The Manliest Instrument


Ever since I can remember, I have been harassed, urged, and prompted to play the violin. However, it was only recently that I started to be the one doing the urging. One fateful birthday, I ripped open my birthday package with suspicions about its oddly shaped wrapping. As my mother watched with shining eyes, my first violin rolled into my lap, instead of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers set I had long been anticipating. My immediate, heartbroken thought was, “What kind of boy plays the violin?”

For many years afterward, I made it my mission to explicitly and implicitly remind my mother of my disdain for the birthday present. At every orchestra rehearsal, every violin lesson, every church recital, I was the juvenile bane of conductors, instructors, and proctors everywhere. I was jealous of my friends who had sensible parents who allowed them to engage in more masculine activities, such as martial arts or baseball.

If I absolutely had to play an instrument, I wanted to take up something brassy and obnoxious, something I could blast on until my face turned red. I even envied the cellists across the orchestra hall whose instruments seemed huge and stalwart next to my tiny and wimpy violin. However, with my mother and violin tutor teaming up to make my life miserable, prospects of burning my violin and making it look like an accident seemed slim. As my dislike grew, so too did their determination to reform me.

Thus was my mentality when I entered junior high school. The future of the next six years of my education as a teenager seemed bleak, as my violin instructor had, through my mother, reached her arm into my schedule and branded it with period 2 Orchestra. As I shuffled in on the first day, however, I noticed something different about the room. For the first time, I had friends who were in the same orchestra as I was. As I settled into a chair in the back row with one of my best friends, the conductor explained that our positions would not be determined by one recital alone, but that we were allowed to challenge the player above us for the spot, once a week. Never had I heard of something so flexible, so competitive, so… fun. My recital was abysmal, as was to be expected. Out of all my higher-ranking friends, I was the only one in second violin. Rattled, I determined to challenge my way up until I beat them, or at least until I sat close enough to chat with them in class.

But with each player I beat, other, unintended emotions took hold. With my drive to win came the passion to master the notes. As we moved away from idyllic, romantic pieces to wicked, contemporary ones, I found myself actually liking the music, and when we came back around in a circle to Mozart and Tchaikovsky, they weren’t so bad either. I realized that the unthinkable had happened: I liked playing the violin.

Playing in that orchestra with my friends was the foothold for reaching greater heights. When I entered high school, I entered the College of the Canyons’ Philharmonics, where I performed with the LA Philharmonics at the Disney Hall. Though I still preferred to play in orchestras, I advanced through the Certificate of Merits test and attended competitions. Through the various stages of my walk, I became acquainted with Beethoven and Viotti. I lamented that I would never hear the end of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and understood why Schumann could only be calmed by his own music. The echoes of these sensational composers handed me a staff upon which I could harmonize passion with inspiration, and perseverance with purpose.

Playing the violin, by myself, with companions, and with people unfamiliar, has made up a large part of my identity. Through the years, I have tuned my violin with experience and practice, and it in turn has tempered me by teaching me more drive and discipline than martial arts could ever hope to. The instrument looks intensely different from how I saw it years ago: the once meek and feminine-looking scroll has transformed into the prow that heads my resolve, and the bars that once bored me to sleep now stoke the furnace in my chest. The violin has made me the man I am today, making it, of course, the manliest instrument ever.

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