Friday, June 7, 2013

From a Student

I received an email this morning from a senior in my Beginning Strings class. Thought I'd share.  

Hello Mr. Park

I thought you might enjoy this essay about a meaningful classroom experience I wrote for this program at Yale. As a side note, I could not be more thankful for the job you do as a teacher and the work you put into making every member of the beginning strings ensemble a stronger musician and team cooperator. Thank you Mr. Park, you are really nothing short of a miracle worker, and one of my biggest regrets is not taking orchestra earlier in my high school career.


Forced into taking a music course my senior year, and placed into the beginning strings ensemble, the only thing I knew about the violin was that it had two holes that looked like integrals. Beginning with a wildly unsuccessful foray into the Orchestra Expressions method book, followed by countless, futile appeals from my family to “shut the damn door!” and culminating with the thrice-interrupted Lullaby for Nicholas during the concert, the first semester of Beginning Strings taught me to not only acknowledge but also respect my inabilities. And, yes the slow melodic Lullaby for Nicholas was stopped three times during the winter beginning ensembles concert because, to quote our indefatigable instructor, Mr. Park “wading through such a beautiful piece just simply doesn’t do it justice.” For a person who has never “waded through” anything in their life, doing it for the first time on stage in front of two hundred people truly humbled my pompous teenage ego.

After months of diligent preparation, inculcation, and resuscitation, the concert ended in utter disappointment. Well, disappointment for me, but comedic onslaught for my parents, who had waited eighteen years for a moment in which they could publicly cackle at my failures. “It’s nice to know that he’s lousy at something,” quipped my ever charming, sardonic father. “The poor guy finally loves something, and it doesn’t even love him back.” That was my dysfunctional relationship with the instrument I for some reason decided to become infatuated with.A beautiful creation, crafted from the finest wood, hemmed meticulously into the perfectly curving, mildly sensuous pear shape that has mesmerized the likes of Mozart and Pearlman, the violin and I initially did not harmonize. Hacking at its tender fibers, scratching its spotless exterior, the instrument repaid my roughness with an equally dissonant and rhythm-less emanation from its strings. However, in my eyes, this well-worn, rented violin was a Stradivarius lost in the scroll of time. I, though, envisioned her seeing me through her f-holes as a scrawny and barely pubescent boy without the slightest idea of how to hold, caress, and bow a tender and elegant instrument such as her-self. How could this love story have a happy ending?

Well, certain relationships need a catalyst, and for us, it turned out that the concert failure set into motion a drastic change in our friendship. Listening to the atonal, cacophonous renditions NCP beginning strings performed inspired a fiery desire for improvement with in me and my 80 bassist, cellist, violist and violinist peers. I focused tremendously on the artistry of my bow stroke, listened attentively to the intonation of my finger placements, and realized that counting played just as an important part in orchestra as it did in calculus. To practice, I stumbled upon the on-sale with free one-day shipping Lord of the Rings Violin Solos for Beginners sheet music abusing my Amazon Prime monthly trial. Up until that point, we had nothing in common, no points of conversation, but once I opened that book and heard the tiniest vestige of the Riders of Rohan, I knew the violin and I were going steady, and until then, we have never looked back.

The music still doesn’t come naturally to me, and the shrieks of my family to please take pity on both them and the instrument still accompany the sounds that emanate from my violin, but at least now I can pick up and play without feeling bad about doing it. The spring concert exhibited marked improvement from our failures in the winter, and left my teenage ego entirely intact-even though the embarrassment of having to perform with the epithet of “beginner” jabs at all sense of pride. I can now successfully work through Concerning Hobbits and The Shire and although I cannot prove it I swear I saw a teary glimmer in my father’s eye during a particularly stirring bedroom practice session. With watery eyes he struggles through-dare I say-wades through, admitting that, “You are still lousy, but that damn music just gets to me!”

I decide to keep playing, slowly trudging along the green slopes of Middle Earth toward my circular-door Hobbit den, when an exhausted mother interrupts me with the now all-too-common “No more. It’s time to go to bed.”

“But mother,” I explain, “love, even of the orchestral variety, never sleeps.”

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