I was in the 4th grade, just transferred to a new private school, nine years old, and I decided to become a violinist. A left-handed player learning under a talented instructor, I felt so lucky to be learning a different way than the rest of the small group of 4 students in the school who decided that violin was for them as well.
For a year, I learned, and, if you’ve ever sought out to learn a trade, a new hobby, or to pick up a new skill, a year is nowhere near long enough to become proficient unless you’ve eaten and breathed whatever it is that you are learning. For me, at nine years old, I had a 40 minute class twice a week for a single school year. Not even a full year.
I couldn’t even tune my own violin very well.
My parents decided to send me back to my previous school for the 5th grade, an academy, smaller (and now, in hindsight, probably much more affordable), which only had a band. I approached the band instructor one day and I asked him if he allowed violins in his band. He, in turn, asked me, “Can you play?”
If Three Blind Mice and The William Tell Overture counted, then, yes, I could play.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Let me see,” he demanded.
I played, and I think he could care less, so he said, “Sure, come to band.”
There was a pause and then he said, “I heard you played flute before.”
“I did. I never liked it, but I did. I was alright. Probably better than violin. But I love violin.”
“Alright…” he said, clearly uncertain.
I attended several band practices, barely holding my own, becoming frustrated that he simply expected me to play, and didn’t want to teach me. He knew I only had a single year of experience.
“Why don’t you teach me?” I asked him one day.
“I’m a band teacher, not a violin teacher,” He replied. “I never learned that instrument.”
“Oh,” I said, my heart sinking, wishing I could go back to my old school. I had begged my parents for lessons, but they said we couldn’t afford a private tutor. “You once paid for a private tutor for piano!” I tried reasoning with them, and they replied, “That was through church, and it was more affordable. That man offered his time as more of a gift than a job that he would earn real money from. You were very blessed.”
I remembered the endless hours he’d make me sit in that stuffy room drawing out my notes and making sure everything was accurate. In hindsight, he was an incredible teacher, precise, with high standards, but at 6 or 7 years old, I simply didn’t appreciate it.
“So I just have to stick with band?”
“For right now, yes,” they told me.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know anything about playing violin in a year. I needed guidance. Somebody by my side to point out my mistakes so I could improve, to show me how to fix those mistakes.
One day, one very fateful day, during warm-ups when we tuned our instruments, I heard that my violin was out of tune.
Very out of tune.
I had been so worried that I would break it without a teacher to observe me carefully tuning it that I simply hadn’t attempted it on my own yet.
I raised my hand and I asked my band teacher to tune my instrument.
I handed it to him, and the tuner, and he began.
All of a sudden, TWOINK!
I was horrified. He’d snapped my G-string.
“Take this to a music shop. They’ll have more for you,” He said.
I went home, heartbroken.
“Mom,” I said, when I walked through the front door. “My band teacher broke my G-string.”
“He what!?!” she exclaimed from the living room, laughing hysterically.
“Don’t laugh!” I exclaimed. “He broke my G-string! How can he not know how to tune an instrument when he is a teacher????”
“Oh, Sweetie…” she kept laughing. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for laughing….” Yet her laughing continued. When she’d finally composed herself, she helped me get my things in the car and we went to a local music store.
Always shy in new places, I stepped in quietly, approached the man at the counter tentatively, and then whispered, “Do you guys have G-strings? My band teacher broke my G-string…for my violin,” I added.
He and my mom exchanged a glance, and he chuckled and said, “Yeah, right over here.”
When we’d got my violin fixed, we called the school, because for me, that had been the last…string. I didn’t want to play flute, so I simply dropped out of band. It was for the best.
I asked my mom, “Why does everybody think it’s so funny that my teacher broke my G-string? It’s not funny at all. It’s frustrating.”
She laughed. “A G-string is a thong, hun.”
Oh my gosh. A G-string is a thong. …I mulled over that one.
That was the day my life was forever altered.