Flexibility: Fiddle as a metaphor 4 life

When I was attending the University of Utah, I had the opportunity to study privately with some really wonderful teachers. One of them, Margaret Tyson Klein, introduced me to the teachings of Kato Havas and taught me a lot that has helped me throughout my life since then.

Another teacher I loved and respected was a Russian Jewish emigre from the bad old days who had studied in the very intense conservatories of communist USSR. His name is Mischa Boguslavsky. And I’ll be honest with you: He scared the shit out of me most of the time.

Mischa was the professor in charge of the Honors String Quartet, of which I was a part of the entire time I attended. The Honors String Quartet was (and probably still is) a chamber group that received scholarship money to represent the University in that area of music performance. Mischa actually threatened to make it the Honors String TRIO once if I didn’t buckle down and work on my bow hand. He scared me so much that I FORGOT how to vibrato — literally — for several years afterwards.

Mischa and I had kind of a love-hate relationship after that. He was there to make me into a concert violinist. I was taking a double major with an eye on a BA in Psychology. One day he became so frustrated with me that he said, “Michael, if you do not put music in front of God, country, family … then you will NEVER be a concert violinist!” I just looked at him, smiled, and replied, “That’s quite alright by me, Mr. Boguslavsky. I just want to fiddle around, anyway.”

Believe it or not, after that confrontation, Mr. B and I got along famously. He relaxed quite a bit, and he even opened up about a lot of things.

I thought when I started this whole journey with my violin that I’d end up in some orchestra or chamber group, struggling to make enough money to pay the bills. I’d have dozens of private students, most of whom were probably made to play the violin by their parents. I performed in the orchestra pit of many a ballet, opera, and musical before I realized that I wanted to be on STAGE, not down in the PIT. I still wanted to perform, but just not in the way I had always envisioned.

Since that time, I have performed in bands that played Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country Western, Western Swing, Blues, Jazz, and Bluegrass. I even played fiddle in a Reggae band for a while up in Park City, Utah. Now I perform with Sligo Rags, a Celtic Bluegrass Fusion band I started over 10 years ago after I moved to Southern California. And I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it.

Mom and dad both tried to convince me that (a) I should choose a more lucrative career; and (b) I should pick one thing and stick with it. I used to think that I could and would never play anything but Classical music, and that was a good and proper thing to “stick with.” I have come to realize that flexibility in ones dreams and goals is even more important than the tenacity needed to accomplish them.

A fiddler needs to be flexible in so many different ways. It’s essential, in every movement of the body. But a musician also needs to be flexible in the heart and mind and soul. Then again, the same can be said for every living, breathing human being.

I moved to Southern California to play Country Western music. That was where my heart was. I am now, heart and soul, an Irish musician. I learned to play the violin/fiddle in order to express myself musically in ways that I can’t verbally. Now I sing, write, teach, and record as well as perform on my instrument of choice. My dreams and goals have changed over the years, and I have changed with them.

I’ve met people who, in their quest to succeed in life, deny themselves any opportunities outside of their chosen path. They think of those chances as distractions and impediments. In reality, they are being inflexible with their dreams and goals. They are insisting that the Universe bend to their will. As a result, they close and lock the doors to many opportunities that might help them along their path because they can’t SEE how they would benefit.

I’ve met violin teachers who thought that there is only one way learn how to play the violin. They close their minds and ears to anything that seems different from what they know, and as a result, they stay stuck teaching the same way their entire lives. Even if there is a more efficient, productive method or technique, they turn their collective noses up to it in scorn. The outcome is that many of their students give up the violin BECAUSE IT IS TOO BORING OR STULTIFYING. The students want to create, while the teachers want them to behave.

Parents sometimes fall into this trap, as well. A child wants to BE or DO one thing, but it doesn’t fit into the parent’s idea of who their child is. Who wins this battle?

I have met people of various faiths and religions who tell me that their god answers their prayers. He/She is always there for you if you but listen to the “still small voice.” But I’ve also seen that people with this kind of faith falter when that voice tells them something that doesn’t fit their preconceived idea of what the answer SHOULD be. They are not flexible enough in their minds and opinions to accept what their god is telling them.

One of the ways I have learned to be flexible in my life is to incessantly ask questions. Everyone has the right to ask questions. You may not get answers, but you can always ask. And keep asking. Eventually, you’ll find someone that gives you an answer which resonates in your soul. It might take you down a different path than you had ever imagined, but the journey will be worth it.

My hope for everyone is that they achieve all the happiness and joy that this Universe has in store for them. I also hope that everyone is flexible enough in their hearts, minds, and bodies to receive the gifts awaiting them if they but accept them.

For more thoughts and ideas, and to learn traditional tunes the FAST, EASY, and FUN way, please visit www.fiddlin4you.com.

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