In 1971, I was in the first grade at East Pike Elementary School. My teacher was Miss Rothera. My principal was Mr. Harry McFarland. My Dadwas Director of Elementary Education for the Indiana Area (PA) School District and his office was in the same building. I loved school and I loved the adults in my life for sure.
One day, Miss Rothera told us that she had played the violin when she was in school. That was it. I would be a violinist, too. I went home that night and announced the decision to my parents. While I don’t remember the exact response, over the years, I have grown to remember it as, “No son of mine will play the violin.” Now, I know my Dad better than that, and I am sure his response was much more gentle and understanding. But the result was the same. I would not be playing the violin.
A few nights later, our family was over at the McFarland’s house for dinner. Remember, that Mr. McFarland was my principal, he and my dad were colleagues and friends, and we all attended the same church. During the evening, his son, Dave, and I were kicking around in the basement and found an old fiddle. We came tearing up the stairs to show our Dads and I was completely over the moon. “Look at this old violin!!! I have to learn how to play it!” I came to learn that Mr. McFarland had played the violin as a child as well. (Pretty well, I am told!) I the fiddle that we found had been his as a kid in the Westmoreland, PA area.
Apparently, I was a little tough to live with after that because the violin was all that I could talk about. After what I am sure was days of pestering, finally my Dad gave in to my enthusiasm. (And probably my Mom’s urging.) They sought out an instrument and lessons for me.
The next several chapters of this story include lessons with Heidi Peterson in her Mom’s beauty parlor down the hill from our house, years of lessons with Gloria Johnson, and a magnificent experience in undergraduate and graduate school, studying with Delight Malitsky. I will have to cover some of those years in a later post. Needless to say, that night at Mr. McFarland’s house changed the course of my life (and everyone else in my family) forever.
Fast-forward to January 28, 2013.
I came home from a long, but good day of work, ready to take my son, Cael, to basketball practice. I noticed a large box in the foyer of our home and walked right past it. I ate dinner, took Cael to practice and came home. When I noticed the box, it clicked with me that it was my birthday and went ahead and opened it. Imagine my surprise when there was an old violin case and upon closer inspection, the violin that had changed my life nearly 42 years earlier.
I simply couldn't believe it. There it was. The 42 years simply melted away and I was holding that instrument that captured my imagination back when I was a little boy. Nothing had changed. I still loved it, wanted to play it. Images of concerts, curtain calls, virtuosity, accolades, and expression filled my head again.
Of course, I called Mr. McFarland and we had a great conversation, catching up on many details of the violin, and his long-time plans to give it to me. I was so pleased to be able to thank him and tell him how many times I had told the story over the years and thought of that pivotal night at his home. Of course, he has followed my career and path over the years and had a good idea of the many places the violin and music had taken me. The violin and orchestral music have really come to define so much about me in my life. I play and teach every day. My sisters both play and teach. All three of my sons play. Matt is thinking about a career in music. My sister’s daughters play. And, here I sit, in the Interlochen Library as I enjoy my third summer on the conducting faculty here in this beautiful retreat for musicians of all ages. I live a blessed life. Thanks, Mr. McFarland!
The instrument currently sits on the mantle of the fireplace in my home. It will be more suitably displayed in the coming months and will be a conversation piece in my home for many years to come.