A fiddle of my very own!
How can I possibly describe how happy I am except by contrast with how I miserable I felt all last week?
Last week, at the end of our second session of classes, I went to the music store to turn in my rented instrument and purchase my own. I was so nervous, I nearly cried when the clerk told me that they didn't have any student-grade fiddles, only used ones that were more expensive. My teacher had assured me that the student fiddles that the store sold were good ones, so when the clerk discovered that, in fact, they did have some in stock, I simply grabbed the first one she offered, gave it a few strokes with my bow, and bought it.
What a mistake--but then how was I to know? One of the things that had made me most nervous was the thought of losing the training wheels that I had inherited from a previous renter on my first instrument, the tapes on the fingerboard showing where to put my fingers. When I tried out the new fiddle, I was so relieved that I could still hit (some of) the notes that I didn't even think to listen carefully to how it sounded. Surely a fiddle is a fiddle, right? Wrong, as I soon found out when I got the fiddle home and started to try to play.
Never mind whether I was able to find the notes, what was that awful breathy sound that I heard when I tried to play anything on the E-string? Was it me? Was it the bow, which, being new, I had had (so I gathered from what I was told in the shop) to spend a good ten minutes or so rosining up? (Yes, it was too much--clouds billowed when I started to play.) The clerk had said something about wooden instruments needing to be played before they achieved their proper sound; was it that the new fiddle wasn't yet broken in? If so, how long would that take? The more I tried to ignore it, the tenser I got. My whole body was rigid, it was like trying to play the "fiddle" I made when I was a kid from a shoebox and string. I might as well be playing a block of wood. Nothing sounded right.
I felt crippled. Broken. Silenced. My heart ripped out. Really, it was that awful. Worse than having new shoes that you need to break in. Worse than feeling awkward because your fingers don't know quite how to move (which I already knew from playing with the rental). There, I had just been learning to make those beautiful notes that my heart has longed to play my whole life--and they were gone. What if I was never going to be able to make them again? It was worse than losing my voice and not being able to talk. It was as if something had broken my soul.
Hyperbole? Perhaps. But I was pretty miserable all last week, unable to make the music that I wanted to make. I practiced most every day, working on learning the fingering without the tapes, but I just couldn't ignore how the fiddle itself sounded--and, yes, it was the fiddle, not my poor fingering. I checked the notes with my tuner as I played, and everything sounded wrong even when I managed to find the right notes.
I called the store on Tuesday evening and made sure that I would be able to come in on Saturday after my class and try again. I talked with my friend Marie at fencing who has been learning to play the ukelele, and she told me, "Don't be shy. Go in and ask for as many fiddles as they have, then sit down and play them all over and over again, until you find one that you keep picking up. Then you'll know which one you are meant to play."
I took the first fiddle to class yesterday and asked my teacher what he thought of it. Like magic, of course, he was able to make it sing, but then, he said, he liked the breathiness, it didn't bother him. But still, he reassured me, I should go back to the shop and try out some others. I needed to get a fiddle that I liked. I might want to try playing the new one for another week, to see whether I changed my mind, but there was no reason not to go back and try again.
So I did. I did just what Marie suggested, got the clerk to show me several other fiddles, and then I sat down and played. Over and over again. First I would play the one that I had already bought, to remind myself of how it sounded, then play another, and another. Over and over again, right there in the shop. Without training wheels. The same songs over and over again (I still only know about six). Scales. The E-string. With everybody in the shop listening (or not, I didn't really care). Over and over again.
And then it happened. One fiddle out of all of them sang to me. I could hardly put it down. It gleamed. It was light and warm when I picked it up, as if it were alive. Not like the others, which seemed dark and stiff and cold. My fiddle--the fiddle that was already mine, even though I had only just found it--my fiddle wanted me to play it. It didn't mind if I missed the notes, it nudged me to find them again. "Here," it seemed to be saying, "I'll help you. Just move your fingers there. That's right, that's the right note. Play it again. We'll get this, I know we will. I love singing for you."
Okay, this is getting a little odd, but it really felt something like that. As if I were meant to play this fiddle, and had been all my life. It had been waiting for me to find it, and there it was, wanting to snuggle up to my neck, wanting to be held and played. Or was it me who was wanting to be played? No longer to be silenced and stiff? Maybe there had been others who had tried to play my fiddle, but it refused to sing for them. Because it was waiting for me.
So, at long last, I have found my heart's desire. I have my dog, who is my soul's companion; I have my foil, which is my soul's strength; I have my pen, which is my soul's need to understand; and I have my fiddle, which is my soul's cry for joy.
I'm not sure I know what to do with so much happiness--except sing.