I hate rehearsing. I blame this on a childhood of Suzuki lessons begun when I was in third grade after my brother, who had started Suzuki lessons with Mrs. Regis, came home with a pint-sized violin. He was a year younger than me and in the living room of our house next to the upright piano he scratched out Twinkle Twinkle Star and other favorites of the Suzuki catalog. I don’t remember when I became intrigued with the violin. I don’t have an epiphany moment seeing the violin bathed in golden light or of the sound of angels when I set eyes on it for the first time. This probably explains why even now, I play the violin reluctantly, as if it wasn’t really intended for me.

I began taking lessons with Mrs. Regis shortly after my brother began his. The first memories I have involve meeting Mrs. Regis in the drafty, under-heated auditorium of the public school I attended. For a reason I can’t remember my mother was also there. Perhaps because I was learning the Suzuki method which requires the active involvement of the parent in the student’s learning. In any case, she was there. I was there with my tiny violin waiting for our lesson to begin. And as I stood there with my violin stuck awkwardly under my chin, Mrs. Regis happened to look down at my shoes and said, “Those are pretty shoes.” I looked down at my own feet. I was wearing black patent leather shoes, Mary Janes with an embroidered red and white stripe across the top. Pretty shoes? It must have been my first compliment, I think now. The first time someone looked at something on me or in me and said “pretty” to it and I was puzzled. It created an odd feeling in me that I hadn’t felt before at the age of 8 years-old and I remember it still that odd sense of wonderment. “Ah, what’s this?” my brain asked.

The pretty-shoes compliment is probably what kept me playing long after it was fun. Taking up the violin with Mrs. Regis meant 8 years of Saturday mornings from 9:00-12:00 pm in the drafty rooms of public institutions all over the county. The auditorium of an old tuberculosis hospital, a seminar room in a local state college, a lodge room in the downtown district of a small town. In these rooms, Mrs. Regis collected all her violin students together to introduce them to orchestral playing. Even at those tender ages we were divided into sections of first and second violins and viola and cello. We learned how to play together and to watch Mrs. Regis for cues and to read music together. My shyness kept me from really enjoying this stage of my musical education. Playing in front of others terrified me and I would slouch down in my chair and try to hide inside the group. There were three different sections of string groups based on skill and even though I can’t remember all the names of them, I know that I passed through all levels until I ended up in the grown-up level of Swinging Strings. This group was made up of high school students who wore coordinating outfits. In the mid-70s this meant red polyester skirts that went to our ankles and blue blouses.

My ambivalent relationship to the violin began to end by the time I was sixteen. The eighties had started to happen and my free hours were spent listening to U2 and Police records on headphones in my bedroom. That was the first time I experienced that curious high-pitched ringing in my right ear after listening to WAR at top volume for hours. And that time, it was a novelty – ah, what’s this? – my brain inquired.

The violin paled by comparison. It didn’t rock. It was uncool. I stopped practicing. This lack of practice became noticeable enough that in 10th or 11th grade my teacher told my mother that I could stop playing now. The memory is distinct. The snow was deep and it was dark at 5 pm. My mother had pulled into the circular driveway of the lake house my teacher, now Mrs. Hollenbeck, owned. I had just sat in the car and closed the door.

Mrs. Hollenbeck leaned down and looked into the car, past me and towards my mother and said: “If Pearl’s not going to be able to practice, then it might be best if she stopped taking lessons.”

There it was. My plan worked. Yet I felt slightly reprimanded. I almost wanted to start practicing again to make her happy. The pretty-shoes compliment seemed to drift away from me and I was sitting there next to my mother with a violin in my lap, wondering where that feeling had gone.

So rehearsal, even now, with Brian, the man I’m married to isn’t always fun. Old feelings of being trapped in the drafty auditorium of an old hospital revisit me within the warm and quiet confines of a Superior Street rehearsal room. My moments of frustration, too, become apparent when I don’t learn songs quickly enough or when I can’t find the beat that would best suit a song. Rehearsal isn’t always fun. Many times it’s just boring. I remember watching a DVD of the Rolling Stones in a studio rehearsing one of their songs and after about minute I got bored. They keep starting the song over and over again. Mick tells them the beat is too slow or Keith has entered too late. And they start again. And then again. Then I realized something: rehearsals are dull regardless of who’s playing. The reality of rehearsal, a reality that I didn’t understand when I was twelve, is that it can be a slow, dull process. It’s a slow, dull process of finding how a song goes together, discovering where the beats go, listening to how the others in the room sound, and learning to find one’s place in the mix.

It comforted me to learn that other bands, including famous ones, didn’t always like rehearsal either. Andy Summers wrote in his book that the Police “were never the most well rehearsed band.” I know now why they wouldn’t be. In rehearsal, one has to be able to resolve disagreements. If I disagree with Brian about how to play a song, we have to find a point of consensus in order to move forward and just be able to play the song. The challenge is to be able to communicate the differences and resolve them. Sometimes that’s easy for us. Sometimes it’s not.

But we keep rehearsing. Three hours a week, once a week, at a Superior Street rehearsal space. We haul all our gear there, loaded into a four door Japanese sedan. And we rehearse. And sometimes we fight. And I get tired. He gets cranky. And usually I’m thirsty and sometimes, too hot. We play the songs we know, I try to learn the new ones Brian has written and we fight about the guitar pedals he uses and then we stop. We pack up our gear again and load it out. The next week we come back and do it again.

And yet, it’s crucial to playing live. Rehearsal only makes sense once you’ve been on stage (something else I didn’t understand when I was twelve). After I leave the stage I realize that without the rehearsal there would be no smooth performance. No song sounds effortless on stage unless it’s been rehearsed. I discover the point of rehearsal, later at the bar, getting a drink. Oh, I think, rehearsal paid off.

Now I rehearse less reluctantly then when I was twelve, more enthusiastically then I when I first began the drums, and more devotedly than I ever rehearsed the violin. For better or worse, I can credit the violin with giving me the early training to be able to learn the drums when I was older – at least, that’s what my friend Lisa tries to tell me. It gave me much and I’m grateful to it all. But generally speaking, despite all this wisdom, I still hate rehearsing.

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