Archive for July, 2018

a violin? am i nuts?

So I went and ordered a violin. Knowing my propensity towards starting things and not finishing them, and acknowledging the fact that my aging body may not let me continue to do some of the things I can do now, I limited my purchase to a beginner violin. I tell you, you can really spend some bucks on a violin. Way more, actually, than would be justifiable by any level of playing that I may reach.

I think I made a wise selection. I did buy it through Amazon, but I corresponded with the supplier of the violin before I made my choice. There are many low cost models available, but I wanted to make sure I got the best value for my money, so I decided to order a violin which would be supplied already checked out and set up by a luthier. I did not want to have to guess whether I was setting it up correctly or not, because for right now I plan on teaching myself, so I won’t have a teacher to check out the violin for any mistakes I made.

So yes, I am planning on using the internet, books and DVDs to learn. I may consider finding a teacher if I am confident that I will keep playing, but that is far from given. I suppose it would actually be smarter to have a teacher from the beginning because it may help avoid developing some bad habits, but I’ll take my chances.

I have to admit it I approach playing the violin with more trepidation than any other instrument I have learned (and am learning) to play. I failed at it in sixth grade, but I have matured a little bit since then. Still, there seems to be a lot to learn to get to the point where I can play some of the things that I want to play. When an online teacher say that you shouldn’t even begin trying to do vibrato until a year after you start learning, I say that I may not have that long! That makes things a little daunting. Still, what do I have to lose except a few dollars? If it doesn’t work out, I can always sell it or contribute it to someone else who might like to learn but can’t afford even a beginner violin.

Maybe someday I will actually be able to play something decent on at least one of the instruments I own. That list includes guitar, banjo and ukulele, and now violin. Or maybe I’ll just continue to futz around with them until I can no longer do so, with no expectations of excellence. Sounds about my speed. I gave up on the piano and saxophone long ago. While it would still be nice to know how to play the piano, it is not on my radar at this time, and I will leave the saxophone playing to my brother-in-law, who is a professional (and a damned good one, too).

By the way, if you ever consider buying a violin, the people at fiddlershop.com (also on Amazon) were good to me and I recommend them. They go over the instruments before they send them out so that you can just touch up the tuning and play it out of the case when you get it. Mine is supposed to arrive today and if I have any problems I will come back and say so in this post, but I don’t expect any.

It’s kind of exciting to get a new instrument, but I still feel a bit foolish thinking I can learn to play the violin with any quality at all. Let’s hope that I can at least get better than I was in sixth grade. I’m not holding my breath, though.

boomark: to kill a mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird – by Harper Lee

I thought I had read To Kill a Mockingbird before, but my memory is not so bad that I would forget this book. Perhaps I confused seeing the movie with reading the book, but if so, I still did not remember the story as well as I thought I did.

I read this book, first, to see if I had read it before, and second, because I had read Go Set a Watchman and wanted to see how the two books compared. Theoretically, Go Set a Watchman is the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I don’t see it. Yes, there are a few passages that are almost word-for-word in both books, as well as other passages that are very similar but not quite word-for-word, but the stories are very different. To Kill a Mockingbird does seem more cohesive than Go Set a Watchman, and is perhaps more polished, but Go Set a Watchman had a different focus that was just as compelling.

If you have never read To Kill a Mockingbird (and it used to pretty much be required reading back in my school days, which is why I thought I had read it), I would suggest that it is time to read it now. Its main theme of tolerance and understanding is very relevant in these days of political and social intolerance. The lesson is there, but learning it and applying it isn’t so easy for many people.

My memory of the story was that it was all about the trial. (I’m trying to not be a spoiler, if you want to read it and haven’t.) It is actually more expansive than that. It’s a study in human nature in general and of small town life in Alabama in the 1930s specifically. Without being in your face about it, it covers racial, gender and class conditions in the south at the time, and unfortunately is still relevant today in much of the United States.

The story is told from the viewpoint of a young girl, whose innocence (and commonsense) play off the other characters. Contrary to the view that the story is partly about loss of innocence, I think that it more about learning. Perhaps you can argue that it is all the same thing, but one can still have an expectation of the best in people (innocence, in a sense) while knowing that not all people will be at their best.

I was really glad to have read this book. It is one more book that I have added a physical copy to my library. Given my age and the number of books I want to read, I may never read it again, but maybe some day after I am gone someone will go through my books and say, “Hmm, I always meant to read this,” and put it on their pile of books to take home. Since you likely don’t know me, don’t wait until I am gone to raid my library. Go to the public library and check it out. I believe you will be glad you did.

Finished 7/21/18

Commonsense Instrument Care – by James N. McKean

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is only about taking care of your violin, viola, and cello (and generally applies to upright bass). It’s a short, little book easily read in an evening. If you want to be discouraged from playing any of these instruments, read this book. In no time you will become convinced that your instrument will self-destruct, probably within months of obtaining it. And lord knows you do not want to buy an old instrument unless you are wealthy enough to maintain it (then again, you have to be wealthy to buy one of these in the first place).

Seriously, though, these instruments sure seem to require more care than, say, your guitar. Or maybe it’s just because I already am familiar with taking care of that type of stringed instrument that violin care seems a bit intense. It is a good overview of the various things that may/will need attention during both set-up and the life of your instrument. Most of the care advice tends to run towards “take it to your local repair shop,” but I suppose most violinists would rather be playing than repairing, so that advice may work for most. Once again, though, be prepared to pay for your instrument several times over in repairs and maintenance if you keep it for very long.

It’s good to get a reality check when you take up an instrument like the violin. This book provides it.

Finished 7/14/18

Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus – by Wayne Erbsen

Not being content to be a poor student of the ukulele, I’ve become desirous of failing to adequately learn another musical instrument, that being the violin. Now, I know there ain’t a prayer in hell that I’ll ever play the violin in any fashion that would be pleasing to the ear, but that hasn’t stopped me playing anything else. I must admit, though, that the best thing I play is the radio.

So, since becoming a concert violinist is absolutely nowhere on my radar, what else can you do with a violin? Well, you can call it a fiddle and play old-timey music with it. Sounds like a plan, so this book seemed like a natural choice to learn that style of music.

Now, I don’t even have a violin (or a fiddle) so it does seem a bit premature to read a book about learning it, but sometimes reading about something can be enough to either encourage you to pursue it further or discourage you enough to make you drop the idea altogether. In the end, I was encouraged, realizing that I should be able to make music on the violin without needing to study it for twenty years first. A good thing, ’cause I doubt I have twenty years left in my life.

There are many songs in the book to practice on, but I obviously wasn’t able to do that. I did read all about them and read all the rest of the book which, as the title implies, is for the total newbie. It’s good information written in a casual style that doesn’t put on airs and make you feel like it would be a waste of time to try to learn how to fiddle.

The book comes with a CD of the songs in the book. I may be an old fart, but I like it when the book comes with a CD. It is really irritating when I have to go find them on-line somewhere and then figure out how to get them to my computer. If you contemplating playing the fiddle, or even the violin, this might be a good starting point for you, as I think it will be for me.

By the way, I have actually played the violin before, but it was way back in grade school and the short time I played it felt more like torture than pleasure. I think my parents probably felt the same way as I don’t recall them protesting too violently when I wanted to give it up. At this point in my life, I wish I had kept it up back then, but I’ve never been one to force myself to keep on doing something I have lost interest in. That’s one good reason why I’m not going to spend a fortune on a violin. It’ll make a nice wall hanging, though.

Finished 7/8/18

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain – by Bill Bryson

I do enjoy Bill Bryson’s writing. He has a sense of humor similar to mine, except that he is better able to put it into words. This book was no exception.

I can see where some people might not be a fan of this type of book. You really have to be able to appreciate seeing someplace that you will probably never see, through someone else’s eyes. I happen to be that kind of person. You learn a little, laugh a little, and live the author’s good (and bad) experiences vicariously. Besides that, Bryson does an awful lot of walking to see the sights and my knees would never be able to hold up to that much hiking.

As to the title, there is no Little Dribbling, though they do seem to have more interesting place names in England. Did I mention this is the author’s south to north tour of he adopted home country of England? It is, kind of. He actually meanders over a lot of it. Curiously, he seems to give short-shrift to the northern part, Scotland. Whether there is actually less to see there or he was just getting tired of writing this book, I don’t know. I did wonder, though, as the pages were becoming less and less in the book, how he was going to include everything that was left to see. Personally, I think he did a bit of a jump to the end. Maybe his editor thought the book was getting too long. Whatever the reason, I was sorry to not see better coverage of the north.

Bryson and I are about the same age and so share some of the same crabby old man tendencies, but I found that I had to forgive him his statist tendencies. For some reason, he thinks that government is able to run things better than the free interaction of people. I suppose England is a good place for him. He should, and apparently does, feel right at home there, even having gone so far as to have taken British citizenship, which makes me question the subtitle. At this point, Mr. Bryson is more Brit than American.

While an occasional comment or concept was contrary to rational thinking (that is, my way of thinking), I still enjoyed the book and would welcome the chance to sit in a pub and have a drink with Bill. I think, however, that I will pass on warm beer and political discussion.

Finished 7/7/18