Saturday night saw a wonderfully successful production of Handel’s Messiah, of which I was the lead violinist in the string quartet. Two choirs had been rehearsing for four months, which was significantly less that us string players, and that’s why our Friday night dress rehearsal resulted in a fair amount of panic on my part that we wouldn’t be able to pull it off decently. We rose to the occasion, however, much to my relief, and the result was what one woman called “the best Messiah I’ve ever seen!”
It was positively thrilling to sit in front of that vast sea of choir members, listening to the thunderous organ booming out from behind them, and playing my violin as sonorously as possible with all my might. It almost felt like my hair was blowing forward from the musical force behind me. It certainly gave me goosebumps at times, especially when the trumpet and timpani joined in during the famous Hallelujah chorus. It’s a spectacular musical masterpiece and I felt lucky to be a part of it.
As I sat there, watching the trumpeter play with such emotion, and the organist who seemed to be tap-dancing on the foot pedals, and the bass player whose fingers scampered easily all over his gigantic fingerboard, and the choir director whose eyes twinkled with passionate emotion, I got thinking about the intimate relationships each of us has developed with our instruments. It’s incredible, really, when you think of the hours we’ve invested in learning to play or sing, and how it’s become an innate part of every single one of us performers.
Once upon a time, my violin was a foreign object that felt awkward and sounded horrible. Now, twenty years after starting at age six, and after having practiced daily for at least twelve of those years, my violin is a natural extension of my body. The bow in my hand is like another set of fingers, acutely sensitive to my brain’s commands and quickly responsive; and yet, if you handed me a cello or a bass or a trumpet, I’d return almost to that beginner’s stage once again. My commitment to that light, carved wooden instrument with a long wood-and-horse-hair stick is fascinating when I consider it more closely, as is the timpanist’s passion for his big drums, and the singer’s knowledge of her voice and lungs. I know every square centimetre of that violin like the back of my hand, the places where the varnish is smoothest, the swirl of the f-holes, the smell of the pegs, stickiness of rosin on the fingerboard, the sharpness of my falling-apart shoulder rest. It’s like another one of my babies.
Besides my family, there are few things I’ve spent so many hours with as I have in the company of that violin. And for what? All for the joy of being able to play and create music, which makes the world a more beautiful place in its own way. I also think it somehow makes each of us a better person.