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JOTTINGS: Learning to play an instrument is worth the effort

At a young age when I was learning to play the violin, I was expected to practice after school for one hour before going out to play. This was grueling, and I begged to be allowed to practice later.

Seated in our dining room by the warm radiator, I would saw away with my violin bow. Above the radiator were large windows with a view of Powderhorn Park right across the street. In the winter, especially, how I envied the kids skating down on the pond!

My older sister, Charlotte, adapted easily to playing the piano. She made extraordinary progress in her early years and readily memorized the music. Her teacher decided that, at age 11, Charlotte should give a private recital at the downtown Nicolett Hotel in Minneapolis. I was to fill in playing my violin with an easy piece (reading the notes) to give variety to the program. As I took a bow, I recall a slight laughter and generous applause!

The day before the recital, our mother decided we girls drastically needed a haircut, so she sent us down to the local barber who cut our hair very short. The next day the teacher was aghast when we showed up for the recital. Even then, musicians were supposed to have the long, shaggy look. Our image had been demolished. A short news story with Charlotte's picture was published in the Minneapolis newspaper. Her taffeta dress and my crepe-de-sheen dress were very special. And of course, so were the haircuts!

Over the years I played my violin in school orchestras. After graduation my high school I played in my college orchestra, the Minneapolis City Orchestra and a chamber music group. All of these organizations gave performances and it was gratifying. Gradually my time was consumed with other interests.

As time passed I had an intense interest in symphony performances. I thought supplementing my income by playing in the Oregon Symphony might be a possibility, so I called them. After making note of my qualifications they offered me no pay, but free lessons! That wasn't what I was hoping for.

Today I frequently attend the symphony concerts at the Schnitzer in downtown Portland. I especially watch to see how the violinists perform. I wonder if they are still given free lessons in exchange for their services!

Recently I heard for the first time about the West Coast Symphony Orchestra. I look forward to attending one of its concerts probably in Astoria or Seaside. While attending any concert, I surmise that, along with the other musicians in the audience, we have a special ability to enjoy the music. I marvel at the way the composer and conductor make it all come together. Through enhanced appreciation and enjoyment, learning to play an instrument can be well worth all the effort.

Helen Oredson Mahle is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.