Holistic Coach and Consultant
Copyright © 2021
The end of last May when I found out the state medical board was investigating me—apparently the feds passed the baton to them when they were finished, I said to myself, that’s it—I’m going to buy a fiddle. Determined to bring in more goodness and to shrink residual fears, I did just that. In mid-June, I walked into a music store having never even held a violin (violin equals fiddle—it’s what you play and how you play it). After “playing” several beginner models, I picked one based on its resonance; the clerk showed me how taut to keep the bow and how to apply rosin, and off I went.
Having not told a soul my plan or that I bought one, I kept the fiddle to myself for several weeks, parking my van Jane at parks in order to “play” anonymously. When wi-fi was available, I also watched YouTube videos for fiddle lessons; simply how to hold a bow took several episodes. . .
After over fifty years of playing the piano, I’m no stranger to music; I am a stranger to playing by ear. During the last years of piano playing, I focused on playing with my eyes closed, attempting to re-learn the keyboard. I read music too well; that skill had become a handicap to simply flowing with the music. Now with a fiddle, I have vowed to not read a note, and to finally fulfill this goal of “playing by ear.”
After picking out scales and decreasing squeaks and scratches, the first song I found was “Happy Birthday.” Next, my YouTube lessons led me to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” then to the Harry Potter theme song.
Living on the road means I often stay in campgrounds or Walmart parking lots. This lifestyle provides anonymity; unabashed, I have stood in the forest squeaking out tunes that soon included the Game of Thrones theme song—another stellar YouTube lesson.
One night at a county park in Crescent City, California, I heard a group playing guitars and flutes around a campfire; I loved hearing someone else playing live music. The next day they introduced themselves and invited me to play with them that evening, as “We heard you playing yesterday afternoon.”
“Oh, no, I’m a real beginner, I’ve only played for a few weeks.” Still, what fun that will be. Not yet.
A few weeks later, I was at a national forest campground in the Bend, Oregon region, playing my song list that by then included “Jet Plane,” “Both Sides Now,” and “Over the Rainbow.” A three-year old girl in a pink dress and sandals walked up with her father. After introducing themselves he said, “Do you mind if Lexie watches you play?”
I smiled at this little girl whose eyes were round with wonder and asked, “Do you know ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?’ ” She nodded yes, and I played it.
They stood there for what seemed like forever watching me play my limited repertoire, then waved goodby and walked back to their campsite.
In the early evening, the father walked over and told me, “I just want to let you know, Lexie talked about your violin for an hour before she went to bed, she liked it so much.”
Wow. I wondered if she’d ever heard a live instrument—perhaps that was the attraction.
A few weeks later I was parked on a national forest road, in a “dispersed” camping area in the Olympic Peninsula. An RV was parked nearby and in a similar scenario, a little girl walked over, this time with her grandfather, to watch me play. Looking at her bright eyes I asked, “Do you know ‘Wheels on the bus?’ ” She looked at me blankly. “How about ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?’ ”
She responded, “Do you know any Madonna?”
Laughing, I responded, “No, I don’t.”
“ ‘Material Girl?’ ” she asked.
“Sorry,” and I launched into Twinkle, instead.
Afterward, I mused she may not actually know the songs I suggested, only Madonna tunes. Still, the tone of a live string instrument drew her.
Whenever I “anonymously” pull into a park or campground and pull out Fiona (I like to name my belongings—me, Jane, and Fiona have a fun time together), I’m no longer surprised when approached. One mother with her two sons came up and asked if they could sit and listen to me for awhile. By then I could play some Van Zandt, Kate Wolf, Dylan, and the “Ave Maria” by Vavilov. The mother asked to video me playing, and she recorded me showing one of the boys how to hold the fiddle and draw the bow across the strings.
Adults also approach, wanting to talk about their experiences. One young woman eagerly told me, “I played the violin for six years when I was in school.” As she hungrily eyed mine, I offered it to her so I could watch her play, then was able to encourage her to pick one up again after our encounter.
My new life on the road includes exploring a Laughing Buddha life. I simply love the notion of laughing for no reason whatsoever. The Laughing Buddha story I know is of a buddha who walks from village to village and gives out treats to children and laughs with them. I had been stuck on what kinds of treats to pass out—not exactly a culturally acceptable activity in this day and age; spontaneously, this fiddle playing has become my version of the Laughing Buddha. I play, children approach, and I certainly laugh when playing.
Having listened to violin street musicians play fast and clever and lovely—I cannot imagine myself playing how they play; yet I have this rapport. I realize, I can play well enough now for someone to sing along—to "Simple Gifts,” or “Amazing Grace,” for example.
That’s it! While continuing to expand my repertoire, I’m compiling song sheets; perhaps I’ll laminate them, prop them up in the violin case and when approached, offer—“Would you like to sing along?”
Or I’ll make plain copies so if someone wants to take music away with them, that’s an option.
The goodness pours in beyond my imaginings.
My first “jamming” session occurred during an extended visit with relatives in the Olympic Peninsula; my cousins mentioned I play the violin to a woman they know who works at an outdoor education center in the Hood Canal region. Joanne immediately called and encouraged me to visit and play together in spite of my beginner status. I thought, what the heck?
How did Joanne know the delight awaiting us?
Her school at the tip of the Hood Canal provided a stunning setting. We stood outside, playing with the sounds of birds and wind, and the school’s organic CSA was our backdrop. Inviting me to play anything I knew, she then played with me and would launch into harmonies. Teaching myself to play by ear immediately became an obvious advantage as I was then able to pick up simple folk tunes from her and even could launch into harmonies part of the time.
My abilities instantly waned when she tried to record us, wanting to send my cousins a sample of our session. Knowing someone is “watching” me, I freeze; my ability to undergo scrutiny remains a challenge. . .
A few days after playing with Joanne, I headed east for a family event—honestly, the thought of being able to play with her every week or so was almost enough to keep me in that region. I have no hesitation now—next time someone invites me to play, I will.
Playing with Joanne was my second real-time “lesson.” My first lesson was with a nine-year old named Isadora, the daughter of a friend I was visiting in California several weeks after first picking up Fiona. She taught me to tune the strings, apply enough pressure on the strings to decrease screeches, and advised me, “You could just draw the bow across the strings all day long, that is what you need to do first.” Oh, Isadora is a powerhouse in the making, and she was right.
Four months after walking into the violin store, I still find myself wondering, what is next? I have left medicine that defined my life, and I do not know what my next “task” is, my next purpose in life. With the Laughing Buddha as a role model, I put aside the wonder and questions of the future, and gratefully pull out Fiona, tune her, and set myself up at the county park. After brewing myself an afternoon cup of coffee, I stand facing the fields of Sandusky County, Ohio, a destination postponed on my original road trip a year ago, to visit the landscape of Gene Logsdon whose books I love, and with his recent passing he is now part of my cherished dead mentors group; I will play in tribute to him today. I will follow this thread of goodness, joy, music, laughter, connection—in this moment, and then on to the next village.
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