Vikings and violins. Don’t ask.


One of the unparalleled pleasures of adulthood, which almost makes the whole tiresome business of growing up worthwhile, is the conquering of language. For those of you reading this, adults and precocious toddlers alike, my words cannot withhold their secrets. Your steely eyes can force even the most labyrinthine of my sentences to give up their hidden treasures, in the same way as marauding Vikings were wont to do to Anglo-Saxon monasteries. 

If there is something we want to say, we have all 26 letters and 15 formal punctuation marks of the common QWERTY keyboard with which to say it. We can use the full panoply of verb tenses, cases of the infinitive, subjective and conjunctivitis, use the full palette of iambs, trochees, terabrachs and anapaests, all the while indulging in as many variations of rhyme patterns as our hearts desire.

We can all communicate whenever and wherever we want to, at whichever level we choose. The horrific image of losing the ability to interact with the outside world is now for the most part relegated to the world of nightmares, along with neverending staircases, deformed arachnids and, in my case, large bears replacing the regular buses driving down Baker Street.

This is, of course, true for those of us who are fluent in a particular language. While my English may well be good enough for me to occasionally understand the things I write myself, the weaknesses of my other tongues are a source of constant frustration. My grandparents and older sisters have long grown accustomed to my peculiar fondness for the wrong adjectival endings and complete ignorance of grade school conjugation. My nieces, however, in the golden-hearted innocence of childhood, are less tolerant. My eldest niece has just turned 12 and so has been able to speak more coherently than I for most of the past decade. 

To give her credit, when she realized my imperfections she recovered from the blow fairly well. Though her mother has doubtless taken her aside and gently explained why Uncle Gilead talks like he was dropped on his head as a baby, my niece’s disbelief still occasionally bubbles to the surface. Forming sentences that contain the requisite subject:object ratio is difficult enough without watching a 12-year old roll her eyes as she attempts to hide the smile on her face. Nor is the sidelong pitying glance much of a morale-booster. My one consolation with this branch of the family is that I completely crushed her 3-year old brother at a game of Scrabble the last time we played.

It is this sort of inferiority that always strikes me whenever I am confronted with a musical instrument or a sheet of paper with staves on. It is irritating and humiliating for an adult to find himself unable to communicate in one medium with the fluency he is accustomed to in another. This, by the way, serves as the lead-in for those of you who had better things to do last week than pick up a copy of felix and give my 923 words the once-over. It would have killed you to at least skim it? Oy!

When faced with the shining ivories of a keyboard, for instance, I can come close to understanding the rapine thoughts of those Vikings of paragraph 1. ‘Olaf see something beautiful. Olaf not able to have it. Only way for Olaf to truly own is to destroy.’ Hence why every short-lived keyboard session of mine has always ended with violent ten-fingered thundering – the last attempt of a desperate man to produce something beautiful from an object he is too uncivilized to truly possess.

By far the most beautiful and inaccessible instrument for me, however, has always been the violin. I don’t know whether it is my Jewish cultural heritage or an unusual (perhaps even a usual?) preference, but the sounds of the violin resonate more powerfully within me than those of any other instrument. If I hear the sound of a fiddle, whether it be of a young child practicing at home as I walk down the street or a busker at my local tube stop, I will automatically stop to listen.

This is why, gentle readers, to cut through this most turgid of suspenses and let the strangled cat out of the bag, I have decided to take up the violin. It may be foolhardy to announce this in public, as my stamina could give up soon and leave me with slowly cooking egg on my sizzling red face, but I believe I can do it.

I’m glad that I at least have this modicum of self-confidence or I would never even have had the courage to rent an instrument or contact a teacher. Even now, walking around college with the distinctively-shaped blue case I feel like I am somehow cheating. As though I don’t belong in the world of music and should stop faking my membership. If a real musician were to come over to me and shake his head in disappointment, I would not think twice before handing over my violin and running behind the building to cry.

My short journeys from the locker where I store my instrument to the crowded music rooms are made by passing through as many shadows as possible and by employing the most deserted routes I know.

If you should knock on the door of one of the aforementioned music rooms and hear the yelp of a dying animal, the odds are 50-50 that it will be me, and not my violin. And if you should walk in, you will find me cowering behind the chair in the hope you won’t register a complaint about how someone like me got inside.


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