In high school, learning to play a musical instrument was an elective requirement. The basic goal was to provide young students with a modicum of exposure to various acoustic arts by actively involving them with an opportunity to convert random noise into progressively more rule-governed audible sounds with musical tools of their choosing.
I selected the violin and quickly discovered how extremely challenging it was to induce it to conform to my bidding. To my surprise and delight, the instructor, an elderly Jewish violinist, reminded me often how I seemed to have “an ear” uniquely attuned to the intricacies of this marvelous instrument.
He encouraged me often and suggested I purchase a used violin, since I was unable to afford one that was new, and to practice as often as I could, even to the extent of procuring private lessons, and he specifically recommended an elderly German violinist for my music teacher after school.
(As an interesting aside, it is my recollection that both men performed together with pride and affection in a friendly chamber music group in Germany prior to World War II, but the political pressures of that dark historical era made it extremely dangerous for them to continue with any further public collaboration. However, their professional and personal respect for each other, both as musicians and as human beings, survived long after the war ended.)
It was difficult for me to see how I could play beautiful music on such an old beat-up violin! To be sure, it was such a pitiful excuse for a musical instrument and the only thing about it that seemed unscathed was the immaculate case which protected it from any further abuse and degradation. Even the bow was bereft of its full-measure of resonant horsehair!
Try as hard as I may to produce melodious sounds, I was absolutely convinced that the resultant tonal fault was in the old beat-up violin and absolutely not at all with me! I recall complaining to each of my teachers, in rapid succession, that were it not for the imperfection of an old beat-up violin, I might, with a newer instrument, perform much better.
The elderly Jewish violin teacher smiled wryly, and then, with my express verbal permission, picked up the old beat-up violin and made it sing and dance! At first, I was completely incredulous and wondered if he was a closet magician who had the alchemical ability to turn copper into gold. Then, he played a different tune and this time the violin began to cry!
Bewildered by what assuredly had been a fluke in the instrument, whereby it did not perform to its potential for me but was on its best behavior for my high school music teacher, I thought that if my elderly German violin teacher could somehow play my old beat-up violin, he would confirm my original suspicions that the instrument was, in reality, quite faulty.
As you might by now expect, he also made the old beat-up violin beautifully sing and joyously dance and woefully cry. Now, I had to face a harsh truth that both of these remarkable musical results were not the fault of my old beat-up violin but instead a reflection of my singular lack of mastery and developmental immaturity in failing to grasp that the music was always deeply embedded within me, not only just in a piece of carved wood, metal strings and a frazzled horsehair bow.
Fortunately, I had the rare opportunity to be in the tutelage of two kind and gentle masters who both knew I had a very important lesson to learn, which needed repeating, since they also knew I had to get myself out of the way of my own prejudices in order for me to listen, hear and respond to their proper instruction and then to put myself back into the equation in the right way.
Almost fifty years later, thanks to the gentle, encouraging and persistent mentoring of Mr. Morivitsky and Mr. Siefert, I have become a much more skillful and, occasionally, melodious instrument.
Thank you, kind gentle men, with deep and profound gratitude, despite my initial recalcitrance, most sincerely from the bottom of my heart!
Author Note: Dr. Larry B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor
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