it’s a cello!

The other day I was bouncing around from pawn shop to pawn shop, looking for [REDACTED ITEMS I WILL NOT MENTION BECAUSE SOME OF YOU WHO READ THIS HAVE BIRTHDAYS COMING UP SO NYAH]… er, looking for gift ideas… and since I was there, looking at everything else they had as well.

I played violin in junior high — down here we call it middle school, I suppose because it is the middle of your schooling, with preschool and elementary on one side, then high school and presumably college after — anyway, I started to play the violin then. I found I liked it, even though I’d never be particularly good at it; making music is outright fun, especially if you’re in a mob of thirty other people with instruments all belting out the same thing, and I liked that. Two of my schoolfriends were in orchestra too, another violin and a cello, so we’d get together and figure out how to play things by ear, or busk for money in one of the schmancier parts of town. (We made precisely enough, that day, for three tickets to a movie. I don’t remember what movie it was, but I remember twelve bucks got all three of us in. The times, they have a’changed.)

I’ve got a really great story from then about the time my tailgut broke right against my throat, but that’ll keep for another day.

We did strictly classical — to this day when I hear people do chords on a violin my brain freezes for a few seconds, because HOW — and I gotta say, had a hell of a lot of fun doing it. I was always stuck at first or second chair of the second violin section, so I never got to play the good parts. Whatever. I still had fun. We zipped people into the soft bass cases so it looked like the things ran around on tiny legs, we played in competitions and festivals, and perhaps most memorably (to me, anyway) were the occasional times we’d play a card game called Egyptian Ratscrew (another thing I don’t remember how to play) on a great big brass tympani. Slapping the card stack in the middle of the thing was immensely satisfying. BOOM.

Why a middle school had one single tympani, I never bothered to ask. We left the cover on when we used it as a table, don’t look at me like that. It still boomed satisfyingly.

My high school was very college-preparation oriented, and less interested in Fucking Around And Enjoying Yourself. I had to drop orchestra when I was fifteen to fit in all the prerequisites I needed to graduate — how I managed that I still do not know, considering everything — so my lovely little violin sat unused for a very long time. Half my damn life.

Every few years I’d pick it up, remember how I used to be at least halfway decent at it, drag the bow across the strings, make a noise that sounded like an angry wet cat, and put it away in disgust at my lack of muscle memory. Playing a violin, it turns out, is nothing like riding a bicycle.

I had it restrung, a few years ago, and had the bow cleaned, but then my oomph went whump so nothing happened for a while.

Then Daq showed up, a friend I made at Occupy, with an idea one day: come over and bring any instruments you have. I looked at the violin case at the foot of my bed, and I thought about screechy cats, and I thought more about new strings and fifteen years and clean bow hair and rosin that hadn’t melted sideways in years of Florida heat. I tossed it into the car and headed out. Daq proceeded to work some kind of gentle magic on my head, not caring a bit whether things sounded good or godawful, just encouraging me to get the instrument to make the sounds, whatever they were.

My immediate reaction, of course, was to run to a shop. By the end of that day I had a pitch pipe, a spare packet of strings, a bowing exercise book, and a whole new interest in Violining Once More. This kept up for a month and a half, or so, and it was marvelous fun: Riley the chatterbox would set up a rumbling Chewbacca accompaniment, and eventually our duets would devolve into laughter and barking. “Riley, do not lick my tuning pegs.”

But then she fell ill, and music — along with most everything else — wasn’t fun anymore. Last summer was very bad for a number of Brain Chemicals reasons, and Riley’s death hit me like shrapnel. I’m still trying to figure out where normal is now that the dust is starting to clear from it all.

I’m also trying to find the interest I had in playing the violin, because I know I enjoyed it, and I probably would if I got back into the habit of doing it. (I am trying this with lots of things: see yoga, crochet, etc.) It would help, too, if Logan yodeled at the instrument, because playing violin without a dog howling along is terribly lonely. I miss you, Rileydog.

I’m finishing what I’d started last summer, replacing old parts and things I’ve had since before I was old enough to bleed: I got a fantastic new shoulder rest, and once I have a proper mute I think I’ll be able to practice again without offending my own ears at the Godawful Angry Cat noises. I want to pick up some theory books too: probably classical first since that’s what I’d learned, and that’ll be easiest to remember. After that I’d like to try fiddle, or anything Not Classical, but the idea of swapping bridges gives me the jibblies, so I’ll leave that till I feel comfortable handling the thing again.

Joke: what’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle? A violin hasn’t had whisky spilled on it.

When I was at the pawnshops the other day I looked at the instruments and equipment. Guitars and their kit are easy to find, classical stuff slightly less so, although the first shop I tried had a sad sad violin on wall pegs: the chinrest was gone, the bridge was gone, it had three strings, and part of the back popped out below the tailpiece in a warped way that probably rendered it nothing more than a prop. The second shop had much more stuff, including a clarinet (I tried that through the same school for about two weeks before deciding that I was not attracted to something that had to be regularly cleaned of accumulated saliva) and, of all things, a cello. Looked in good shape, too.

I’d flagged down a guy to help me look at [REDACTED] things in cases, and once I was done with that he asked if there was anything else he might find for me.

“Not unless you have a violin mute, no,” I said.

“What’s that?” the guy asked.

“Exactly.”

“No, really, what is it?”

“Ah.” I had never tried to explain one before. “It’s a big brass chrome-plated block of metal that you put over the violin bridge to dampen the noise.”

The guy thought about this. Drummed his fingers on the counter. “We have a cello?”

“I saw!” I said. “It’s very nice.” What the hell else do you say?

When my weird magnet kicks in, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that someone searching for an obscure piece of violin paraphernalia would know precisely what to do with a cello. Not balance it on my knees is what I know what to do with one, but that, like the Tailgut Story and other oddments from my time in public-school orchestra, is for another time.

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