My Summers Growing Up

I am a “nerd”. Nerd can be defined in the following 2 ways:

  1. boringly studious
  2. a single minded expert in a particular technical field

I hit both of these marks on numerous different topics, but most specifically, about writing and music. I can spend hours researching genres, composers or topics just for the fun of it, and my GoodReads to-read-list will never be fully read. These activities are solitary, and I like being alone—very different than lonely.

I grew up playing the classical violin– another solitary activity. I was under the age of 5 when I started, so I had to grow physically with the instrument. When you move from one size of a violin to another, your world shifts all over again. The finger spaces feel like mountains. My violin teacher believed in repetition until memorization.  These thoughts were to help combat the growing pains. If I practiced enough then I would have the right combination of fingering and bowing in my head, so as to focus on the other factors shifting around–such as the size of the violin, or someone in the audience sneezing etc etc.

To this day, I can hum to you a “practice spot.” We would rehearse the same bar of music for an hour straight–never more than a single line. I would be assigned an etude, a scale and maybe if I sounded okay, she would give me a little excerpt of pieces to get ahead on. She believed in muscle memory, and believed that nerves could be ironed out by preparation. Aspects of this way of thinking can be beneficial, and I was a nervous player. She slowly helped me to see that I could prepare, and if I felt prepared, I was not such a nervous wreck in other situations.

It was the year before high school. I had practiced so hard, and done everything I thought I could and…I had wanted to be moved up to the Youth Orchestra, desperately. They were going to Carnegie Hall that year. All of my other violin friends made it. But… I had botched the audition. A full year of work, decided in less than 5 minutes. My bow hit the string weird from the start. Everything I had practiced seemed to go out the window. I had practiced the opening over and over, and it didn’t matter. I was not playing Mozart, I was playing some notes I strung together. They gave me the sight reading, and it was like I didn’t know how to read music. I left the audition feeling smaller than when I started the violin.

So it came as a small reprieve, a small grace that I was going away for camp that summer. I didn’t need to be around the disappointed gaze of my violin teacher—her other students had made it, and somehow it felt like I hadn’t prepared enough. Point Counter Point was in Vermont–no cell service, a small cabin with roommates and it was on a lake. I learned viola that year, and made friendships, and skipped practice to read on the dock. I was fully 14, and it didn’t matter here what orchestra I was in at home, as long as I practiced here–I got to make a fresh start.

The following summer, another one of my violin teacher’s students ended up attending the music camp as well. It is such a vital part to feel connected to other youths who liked doing similar things, so I understand now why my violin teacher pushed us both to attend. I believe it comes back to the idea of being alone but never lonely–we were never lonely while playing. Tara ended up being placed in my cabin. Even though we had grown up playing concerts together, we never really interacted outside of that scope. We both found out we had made it into the Youth’s first violin section, so we practiced together, we complained together–in short, we became lifelong friends.

Tara and I ended up at 2 more music camps together– a total of 12 weeks of our lives together spent at very, very nerdy places. We sat and calculated how much time per day we were spending on the violin– it was around 9 hours, during our summer vacations. We really loved it, but it was also a lot of the experiences we got to have, both playing and not playing the violin, that helped shape our friendship.

After high school graduation, neither of us majored in violin. We both still kept it somehow in our lives though, to this day.  For my wedding present, Tara sent me tickets to see the Philadelphia Orchestra because Joshua Bell, my idol was playing. She lives in a different state, but I cried because all these years later, we still are thinking about the violin and the strings of friendship that formed during band camps.  It was Ryan’s first classical concert, and it was wonderful to be able to show him this side of me, but I missed being able to lean in and say things only fellow classical musicians know. I missed Tara.

As Joshua Bell was done playing, the audience truly went wild. The conductor had pointed out earlier that there were students here from the camp that Tara and I had attended all those summers ago. I let the emotion of aging hit me, but then I truly let the gratitude seep in. We got to be in those seats once, and we had truly made the most of band camp–we ended up being big nerds, and we were okay with that in each other. We had found what it truly meant to be friends.


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