riving. I have refrained from the litany of driving anxiety experiences, only because, well, even I didn’t want to dwell on them. But let us go to the violin lesson.
First of all, you have to safely leave your parking spot in front of you house. Rue de la Tuilerie is a one-way street going down a hill. Naturally one looks behind, checks the mirrors to be sure no one is coming. I remember doing this. I was totally ready to go, but for some unexplained reason, I hesitated. And just in that moment of hesitation, a pizza delivery motorcycle came roaring up the street, hugging the parked cars, in order to leave room for the cars going down the street. Had I pulled out just seconds earlier he would have slammed into me. Accident avoided. How many of those there are, really.
The Suzuki method is inspirational. Normally French kids learn to read music first, before they tackle an instrument. This is called le solfege. And how many would-be musicians have been turned off from music by this approach? Suzuki, on the other hand, has the students play by ear, and then gradually they learn to read music. You can imagine I must have been devoted to this method in order to brave the route to Paris and from Suresnes and back, every Wednesday afternoon. This was so my five-year old daughter could become a violinist.
So, deep breath, down the hill, off through the Bois de Bologne, the king’s hunting grounds. Then you have to remember to spot a funny little turn and go into and through the Bois that way. Then keep track of the right lake of two lakes for another turn. When you emerge, to your right is a thick artery of traffic, where all the cars have the right of way coming in from the right. Of course, you are trying to turn left. You weave your way, you hope, you pray and then you are far enough that you are on the right of cars who must stop for you.
Next down the hill past a chunky, fascist architecture building and then left towards the Eiffel Tower, which does seem like a huge bug when you are underneath. An outdoor park with a large merry-go-round reminds any driver that there is life after, or life apart from, or life for other people even right now, from driving. That’s all right, I assure myself. I will be home in a small lifetime from now. Next, turn right on the street where the American Library is housed. Now that is a relief because any street with a library must be a friendly street. Plus, it has only two lanes. Breathe. Off to the rue Oudinot, where, like a secret garden, the Suzuki School is tucked away beyond a long cobblestone walk, graced by rosebushes on either side.
Students begin their study of the violin with a box about half the size of a Kleenex box, covered in pretty paper, with a stick protruding. This is their first violin. The class assembles, tucks the box under their various chins and stands up straight. This must be practiced at home at the same time every evening.
The families are then sent off to purchase quarter-sized violins. Now this purchase requires a true excursion to the Rue de Rome, just by the Gare St Lazare, where you can actually look through windows at the luthiers to see violins being made. Ateliers or workshops, which could be from the 19th century, are strewn with various lengths of wood, polished and unpolished, and lathes, and strings. Men and women in white aprons perched on wooden stools at wooden benches are preparing violins.
Then the practice. In French the word for practice is called la repetition. And I think it’s apt because repetition it is. Well, have you ever heard of a song called, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?” Happily, for us, dear reader, it has a French origin: In the 1770’s, a poem called, Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman (Ah! Will I tell you, Mother), was set to the “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”tune, which nobody is sure where it came from. The poem was a melodramatic love poem. Later, a parody of the love song developed, also called Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman. (I am not sure I would call it a parody because it has to be an improvement on a melodramatic love poem.) This one is still loved, apparently, (although I would have to check) by French children today:
You can click on the following link to hear a French person sing the song, should you wish to.
Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman
Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman
Ce qui cause mon tourment ?
Papa veut que je raisonne
Comme une grande personne
Moi je dis que les bonbons
Valent mieux que la raison.
Ah! Will I tell you, Mommy
Ah! Will I tell you, Mommy
What is tormenting me?
Daddy wants me to reason
Like a grown up person
Me, I say that sweets
Are worth more than reason.
Mozart, as it happened, devised 12 variations on this poem, which is why some think, apparently wrongly, that he composed the song itself. In this age of conspiracy theories, I prefer to believe that he did compose it. And so he did.
While the length is about one minute or so per variation, to listen to this, while for example you do the dishes, will give you a feel of what it is like to be a Suzuki parent, and listen to this tune many, many, even many more times.
Perhaps you would like to know more about Suzuki and his methods and our concerts and how even I tried (and failed) to play the violin, and how a Suzuki parent, who happened to be first violin in an actual orchestra, discreetly left the room, rather than wait for his son’s lesson, while I squawked and wailed on the violin, but we must be off now to make our way back home across Paris, obliged to take a different route because the Bois is now closed. It is growing dark, and I must concentrate. I ask my daughter not to talk so I can drive better, and she reassures me that all I have to do is turn left at the tree.
Perhaps it is the very tree that will captivate our cast of Waiting for Godot. Like their tree, it is a destination both familiar and unrecognized. Have I really passed by this tree before? This, I ask myself each Wednesday evening on our way home.