Into the Screech

Illustration: Jing Li

Mosquitoes. That’s what I thought violins sounded like. Not all pieces of music displayed such whininess, of course, but enough did to make me dismiss the instrument as not worth learning to play. The piano, on the other hand, caught my fancy when I was 5 and never let go. The wood around the foot pedals on my old upright shows the force of a stubborn 10-year-old who didn’t want to practice, but once I felt the joy of accompanying choirs and instrumentalists, I stopped seeing practicing as such a chore.

When I got to the School of Education in the 1980s, I joined the school’s newly formed choir as the accompanist. Each week, students, faculty and staff, old and young, in and out of key, filled Cubberley Auditorium with music. Our theme-based performances showcased the talents—and humor—of the School of Ed family in a way no conference presentation or journal article could match. Not surprisingly, it was a much-needed counterbalance to my doctoral work. 

Accompanying gave way to family and a teaching career, and soon 30 years had gone by. Sure, I played the piano whenever I got the chance, but the intensity was nothing like that of my earlier days. More often I was a concertgoer than a concert performer. My respect for the athleticism and musicality of violinists increased. And after I retired, I decided to learn to play.

It is strangely liberating to be a student again.

When my daughter was young, I’d bought a three-quarter-size violin at a garage sale, thinking she might like to try it out. Like mother, like daughter: She rejected the violin in favor of other instruments. Now, though, the little violin came out of its case, and, with the help of online videos, I attached the bridge, sound post and tailpiece, rosined up the bow and put bow to strings. The musician in me soon realized that to learn correctly, I would need a full-sized violin.

At an online auction house, I bought an inexpensive beauty: tawny spruce top, Maggini-style double rows of purfling, flamed maple back with fleurs-de-lis—a true piece of functional art. The only problem was that it had a couple of cracks that needed fixing, so I took it to the luthier and came home with a rental. With COVID restrictions in full force, in-person lessons were out, and I again turned to the internet for guidance.

In the work world, I was an expert. But now I am a novice, the proof of it in the howls of our dog when my violin screeches and in the polite words of encouragement from my family. It is strangely liberating to be a student again. My pleasure comes from figuring out fingering, correcting my intonation, bowing smoothly and, finally, turning notes on a page into music.

I’ve brought new life to an old violin. In turn, it has rejuvenated the musician in me.


When she’s not making music, Anne Reynolds, MA ’87, PhD ’88, tackles home improvement projects, tends her beehives and garden, and drags her stubborn dog on walks.