I Should Have Played Guitar

I Should Have Played Guitar

But I chose violin

When it comes to acoustic music it isn’t necessarily specific songs or pieces, but three instruments stir me to extremes. I wish I could say one of those is guitar, but it is not. Violin, violincello, and piano have the capacity to reduce me to tears, more so the first and so that will be my focus.

Beloved and I both play violin. The instrument struck me with a powerful feminine allure when I was only a child, and ever since I’ve been enraptured. Violin and orchestra practice dominated my time in high school, and for a while I even played in my church–before I left it. Even so, I have a love-hate relationship with my violin. Practice actually scares me, even when I am alone. The moment when I bring the instrument to my shoulder and tentatively touch hair to string make the hair on my neck stand on end, because I know just how truly beautiful this instrument is: the silk of its tone, its soul, and so I imagine my unskilled pulling of the bow to be an act of profanity, like a man fumbling terribly with a woman’s clitoris. I therefore consider my study of violin to be an insult to it. The wood practically revolts in horror.

I practice never the less.

One piece for violin strikes me as especially beautiful, and no mention of the instrument is even elementary without mentioning the man himself: Itzhak Perlman, considered by many to be the finest violinist alive. Below he plays the main theme from Schindler’s List. You can hear the uncertainty in his bow, almost as if any moment he’s going to play a wrong note, how his wrist trembles so tenderly to keep the hair just so, and how his fifths and scales tumble from his fingers like spilled water. Yet, somehow, every note is perfect. This is not an accident, it is his skill as a musician to faint an error, to communicate fear and ultimately uncertain sorrow.

This piece is deceptively simple, actually. I have an unabridged copy of the score and solo. It is genuinely not difficult to play. What is difficult is to capture the full range of emotion intended by the composer, something Mr. Perlman does exquisitely here. The theme orbits Oskar Schindler and the 1,200 Jews he rescued from certain death. In it’s simplicity Perlman expresses the profound survivor’s guilt harbored by those men and women. Why did we deserve to be saved? Why not that man? Or that woman? What makes us special? The ending is particularly poignant, as if to say–as the last harmonic fades to silence–that there was nothing special about any one of them. There was no divine intervention there, no, just the opportunistic heroism of a Nazi who realized the grave and terrible crime his people perpetrated. It could have been a few more saved. It could have just as likely been none.

You may be wondering, “Holy moly! We’re just here to talk about music man!” And you wouldn’t be wrong, it’s just my very narrow tastes in music are narrow for a reason. These are the melodies that make me feel, even while I dissect and reassemble their composition and execution. I don’t want to just feel what I feel when I listen to this piece, I want to feel what he feels. I want to experience the strings pressed against Perlman’s calloused fingers, the way the instrument resists his chin and the tension in his neck as he holds it aloft. I want to feel his bow arm and the soft scratchy resistance that tugs at his fingers, because it goes without saying the most beautiful thing about acoustic is music is that it is literally felt as much as it is felt. The strings vibrations translate to both his hands, completing an acoustic circuit beginning at the fingerboard, down the strings to where they meet the bow’s hair, all the way up the bow to the frog, and to the fingers of his bow hand. The bone of his jaw is pressed against a conductive wooden rest, right near the peg which is the opposite fulcrum of Stradivari’s design! His whole head, his whole body, is filled with music!

That is why I chose violin.

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3 thoughts on “I Should Have Played Guitar

  1. Beautifully described, and it’s your preference and your truth which you convey so convincingly.
    I am not at all good with classical music, in particular the violin, I’m sorry to be so at odds with your passion. Now give me a saxophone solo in more modern music, and I have goosebumps!

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