Friday, November 12, 2010

violist, interrupted

In college, I was awarded the principal viola position. This sounds more important than it was. It was a terrible orchestra, in a weak music school. I was the best of the worst. I was doing okay, until we were given a very difficult piece to play that included a viola solo. I am not a soloist. I lived in panic, dreading each rehearsal. But I was holding it together. Until, the choral recital.

Because I was principal violist, I had a seat in the school's string quartet. One night, we were accompanying a vocal student during his senior recital. Easy music. Whole note city. But I lost it.

On the dimly lit stage, looking out into the blinding light, out of the blue, I began to shake. It was probably low blood sugar, just a coincidence. My bow arm began to tremble. I panicked. Sweat. More shaking. All during a very quiet whole note. I can't believe I didn't run. I stopped playing, held my bow off my instrument and tried not to die. Things were never the same after that.

When I met my dad after the performance, I was in shock. "Dad, did you see what happened?" He had not. He couldn't see in my head, didn't notice the sweat and shaking, the panic on my face. The experience frightened me so much. I knew I was done playing. But, I still had several weeks left in the semester. And I still had to play my solo. I also knew, without a doubt, without even trying, that I was never going to be able to play without shaking.

I spent a lot of time in bed.
I tried to practice my solo. I tried to find cures for the shaking that would start every time I placed my bow on the viola. Mostly I just stayed in bed. I was so alone. I tried to speak to the conductor. But I guess I didn't properly convey to her that the symphony was ruining my life. I even worked up the courage to call my university counseling center. They didn't have any available appointments.

I made it through the semester and the last performance. Who even knows what I sounded like. I didn't care. I just wanted to not die of fright. I celebrated my success by never going back to the symphony, hiding my viola in storage, and putting the whole thing behind me.

I walked away from the viola.
Until recently. A fellow librarian invited me to join her string ensemble. Just three old friends that like to play together. I said no before she could even finish her sentence, but she gently pressed. "We play easy music. We just love the harmonies. We'd really love having a violist." Her kindness won me over. I went over and played. I had forgotten so much. Key signature, time signature. But, I had also forgotten my fear.

Playing with the quartet was fun. But, what has been amazing and restorative has been playing by myself. I've started playing after Ramona has gone to bed. I get out the music and I play for myself. It doesn't sound that wonderful, but I don't care. It feels nice, puzzling this instrument out by myself.

I am endlessly enchanted by the circular motion of my life. I step away from things, I come back to things. A kind new friend invites me to play an instrument buried deep in my basement closet. I can let go of things that have happened. I can say yes and I can start again.

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