August 14, 2008

Fiddler In The Classroom

I received an email from my fiddle instructor the other day. He wrote to inform his students of the upcoming last class as well as say how much he enjoyed this most recent group of Fiddle 3 students. He added that this group was one of the best he's had and its passion for fiddling is one of the reasons why he continues teaching. I thought that was incredibly nice, but I was instantly jealous. You see, I am not in the Fiddle 3 class. I am in Fiddle Two.

For those of you who do not know, I have been taking fiddle classes at Old Town (the same place I took belly dancing) for about 7 weeks now. I originally signed up for the Fiddle 3 class, pretty much dismissing the fact that I had not really picked up my violin consistently in eight years.

I showed up to my first class wholly unprepared. One of my string was completely out of tune, and given that none of my pegs would budge, the remaining three were iffy at best. Before we began to play our first tune something struck me as incredibly odd. There were no music stands. There was no sheet music to put on the non-existent stands. There was no music to read. How could I play without music? Never in my violin-playing life had I attempted to play a song without having the aid of notes to read.

My instructor began to play. He played a note. Then we played that note. Then he played a few notes and we repeated back those same notes. Eventually we had enough notes to create a phrase. Then he played the phrase and we repeated it back. It was very akin to a musical version of Simon Says. (By the way, how cool is that link!) I was trying my best to keep up, but there happened to be a lot of very good Fiddle 3 players, and they did not need to take it as slow as I did. I tried hanging in, playing about one of every three notes. And then my string broke.

That’s right. My A string broke, the string that happened to be featured in this particular fiddle tune. I stopped and my instructor noticed. He advised I go next door to Old Town’s store and purchase a new A string. As I walked to the store I contemplated just walking home. I was clearly going to miss a large portion of our fiddle tune, and it did not seem like I’d ever be able to pick it up. But I also did not want to give up after having sat through less than one class.

I walked back into the class 20 minutes later, all my strings intact, only to realize my fellow fiddlers were half way through learning the second half of our tune. Every fiddle song has an A part and B part. My string broke half way through the A part, and I walked back into class half way through the B part. It was official. I was never going to learn this tune. I struggled through the rest of class, now getting only about one of every five notes. My eyes kept darting from my instructor's finger placement to the clock.

I breathed a sigh of relief as my instructor played the tune one last time so we could record the song to practice it during the coming week. Did I mention I also forgot to bring my recorder? I forgot to bring my recorder.

One saving grace of the class was that a guy who brought his laptop offered to email the tune to those of us who were less prepared. That is how is came to be that I was not in Fiddle 3 but received emails for the class none the less.

After my foray into Fiddle 3 I hemmed and hawed and weighed my decision to stay in the class drop down to Fiddle Two. I decided that remedial was better for me, but felt a little sadness in doing so. This class was over my head - or was it. I didn't really get the full experience with the string break and all. But I didn't want to spent my entire Fiddle 3 session frustrated at my lack of playing abilities. Honestly though, did I think I was never going to pick up Fiddle 3? Did I imagine myself as the slowest girl in class, the one the teacher would always be stopping and correcting because she was the one who just couldn’t get it? Yeah, I think part of me was afraid. I’ve always felt more comfortable sitting on the end of over qualified than I have under qualified. But as I walked out of Fiddle 3 that night, I remember thinking what a great accomplishment it would be to just jump into the class, play sloppily and then one day just get it. My fears didn’t let that happen, though and I remained in Fiddle 2 secretly though, (somewhat voyeuristic ally) receiving the Fiddle 3 songs via email.

I guess it serves me right that after weeks of peaking in on the Fiddle 3 activities I was able to find out that I had missed out on a whole lot of fun. The lesson here is I shouldn’t let my doubts get the best of me. I guess now I can only hope that when I take Fiddle 3 this next session, my instructor will find my group as delightful as the last one. Really though, I'd just like to be half as good as these kids. Or her.

August 3, 2008

My Muddy Buddy and Me

I forget how I first heard about it. I probably overheard a friend of a friend at some gathering talking about this race. Well I mentioned it at some point to my friend Jenny, and before I knew it, she and I had agreed to race the Muddy Buddy together.

For those of you who haven't heard of the Muddy Buddy, it's a race that mixes running, biking, obstacles and a giant mud pit. The race works with two people racing as a tandem, with each buddy biking or running and switching off when they reach an obstacle. In the end, you meet your buddy to run the last 100 yards and then crawl through a pit of mud together.

Neither Jenny or I had done this race before, so we didn't really know what to expect. When her bus rolled into town Saturday night, we became aware of how wholly unprepared we were. Official race rules stated we should decorate our bike to make it stick out from any one of the other 1,400 bikes on the course. Rules also stated we needed a hydration system. While pulling up directions (directions that got us lost the morning of the race), we also read how there were costume contests and chances to win trips to Finland or Land Rovers. This was all news to us.

Aside from being unprepared in these ways, I felt very physically unprepared. As is par for the course with my race training, I did not train. I ran once this past month and the distance was less than 2 miles. The Muddy Buddy's course is between 6 and 7 miles. I wanted to train but just never really got around to it. The closer it got to the race, the more I thought moving would suffice as my exercise. (I guess it kind of did.) Honestly though, if Jenny had not bought her ticket into town, I probably would have skipped the race entirely (like I did with the last race I entered). Our early departure time wasn't helping to raise my spirits either. My and Jenny's day began very early. We needed to sign in by 6:15 a.m., so that meant leaving home at 5 a.m. and getting up at 4:30 in the morning.

Given our general unpreparedness, our race theme became to complete, not compete. I knew I had no competitive edge whatsoever. I planned to try and enjoy my morning biking and running through Indian Hills Farms.

Honestly though, I still was a bit blah about the whole thing, so I was surprised when upon finishing I realized I really, really liked it. It's possibly because my expectations were so low. But really I think it was because there was so much variety to the race. My number one complaint with running is that I get so bored from the repetition of it. The course was a variation of dirt roads, grass and woodsy trials with mud pits and steep hills. I began biking and biked three out of the five legs of the race. I ran the other two (while Jenny biked them) and I'm not going to lie, walked a bit. I really never ran much more than a mile at a time and the obstacles were a fun way to mark the transitions from biking to running. There was a small rock climbing wall, balance beams, cargo net, and inflatable slide. Oh and of course the giant pit of mud at the end.

Jenny and I crossed the finish line at one hour and 18 minutes, a respectable time I think, especially since I'm still not really sure how long the race was. And we were certainly covered in mud from head to toe as we crossed. The race staff places six rows of flag across the pit. You and your buddy must crawl under all of them in order to finish, so there is simply no way around the mud. It really was the perfect way to cap this crazy, fun, frenzied race. And I guess I learned that I need to stop complaining about these races and just do them. I seem to always pleasantly surprise myself in the end.