Infernal shrieks and ghoulish screeches pierced the air, permeating the trembling walls and inflicting injury on the ears of all those who had the unfortunate privilege of being within sufficient radius of hearing them.
The dog ran, the neighbours called and my mother bellowed with distress, but I continued undaunted. The noises that seemed so horrendously excruciating to them sounded nothing lesser than cherubic hymns to me and I relentlessly produced more of these noises, exulting in the magnificent melodies and lilting tunes that I so ‘masterfully’ generated.
To imagine that my violin could cause such severe distress to all those within two hundred metres of me seemed unfathomable at the time. It wasn’t until my Tunisian violin teacher declared the verdict on my playing that my ever-expanding bubble burst, meteorically sending me back down to Earth.
For as long as I could remember, I dreamed of becoming a ‘first-class’ violinist. I watched the great Joshua Bell and Izthak Perlman with admiration and yearned to attain even a fraction of their adroitness.
So, after considerable amount of instruction in the piano and theory of music, at the ripe young age of ten, I decided to purchase my first violin and enlist the services of the best violin teacher I could find.
While a fiddle and a bow are not quite what every ten year-old covets, it was my deepest desire to learn to play and I was absolutely determined. Those who have received any training in the violin would know that every beginner starts off with scratches and unintelligible noises that within a month or two of consistent practice, metamorphose into clear and confident tonalities. But like a butterfly trapped in its cocoon, I struggled to break free from my musical ‘training-wheels’.
And now that my violin teacher had corroborated the views of my parents, dog and neighbours, I was heartbroken. Was I naturally inept or was I not practicing hard enough? Was I holding the bow wrong or plucking the strings too harshly?
Was I just not intelligent enough or was I tone-deaf? An endless spiral of self-doubt ensued and my violin teacher’s inability to diagnose the problem only pushed my self-esteem lower and lower.
Yet despite the criticism, I wasn’t ready to give up on my violin-playing dreams just yet. I practiced with greater rigor and resolve than ever before and incessantly played from morning till evening during my winter vacations, trying to perfect every cadenza, articulate the notes perfectly and inject sufficient poise and sentiment into my playing.
All of this resulted in very little success and my violin teacher said that I still sounded like a “crow with a sore throat”. So, in a fit of childish rage I flung my violin across the room, which ejected some of its strings. Once my internal hot-boiler had been brought back down to a safe temperature, I took my violin to the store to be restrung. What the workshop-man discovered next altered not just my musical pursuits but even my philosophy of life and achievement. Using forceps and some oil, he dislodged a loose wood chip that had been carelessly left by the manufacturer between the F-holes and back of the violin, distorting its sound and ruining its tone. As you might imagine, my violin sounded infinitely better after that miraculous ‘surgical intervention’. But to me, this experience was so much more than my fruitless escapades with a faulty fiddle.
It impressed upon me that failures in life are more than often not a reflection on one’s own ability, effort, talent or competence, but are often result of extraneous factors that are beyond our estimation or judgement. This simple, yet more enlightened approach to life has enthused me with self-worth, optimism and drive, whether it is while navigating the slippery slopes of a Mozart symphony or as a student about to put his first foot forward into the big wide world.