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  • Writer's picturejulietertin

Concert A

Last Friday, I caught my own dark eye in the mirror as I was zipping up my dress, slipping my toes into black heels, and attempting to clasp my pearl bracelet (for the umpteenth time). This ultrarunning, light my fire, cast iron girl was lucky enough to acquire two tickets to see the Minnesota Orchestra perform Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony and a Bartok violin concerto.

Little-known fact: I’ve perched on the edge of the chair, lights heating and illuminating my face, bow poised at the frog (the base of the bow), frozen; waiting for the conductor’s baton to drop. I’ve played my heart out and led violin sections on the stage of Orchestra Hall. A few times actually.


It’s an interesting thing, how things that used to define you become faded memories.

It was only a decade ago that I used to drive every morning – in the pitch black – to a concrete practice room, slowly unzip my black rectangular violin case, and unstrap the neck of my glossy tiger instrument. I’d unlatch my bow and pull her slowly across the golden oval of rosin, wrapped in cloth, in the most Biblical sense. Every violinist, performing or practicing, begins by tuning their instrument to a concert A.

My instrument is me.

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That’s the brilliant truth of it. It was shaped and carved by a local violin Minnesotan instrument maker, Arnie Anderson. When your name finally approaches the top of his list, he gives you the opportunity to select the wood, the color of finish, the knobs, the fingerboard. I have gold-wrapped E strings. I also chose a beautifully brunette striped back with a black ebony and elegant pegs. When you work a wood instrument, the wood remembers, and the instrument is improved. Why do you think Stradivarius is worth so much?

The most familiar feel in the world to me used to be my chin rest. The feel between my collarbone and my jaw. The particular curve of each finger of my right hand balancing my horsehair bow.  I used to have a ‘violin hickey’ on my neck: a soft red oval attesting to hundreds of arduous hours with my instrument. It marked the place where my chin rest coincided with my passion.

Pulling my left wrist gracefully away from me and curling my fingers gently around the ebony fingerboard, cradling it between my thumb and first finger. My teacher gently pinched my forearm, like taking my pulse, and made me close my eyes. He pulled my wrist up and down and asked me to pretend that it was in water. He’d drag it back and forth, making me envision every motion of the music, every push and pull of the bow. When I played violin, I poured my heart out.


Psalm 62.8: a beautiful line of poetry.

When I  first walked onto the stage of Orchestra Hall, violin confidently in my left hand, I couldn’t have played Copeland or Diamond harder. I was principal chair.  My eyes never left the conductor. I led my section with both my body and heart. I had practiced it a thousand times, but I could never have meant it more.


On tour throughout Europe, my first year of college (when I still pursued violin performance), I poured my heart out before the graves of thousands of Jews in front of Germans in a holocaust memorial; I stood beside my teacher during a concerto in a great German church while I choked on my tears. We played a piece written to acknowledge and heal the hurt of the deceased. The pain of the lives that perished on that very ground. The audience cried. We cried. We stood in the front of concentration camp memorial and we played the notes on our page; but our hearts broke with theirs. Barbed wire fenced us in.


It’s an interesting thing, how things that used to define you become faded memories.

I’m not 30 yet, and my life seems short. I worked so very hard; so many hours of scales and arpeggios and auditions taught me to release the soloist within me. I miss that. I miss having that voice. The voice of Barber or Vivaldi or Vaughan Williams.

It is the same as certain old memories. There is something so beautiful about obscuring the truth. It is not unlike the sirens of Odysseus. The calling of some truth or some desire that you never fully recognized. There is probably beauty in every discipline.

I guess that is the complication of truth: that brutal cross-section of honesty and reality.

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