Coming back to old orchards

Music has always been an important part of my life. If I didn’t hear something I liked then I would hum something to myself that I did. When I got bored with humming I tried playing an instrument. The first instrument I ever tried to seriously learn was the violin. I took lessons at my junior high school for a year or two. That’s me on the left in the bottom lefthand picture. The journey was short lived because when I got to high school the music program was officially gone. There was an unofficial band that officially met and performed but it received no funding. Directors would float in an out. Some lasted longer than others. The players all stayed constant and they were pretty advanced. They were also all brass and woodwinds. It was a marching band that sat down to play. There was no room for me as a beginning violinist and, honestly, I didn’t mind. It wasn’t the right environment for me. I was dorky and nerdy kid that couldn’t keep up with the in-crowd. That was over 22 years ago.

After high school I saw my first U2 performance and I was mesmerized by it. There was something different about this show than all the others that I had seen. I remember watching The Edge create deep multilayered textures with a handful of notes and some simple effects. How could someone do something like that and look so cool doing it? I just had to follow suit! The guitar became the center of my humanist universe and it was something I wanted to conquer it and bend it to my will. Of course, I had to look like a bad-ass doing it. Whatever teen angst I didn’t work out during high school came out during college. There were cigarettes to smoke, liquor to swallow, and girls to chase after. Fast times were here.

I stuck with it all for about 7 or 8 years. Musical progress was slow-fast-slow but that was OK. It wasn’t something to enjoy – just something to be satisfied with. I worked through a lot of personal issues during that time and I think having the guitar helped me keep my sanity. Playing it was a challenging outlet as I worked my way down a spiral of self destruction. Soon there would be nothing left of me as I consumed everything that I was.

I hit bottom and that was when I met the girl who would become my wife. She was my counter balance. It was perfect. She was soothing where I was angry and vengeful, calming where I was chaotic, and steady when I was choppy. I rebuilt myself with her help. The cigarettes were snuffed out, the liquor was cut off, and the chase was over. Yes, I was home now.

When I started rebuilding myself I made the mistake of taking all the musical pieces out of my life. I think I was just too tired of the burden of it. That’s an odd way to describe it but that’s how it felt. I grew up in a Soviet household that was transplanted to America. Yes, I am a Russian-Jewish emigrant. My parents were very industrious. Everything we did we did for the purpose of technical advancement. There was nothing frivolous. Art was taken very seriously. It was the foundation of thought. My parents thought that without art humanity would lose its creative streak that was necessary for the required technical advancement. Society needed artists to remind us how to put together something very complex that was beyond words.

My parents were very proud of me when I studied the violin. It was all part of that required advancement. They were much less thrilled about me learning the guitar. The guitar was a toy to make rhythm and nothing else. What majestic piece of classical and established music was ever written for the guitar that could compare to something “serious” like the piano or violin? Obviously that didn’t stop me from diving headfirst into a world of six strings but I did it very industriously. It was almost a competitive endeavor. If The Edge did something then I had to try to outdo him in my head. When Mick Mars bent those strings like cheap rubber bands I had to bend them harder.

Then I had another influential moment. Believe it or not, it came in last few minutes of Spinal Tap. Viv Savage was asked during the rolling of the credits what his philosophy to live by is and he said, “Have a good time, all the time.” Wait! Where’s the industriousness? Where’s the seriousness? You can’t have a good time! There’s work to be done!

Wait… is there? Maybe we could “have a good time all the time”. I pulled the cork out of my ass and just exhaled. What a relief! My music slowed down. The gain knobs were turned back. I plucked instead of played. At that moment in time I finally began to really enjoy playing the guitar instead of fighting it.

A new problem arose in that I discovered I could have a good time in so many other ways. I became distracted by other hobbies, other activities, and just life in general. Music was such an overwhelming factor in my life that I couldn’t sustain it along with all the other things I wanted to do in life. It was a burden of maintenance. Practicing, developing new sound, and learning new music took time and that was time away from other things in life that I wanted to do. The guitar started to feel like “work” and not a “good time”. My musical endeavor ended in the complete opposite fashion that it started in. What began as a captivation of the mind ended in a boring yawn.

That was almost 10 years ago.

Now, for whatever reason, I got an urge to come back to playing the violin. I wish I had some dramatic story of hearing a specific piece of music or seeing a performance that moved me but I don’t. All I have instead is an almost uncontrollable compulsion to scratch an itch that I may have ignored for too long. Perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like I have some unfinished business with the violin. It’s like coming back to an old orchard that hasn’t had all of its apples pulled. Maybe now I can do it “right” this time. Maybe now I can have that “good time all the time” without feeling like it is a “duty”, a “responsibility”, or a “burden”. I have no idea how this new adventure will go. Maybe it will spark and then fizzle like so many others I have had after the guitar. I might finish this long winded post and not make another again. We’ll see. 🙂

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