The practice room itself is a Room of Requirement of musical gadgets. Mazas, Kreisler, Paganini, and Etudes all shuffled and stacked on top of the piano next to a thin wire-stand with Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol dog-marked at one of the harder pages.
And then there was the student staring at me—a thin male student, leaning over the piano with thick glasses, a sweatshirt over a plain white t-shirt and jeans. When I expressed my intent, he said “Yeah okay!” and led me over to where there was a “public violin,” while his lanky friend chortled at the foreigner who not only spoke some Chinese, but was also going to dink around on a violin because apparently, that’s what foreigners do in their free time.
The public violin is nothing like the Meinel waiting for me back in Minnesota. It’s dark brown, lacks a shoulder rest, is out of tune every time I find it, and seems to be perpetually thirsty for more rosin. I tuned the strings, wondering how in the hell anyone could play music when the A sounded more like a B-flat, and as I awkwardly shifted with the instrument slipping along my shoulder, the boy (named “Allen”) scrambled over to another violin case and pulled out a shoulder rest for me. “It’s mine, but you can use it.” He gave me his phone number, so I could just text him whenever I wanted to be practicing. “I’m usually here,” he said. Actually, I often wonder if I’ve stumbled upon the phantom of the practice room, since he really is always there, but I choose not to think about it too much.
The reason I needed to find a violin so badly: a friend wanted me to play Pachelbel’s Canon in D for him. OF COURSE of all songs, that’s what people want to hear. I think of all the weddings in which my quartet wanted to gouge our eyes out from the dirge massacre staggering out of our instruments. Because there is nothing better in the world than Pachelbel, even though it’s the same freaking chords over and over again at a sappy “Just get married already!” tempo.
But I digress.
We were in this cramped practice room (not the one with all of the traditional Chinese instruments scrunched together, but that’s another story), and I was about to unleash the Pachelbel Beast. It started out fine enough, the nice longer notes, slowly knotting together into the seemingly-difficult passages (all while the cello thinks WHY ME?). But then I forgot exactly how this part transitioned to the next, and then what came next, until I was just sort of making things up that still fitted with the chords and then ending on a nice cadence in the hopes that he didn’t notice.
“Sounds good…” he said. And then asked for more sappy wedding-y songs.
Oh, brother, I thought. So I played a Minuet, and he waved his hands around as if conducting an invisible orchestra. Then I played “Autumn” by Vivaldi. And then…
“Oh my God…” I said.
“What?” he asked.
“I forgot Vivaldi’s Spring!”
“Maybe it’ll come back…” he said, asking me to play the Minuet again.
Instead, I played all kinds of Hornpipes, a Bach thing, a Handel thing, and Minuet in D again. All part of the wedding quartet tradition of playing the same things over and over again with standard, white-lace, gusto—sweetly enough not to be noticed when the bride entered. Why am I doing this, I kept thinking. Why not play something, I don’t know, FUN? And I kept thinking, too, that my notes were out of tune, and SERIOUSLY HOW DO YOU FORGET SPRING??
Me and this rickshaw violin teeter-tottering around sounding great and sounding like a saw. The notes warbling out on unreliably-tuned strings, the shoulder rest wavering whenever I shift, and the bow scratching like a monster trapped in a steel box. The kind of playing that would make my violin teacher tell me I had lightning fingers, because “you didn’t hit the same place twice…”
But when I was done, I could tell it was the most special thing my friend had ever experienced. And it occurred to me that it didn’t matter about the sound quality, or which pieces I remembered, or how perfect the Canon in D was. All that mattered was that I played it for him, and that in playing it, brought us together through the mystery of black notes, or something Hallmark-y like that.
So, here’s to you, Pachelbel. Here’s to you and your goddamned Canon in D. May you rest in piece, and may we as musicians try to force another classical piece to catch on before our cellos fester in their own boredom.