Violins and Head-Wound Hannah.

To those who don’t know me well, I was SUPPOSED to be a violinist. To those who know me well, and there are only a few who would claim that….they know why I’m not.

Jerry Steele is one who knows me very well, as  we go back to high school dozens of decades ago.  We are so old now and though we aren’t immortal, perhaps we are vampires or the undead in some important way.  At least it seems  to me to be so as we rack up life experiences and some of them very dangerous, yet we still puff along.  There has to be some explanation for all of this.  I’m remembering  motorcycles (him) horses and flying hockey pucks and misplaced hardballs……some nasty headwounds.

Jerry and my brothers are true musicians.  Anything they can get in their mouths, or under their fingers, they can play.  These guys even made their own instruments.  Jerry knows this to be true, because he was one of the early (I’m talking ’60’s) members of the myriad groups my brothers and others formed in Princeton High School.

Marrowbone Creek Vagrants was one of the earliest bluegrass bands.  They were incredible. Guitars, an old bass fiddle  (Jerry), mandolins, banjos, violins, dobro playing, foot stomping, errie harmony, rib sticking music.   Did you know that American Standard, who makes toilets also makes Bass Fiddles??   Just a ‘for your information’ piece of trivia.  (I’ve known this for decades, but just remembering makes me laugh…and it’s a good ‘out’ Jerry, for all that lousy toilet playing bass fiddle stuff….well, I’d lean on that genesis of the bass fiddle.  Hard instrument to play…almost as hard as enamel.)

But I was supposed to be a violinist.  My father tried hard to make his only daughter and first child one.  He bought me a lovely lionheaded Steiner somewhere, and it couldn’t have been cheap.  That violin was a 3/4 violin, and permanently messed up my fingering.  Or that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

No, I am fishing around for any excuse I can find, because from 5th grade, I was the very worse violin student you could ever find.  My poor teachers (all men) dis pared of me even showing up for lessons, and my father made sure that I did.  As I remember, 5 days a week in school, because that was back when the curriculum of elementary school had arts and music.  Arts might be paste and construction paper, but music was a mainstay.

Mr. ____ (I can’t remember the name of this very gentle and kind man) in elementary school would look crestfallen when I appeared because he knew as my lack of proficiency grew with the violin, so did the excuses and my stubbornness.  I would drag the case down the hall, down steps, and knew by this trick that the violin would be out of tune by the time I reached him.  That would take up 5 minutes of a 40 minute lesson.  I complained about the rosin that made my teeth clench, I complained about the possibility of a string breaking and hitting me in the face, I complained about how the violin made my chin and shoulder sore.  This issue of the violin strings breaking was real, because I experienced them popping suddenly (and not when I was playing hard and fast) and slapping me across the face…and almost taking out an eye.

There were a lot of head wounds in childhood, and the violin just contributed to this.  I wanted to play the bugle, something that my father, a French Horn player…a serious musician, brought home for us kids, but he threw a hard ball to his only daughter who insisted that she knew how to catch it, (and placed the mitt right in front of her face) and it went through the mitt (and I don’t think it even hit the leather) and badly bruised the left of my face,  including my mouth.  The swelling for a week stopped my bugle career because my mother was a nurse and thought I would permanently damage my face if I continued.  Who knows?  She probably was right, and considering other handicaps, perhaps I would never get married?  A major concern of mothers back then with tomboy daughters…

The four years of high school for violin playing got no better.  I remember vaguely being in orchestra, so I must have learned something. I remember my violin teacher, a lovely hard pressed man who was orchestra and band teacher, on the floor, picking up my foot, and pressing it down, trying to make me play some sort of rhythm, with me on top playing the stupid, rosin flying violin and STILL not getting the rhythm.

I remember the ‘etudes’….some Polish or Frenchman who was determined to kill school violinists by these practice pieces.  I can still play them in my sleep, and actually they weren’t too bad…musically.  They were actual music.  I must have practiced them because I still have dreams of the fingering, and that is why I am writing this blog entry because I was having a nightmare about the Violin.

In college….Westminster Choir College, I was a violin minor. Very minor if you ask me.  I had one of the finest violinists around the NE, Nicholas Harashonyi…a fellow Hungarian of my father’s friendship who was head of the string department there.  He wanted me to give up voice (major) and ‘apply myself’ to violin, but no going.

I knew my limits.  I  hated the violin much more than he loved it.

Years later I actually picked up the same Steiner (which was never returned by a ‘friend’ because his daughters had fallen in ‘love’ with it..) and played bluegrass on radio with a band.  A couple of times, but I really still hated that violin.

But karma has something to do with our lives in some sneaky way, and I haven’t been able to shake the damn instrument.  Just when I thought it safe to go back into the water, my brother, who plays every instrument made…including the oud and lute…and does so professionally, bought me a full sized violin from China.  That was about 4 years ago.  I played it once outside on the patio at my mother’s in Savannah, and then packed it back in the nice case.  It actually was not a bad fiddle.   We were very surprised…because we had been such snobs about instruments, and apparently China has churned out some excellent fiddles lately.

I forget that I come from fiddle players.  My paternal grandfather was a Hungarian fiddle player, first somewhere in Budapest, and then founded the first Hungarian Folk Band in the US in the early part of the 20th century.  For years his lovely fake Strad. propped open an attic window.  I remember my father carefully driving to NYC to have it appraised by a famous fiddle maker.  It was lovingly wrapped in a blanket and placed on the front seat of his VW.  On the trip back it was in the back seat, so I guess the fiddle wasn’t a Strad.  But the label inside said it was…..Cremona something….17th century.  My brothers I HOPE still have  that fiddle.  Never know…most kids traded baseball cards, my brothers traded lots of instruments.

About  4 years ago, Jerry Steele put down the guitar and his bass fiddle and picked up a violin.  Jerry is one man who will punish himself with hard work, and picking up the violin at our age is torture.  But he soldiered on.  He actually learned to play this devilish instrument.  I remember him calling once a week and cursing the damn instrument. We had plans for us to do a duet (we had a very long history in HS with music together….folk bands, etc…and a bit after if I remember well…but Jerry was really the musician…I just sang and hung out) but I dropped my end of it.  I still hated the violin with great passion.

Perhaps it didn’t help  we picked “The Maiden’s Lament” or some such song….I even got a cd of it, but it was fruitlooped because it got really complex in the middle of the piece, and Jerry, who heard it over the phone said: What the fuck was that??? and kinda killed it right there.

Well, Jerry, I know you try to read this blog every day…mostly…something about RSS bottomfeeders or something like will be ‘happy’ to know  the violin is back.  I had a terrible time finding the ‘d’ on the damn thing to tune….because the ‘d’ on my old baby grand has popped….lol! and for some reason, the violin wasn’t cooperating at all.  Must have been the rosin again.

But!  “The Maiden is Lamenting” again and the cats are scattering and the dogs look like they are going to howl, and THIS time, I’m going to again meet you in NYC with the violin tucked under my chin and we can play that damn duet.

In about 3 years.  I even cut off my fingernails.  See? I’m serious this time.  And the rosin doesn’t bother me anymore, either.

Lady Nyo

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6 Responses to “Violins and Head-Wound Hannah.”

  1. JRS Says:

    “He actually learned to play this devilish instrument.”…Lady Nyo, this statement is very kind, but also VERY premature…I have some days when I can saw out a passable tune, and then others when the the damned thing spits in my face and laughs when I pick it up, let alone try to put horsehair to catgut (or whatever the stupid strings are made of these days)…you are correct in your assertion that learning to play this satanic monstrosity is the most difficult thing I have ever attempted, musically.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Jerry, I KNOW you. I know how stubborn you are…and I also know you spit right back at that devilish instrument.

    It’s only a matter of time before it bows before your hairy self and is putty in your hands.
    Or…we can only hope!

    I always wondered why it’s these little Korean girls who become such marvels on the violin…it’s because they have a mother behind them who feeds them pieces of wood and catgut at every meal. Also, ever wonder why there are so many pieces of violin music with the word “Devil’s” something in the title???

    I think trying to play the violin is like….herding buffalo in Versailles, or making squirrels stay out of plum trees, or making men REMEMBER to lower toilet seats, or calculus.

    I think playing the violin is a “dance macabre” to the extreme. But I also know you will master this instrument. Just ‘be’ a little Asian female. Eat wood for breakfast.

    My chin is sore this morning…..

    Lady Nyo


  3. The Husband Says:

    It is a good thing she waits till I go to work to practice, otherwise I’d have to remove my hearing aids and stuff my ears with the professional earplugs to be able to tolerate the “fingernails on the chalkboard” screechings that emanate from such a small instrument!!! LOL


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Oh Hell’s Bells, Fred…

    It’s not that bad…well, it’s getting better. The cats aren’t scattering now.

    And “The Maiden’s Lament” is a very beautiful piece. Someday…

    Lady Nyo


  5. merlion Says:

    good try don’t give up will succeed one day


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you and hello!

    Damn but violin is hard, but it does get in the blood. And the mind.

    I think I’m at a period more of guilt (about not playing enough…regularly enough)
    but the ‘potential’ of what it could sound like is in my mind.

    AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!….still hurts my chin….need better padding.

    Do you play? Got some tips on everything?

    Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog.

    It’s a beautiful morning this, and I think I will go outside and practice. see what it does to the bird out there.

    Jane (Lady Nyo)


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