Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ten thousand hours

I wonder what I was playing?

I was six in that photo and I'm fifty-two now. Pause while I scream quietly to myself. Cut to a shot of the last fast-running grains of sand in the hourglass. So much to do. So little ( sob) time. I wonder if I'm anywhere close to having put in the necessary ten thousand hours of practice yet?

Although I love my fiddle now, I absolutely detested it when I was wee. Back then I had a succession of tetchy old men as teachers, a weekly lesson, and no desire whatsoever to practice in between. In my own defence, I have to say that the fiddle is pretty unrewarding at first. Every bowstroke sounds ugly. People wince when you play to them. It's completely un-natural , not to mention painful, to clasp the buggar in your arm and twist your wrist round its stalk and somehow, sans frets, find where your fingers are supposed to fall in order to make a sweet, true note. And don't get me started on the utter horror for a beginner when your strings go out of tune and you have to turn the utterly disobedient and bloodyminded pegs all by yourself. All I can say is thank heavens for fine malt whisky - although perhaps not when one is still a primary school pupil. Meanwhile, some old tweedy grump is breathing his stale pipebreath all over you and chastising you for not slogging away and becoming note perfect on some hideous bit of monotonous musical juvenalia like three blind mice three times a day seven days a week in between lesson days.

Now if they'd only started us all off on fingermangle or any number of basic Shetland reels, I have the sneaking suspicion that I'd have enjoyed my fiddle a whole lot sooner than I did. Considering how I feel about my fiddle now, the word 'enjoy' doesn't even come close. But then...I was taught by fear and shouting. Nobody ever said 'that sounds good', undoubtedly because it didn't, but children learn best if they're encouraged. I associated music with embarassment, with exams, with never quite measuring up, with something taught by brilliant but unpleasant old men to this particularly stupid and incompetent girl. It's no surprise I couldn't wait to escape that particular tyranny.

If I could turn my personal clock back to 1974, this is the only thing I'd change. I wouldn't give up my fiddle at fifteen, thinking it was part of what I needed to run away from. With hindsight, I've realised that you can run, but you can't hide. I ran for a long time. Thirty two years it took until a fiddle found me. My partner bought me one, an electric s-shaped seriously cool beast, and I fell upon it with cries of delight. Couldn't draw a note from it at first, but I persevered. And the joy of an electric fiddle is that you can plug it into a pair of headphones and nobody else is forced to endure your early squawkings.

And now. On a different fiddle. One that my Dad made. A lovely, big blonde Strad copy that is almost too big for my left hand to span, but I love its sound, so I persevere. Every single day. Sometimes I manage to sneak in three practices a day. How long do my books take to write and illustrate? Hmmmm, that depends on whether I'm currently trying to nail a tune or not, but shhhhhh, don't tell my editor. Debi Gliori is playing truant on her fiddle. The long-dead old men would have been amazed at my diligence, but it's not diligence, it's love. I close my eyes most of the time when I play, all the better to hear where we're going, my fiddle and me.


Mel said...

It's both interesting and sad to see how poor teachers can so colour and discourage a young person's perception of their potential. A few years ago, my niece came to visit for a couple of days and had homework to work on as I was driving her to rendezvous with her father. I had to badger her to get her to read me a review she had to write of a book she'd read because a prior teacher - who had something of a reputation of being a bitter old cow - had told her that a writing assignment she'd worked particularly hard at wasn't very good. Since she's never been a particularly stellar student, she took it to heart and thought she wasn't capable.

In fact, there was nothing whatever wrong with her review. It may not have been Pulitzer material, but it was, in the main, cogent, articulate, and intelligent. I told her she should never let anyone discourage her like that, because clearly they had no idea what they were talking about. And wished aloud that I'd had the evil old gasbag there in front of me to give her kneecaps a whack. Still makes me angry to think about it.

Alwen said...

Although I'm not a huge fan of the modern "tell them they're always wonderful" school of child-raising, the opposite end is a grungy place, too.

I'm so glad your fiddle finally came and found you.