Philip Hassey Playing the Viola 1/22/01

        Mother grabbed me. She shoved a small evil burgundy sweater vest over my head. The burgundy sweater was hot and itchy. I hated it. Mother then made a harsh motion to the effect that I was going to put the navy blue shorts on by myself. I did. But I scowled about them. They were tight, I felt like a horse wearing a horse blanket. I wanted to roll in the mud and cast aside my sweater.
        But I couldn't. I was quickly herded into a group of other little tragically dressed viola players and onto the stage for my first concert. We were going to play "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." I was all nervous and shaking and sweating and hot. The burgundy sweater was giving my neck a rash. We played, and it sounded terrible. Young children on string instruments do that. But everyone clapped. They made us bow, signaled by the chords of a piano and then we were filed off of the stage.
        The audience kept cheering. If they had been listening to the song rather than adoring our "cutesy" outfits would have been stopped applauding much sooner.
        In 2nd grade I made the decision to play the viola. I was in the backseat of my parents car coming home from the Christmas concert my sister Ruthanne had just played in. She was a kindergartner and she played a little tiny violin. I heard the cellos and the violas as well. But I liked the violas the best and wanted to learn how to play.
        The first few weeks were fun. I got this all new viola, and everything. It was so exciting. I sounded terrible, but it was so exciting. My mother could hardly restrain me from playing the viola.
        Two weeks later, my mother did not have any more difficulty retraining my from playing my viola. "Mom, I don't want to play the viola any more," I told her.
        "Philip," said my mom, "You started playing the viola, and you are going to keep playing."
        Mother made me play the viola every day for half an hour. It was painful for me. I knew I had to find a way out. Since this all happened shortly after the Christmas concert where I saw my sister play, I had a plan. One afternoon as my mother was reading a book in the dining room, and my sister was in her room playing, and my father was still at work, I snuck into the practice room, and took out my viola. I closed the case quietly so nobody would here em as I tiptoed into the living room where the fireplace was.
        I opened the glass door to the fire place, and it made a scraping sound on the hearth.
        "What are you doing out there?" my mom asked.
        "Uh," I said, "Counting the bricks on the fireplace."
        "Okay," said my mother. Soon I had it opened enough to nestle my viola in among the logs. I closed the door and walked away.
        The result of my father finding my viola in the fireplace that evening when he was about to set it ablaze led to a doubling of my practice time.
        "This way you will learn to play better and like the viola more," said my father. An hour a day, what a waste of a life.
        Although I did improve, as did my sister on the violin, the first five or so years of playing an instrument like the viola or violin are painful. The sounds produced by the instrument in question are more similar to fingernails on a chalkboard than say a viola. There are of course the occasional child geniuses that are able to play beautifully by the age of four. But neither my sister nor I were those children. So it is commendable for my mother to have kept us little ones playing for so many years. However it is not so commendable that they actually thought we were those geniuses. They signed us up to be a "special music" during church. Which was a bad move. Like good children, we obeyed with a good deal of fuss. But we had to play.
        We played "Amazing Grace" in such a way that was a rather convincing imitation of a cat fight. Our parents beamed with price. However, like most "special music" at church we did not get applause. We did not even get an "Amen" from someone. We mostly got a particularly cold and unpleasant silence. At any rate, my parents endured and struggled me through all those years of viola playing. All the way through, and a dozen years later , I'm still playing.
        I have a T-shirt that says, "Is there something about the viola that develops exceptional intelligence in its executants... Or is it just that when a person has exceptional intelligence the viola is taken up as a matter of course?" A few days ago I was wearing that shirt. Being all big and motivated I went to the music building to practice for the next concert. The viola section has a solo, so we need to be prepared.
        After a few minutes of practice I became concerned. I was trying to count out loud while playing, but rather than reciting numbers in a nice rhythmic order, I sounded more like the next winning lottery ticket number. After a few more minutes I gave up. I have a concert in a few days. I hope it all goes well, and I don't cry. A dozen years is a long time to waste.
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