The arrival of almost-winter has me reaching into my archive of classical music – simultaneously adding to it with new renditions of old standards, and new classical works altogether. This is a cycle I recognize, the November onset of reflective and beautiful music written back onto my playlist.
I was raised in a house where nothing except classical music was played until I was about eleven years old. My mother, a music teacher, played classical piano and had my brother and I trained in the pseudo-classical Suzuki method for violin – never mind the extensive record collection and the fact the only radio station we ever heard was CBC. Instead of rock stars we had the likes of Itzhak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin to venerate, and a high point of our childhood was meeting old-man Suzuki himself at a conference in Bellingham.
That would be some geeky childhood, let me tell you 😉 – and like all individuating beings, I started listening to pop/rock and then punk rock music exclusively when I was about twelve years old – having discovered the University of Victoria radio station (CFUV) and the power of my own spending money for records. At the age of 15 I ditched my violin as one more thing I would never be good enough at and spent the rest of my teenage years in some form of trouble or another. To say I had some issues at that time would be an understatement – but I never went as far as pawning my instrument no matter how bad it got. Lucky me, I still have the same instrument I received at twelve – my “adult” violin after years of playing cheap chinese-factory children’s sizes. (A little trivia – I do not play a fullsize violin, but a 7/8ths size which was common at one time among smaller adults in Europe and suits my short fingers perfectly even now.)
My violin lay untouched for a few years, when I picked it up again to make money for college in my early twenties. Having quit a job mid-summer at a fishing lodge (under terrible conditions), I came back to Victoria with a pretty severe disdain for working and decided instead that I would try my hand at playing on the street for money. Thinking about it now, it seems like an entirely preposterous decision since I had barely picked it up since the age of fifteen, but I suppose that has something to do with being twenty-one and a bit reckless. For about two months I was there every day with my fiddle playing improvised classical music on the summertime streets and making surprisingly good money. Typically I would play about 3-4 hours, taking about $200 into my case which not only provided for living expenses but also allowed me to save a year’s worth of college tuition. It was a joy, this improvisation without form or rule, and probably the first time I realized a connection between my inner being and that strange wood box – how I could make a single thing out of it, appreciated by others.
Although I continued to play a little bit through the time I went to school, it wasn’t until 1997 when the Flying Folk Army had its first jam in a studio on Granville Island that I really discovered an excitement in collaboration and later the comfortable creative trust that could develop between people. Not classical, but based in folk traditions timeless in their own right…. But I’m not going to go on about that now as this post has already gotten a bit long.
To bring this back around, the point with which I started – classical music was something I ditched out of rebellion some years ago, and never pursued as a violin player afterwards…. and yet I have been increasingly drawn back to it in the last few years. And as much as I have fallen in love with the more esoteric “new” classical, I can’t help but find an incredible comfort in the pieces I was raised listening to – Bach, Vivaldi, Boccherini, Elgar. A fascination to play the newer artists (Kennedy, St. John) to see what they do with what could become stale. It’s still remarkable to me how distinct the interpretations can be and how ways of playing a piece seem to come in and out of fashion. (Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins and Strings in D minor is as close as it comes to “perfect” music, the piece by which I consider any professional violinist.)
Equally stunning to me is how I habitually to turn to these same pieces year after year as winter sets in, and how this music continues to shape the person I am as it has since my childhood. A certain melancholy I suppose, a particularly tempered joy – this music fits back inside me like it always belonged there.
(This post was inspired by this one – Thanks to Diana for the mother’s lament)