Music can be described as an instrumental sound that produces beauty, harmony, and expression of emotion. I have been playing the violin for as long as I can remember. It has helped me to build my confidence in front of crowds, to have a sense of excellency, and to express myself in a way that words simply cannot.
It is my eighth grade year, my orchestra teacher, Mrs. Wells, leaves for maternity leave after winter break. All of us miss her terribly, so I come up with a brilliant idea to welcome her back in March. We played in All-County in October, and Mrs. Wells loves one of the songs, “Forever Joyful.” I tell my idea to my friend, Jolesiah, and she agrees that we need to initiate the plan.
First, we explain to our class what we want to do, so we can hear their opinions. Even if they do not like the idea, we plan on going through with it anyway. Then, we hunt down the principal to give us the “okay” and to help us with preparations.
Jolesiah and I call the seventh and eighth grade orchestra students to a classroom for a meeting. We tell them all of the important details. I can tell some of them are not taking this too seriously. If things are to go perfectly, I need everyone on the same page.
Waking up on the right side of my bed, I am ecstatic that this day has finally arrived. I pull on my black orchestra shirt and jeans. I make sure to arrive at school with plenty of time to spare. It is a Monday morning, but I will not use that as an excuse to be glum. Of course half of the people show up, forgetting everything we had discussed at the meeting. I had sent out several reminders the last couple of days. I grow frustrated as more and more people show up without an orchestra shirt on. Now, we will not look as organized as we ought be. It is a struggle to make sure everyone sneaks into the guitar room to unpack and tune.
Before morning meeting, all of us scramble onto the stage in the cafeteria, and the curtains open after the announcements are made. The principal, Mr. Smith, delivers a succinct introduction, then counts us off and attempts to conduct “Forever Joyful.” It probably does not sound quite as joyful as we intend, but close enough. Mrs. Wells is grateful for our gesture, and she gives us all hugs.
This same school year, I began taking lessons with the high school orchestra teacher, Mrs. Perry, and we start working on a song called “Gavotte from Mignon.” It has a catchy tune that becomes stuck in the heads of everyone that listens to it. I practice the song over and over until my fingers grow sore. I decide to perform it in front of Southwood to build my confidence for an upcoming audition.
Wearing a cream colored shirt with a flannel, jeans, and white converse, I saunter to the front of the cafeteria. Nerves begin taking control, and I can feel the beads of sweat forming on my palms. My eyes scan across the people seated and then glance at the camera only a few feet away from me. After taking one final breath, I lift my violin, tuck her under my chin, and began to play. It is not a surprise that I make a few mistakes, but they are hardly noticeable. An invisible force turns the corners of my mouth upward as the final note echoes throughout the room. Applause immediately breaks out. People are cheering and standing up to support me. The nerves creep away, but are quickly replaced with ebullience. Throughout the day, teachers, students, and friends continue congratulating me and praising my performance.
A week, maybe two, has gone by since I played my solo in front of Southwood. My friend, Ashley White, and I decide to perform a duet in front of the school. The previous year, we had tried to play “Quintus” for Solo and Ensemble, but we were unable to sufficiently practice it together, since she is a grade below me.
I am wearing a navy blue shirt tucked into my favorite white skirt, tights, and flats. Ashley is sporting a navy blue dress with her dolphin necklace. My hands instinctively reach up to the pendant I always wear around my neck for good luck, a mood necklace with a silver mermaid inside. Dark blue is the visible color, as usual. I am supposed to feel at peace, but I cannot help but feel that my necklace is mistaken.
This time, we are performing on the cafeteria stage. Since Ashley is a bass player, I set the music up on both of our stands, so she does not have five million things to carry. We walk to the front as the curtains move out of our way. My breathing quickens, so I take deep breaths to calm myself down.
I inhale quickly and make the motion to begin. As our bows begin moving across the strings, jubilant music escapes from the soundholes. Everything is going accordingly until, Ashley suddenly stops playing. I peer over at her and see a muddled expression across her face. I feel a punch to my stomach as I realize my distressing mistake: the song is two pages, but the thought to unfold her music earlier had slipped my mind. We look over to Mrs. Wells for a clue of what to do next.
“Start at the top of the second page,” our teacher whispers. At first, I worry that I misheard her. I do not want us to start at two conflicting spots in the song. I nod simply and cue the beat like I had before. To our luck, we are back on track. We finish the song, taking a bow to acknowledge the audience’s applause. Like the last time I performed, people continue to congratulate us and tell us how amazing we sound. We even receive a few compliments on our color coordinating outfits.
It is the last concert of the year. The last concert of middle school. The last concert Mrs. Wells will conduct as a Southwood teacher. I am wearing my light red orchestra shirt, ugly khakis, and blue converse. Am I happy about the attire? No, not terribly. It is my last concert of middle school and we are not even professionally dressed.
A few weeks prior, our eighth grade class decided to play “Memory” from Cats as a way to reflect on our memories in Orchestra. While we play the song, a slideshow is projected behind us. We had sent in pictures of us as babies, kids, and teenagers to show the memories of our life.
It is now Christmas of my freshman year of high school. I have been taking private lessons with Miss Whitehouse for approximately two months. During that time period, I have practiced a song called “Fantasia The Boy Paganini.” It is quite difficult, requiring me to play in various positions throughout the song. I absolutely detest shifting. My hands are always so sweaty; it makes sliding my hand around ten times harder. Nonetheless, I had chosen this song over “Hungarian Dance,” to play in the upcoming recital.
It is the evening of my big Winter Recital, but I definitely do not feel prepared. Instead, I am nauseous, unable to eat without feeling like I am going to regurgitate. I even cry a few times, but I try not to admit to myself that the reason is because I am so nervous. I love the song, I am just horrendous at playing it. No matter how much I practiced, the sound would not come naturally.
Having gone twenty-two hours without food and feeling extremely apprehensive, I watch the other people play their cute, popular Christmas songs, and begin to wonder why I was not able to choose a holiday song. I rock back and forth in my seat, not wanting my turn to come. When my name is called, I shuffle to the front of the gallery in the Arts Center.
As I announce my name and the song I am playing, my voice is barely audible. It is a surprise I have not tripped in the wedges I have chosen to wear with my black dress. Trying not to meet the eyes staring at me, I look to the pianist. He nods at me and I cue him to begin. Right from the start, I can feel that it is going to be one of the longest five minutes of my life.
Once the song is over, I take a sloppy bow, awkwardly smile for the camera, and scramble back to my chair. As the recital comes to a close, random people approach me to compliment me. Inside I feel as though they are all lying to make me feel better about myself. I smile and thank them, trying to maintain a gregarious demeanor.
Not everyone strives for excellence, but then again, not everyone is me. Playing the violin has pushed me more than I could have ever imagined. If I had known how hard it would be when I started nine years ago, I probably would have begged to quit. On my journey, I have wanted to give up multiple times, but my drive for success would not allow it. My courage has grown as I have performed in front of divergent audiences, and I push myself and others to receive superior in any group or solo competition. If music has taught me two things, it is to have a sense of excellency and to push others to have the same.