Violin

I stopped playing the violin when I was 20. It really wasn’t too late to start over.

I was 20 when I stopped playing the violin. For years, I felt like I had lost a part of myself. During those years, I moved several times to the Northeast and twice to the Midwest, and wherever I went my violin accompanied me. Once, I even took him in a motorhome. But I hardly ever tried to play it. I had lost contact. It seemed far too late to start over.

In 2003, I returned to Connecticut. I had a husband and two little boys then, and we enrolled our sons in Neighborhood Music School in New Haven. Every time I took them to class, we passed a door on which a teacher had posted a yellow leaflet inviting adult beginners to join a string ensemble. The title: “Never too late”.

I joined. And little by little, the music came back. I have been a student at NMS for 17 years now. (Full disclosure: also board member for three.) I am currently working on Brahms’ first sonata for violin and piano. It’s outrageously difficult for a player of my level, but I have an expert teacher. And when the music, my fingers and the tempo line up, it’s more than satisfying; it is a kind of exaltation. If you’ve ever played or sung great music, you’ll understand.

NMS is a combination of expertise and warmth. Its teachers studied at eminent schools including Hartt, Yale, and the conservatories of Boston and New England. But when you walk into the square (which should be possible again in September) you begin to realize that this is truly a neighborhood. You feel welcome. You see little children running around with the adorably small cases that contain their miniature instruments, and high school kids rushing to attend orchestral rehearsals.

Adults between the ages of 20 and 80 will take lessons in everything from cabaret singing to the accordion. You might even hear a poetry slam – because although NMS was strictly a music school when it was founded in 1911, it has since added dance, theater, film, a pre-K, a program. summer art and arts-based college. There are instructors for all levels and for dozens of skills. You can learn hip-hop dance or ballet, oboe or steelpan, cinema or theater. You can go as a teenager looking to perfect your jazz drums or as a 70 year old who wants to try choral singing.

Thanks to NMS, I discovered that the whole state is teeming with classical music. My violin teacher is a member of the Hartford Symphony and performs regularly in the Ridgefield, Greater Bridgeport, Waterbury and Wallingford orchestras. Southwest Connecticut alone boasts over a dozen symphony orchestras, from Middletown to Danbury to Greenwich.


There is also Orchestra New England, whose home port is New Haven, and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival summer, held in the upstate but managed by Yale. And the myriad of middle and high school orchestras and orchestras is perhaps the most important of all, as they serve young people. Music groups teach care and cooperation. They also tend to be social by nature – great places to make friends. (Parents, take note. Your children may complain about the practice, but they will thrive.)

The director of a university orchestra told me that he thinks the plethora of symphonies established in our state is wrong, because small symphonies cannot pay their musicians what they deserve. He has a point. Union members are paid around $ 110 for a rehearsal or concert that can last 2.5 hours. But why silence the music of Connecticut? Why not encourage it, by giving what we can to our favorite orchestras, groups and soloists? No one should take music for granted. For the majority of his life, Johannes Brahms’ father was a traveling musician who played in the streets and passed the hat, or he took concerts in beer gardens. But if he hadn’t earned enough to keep his family alive, he might have changed jobs. He might have become a tailor or a tank top. What if Johannes had followed in his footsteps? There would be no Brahms sonatas. No Hungarian dances. No four symphonies.

So let’s stand in solidarity with those Germans of old who threw coins in Johannes’s father’s hat. Let’s keep the tunes to play. We need them. As Oliver Sacks wrote: “We humans are a musical species.”

Kathrin Day Lassila’s day job is editor-in-chief of Yale Alumni Magazine.


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