April 2006

The Happy Birthday Blues

April 15, 2006 17:59

I’m in a slump. For the first time since I started playing the violin nine months ago, I don’t have it in me to practice. And that’s freaking me out.

I’m hoping to cast the blame on April Syndrome. I knew the month would be like this, because last April was, and the April before it. The month carries with it such stupefying over-socialization that I’ve dubbed it “little December.” Alongside my Easter preparations and choir rehearsals, my husband, son and father all have birthdays during the first week of April. This year there were weekend parties in Kansas to fly to, parties in my house, overnight visitors, parties on weeknights, parties with too many little boys running around shrieking, and yet more visitors. And lots of singing happy birthday.

Oh, the happy birthday song. It makes me cringe when I play it poorly on my violin. My fingers don’t like the song and my ears don’t like the shaky, thin result I produce. But last week I dutifully played happy birthday to my dad, to my husband and son, and then pushed my way through the shrill, jittery sugar-induced gaiety and events of April.

I thought I was over the hump on Thursday when I bade goodbye to the last set of visitors and swept up the confetti and stale cake crumbs. But the funniest thing happened—the violin practice that had sustained me during the stressful period suddenly got lethargic. Just like me. We’re talking seriously lethargic, as in, wondering how you’re going to drag yourself through the motions of each day. But I had work to do for my next violin lesson, so I studied my assigned piece from a new lesson book. A new arrangement of the blasted happy birthday tune. Great.

This one has a catchier beat that keeps my fingers moving more quickly. And, to my dismay, I’m having trouble with it.

Yes, you read that right. I can’t master the happy birthday song. How’s that for humbling? This, alongside my failure to master the snake charmer song, even after a month of practice. My fingers can’t successfully negotiate the route from C natural to E with the fourth finger. My middle finger seems too pudgy to hit the C natural correctly on the birthday song. I recognize both songs are good to practice—they’re targeting what’s not working. I know I need to play them in order to master them. But I hate them. They’re for little kids. And they hate me in return. And now I dread my practice time.

I’m calling this funk “the happy birthday blues.” Thursday, I gave myself permission to stop practicing after twenty minutes. It had been the end of a tough two weeks, after all, and my intonation was simply tragic. Friday, I found 101 good reasons to do something else besides practice. Finally, when I did, for thirty minutes, I suffered once again from my terrible lethargy. Happy birthday has never sounded so pathetic. Never have I felt so glad to walk away from my violin. Today, well, here I am, and the terrible truth is that I don’t want to practice.

Is this just fatigue, or the sign of something worse? Does this signify the beginning of the end? Will I eventually cut my losses and give up on this violin endeavor? The thought frightens me. I need this love affair to last. It colors my world, creating a pleasant diversion from the junk of daily living. I need music, art. But, then again, what I’ve practiced in the past two days does not fall into either of the above categories.

The world won’t come to an end, I recognize, if I skip a day or two of practice in order to rejuvenate. I should be focusing on the music I’ll be singing for Easter mass on Sunday, anyway. Maybe the mass I’ll be attending will be balm for my blues. They say Jesus rose on the third day (recognizing here that not everyone believes what They say). Maybe my sagging spirits will do the same.

I hope so. I’ve got a love affair banking on it.

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