It's a Lie

Monday, November 12, 2012

Violin concertos embraced me as I drove back from Indianapolis on Saturday, and my heart soared and ached simultaneously. I longed to be able to play like that.

I love the violin. It is more versatile than any other musical instrument. In Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" the violins trill like birds, roar like thunder, murmur like a gentle breeze, romp like peasants celebrating the harvest, and spit like icy rain.

Few of you know that I used to play violin. I took lessons for three years and played last chair in the college orchestra for one year before I faced the truth: I would never be more than a sixth-rate violinist. And it wasn't for lack of trying. Granted, I didn't practice as much as I should have, but it was my body that betrayed me.

Physically, there are two characteristics all good violinists possess. One is an "ear" for pitch. It wouldn't surprise me if there are deaf violinists who can "hear" the pitch in the vibrations that course through their fingertips. But one way or another, a violinist must be able to determine whether he or she is on pitch while tuning and playing the instrument.

If a piano is properly tuned, playing the perfect pitch is as simple as hitting a particular key. Violins aren't like that. Each string contains a continuum of pitches, and producing the right one requires you to hear it inside your head as you place your fingers.

I was good at that.

The other necessary characteristic is dexterity. Dexterity in the bow arm (which is the right arm for a right-handed person) and dexterity in the fingers that play the notes, which are on the opposite hand than the one you use for writing and other fine-motor skills.

Dexterity I didn't have and could never develop no matter how motivated I was. If I had set my heart on being a great violinist, my dreams--and my heart--would have shattered.

So I wince whenever I hear someone say, "You can be whatever you want if you try hard enough."

It's a lie.

Not everyone can be the smartest kid in the class or the prettiest girl or the best athlete. Many people want to be President of the United States or Miss America or an Olympic gold medalist, but only a few succeed.

I'll never be a good violinist. But that's okay, because my talents lie in other directions.

We all have talents. They may not be the ones that make us rich or famous, but every one is valuable. We need carpenters as much as (okay, more than) we need lawyers.

The secret to success is not in believing that we can be whatever we want to be. That road leads to heartbreak.

The secret to success is discovering our talents and making the most of them.

And that's no lie.

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