"I used to play the violin"

I've heard that phrase countless times during my journey as a violinist. Someone will see my violin case featuring the giant Batman symbol and inquire which instrument I play. Upon responding, a story follows, and I listen as the person shares their connection with music. The person will often say "I used to play in elementary (middle and/or high) school and then gave up." One day I decided to joke with one of the audience members after a concert and said, "well it's a hard and expensive instrument and honestly some days I don't want to play either." Thankfully they laughed instead of a potentially awkward silence. 

Recently,  I received an inquiry to play for a Hospice patient in his 90s who has played the violin since he was 8 and needed to contact the family as soon as possible. I spoke with the patient's son and he seemed elated to hear that a violinist wanted to play for his Dad. He shared that Hospice told him that they would do their best to find a violinist, but he didn't think it would happen. "A violinist to come play for my Dad? That'll take a long time" he said over the phone. The son then began to tell me a bit more about his Dad. "He used to play in nursing homes, give recitals, and honestly I'm not sure what else. I couldn't keep track of all he did." Before ending the phone call, he said his Dad enjoyed classical music and loved violin music.

I arrived at the patient's home and the son answered the door. He seemed surprised upon seeing me and quickly ushered me into his father's room. As we crossed the living room, he shared how happy he was that I came to play. "Dad. This is Alex, the violinist from Hospice. He's come to play for you" he said.  His father laid in bed and slowly began to turn his head in our direction. "A violinist? I love the violin. Nice to meet you!" His voice sounded raspy and parched yet energized with anticipation. As I began to unpack my violin, the son echoed our phone conversation and shared that he didn't expect Hospice to find a violinist.  He then began to talk about his "black" neighbor's granddaughter who also plays the violin. I couldn't help but laugh. Now I know why he seemed surprised when he first saw me.  I felt at ease as he passionately shared his love of music and history of his father's violin. He told me the luthier was black and that his father's violins were made in 1926 and 1928. He also offered to show me after I finished. 

The son briefly left the room to call his neighbor to see if she could come over and listen as well since her granddaughter plays but she was not available. "It's been a long time but I want to try" the patient said. "Hm?" I wasn't sure what he meant until he extended his right hand in my direction. I got down on my knees because of the height of the bed and handed him my violin, watching as he slowly lifted the instrument toward his neck. Next, I gave him my bow and with ease his fingers formed a sturdy bow hold. I stood witness and watched as he bowed legato strokes on the E string. His eyes widened, and smile formed, as he showed determination to play once more. He began to lose the ability to hold the violin himself so I knelt by and held the violin so he could continue. "He can't do it" his son said as he returned into the room. "No, I'm going to help" I replied. We both quietly watched as his Dad played the open strings of the violin. 

After playing he said, "I love the violin."  The patient then gushed about his fondness of etudes so I began to play the Kreutzer etudes. As I played, he asked me if I belonged to an orchestra and traveled abroad. Not wanting to stop, I channeled my inner Celtic Woman and shared my experiences as a violinist while managing to keep the music going. Shortly after, he said he was tired and wanted to rest. I thanked him for allowing me to play and next time I would bring Bach and Mozart for him. 

Once I left the room, the son showed me his father's violins. Both lived in glass cases mounted on the wall for display nearby a music themed canvas. The son thanked me again for visiting and shared how much it meant that someone came to play some of his Dad's favorite music. 

When I got back into my car, I shut the door and sat in silence. I thought how grateful I was to be able to spend time playing for the patient and watch as he played the violin again. I sighed and felt my eyes water. Would that be me some day? How much longer do I have to play the violin? Those thoughts, permeating the drive home, but I still felt grateful. I was there to be a part of such an endearing moment and thankful the music made a positive impact on a well aged fiddler.