I used to be a violinist. I had wanted to play professionally with orchestras and small ensembles, perhaps doing movie soundtracks. Those are always the best pieces – the narrative lays the groundwork, but it’s the music that really conjures emotions in the audience. Requiem for a Dream and Schindler’s List both rely on the intensity of a violin; without its cello, Jaws is just a lot of waiting on a boat.
I was a good violinist, in the technical sense. I had quick fingers, a decent ear, and an instinctive feel for bowings. With my technical abilities developed into a second nature, the violin was an easy extension of myself. I became a conduit for the music in front of me, I didn’t have to think about how to make the violin do as I wanted.
Occasionally, I pushed my instructor to give me an emotionally intense piece — something incredibly joyful or mournfully despairing. I wanted a work that would make me weep. I wanted the music to reflect my internal reality. She would politely redirect me to a page so full of notes it was more black than white, a piece with a quick tempo and technical complexity, written to show off skill without need for emotion.
I don’t blame her: evoking emotion wasn’t my strong suit when playing. Despite my emotional reactions when listening to music, when I played the notes myself I couldn’t feel the music in my guts. The rare times I did, I couldn’t channel it into my fingers and the vibrations of the strings. While playing I lost touch of my body altogether: I didn’t blink enough and had to stop wearing contacts; I clenched my jaw so intensely that I had near-constant headaches; I had spotty vision during long performances from forgetting to breath. My surroundings became so distant that I wouldn’t notice people coming or going, wouldn’t even pause when they started talking to me. Embodiment just wasn’t a skill I had learned.
I continued to ask for emotional pieces and my instructors continued to give me technical ones. They wanted me to be impressive for the next competition, accepted after the next audition, spared from shame at an upcoming recital. Perhaps that is why I loved playing in ensembles and orchestras more than solo work — the community of musicians helped me to feel in ways that I couldn’t as a soloist.
Which, perhaps, is part of why I came to the church, and later, The Seattle School. (Not to become a violinist — carpal tunnel ended that dream, and already my fingers have lost the necessary callouses and dexterity they once had.) I’m here looking to my community, asking to be taught how to communicate something emotionally intense through staying in tune with my body and surroundings. I want to invite others into the heights and depths of my inner emotional world. I’m hoping the callouses between my inner emotion and my outer reality, once necessary in my life, are lost — even if doing so hurts.