strung out
                  my life as an amateur violist

   pizzicato frampton & bow hair whip | # b

  A new cake of rosin has a warm translucent glow like a smooth piece of amber. As you draw your bow across the rosin, the friction of the coarse horsehair lightly scratches and skuffs the smooth surface leaving chalky rosin powder on the bow. Without the grab that the rosin gives the hair, the bow would skid across the wound strings and weaken the tone.

Rosin doesn’t change.

However, my life had turned upside-down. I was sitting in the orchestra rehearsal room of Cascade Junior High with about 30 other kids. I didn’t know any of them. Living across the junior high school boundary from 90% of my elementary school classmates sent them to Monticello Junior High and about 6 of us into the jaws of the great unknown.

Cascade was a very weird mix of the well-to-do from the northern hills (where I was from, but not so well-to-do because of the wreckage of my parents divorce 3 years earlier) and the rough and tumble from the older, east side of Longview.

Mr. Spellman, the orchestra teacher, was a twitchy guy. He always had an expression on his face like he had just tasted something he didn’t like too much. The poor guy was pretty shiny up top but with the all the crap he had to put up with, it was amazing that he had any hair left at all. Some of us were trying to get somewhere, but a rowdy contingent were perpetually late, talking during rehearsal, poking people with their bows. You know -- junior high crap.

In spite of all that, we did manage to do a little musical exploration. Hopak is a fun little ditty by Moussoursky that’s an aural illustration of a carnival. It opens with rambunctious chords that the orchestra produces by playing two open strings at the same time. Russian composers drew me in early with the passion and life in their music.

I had no idea what the plot of West Side Story was, but I loved “Maria” and “Tonight” in the medley from that musical. If you would have told me that I would be cowering under the baton of Leonard Bernstein just six years later, I would have told you you were crazy. 

Over the next year or two the rowdies mostly dropped out of the orchestra. I’m playing on my factory made, shiny Roth violin with the tuning whistle set in the tailpiece. I’d learned how to play Peter Frampton tunes pizzicato-style (that’s when you pluck the string with your finger) and I could rock your world with the melody from Tango Trocadero, but I was not fully engaged. Tim, the class hellion, taught us how to nip off a strand of fiberglass hair near the frog of the bow (that’s the end that you hold), leaving it attached at the tip. You could use that fiberglass hair as a micro-whip by holding the bow and flicking your wrist. The hair made a faint whistling sound as it shot through the air. Sometimes when you flicked the arm or neck of the person in front of you, they would think it was a fly or a mosquito and try to brush it away. 

At age fourteen I had not taken a single private lesson in my life. Knowing what I know now about how little I knew then, I would have folded up the operation right there. Thank god for blessed ignorance. >> 


 days of naze   days:strung out