So, I hate shopping. My whole family is allergic. Consequently, it is an unusual day that sees me entering a store to buy anything other than groceries or perhaps books. However, I also covet musical instruments. And so a week or so ago, when a couple of violin cases appeared in the window of one of the National Council of Jewish Women thrift shops in my neighborhood, I noticed.
I’ve kind of wanted a violin for a long time. In orchestra class, I’d always ask my violinist and violist friends to let me play their instruments. Toward the end of high school, a friend of mine lent me her violin for a summer so I could really figure out how to play. And then at the end of my senior year of college, a friend from Folk Dance Club lent me her violin for that strange in between period after classes had ended but before graduation, and another folk dance friend and I wandered the dormitory playing “The Wren” on penny whistle and fiddle, respectively.
In fact, it was because of Folk Dance Club that my interest in acquiring a violin intensified. I discovered oodles of jigs and reels I wanted to play, and though I could play some of them on the cello, there’s less scope for fiddling on the cello than there is on the violin (Natalie Haas notwithstanding). But I knew I wasn’t going to pursue the violin seriously enough to make it worth going out and buying an actual good instrument, so I just waited and learned to play lots of tunes on cello.
Fast forward to those violin cases in the Council thrift shop window. It immediately occurred to me this might be my chance to get hold of a violin cheaply. On the other hand, I barely had enough time to practice cello anymore, so why was I considering picking up another musical instrument? In the end, I couldn’t resist stopping in the thrift store. I tried not to get my hopes up, telling myself the cases might be just that, empty cases. Who donated violins to thrift shops? (On the other hand, there was also a grand piano in this thrift shop, and last fall I saw a Mason & Hamlin pump organ in the Goodwill down the street.)
I squeezed into the space between the jewelry case and a belt rack and picked up the violin cases. They felt too light to have anything inside, but when I unzipped them, there they were, the violins. One was missing the G string, and the other was missing both the D and A strings, but neither was broken. I tightened and loosened the bows, twisted the fine tuners, examined the pegs, plucked the strings, and peered through the F-holes. I’m decidedly lacking in expertise, but the instruments didn’t strike me as pieces of junk. So I decided to buy the three-stringed violin. As I was discussing the price with a clerk, a small group gathered, apparently impressed that I was buying a violin in a thrift shop. A woman even started to ask me for advice as she considered buying the two-stringed violin for her fifteen-year-old daughter.
I took my new violin home. The next day, I carefully tuned its three strings, applied some Magic rosin to the bow, and gave it a whirl. Turns out I’m kind of rusty. The neighbors are probably thinking, Oh, no, the resident of #8 has another stringed instrument now? And this one she can’t even play? I sawed out “Wachet auf” and “Finlandia,” but it’ll probably take some time (and a new string) before I work my way up to “Curvy Road to Corinth.”
If I am an amateur cellist, I am a dilettante violinist. I don’t aspire to play Bach partitas. In Sparkers, though, Marah plays the violin, not the cello. Why? I’m not really sure. I think I pictured her tromping all over the city with her instrument, and I couldn’t really see her lugging a cello around. But in Book 2, which I’m currently revising, the main character is exactly like me. She’s a cellist by training, but she likes to mess around on her brother’s violin too. So putting myself in her shoes can be my excuse for spending time playing my new violin. Now, how many years will it take me to acquire a nyckelharpa?