To misquote Star Wars, “The baggage is strong in this one…”
I begin my musical career a long time ago in a childhood far, far away with brass wind instruments. French horn and Euphonium to exact, which meant that I’ve spend time both in a full orchestra playing Mozart and the rest of the old, dead, white men, and in a marching band where Sousa is king. To this day I carry a prejudice that first chair violins are very delicate, fragile people, and a good military march will bring a tear to my eye (along with Greyhound bus exhaust). And I know that the image of a young shirtless Dennis Brophy going to town on a bass drum, sweat spraying everywhere, well, that’s just something you can’t unsee once you’ve seen it.
But the long winding journey through brass wind instruments left me with two habits that are affecting my attempts to play the fiddle.
The first is that mid-to-low brass is mostly the rhythm section, never the melody, and always done in a large group (either slouching in a folding metal chair in the orchestra or at military attention in marching band formation) that come with a baton waver. Someone will be standing in front of you to swing out the beat and the half beats. And while sometimes things were a bit chaotic in marching band, if you lost sight of the baton waver, the aforementioned Dennis Brophy would be beating it hard enough that you could feel the clock beat in your pancreas.
But when I go back into the back bedroom to practice, there are no baton wavers. And I’m like a steam train that slowly gathers momentum. Yeah, I’ve got a metronome, it sits in the corner and says “thwock, thwock, thwock…” Really not the same. My pancreas is lonely and unreliable.
The second habit is that I tend to only breathe at the end of phrases. I obviously don’t hold my breath until I pass out. But I’m still blowing out the notes, sometimes the lips vibrate.
Which means that between these two habits, I am panting by the time I reach the end of the song.
So, my instructor is trying to counterbalance this by giving me waltzes. Who could rush through a waltz? And actually the dirty little secrets is that I’ve discovered I really enjoy Western waltzes. Who saw that coming? The Tennessee Waltz is my go-to warm up song.