“I want to learn the violin, daddy.” The girl said one day.
“Hmm.” Neanderdad had replied.
Then Neanderdad took no further action. These whimsical requests of hers were quite common. Neanderdad had not responded to her request to get a pet cat or to quit school either. So time had passed. Then the girl approached him again.
“Daddy, I want to learn the violin.” She said this more insistently.
“Violin?” Neanderdad replied absently. But, again, he didn’t feel moved to act. He hadn’t acted either when the girl had wanted to adopt a parrot or drive the car. There were simply too many requests to address. More time passed. Then the girl came to him a third time, a quiet determination in her eye. She took his hand and sat beside him and made her request politely, but firmly.
“Daddy, I want to learn the violin. Can I please?”
And because of her persistence—and because she said the magic word—Neanderdad relented. But Neanderdad had seen his daughter’s fickle interest wane before. The skills learned from her piano lessons, for example, had now rusted completely away. So he drew up a letter of commitment for his daughter. Specifically, she would go to at least ten lessons. She also promised to practice without being cajoled. She agreed to all the stipulations and signed the letter with a bold hand.
“I promise to practice every day,” she said. That much Neanderdad knew to be untrue because he had also been a child once. But the letter did make Neanderdad optimistic that the girl would practice enough to stick with the endeavor. However, the seven-year-old’s commitment was not the only vector for capriciousness that Neanderdad had to overcome in this Violin-learning endeavor.
The local music school that Neanderdad found for his daughter seemed promising at first. They had a storefront. They had a sign. They had a website with a photograph of a dedicated teacher working with an adoring child. They also had three violin teachers on staff. But what the music school did not have was a reliable violin teacher. The first teacher gave Neanderdad’s daughter her first four lessons. These were stern, joyless affairs. The teacher had recently emigrated from eastern Europe and Neanderdad was quite certain that she had come from a family of brutal Cossacks. Having barely taken time to explain the rudiments of the instrument, this teacher proceeded to make impatient tisking sounds with every mistake the girl made. Neanderdad rarely saw any passion for the violin from this woman and never saw a smile. To Neanderdad’s amazement, however, his daughter never wavered in her pursuit.
“I’m starting to learn, Daddy,” she said optimistically as she struggled through a practice session.
Then this first teacher was called away. Neanderdad assumed she needed to put down a peasant revolt somewhere in her homeland. The second teacher came in late, confused and disheveled. She spent most of the lesson asking Neanderdad’s daughter to explain what she’d learned in past lessons, as if the girl was the teacher instead of the pupil. But that was only for one lesson. Then that teacher was gone, replaced by a yet another. No explanation provided. This third teacher was prim and proper and punctual. She sat perfectly straight throughout the session, a strange smile frozen on her lips. It was as if she were listening to a joke only she could hear. She pointed to the lesson book and asked the girl to play. But for an entire lesson, she never made a helpful comment. Then, before the next lesson, the music school administrator announced that the Cossack teacher was returning. Neanderdad promptly quit the place. This odd menagerie of instructors clearly couldn’t help his daughter achieve her goal. The girl, however, remained enthusiastic.
“When are we getting a new Violin teacher, Daddy?” The girl would ask.
“Soon,” said Neanderdad nervously.
Neanderdad undertook a more thorough search for a new violin teacher, images of a tall, germanic, yodeling Maria von Trapp firmly in his mind. He ended up instead with someone even better; a passionate, petite, Asian woman who was a dual-virtuoso in piano and violin. The woman took one look at the girl’s technique and gently but firmly demanded that they start from scratch. She was not a fan of the Cossack’s style, either. Neanderdad took one look at the way the woman interacted warmly with the girl and knew they’d found the right teacher. The girl was thrilled.
“I’m finally learning the right way, daddy.”
And she finally did learn the right way. For the first month, the girl didn’t play a note. She sawed away at the air with a wooden stick and held an eraser ‘just so’ to build up the needed muscles. She practiced how to enter a room, how to bow to an audience and how to carry her instrument properly. Even when the girl went past the terms of her original agreement and still couldn’t play, she made not a word of complaint. Then the girl began, in ernest, to scratch out a few basic basic notes. When the teacher asked Neanderdad to get a second violin for himself, Neanderdad was puzzled and confused. But then Neanderdad recognized the teacher’s genius.
“Let me show you the right way to hold your violin, daddy,” the girl said when they were at home practicing. The girl became a stickler for technique when it came to Neanderdad. And, by proxy, herself.
Finally, there was an explosion of music. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was first. Then Song of theWind and Don’t Tell Aunt Rhoady. Her ascent into competence was breathtaking. Her confidence grew. Squeaky scratching gave way beautiful notes. She started figuring out songs herself. One day, Neanderdad found the girl playing Ode to Joy, a song she hadn’t even been assigned.
Neanderdad then relaxed. The girl was passed the hard part. Now that she could actually play. He could almost imagine his daughter playing violin the rest of her life now. Perhaps she could even earn a scholarship someday? The girl might even remember that her old dad helped her get started.
Neanderdad carried those warm hopes with him one day as he went to the girl’s room, hoping to hear her to play. However, he was surprised to find the girl completely disinterested. She flipped languidly through the pages of a book.
“Actually, daddy, I think I want to quit violin.” The girl said this with a yawn.
“Hmm.” Neanderdad had replied carefully.
Then Neanderdad took no further action.