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According to one encyclopedia, the present-day violin came into existence near the end of the 16th century and is noted for its “flexibility in range, tone, and dynamics.” As most people have observed, the violin (informally called a “fiddle”) is usually played by tucking it under the left side of one’s chin and plucking or drawing the bow across the violin’s four strings with the right hand.

Katie, a domestic worker, lived in a small town. She loved violin music. Whenever possible at work or at home, she listened to classical music on the radio with hopes that a violin solo would be played. She was familiar with great violinists like Niccolo Paganini, Pinchas Zukerman, Isaac Stern and Yaakov Rubinstein, but Katie was sure she would never see or hear a great violinist in person because there were no concert halls in her area. The closest she came to being in the presence of live violinists was when she attended public school recitals. Katie’s three daughters knew how much their mom loved music, and so they willingly took piano lessons from a neighbor at Katie’s request.

Katie’s youngest daughter Pearl came home from school one day and told her mother that the music instructor said he would teach her to play the violin for free if her mother could buy or rent a violin for her. Katie didn’t have that kind of money. The instructor decided to lend Pearl an old school violin. Katie enthusiastically signed an agreement that said the violin was school property and would be turned in at the end of the school year.

At first, Katie was excited to hear Pearl practicing the scales on the violin. She just knew that Pearl would become a great violinist. But Katie overestimated Pearl’s talent and underestimated the amount of time Pearl would have to practice. After learning the scales, Pearl began to practice songs. Everyday when Pearl got home from school, she pulled out her violin and practiced the song Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. “Bow-Bow Bow-Bow SQUAWK SCREECH bow. SQUAWK, SQUAWK, SCREECH, SCREECH, Bow Bow Bow!”

Katie clenched her teeth together as Pearl practiced. The squawks and screeches set her nerves on edge. After about 30 minutes, Katie would ask Pearl, “How much longer do you have to practice?” Pearl would stop playing and exhale loudly to let her mother know that the question irritated her. But Katie couldn’t seem to help herself. Everyday, when Pearl squawked and screeched, Katie asked Pearl when she would stop.

When it was almost time for the end-of-the-school-year recital, Pearl’s music instructor told her that he didn’t think she had progressed enough to play in the orchestra.

Instead of being sad or mad, Pearl smiled from ear to ear and said, “Thank goodness. Here’s your violin. My mom won’t have to listen to me practice anymore, and I won’t have to listen to her complain. We’ll both be happy. I didn’t want to be a violinist in the first place.”

The violin was put on a shelf.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...