I had never taken my violin to the Bear Lake cabin. After all, there was a beach. With a beach comes sand. And water. Sand and water around a violin? No bueno.
But this was an emergency. I hadn’t practiced enough for my violin lesson. Yes, I was taking violin lessons again this summer—for the first time in fifteen years.
Why would I take lessons again at this stage in my life? I already had a master’s degree in music education, for crying out loud. I had myself been teaching for twenty years. I had kind of exhausted the possibilities of the system, you could say. But then, you’d be wrong. This time, the stars had aligned. The timing was right. I had the desire. Inspiration had also struck from an unlikely source--perhaps not that unlikely, in retrospect, given that the potential teacher had been trained at Julliard. But he was willing to teach me, and he lived less than an hour away from my home. It was nice to be able to pick my own teacher for the very first time. I hadn’t even chosen my schools for my two music degrees based on the violin teachers. My teachers in both cases had just been assigned. So this was different. I had personally selected this teacher. I had a lesson the next day. And I wanted to be prepared!
Self-conscious, I made sure the rest of my extended family was gone from the cabin before I practiced that afternoon. It was just me, and the birds singing through the open window, and a dude working with his small bulldozer on some landscaping project next door.
To my surprise, that night, after I had put away my violin, the others in my family had returned, dinner was long over and the board games were in full swing, there came a knock at our cabin door. It was the man with the bulldozer! The first words out of his mouth expressed his gratitude for the beautiful violin music he had heard while working on his yard! I had worried I had bothered him with the volume of my hacking away at the intense chords of the Sibelius Concerto, or that he had been distracted by the constant repetition of passages from various Bach Sonatas and Partitas. But apparently he loved it, which was a relief to me. And he took the time out of his day to tell me! He said he needed to express gratitude anytime a gift was given him, whether or not the giver already knows it.
We invited him into the main room of the cabin and were enthralled with stories for the next hour and a half from his unusual life journey. He had been born in Vietnam, had run away from home at a young age, been adopted by an American bachelor, and decades later, after suffering the tragic loss of his own son, remembered he, too, was a lost son, and returned to his homeland where he found all of his siblings, who had remained at the same house for fifty years after their dying parents predicted their brother would return someday and made them promise to never move away! Read more of his story here.
Music had opened a door (literally) to an unexpected friendship that wouldn’t have come about otherwise. And I got to thinking about something that, perhaps, was obvious: that this wasn’t the first or the last time this would happen.
I remembered when I had toured Germany at age 19 with an intercollegiate orchestra of musicians selected from around the world, and how I became fast friends with a shy girl from Taiwan who, as a teen, was already fluent in four different languages! Then there were the Brazilian citizens playing on the tennis courts of our apartment complex in São Paulo as a kid; our mom had made us go serenade them with carols on our instruments on Christmas Day—the only December 25th of her life she said she had woken up sweating from extreme heat! Even though we spoke different languages, they expressed appreciation with their smiles.
There was the time my peers in high school pressured me into pulling out my violin at the Salt Lake City airport, back in the late 90’s, and had me play the Orange Blossom Special. Even back then, performing in an airport wasn’t a commonplace occurrence. Soon there was a crowd of curious onlookers. Some started to clap along. Unbeknownst to me, someone took my case while I was playing and opened it up. After the 90-second song was over, when I looked for my case, I realized what had happened. Audience members had thrown in their loose change, earning me less than a dollar, mostly in pennies. I was flushed but elated by the whole experience. I couldn’t have paid a hundred times that amount for classmates like that. (I also couldn’t pay to bribe airport officials in this day and age to be allowed to do that again!) And of course, there was our next door neighbor in Salt Lake City, a paraplegic older gentleman confined to a wheelchair, who lived in a small house with his elderly mother. If we hadn’t given him concerts on his driveway when we were little kids, we probably never would have been invited inside to see his workspace, where we realized he was an expert painter. He had painted some incredible landscapes that had taken a very long time to create, using only a paintbrush controlled with his teeth.
As I reminisced on these experiences, the gratitude bubbled up inside. Yes, music opens doors to new, rich relationships. It was nice to be reminded, yet again, of the unexpected blessings of my trade, and how many good people there still are in this world, on that cool evening in July 2022 at Bear Lake, ID.