When I picked it up from the luthier, I was relieved. It cost just twenty dollars. The price was so reasonable, I considered my second violin. Uncle Brian had unearthed it at a flea market in rural Texas, a dusty relic with a forgotten past. The patch-work of improvised parts includes a cranked gear replacing one tuning peg, a wooden spoon fashioned into a chin-rest, and an elegant scroll carved with flowers. It’s a mess of cracks and dings, the resulting tone makes me wince. Maybe the people at Oklahoma Strings could work their magic again.
Next evening our three-piece family band had a big gig planned. After performing at senior living homes for a few years, we were finally playing at this fancy one we’d had our eye on. The audience was milling in; onstage I opened my case. Unease swooshed in.
Where was my main wooden bow?! I tumbled down a wormhole, wondering, but yanked myself out; I had a spare. All at once reality struck. A tsunami of adrenaline crashed into me, knocking out my breath. I could instantly melt onto the floor like hot, molten plastic and stay there forever, becoming a hard puddle. Later the janitor’s broom would sweep over me, and the lights would go out; but all that happened was my cheeks flushed and sweat beaded on my face.
I rushed off stage to the storeroom and rattled the door, all eyes on me. Was I hyperventilating? My son, August remembered how a door works and gently let me in. “THIS IS A DISASTER!! I brought the wrong violin!” I sputtered. This gig had everything going for it: a large modern space, an eager crowd of a hundred or so. I had sabotaged it in this weird way.
Shortly Casey returned from the restroom, “Are you freaking out? Get it together!” I fluttered about in despair and confusion; we had to leave. No way could I play this piece of wreckage. Would it even tune? And the wasted bow with half its hair missing? Nails on a chalkboard! Casey spoke matter-of-factly, “These people are here to see us. You’ll just have to play it.” Was this the voice of reason, or a risky gamble? I struggled to shove the trap door down on my hysteria, and lock it in the hand-dug root cellar of my mind. I breathed deep, and mentally tossed the dice. Drained, like coming out of a fever, I began tuning.
Ten minutes later we were on stage ruffled, smiling, being introduced. This place in this moment was so lovely; I had to make this violin sound good. It was raspy and tricky to play. Casey gave me the side eye. Tense, I kept smiling, trying to get the hang of it. August remained stoic as usual. I studied the crowd; were they buying this? They were clapping in rhythm. Applause burst forth. I shrugged internally, “Who would not be supportive with this kid on stage?”
During a tuning break Casey explained the situation. Gentle chuckling drifted around the room. A white-haired lady declared, “We can’t tell the difference, honey!” Again and again while we performed, I could hear the grim tick of the geared tuning peg slipping; more sour notes, more side eye from Casey. The low string was good for nothing. Adjusting the songs off-the-cuff was an engaging challenge. Part of me enjoyed it, but I was relieved when it was time to switch to guitar.
A few years back, I began learning guitar with Casey as my teacher, at the same time I worked on my voice. Before long I was in love in a hurts-so-good kind of way. My debut performance was at an Old Folks Home. I was a nervous amateur again. Now it’s a regular part of our act.
Later on lots of people said nice things and shook hands.
Sometimes everything goes to pieces, sometimes it holds together just enough; you never know.