When my instructor asked if I would be interested in participating in an upcoming recital of her students, it never occurred to me not to do it. Why would I not? It would be a new experience for me and an opportunity to support my instructor who had been so good at supporting me. Learning to play a musical instrument as an adult is not easy and apparently I chose a difficult one, the violin. Megumi was enthusiastic and explained to me that with me agreeing to participate her other adults students would likely follow. And so it went that the other adult students agreed to participate and then one by one they all dropped out. I didn’t.
I joked that my saving grace was the fact the recital was out of state, far enough away that no one would know who I was. How bad could that be? Even if I messed up, it wouldn’t really matter. But as we got closer to the date, it began to matter. I had chosen one of my favorite Irish folk songs, Carrickfergus, based on the Northern Island town. The more I practiced, the better I got. Weeks prior to the recital I could play the song without looking at the music, with barely warming up, and without missing a note. And then that all went away. One week prior to the concert and my last lesson with Megumi before the recital, it was as if the violin was a foreign object in my hand, the bow couldn’t find the strings, the song was lost in nerves. We came up with a plan that she would accompany me and with that the song began to sing once again from my violin.
Intellectually I understood I would be the only adult playing in the recital but until I arrived at the quaint, pristine church on the hill to play in front of the intimate audience of parents and family, I hadn’t considered what that would look like. I walked inside the church to see kids scurrying around, parents following behind carrying miniature violins and little bitty bows that looked as if they’d been plucked from dollhouses.
Each child had at least one set of parents and what appeared to be grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, dog walkers, etc. Each child had brought their village and each village member seemed to be carrying a camera, smart phone or video camera to record the upcoming event.
The concert began with Megumi introducing her students to the thousands of people who had filled the huge auditorium (and so begins my interpretation). One by one, according to the printed program, Megumi would introduce the student who would proceed to walk onto the massive stage and play in front of the hundreds of thousands of people in the audience. Cameras flashed, video cameras were recording and at the end of each song thunderous applause would sound throughout the huge concert hall. As I sat looking as calm as possible on the outside I was concerned the people around me would be disturbed by the loud, incessant thumping of my heart as it seemed to want to cease up at any moment. At one point I glanced down at my sweater to see if I could see my heart pounding though the wool; I could. What felt like a golf-ball sized sweat drop had originated somewhere on my back and was making it’s way down my spine, I was convinced the massive, standing-room-only crowd were all watching it.
I was the last student scheduled to play and when Megumi introduced me, I made my way through the throngs of people and climbed up to the massive stage; the golf-ball sized sweat drop had somehow procreated and now there were dozens of them rolling down my back. My heart was beating so loudly it was hard to concentrate over the noise. Once on stage the silence of the spectators was overwhelming; I didn’t dare look out on the millions of people who had gathered that day in the colliseum, I focused only on Megumi and our pre-planned way she would nod her head to cue me to start.
The song played…I could hear it but could not allow myself to register that I was the one playing it. I was aware that at any moment my heart could leap completely through the wool sweater and onto the floor creating an unruly, palpitating mess. Somehow, someway my violin, at least twice the size of everyone else’s, figured out a way to have Carrickfergus come out to play. I was mostly aware of the sweat drops, convinced they were forming a salty pool at my feet. I noticed people in the audience were holding up their cameras recording me, I heard Carrickfergus being played…by me. The song felt as though it took ten seconds and ten hours; it was over in a flash yet simultaneously I wondered why I had chosen to play what felt like the longest song in the history of the world.
After somehow surviving playing the longest song in the history of the world, I looked at Megumi who was grinning and then the strangest thing happened. Tens of millions of people in that mammoth coliseum
erupted in applause; not just a polite clap, clap…but for a few moments they had turned their attention away from the tiny dollhouse violin set and noticed me. An old lady, attempting to play a difficult instrument on a small stage in front of a few dozen people. I looked out on the quaint, pristine church and saw the families there to support their children, clapping for me. Later I learned from many of them how appreciative they were of my willingness to not only play with the kids but to also play an Irish song to what turned out to be an Irish audience very familiar with the meaningful song.
As I drove home I thought about my first-ever violin concert and how that quaint, intimate church filled with kids and their amazingly large support groups, had transformed into an overwhelmingly large venue with millions in the audience, only to be brought back to its reality of a quaint, intimate church sitting on a hillside.
I learned a few things that day about myself and my ability to play Carrickfergus with my heart pounding incessantly while golf-ball sized sweat drops raced down my back. I also knew without a doubt, I was the only student in the recital that day, who stopped on the way home and bought a bottle of wine to celebrate.
Megumi has sinced moved to the opposite coast and I continue to be without a teacher. A few months ago I received an email from her. It turns out her husband is Irish and they had met a number of family members for a reunion. She sent a photo of one of their destinations….Carrickfergus.
Thanks for reading,
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