Orchestra. At the time he was principal viola player and also a faculty member at the UT School of Music. By way of some bizarre registration fluke, or perhaps it was because there weren't enough viola majors, I ended up with him as violin teacher.

Lessons would consist of a lot of interesting imagery and sound effects:
"Do the eee-awww-eee-awww like your arm is a chicken wing"
"Bounce your wrist like you're spanking a baby".

At one point, he affixed a light pen to the end of his bow to show me the true path that the bow tip takes in the air while playing. Contrary to intuition, it's not always an up and down motion. Often the bow will make small circles, waves or a circle 8 shape. When trying to emulate that, I think he exclaimed at one point: "What the hell are you trying to draw there, Ms. Picasso?"

There was also a lot of chocolate:
"I'll give you a piece of chocolate if you can play that etude halfway decently"
"Oh, that was atrocious. Go eat a piece of chocolate until I can figure out what is wrong with that bow arm of yours.

As the months went on, lessons became less about violin playing and more about life lessons and story time which, I greatly looked forward to (the chocolate helped too). Dr. Wright is a fabulous story teller and a great conversationalist. When I knew him, he was already in his 70's and had years of narratives and experiences to share with me. He recounted what it was like to be a musician in his prime. He fondly recalled memories on how he met his wife, the history behind his instruments, let me in on gossip within the orchestra world. I listened with great interest and I got the sense he found having a non- music major who was not remotely interested in impressing or making it big somewhat refreshing.

Although I improved over the year and was eventually able to play comfortably in 1st and 3rd position, I never really mastered the instrument. We went through months of trying to find a chin rest that would work with my square jawline and never did find a fit, so I went without. This caused to physical discomfort when practicing, so I didn't work at it as much as I would with, say, flute.

Still, after hacking my way through a Seitz violin solo piece, University String Builder and Suzuki books 1-3, I got A's both semesters (to be honest, I'm not *that* bad...) I also left with an autographed 8x10 photo of him from the 1940's (the joke that it was the "current" head shot he tried to use for ASO . "Who cares how old that photo is? It's still me.") that said "To a fabu and delightful student, Donald Wright." I think the greatest indication that all was cool between us though was the time he introduced me to a colleague of his:

"This is my pupil Cindy. A delightful student....terrible violinist!"

I think he'd have a heart attack if he knew I was recording on violin. :)



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