January 27, 2004

Playing Music Again

It has been 30 years since I played the violin, and I’ve finally got the itch to pick it up again.

I started playing the violin when I was 7. My grandfather had been stationed on the Russian front during the Great War (that would be World War I to you Yanks), and on the way home he traveled by train through Europe. For reasons that no one in the family knows anymore, he purchased half a dozen violins during his travels, and brought them back to the States with him. We were living at my grandmother’s house in Brookline (just outside of Boston) when I was seven, and I started playing while attending Baker Elementary School. I still have two of the violins, one in storage back in California that needs repairing, and one that I brought with us to Cornwall.

The one that I have here is the one that I played when I was a child. I would cart it around with me on the bus, dropping it, losing it, swinging it, placing it in mud puddles in order to make snowballs. It really is a miracle that it survived my childhood. The sound is quite beautiful, as is the body, and before we left I had it fixed by Roland Feller, who did a splendid job re-gluing the body and replacing the sound post.

I stopped playing after 10 years because the time needed to keep up with my peers, 3 hours a day by that stage, didn’t allow me to run cross-country in the Fall, play hockey in the Winter, track in the Spring, or sail in the Summer. I wasn’t particularly disciplined in high school, and as I look back on that time I realize I probably could have continued to play if I’d really wanted to. I don’t regret my decision, but I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been if I’d kept playing the violin and gone to a music college instead of an engineering college.

On the too infrequent nights that Rachel and I get out here in Cornwall, we often go to a pub up near Tintagel called the Trewarmett Inn. Wednesday and Saturday nights are music nights, and anyone can bring along their instruments and play. We’ve been half a dozen times, and every time we go I tell Rachel that I’m going to bring my violin “next time".

The pub has three rooms – the bar room, the music room, and the dining room. The bar room is tiny, with booths on both sides, and the bar at the end. I wore shorts year-round when I lived in Sausalito, and I’m trying to do the same here, which means that whenever we walk in the noise level goes to just about zero as all eyes turn to look first at us, and then at my legs. After a couple of heads shaking, the chatter returns and we crowd up to the bar to order.

The host and hostess are quite friendly. We’re not on a first name basis with anyone else just yet – this is Cornwall after all – but we do get the odd nod and smile. They don’t have my favorite, Guiness on tap, so I usually order something dark, and Rachel will have a lager or a shandy (1/2 lager and 1/2 lemonade – and much better than it sounds). Once you’ve got your drinks you move into the music room to the right of the bar. The dining room is on the left side of the music room, with a large doorway between so that you can have dinner and watch the entertainment.

The best seats are just to the right of the door, in along the wall. The communal guitar and drum are usually sitting there on the back bench as well, and anyone is welcome to pick them up and play along. The musicians sit around a large table at the back left corner of the room, with benches behind and a large number of stools out front. The circle of musicians expands and contracts as people come and go, and the number of musicians can be anywhere from 7 to 15. There are quite a few regulars, some of whom are quite good; and one violin player in particular who has been there every night we’ve been, and makes the trip really worthwhile.

I haven’t played yet because I was trained classically, and while I can sight-read quite well, no one uses music. I’ve asked around about lessons, but no one seems to know anyone who teaches Irish fiddling. I guess I’ll just have to take the plunge and bring my violin “next time".

Posted by: Frank @ 12:37 am — Filed under:


  1. There’s a session at the Polgooth Inn - near St. Austell - once a month which is very friendly. And I can lend you a book of Cornish tunes if you need some music…

    Comment by Jim — April 25, 2005 @ 8:43 am

  2. It is lovely to read such nice comments about my parents’ pub!!! I don’t live there with them, but often go down to visit. I also have some news for you - they now have guiness on tap!! the pump was put in a few weeks ago. Maybe see you in there some time in the future. I will look out for the person wearing shorts in the winter!

    Comment by Emma — April 24, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

  3. I’m enjoying exploring your writing. I’d love some Cornish tunes, especially children’s songs, or lullabies sung to children. The one cornish tune my Grandpa Johns used to sing to me was “Tom Pierce’s Gray Mare".
    –from a cousin jenny in the desert of Southern California

    Comment by Judy Johns Russell — January 24, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

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