Went to my kid’s viola recital this week. It’s like a little violin. I barely survived.
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Friday, March 8th,2020
Went to my kid’s viola recital this week. It’s like a little violin. I barely survived.

The old church in south Austin was empty, except for performing kids and their families. Probably around 70 of us. Wasn’t sure what to expect. The viola teacher took the stage to greet the parent’s and fill time while stragglers trickled in.

Eventually, a 3rd grader climbed into the bright light, took a bow, and started playing.

I mean, it was fine. He’s in 3rd grade, right? Props to the little guy for staring down a pile of strange faces while unapologetically squawking through a few nursery tunes. Good enough to recognize what the music was supposed to be, right?

Eventually, he takes another bow and is met with polite applause. As he switches places with the next kid, that’s when I notice - THE LINE.

There were 32 kids sitting in the front row - all holding violas. I quickly dust off the math part of my brain and calculate what’s about to happen. 32 kids x 3 songs = 96. If the average song is 2.5 minutes, that’s 240 minutes of performance. Sprinkle in time for bows and polite applause, and we’re easily looking at 4+ hours of twinkle twinkle little migraine.

You ever been stuck outside in really extreme heat? In my experience, as long as there’s some kind of potential path to comfort, the heat is damn near unbearable. The possibility of a reprieve seems to highlight how brutal your current situation really is.

But… if you’re well and truly stuck in a sweltering situation with no hope of things getting better - it’s actually not that bad. You just lean in and become one with the ball-sweat (or boob-sweat).

The heat coming off the stage at that recital was intense. As time went on some older kids performed, and a few were surprisingly good. We neared the end of the line, and solid performances became the rule rather than the exception. Eventually, an old lady took the stage with her instrument. Maybe late 60’s.

Considering the hot-streak we were on, I mistook her for a ringer and whispered to my wife, "She must have been held back a year."

The wife wasn’t amused. Maybe she knew something I didn’t.

A few notes in and it’s clear - she’s not a ringer. The squeaks and squawks washed over me in a broiling blaze of musical malpractice. Simply put, she was out of her depth - but she got through it.

After that first song, there was a moment. The polite applause kicked in as she stared silently at the ground. I knew it wasn’t going well. She knew it wasn’t going well. We all knew it wasn’t going well.

This old lady could have just taken a bow and sat down after one song. Earlier, a couple kids in the lineup had only played a single song, so there was precedent. No one would have been the wiser.

Instead, she tucked the instrument under her chin and locked eyes with some empty chairs in the back row. Stiff backed and determined, she launched into the 2nd song.

I wish I could tell you that it went better. Once again, the air filled with an awkward mess of missed notes. What was intended to be a jonty scamp of a song, just limped and drooled across the stage.

By the 3rd song, I was pulling for her. Squarely in this old lady’s corner - I desperately wanted some kind of win that she could cling to. As adults, the expectations and responsibilities that we strap to ourselves leave little room for creative risks. And here’s this old lady, in the golden years of her life, uncontent with easy / comfortable / common paths forward.

Can you imagine joining a class full of children that are generations removed from you?

Nearing the end of your life, and picking up an instrument that can take decades to perfect?

Standing in front of a room full of strangers and explicitly demonstrating how unskilled you are?

Every screech of the strings was met with an equally shrill voice in my head, "C’mon girl! You’ve got this! Get it together! Make that little bastard sing!"

Then it happened. Like someone flipped a switch. In the last several seconds of the last song, the clumsy noises tightened into silk. It couldn’t have been more than 20 seconds, but those final notes were thick, poignant, and exquisitely long as the piece swelled and faded across the room.

She stuck the landing. She had her win.

Here's to trying new things.

To always picking yourself up again.

To finishing strong.

~ The Magnificent Bastard

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