Thursday, 22 March 2012

When Smokey Sings...

The Mouse recently took up the violin. She has been asking for a long while to learn and we held off and held off, thinking that a true desire to learn would stay with her and then we’d know that she really was keen. It sounds harsh, I know, but if you’d been there for recorder practise, you’d have felt the same way.

Thankfully, the lovely Associate Rev offered us the loan of a half size violin and a few informal lessons to start us off. We braced ourselves for the sound of cats being murdered and warned the Mouse that it takes practise to get a good sound out of a violin. I was ever mindful of my childhood experiences of ballet, where I thought I’d be able to show up and dance like Margot Fonteyn, whereas, in reality, it involved endless clumsy skipping around a dusty church hall and serious injury to my baby brother…but that’s another story. However, the Mouse surprised us by managing to produce a pretty good sound on her two open strings. Ah yes, you see – I have the lingo now! ‘Open Strings’ is where you play the violin with the bow, but do not press your fingers on the strings in order to play higher or lower notes.
A long holiday to the States and a bout of extended illness for both children meant that the Mouse stayed with her borrowed violin and her two notes for quite some time. Finally, in January of this year, we found a permanent teacher for the Mouse and ordered her a quarter size violin. Now, call me na├»ve, but I had imagined that buying a musical instrument was relatively simple: you just walked into a specialist shop and requested your instrument of choice. So far, so good, but the shop didn’t have any quarter sizes in stock. We ordered one, for delivery ‘in two weeks’. Two months and many phone calls later, our violin finally arrived.

A violin very much like the Mouse's. She loves it that the case can be worn as a backpack.

So, the Mouse is now the proud owner of her own violin and bow. She has a music stand (sourced from a charity shop and missing a wing-nut, so don’t grow too much yet, Mouse, as we can’t alter the height of the thing!), a borrowed music book and another sourced, again, from a charity shop. She has been very lucky in that both her violin teachers have been lovely people, whom she likes very much and wants to please.
It’s been a steep learning curve for Mr Ruby and I too. I played the recorder briefly and badly, as an eight year old. In my primary school music performance I was initially given maracas, before being sent to the back of the row (behind the much taller children) and given a triangle which I was told to play, ‘quietly.’ I’m not entirely sure that the teacher didn’t then confiscate my beater! Mr Ruby had some piano lessons as a child and later taught himself to play a rather halting version of ‘Abba father’ on the guitar. As members of the youth group we mercilessly teased him by singing the chord changes as well as the words – we found we had plenty of time to do so. All I’m saying is, if the Mouse has musical ability, and she seems to, it doesn’t come from us. Her uncle DJ and her cousin Blondie both show considerable musical talent though, so perhaps there are some latent musical genes there. I hope so.
Not that kind of quaver

I’ve learned to use a metronome and am beginning to read music. I have to ask the Mouse to remind me when I’m looking at a crotchet, a quaver, a minim or a semibreve, though. I also have to remind myself not to call a crotchet a crochet. Knit your own symphony, anyone? Mr Ruby has become rather good at tuning the violin and we’ve both learned that, whatever problem you have with the violin, there’s an app for that! (As well as a Wikipedia article and a YouTube instructional video.) The Mouse, meanwhile, has learned to play open strings and is currently learning to use her fingers to play additional notes. She can play a few tunes and enjoys learning new ones.
The only one rather left out by this is TR. He does express a desire to play his sister’s violin, but she’s wary of letting him loose on it. I have offered him lessons too, but he assures me he wants to learn to play the drums (and therein lies the source of his sister’s wariness, I think – she knows that a violin bow does not make a good drumstick). If his sister isn’t looking, he likes to use her music stand as a prop for his small world play. Apparently it makes, ‘An awesome slide for moshlings!’
Small plastic toys that, apparently, like to slide down music stands

I can’t say that I’m quite so eager for him to learn the drums. For one thing, where would I put the drum kit? This blog isn’t called ‘LittleHouse on the Heath’ for nothing, you know! For another, I’m not sure the neighbours would be overly happy about TR’s drum practise. Mind you, the builders have assured us that the proposed loft extension will be sound-proof. Now all I have to do is convince Mr Ruby that a drum kit would be the perfect accessory for our new room…


  1. I think knitting your own symphony is a great idea! :))

  2. Ah, the Mouse has her revenge on cats...