￼After a period of intensive work involving other people, every moment of violin practice becomes a delicious treat. So does the pleasure of being alone. And of being in a strange place. Or a beautiful space.
All of these things are pleasures to be savoured carefully. Because in the wrong time or wrong place, or wrong quantity, they can be oppressively overwhelming. But when they all come together unexpectedly, and after a period of absence, they bring with them a welcome magic.
Bad weather cancelled my flight, and I ended up changing planes at a different airport in a different country. For a wonderful couple of hours, I felt like I had completely escaped, for no one but the airline’s computer knew where I was. For once, I was completely uncontactable, and free to roam within the confines of the system that contained me.
The terminal was massive – so long that you could barely see from end to end. I walked for several minutes to the very furthest point, where boarding gates lay empty and there wasn’t a soul to be found. Outside, snowflakes sailed earthwards through the yellow glow of runway spotlights. Planes slid softly past, and baggage trucks crawled caterpillar-like through the dusky haze, pattering their way towards the glowing arrivals hall where they would disgorge their cargo.
￼Big secular spaces with beautiful acoustics are very hard to find, harder still to access, and even harder to find silent and empty. But there was no-one about, and I wanted to know how the building sounded. I pulled my violin from its case and began to play.
The acoustics were magnificent. Tentatively at first, for fear of attracting attention, I drew my bow across the strings, letting the tones resonate against the concrete and glass around me. The violin sensed the capacity of the space, and as I coaxed my travel-weary arms into a vaguely fluid movement, I began to draw more and more sonority from the instrument. First with Bach, then some simple scales, then finally a melody by Mendelssohn, a clarity of sound started to emerge, as both the violin and I began to feel the space together.
Through the window blinds, my eyes became fixated to the machines outside. Mesmerised, my brain zoned out, and my ears were drawn more closely to the phrasing. Again and again I repeated the Mendelssohn melody, searching for the perfect shape.
As I explored how to emphasise the notes, I started to mimic the smooth dances of the machines outside. With infinite variety, they each wove a slightly different pattern in the snow. The snow blower circled around and around, each movement a little fatter or thinner than the last, but always with beautiful proportion. The baggage cars zipped in and out of the blower’s circle, each leaving a pleasingly fresh set of wheel prints in the snow.
The more I played, the more details I started to notice, and the less satisfied with my own musical shapes I became. Yet strangely, at the same time, the overall shapes were ever more convincing. I realised that I would never find just one perfect interpretation. I would never play the melody the same way twice.
Each time would be different, and each time could expand the possibilities, if I wanted it to. The more I drove the phrase in different directions, the more I could feel what it could be, and the more ideas I would have to draw on when performing it. I didn’t even have to end up liking any given version of my interpretation; I just had to believe in it.
An hour had passed, and my flight was called.
As I packed up my violin, and turned to walk back towards the gate, I heard the sound of a person clapping. A lone cleaner, leaning on his maintenance trolley, smiled at me broadly. I hadn’t been completely alone after all.