What I've Learned as a member of the New Horizon's Orchestra

         When I was growing up, I always dreamed of playing violin in the school orchestra. I begged my mother, but she told me only rich kids could do that. So I sang in the choir instead. Singing didn’t cost anything. Well, I grew up and got married. Thirty exhilarating and exhausting years passed before the last of my ten children started school. I was in my fifties and for the first time had a few hours for myself. I wasn’t ready for the rocking chair.

Then a friend told me about an orchestra she played in. She said they took beginners. The whole idea that it was possible to learn a string instrument as an adult was something I didn’t know was possible. I expressed my interest and my self-doubts. Then this friend said she had an extra violin at her house gathering dust and offered to let me borrow it and told me she would pick me up and take me to my first rehearsal.  
            I was pretty darn nervous when I arrived at a rehearsal for the first time. I’d never touched a violin before. I didn’t even know how to open the black case, let alone how to hold the instrument or the bow. I started perspiring. I was afraid someone in authority would tell me I was too old and too dumb to be part of this elite group.
          Then our conductor, Andrew Dabczynski, stepped in front of the group and asked the members of the orchestra if they could remember how to hold their instrument.
          A man on the back row raised his arm and answered, “Is this the right way teacher?”
           I turned around just in time to see a distinguished gentleman place a very large bass across his lap and strum it like a guitar. Everybody burst out laughing. That was the moment when I took a deep breath and stopped perspiring. I was going to fit into this group after all. Maybe playing a string instrument was not just for stuffed-shirt arrogant rich people like my mother told me years ago. Maybe, just maybe, they would let me stay.

Later they took me and all the beginners into a separate room and began our primary instruction. Gordon Childs, a gentle, good natured, patient man was my teacher. The first time I played a note, the sound I produced resembled sick birds with scratchy sore throats but I didn’t have to stand out because everybody else in my small group sounded just like me. Our instructor kept teaching and encouraging us until we could play well enough to go in with the other more advanced players.

While all this transpired, I noticed strange things happening to me. Sleepy parts of my brain were waking up. Rusty screws loosened up inside my head as I struggled to use my rarely used left hand to find notes, my right hand to draw the bow and my ears to tell me when I was playing out of tune. I noticed my fingers drumming note placements on my bed pillow before I went to sleep at night. I heard rehearsal melodies drifting through my mind at odd times, like when I was driving the car or doing the dishes.

As our director gently guided us through our first elementary songs, there were moments when the music seemed to lift from the page and soak into my soul. Creating beautiful music moved me. I felt aroused and elevated-like I was flying without leaving the ground. I discovered that the learning process was not intimidating or humiliating; it was energizing, exhilarating and just plain fun. After we played our first song in three parts, I jumped from my seat like a two-year-old and yelled, “We did it! We made music!”

One of the side benefits I didn’t expect from my participation in the New Horizon’s Orchestra is the effect it has had on my children and grandchildren. After attending my concerts and watching mom do it, my son decided he wanted to learn to play the bass and my daughter decided she wanted to learn to play the cello. The other day my granddaughter told me she wants to learn the violin. Sometimes we play together in the living room on cold winter nights and it warms me.

I’ve learned other things as well. Orchestra members have become real friends who uplift and inspire each other. One woman in our group had a brain tumor resulting in the removal of portions of her brain. She went into a deep depression that didn’t lift until her husband brought her to our rehearsals. As she learned to play again, her brain developed new pathways and many other abilities came back to her. Another woman crippled with arthritis plays in the cello section. She has Mona Lisa painted on her music stand and her courage, determination, positive attitude and beautiful smile gives us all a lift every week. Some of our members have lost husbands, wives, children and grandchildren. Others have had to go back to work or move. But we are family. Once a New Horizon’s Orchestra member   always a New Horizon’s Orchestra member.

Playing in New Horizon’s Orchestra has also become my metaphor for joyful living. For example, I play second violin in our orchestra. The other members of the group who play in that section sit behind and on both sides of me. When I lose my place in the music, I listen carefully to the musician next to me while I scan the notes on the page to locate where we are in the score. Before long, I can jump back in and start playing again. The players next to me can’t stop playing to instruct me without also losing their place, but when they can tell I’m lost, they will quickly whisper the number of the measure we’re on. In a similar way, we can’t solve problems for other people, and they can’t solve ours. But we can listen carefully so we are aware when someone around us has lost their place. Though we are often unaware, those around us are starved for attention and compassion. We can’t always stop our life and rush to save them, but we can, in effect, whisper the number of the measure we’re on by offering a kind smile or a gentle word of appreciation, affection or encouragement. Before long, they will be able to find their place in the music and start playing again. A symphony simply does not have the same power without every instrument playing in tune.

For another example, when our orchestra is playing disjointedly and out of tune during rehearsals, our conductor will make us stop, memorize a few bars, and then ask us to close our eyes and play the music without looking. He will further instruct us to listen to those next to us and across the orchestra so we can hear how our part fits into the whole. It is amazing how much better we all sound when we do that. When we are focused only on our part and our eyes are glued to the sheet of music in front of us, we are too concerned with ourselves and are unable to play the notes together as beautifully as we could. In a similar way, if we want to get in tune with those around us, we have to occasionally get our minds off ourselves long enough to listen. Then we will notice subtle expressions of need and hear the silent cries of those across the way. When all of us are sensitive to the needs of each other, we can play the score of life with infinitely more harmony and grace. When we feel discouraged, we need to remember that we are never alone. When we are lost, we just need to listen. The melody is never far away. There is love all around and inside us. All we have to do is listen.

Sometimes I still pinch myself and think, “I’m playing a violin in an orchestra. I can’t believe I’m playing in an orchestra. Some dreams really do come true.”
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1 comment:

Hyrum and Ashley said...

Music has so many beautiful metaphors with life. Music shaped my life into something that is richer, more beautiful, and more meaningful. It's taught me patience, slowing down, and enjoying the small beautiful moments that surround us. It's a wonderful outlet for emotions that can't get expressed any other way. And it's just plain fun. :) Thanks for giving me opportunities to experience music growing up.