A Tale of Two Violins – which is lesser? pt 1

The Providence and Provenance of Two Violins

While I was gathering my head for what to write about today, I was comparing life [today] to a verse from the book of Jeremiah [31:12] that says:

They will be like a well-watered garden,
and they will sorrow no more.

This is a story about what happened over a few days, a time reminding me that often, out of the corner of our eye when we least expect it, our lives throws us a little bit of magic.

Another quarter has rolled by and it was time again to visit our auctioneer friends for their big quarterly catalog auction. This is an every-3-months sale at the finer end of antiques. To set the stage there were 696 lots in the auction and the sale starts at #100 and proceeds through the catalog, one sale at a time, running at a clip of 80-90 sales per hour. Do the math. You are there a while.

This is not a party that is strongly advisable for one who has energy issues. But it’s a once a quarter trip and I love it like other people love spectator sports.

We went to a preview party Thursday night for wine and nosh, and folks mingled around the neatly set up auction lots, handled the jewelry, stuck tiny flashlights up the backsides of grandfather clocks, and generally did what Antique Nerds do before spending more than my house payment on a pottery jug … or a painting of a cow.

I worked my way around the room and back into a corner, behind the guns and swords. There I found  two violins sitting alone on a huge desk.

They were two very old violins, both from the first years of the 20th century. The oldest was in its original casket-shaped wooden case with slide hooks to close. The case was something that you’d stick the instrument in and put it in a vault, but nothing that could be carried around today I would be afraid the latches would free, and the violin would tumble out, turning into a nice heap of kindling and gut. That is never a good day for the owner of said instrument. I picked it up and gave it a few turns with open strings – not playing any other notes just bowing the strings. It was quite nice! The old fiddle didn’t have that nasty green sound that you hear in a cheap and freshly-made factory violin shaped object from China.

She was old, old wood, and bench-made. A craftsman had pulled this wood with their hands until it was a perfect balance. It had been refinished many years ago, and had a few life dings and repairs around the bottom half (the lower bout,) but nothing unusual for the age. Sooner, she will need to be restored: top re-set and maybe re-finished. I’m wasn’t so sure at first sight. The color is a very dark brown, and the 2-piece tiger maple on the back is the color of artfully-done cappuccino. It has a Stradivarius shape which is smaller in the upper bout, has a slim waist and a nice regular bottom, so it sings among the higher registers. The problem nowadays is that a new student violin in this shape can sound brittle and downright chirpy.

It was horribly out of tune.

Ad yet I could hear the warm potential the violin had, and thought:

that would be a great instrument to try!

And then I picked up her sister: a much newer, Italian violin. Before appraisal, I guessed around 1920 from the sound and feel. A much bulkier, almost heavy violin, this one had the heft of a viola with a huge boxwood chin rest to match the tail piece and the gold-trimmed finely-carved tuning pins.

Somebody loved this instrument for all it’s physical foibles!

It’s very clunky looking at first sight – it has the thickest finger board I’ve ever seen on a violin and the trim all makes it look heavier than it really is. This one is in the Guarnieri shape, so it’s much wider in the lower bout which gives a more mellow tone that almost prays among the lower notes. My former cello was a Guarnieri and this violin reminded me of the first time I that cello; it reminded me of what the term dulcet means. This one came packed in a high end protective case and two bows: an inexpensive German rosewood and needing a re-hair, and a Pernambuco wood bow (Brazil Wood – becoming more rare as the trees come close to extinction) That bo was as light as air. The bow fairly well molded itself to my hand. It reminded me of that moment in Harry Potter in which Mr. Olivander said:

The wizard doesn’t pick the want.
The wand picks the wizard.

I pulled the bow across the open strings and the best explanation is that this violin produces a sound that is the musical equivalent of chocolate. The violin was such an odd looking thing, and so unexpectedly beautiful that I decided on the spot that, even though I had no violin playing experience, I had to have this instrument.

One problem:

in the numeric sequence of sales, the older violin was catalog #569 and the one I wanted most was #570.  What if I skipped on the first, then lost the second? There was some [spiritual/emotional] danger that I could go home with neither.

Such a trauma. Such stress.

… Or at least it would have been a few years ago. After going through the ups and downs on life’s little dance, I’ve learned that my stressing over events does nothing to change them. I simply do what I can with what I have. I delegate (gladly!) to my support folks. I control what is within my power to control, and I leave the rest to…


Just like the Providence that led me to that back corner, to see those two violins.

One small note here: I didn’t actually play the violin, and yet here I’m considering (well – more than just considering, more like scheming) two of them!  A violin is strung differently from the cello: think: remove one lower string on the bottom, and add one higher string on top.Cello playing is forever gone to me because of the dusting of neuropathy that remains in my fingers. I have long since returned to my deep roots of classical piano.

I had this thought while having God’s Own Grace of being able to sleep on it before the auction, of what it would look like to teach myself the violin (if that’s even possible) based on what I already know of playing strings. And if not (insert Plan B here!) I certainly have very good teachers here from my cello days who can hook me up with the right teacher for a needy adult student like me.  This was a lot to mull over and sleep on for the two days between my first picking up those two instruments and when time would come to put money on the line.

What to do? What to do?

[continued tomorrow…]



First, you die – a prayer for families coming out

In the fourth season of Queer as Folk, as the audience comes to the end of our acquaintance with Uncle Vic, the Hiv-Poz former chef and patriarch of the Novatny family, someone asks his sister Debbie what it’s like to find out that your brother is HIV Positive, and that has now turned to aids.

After a moment’s pause she says “First… you die.


And then from there, the resurrection story comes into our lives from the realization that we can either sit there in that lonely pit where it’s dark and cold and the walls are steep and slick, or we can rise up, move on to our next day and our next, and so on, to live the lives that all the Uncle Vics in our lives would expect us to have.

I’ve heard some few parents tell me the same
response: What did you do when you first found out your kid was gay?

First, you die.


It’s as if what has just been told to me – most often from a place of sharing and trust – I have allowed to become my problem… my shortcoming. No child of mine is as bad as this badness (sic) that they have just told me, and so now I take the blame, the bad feeling, all the fault, and I sit here in my dark room with it, and oh! aren’t I a stronger person for suffering mightily on behalf of my child?

And then you wake up the next day.


Skies didn’t fall. Planets did not careen out of their orbits. Statues to that parent’s martyrdom did not spring up on the front lawn overnight. The badness, the crushing defeat, the loss – yes that is all still there. As is the daylight of that second day. We wake up, we look down and there scattered all around on the rug are pieces of a now-broken life (our own) that seemed so perfect – so untouched – just one day before. What happened in that day? And what to do now with that jigsaw puzzle of spilled pieces all around?

Consider reading the chapter 1 Corinthians 13 , it’s very short, only 13 of the most quoted and re-written verses in the Christian canon. The author (attributed to Paul) describes all that which love is. (In this case, agape, or charitable, Christian love.) Love, that active word that we don’t want to consider today because our life, broken and hurt, shattered in pieces on the floor by this bit of news from that one we… oh, wait a minute … from the one we love. The very last thing all that darkness calls from you is an active, pull yourself up by your bootstraps word like love.


Love never fails.

That’s not an original thought, or pie in the sky, that’s the first verse of the chapter. As strong an acclamation as you need to get you through this day, next week, a year from now. However long it’s going to take you to come to your senses and see how busted apart your life really is not.


Love is Eternal.

Regardless of that over worked movie scene in which the shell-shocked child is told of the parents’ upcoming divorce by saying “mom and dad just don’t love each other any more,” real, honest love is going to last beyond getting mad, coming out, denting the car, even that divorce split. Maybe mom and dad will love each other more by being apart than when they were together. And maybe – by being invited in as a part of this gay child/friend/spouse’s life – your love will also grow.

Evidence here is another super-quote from the Bible, John 3:16 described as “the gospel in one sentence:”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

They won’t perish: they won’t be removed forever from the one who loves them more than all others. No matter what awful things the world does, no matter how bratty we are, always demanding and never thanking…. always breaking stuff … God. So. Loved.


Are you the one who loves your child above all others? Everlasting, honest-to-God love?

Not everyone will have positive, wonderful or even funny coming out stories to tell. Some will break families, some will end relationships. And some will break old relationships into many jagged pieces that will then re-join more strong than before. Some will move along better because that child has spoken honestly of something that everyone already knew, and by speaking, they welcome us to know them – and love them – even more.


Families must grow to be strong.

That child – that beloved – has invited you to share something in their lives that is very close to their hearts, something very wonderful. Chances are they are scared- to-shaking that by telling you this good news, afraid you will react by rejecting their lives. Those scared ones fear that you will not love them any more.

God. So. Loved.


“At first,” Debbie said, “you die.” But you cannot stay there. Tomorrow will come whether or not you want it, and many days after. On that next day, when you are sitting in that dark, tall well with the slick sides, remember three simple words: God. So. Loved.  Decide then if you should do the same.

  • Love suffers long and it is kind.
  • Love does not envy and is not puffed up with false decoration
  • Love doesn’t behave unseemly or think evil thoughts
  • Love never fails, and endures all things


If you are that person who hears this news and your reaction is happiness, then God bless you, you got it right on the first try!


If you are that person who hears it and is afraid, just keep listening, keep asking all the questions you can bear to hear, understand the facts and not your inner fears, beginning with the fact that you have a happy person in front of you, asking you to join them in their happiness!

If you are that person feeling shattered and broken and ill-used, afraid, embarrassed, then everybody back to their own corners, reconnoiter and try again, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. This is a family and not a sparring match. It’s no time for emotional blackmail, and no time for threats that you will certainly regret later.


Speak your mind about how you feel and always remember as the words come out of your mouth to this person who just seconds before you loved so deeply: God. So. Loved. Remember God’s love (and yours!), and fight to the core of your soul to keep it.



And now abides faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.
(1Cor. 13:13)


A Prayer for Families Coming Out


(the final phrase, “and so continue…” may be omitted or revised as needed.)

Lord, creator, you made each and every one of us in your likeness, embracing us in our moments of weakness and cheering us in our moments of triumph. We  thank you for giving us families – both given by you and chosen by us – and we thank you for showing your diversity of the many shades of love, a great palette that shows your compassion for us. Be with us within our families as we face all challenges, both inside and outside, that together, putting aside our own  divisions, fears, and expectations, we may continue to grow in your never-ending love for us, and so continue the work of Jesus.

Keep the faith!



(for Ronnie B. You left us without giving us the time or the opportunity to love you even more. We miss you, bud, and guess what: we already knew. Rest easy.)