Re-Entering the World of Strings (and Music) After a Long Hiatus

By John G

This is primarily aimed at those of you who are either re-entering the world of strings and music realm or who have not taken that step because you think you are too old. I am 78 and have taken this step while I still can.

A brief musical bio to explain my background. I started as a child on a cardboard keyboard and group piano lessons, accordion, piano, choral voice, pipe organ, viola, and alto recorder. Dabbler in all, expert in none! And my best friend growing up was from a musical family, his father taught percussion at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and was our church choir director, his mother was our church organist and piano teacher. Through them I found myself in the world of music that ended when I entered the army in 1963.

I originally took Viola lessons on a student loaner in ’63 while in Junior College, then life intervened. The month before I enlisted, my best friend (Jon), another friend (Paul), and I went on a long weekend to my family’s cottage on a lake, where Jon playing cello (he had just started with me in junior college), Paul playing violin, and I playing viola enjoyed some wonderful moments playing and improvising (me poorly, Jon adequately, and Paul expertly) for memories that will last me forever. Paul was both an expert classical violin student and jazz trumpeter. Jon’s forte was jazz drums, and I was the hanger on!

I have now gotten a Cecilio VA 400, 15″ viola as it was very affordable and at my age (78), made the most economic sense. It was delivered on April 21, 2021, and I set it up using ViolaMan’s excellent video! I originally chose the viola, almost 60 years ago, just because of its mellower, deeper tone and my large hands. Since I have done some playing on an alto recorder, the alto clef was familiar, but still daunting.

As of this date, June 2, 2021, I’ve had it for 6 weeks and after practicing almost every day, normally for an hour, can say I’ve improved but still not “Ready for Prime Time”! That being said, this forum has been a definite plus for me. They have been very supportive, and I don’t know if I would have persevered without that.

As I awaited the delivery, I joined this forum and decided to share my experience right from the beginning. As a result, I created videos on the first day and shared them here, expecting some relatively sharp criticism, but instead, received support and praise for doing it. My first videos were of the unpacking the viola, and then my first tuning experience, followed by the first scale I’d attempted in 58 years! Was my intonation spot on? No. Was my bowing even and controlled? No. Was the sound pure and pleasant? No. But the response I received from the people here was supportive and kind. And I had made the decision to start a blog of my journey back into music on this forum and it has not only kept me focused on my viola, but has gotten me feedback on my progress and allowed me to make some new friends.

I will never be a concert violist or popular performer, but I will continue to enjoy the music that I can and will play and hopefully be able to entertain the folks here, my friends and relatives, and myself.

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