When I was young, I learnt to play the violin at the College of Music in Chatham Row, just around the corner from Stephen’s Green. In my later years, it was renamed “The Conservatory” but the Fergusons – staunch Conservatives – continue to refer to it simply as “the College”.
My teacher, a middle-aged eastern European was quirky and sober in equal measure. He was so confident of his methods that he invited parents in to observe his lessons.
Most declined politely: but my mama certainly didn’t. So great was her love for me that every Thursday afternoon for years she endured the hostile scratching of my bow as it glided gracelessly across the four strings to produce sounds that can only be imagined -and excused- when I explain the meaing of: intonation exercises.
Unfortunately the noble purpose of intonation exercises is disguised by their horrendous sound. You see, the thing is: to play violin, you need a pretty good ear. It’s not like piano, where you just bang on a given key to produce a sound. With violin – as with all stringed instruments – you have to find the sound. And in order to do this, you need to be familiar to the very last quarter tone, of the location of each sound on the finger board.
Intonation exercises consist of playing two given notes at once and then slowly, repeadly changing the position of one of your fingers by roughly half a tone up and down to produce a clash which resonates and aims to cement in memory the correct position of your hand. To really make them useful, you have to repeat them over and over and over again….
This level of endurance represents just one of the ways in which my mama is a hero. I could write a pamphlet on her other feats. She deserves at least a series of blogs in her honour.
The best part of Thursdays was right after the violin lesson ended. Mum and I would hurry out into the wind and rain and make ourselves to the newsagent on Camden Street where we treated ourselves to a packet of Sour Cream Hunky Dorey’s each. We kept them in our coat pockets so that we could have a look around the various charity clothes shops on the way home. Sometimes, when mum was looking at blouses in Age Action, I would sneak a crisp or two from her coat pocket, just to be devious.
When we got home, we would have dinner and then get ready for Kommissar Rex. If you know me, you know all about Kommissar Rex. If you don’t you should get informed. Kommissar Rex is a TV series about a detective and his police dog “Rex”, who sleuth around Vienna solving crimes in scenic locations. I’m an enormous fan and the actor that played the detective in my day remains my only celebrity crush. LSB doesn’t like the twinkle that appears in my eye when I talk about Gedeon Burkhard, or indeed the way, when I spotted him playing a minor role in Inglorious Basterds, I nigh jumped from my seat with excitement.
Kommissar Rex is moderately scary and featured a rather disturbing scene of a man trapped in an over-heated sauna which I have never forgotten. When LSB and I were in Vienna, I finally bought the series on dvd. One night, having stocked up on Croatian beer and strawberry cake, we knocked on some Kommissar. I was right back home again, curled up beside my mama, reaping the reward of intonation exercises.