A Violin Etude for Girls with Careful Braids
by Julie C. Day
A toothed headband held down the wisps of Bethany Carrel’s tightly braided hair. Disorder, Bethany knew, wasn’t for violin girls, especially ones who accompanied their mother to Sherri’s Beauty Salon.
“Lovely.” Bethany’s mother raised a hand to the nape of her neck and tested the tightness of her chignon. Sherri and Mrs. Carrel had a longstanding arrangement. Every four weeks Mrs. Carrel talked about “Rodger’s latest troubles” and how “it never gets any easier” while Sherri snipped, and sprayed and adjusted the angle of the chair.
A trio requires three members: Bethany was the third. She sat on the vinyl-cushioned stool and waited for her turn.
“Sherri will do your hair when you’re older. Won’t that be nice?” Mrs. Carrel glanced over at her daughter.
Bethany knew her part. She gave only the barest of nods.
After a moment her mother turned away, and the two women and their conversation moved on as Bethany practiced that one perfect note—silence.
The first Saturday of each month Bethany did more than practice silence. She proclaimed its worth at the Congregational Church on Surrey Avenue.
Bethany never spoke when she played her violin—no matter who sat in those wooden pews. Before the music started, while at least one sticky-handed baby toddled toward the front, Bethany listened as Grandma Marie and Great-Aunt Veronica discussed Uncle Frank’s latest girlfriend, his prescription bottles, and yet another ambulance trip to Mount Clare. She watched as the audience look over those fixed-and-printed programs. Recital, the title page declared. Dead composers, she silently alleged. Static notes and fixed lines.
All those adults should fully commit and call the event Recital for Girls with Careful Braids. After all, both music and hair were expected to press against the skull, flat and scrupulously contained.
As Ms. Bowdoin, Bethany’s violin teacher, stepped forward and adjusted the music stand, Bethany noticed her mother’s frown, the way she checked for any signs that Bethany’s hair wasn’t properly prepared.
And then, finally, it was time.
Bethany bow arm moved inside her tightly buttoned cardigan. Her body swayed as stray tendrils and twists began their daring escape. Forget recitation: Bethany was the preacher, the holy woman, the lay minister witnessing her truth.
With each movement of the bow, Bethany’s focused tightened. Until, inevitably, the silence disappeared and all those notes backed up, a jumble of as-yet-unplayed lines. A true musician, a musician of faith, Bethany felt her way to the necessity of a dropped A or a discarded C sharp.
A recital truth: it didn’t matter how often Bethany’s mom brushed and braided, lacquered and layered in that styling gel. Dropped notes were an essential component of an ever-expanding universe.
Sure, Bethany’s violin teacher winced at each missed note and her mother continued to scowl. What they didn’t recognize was the unexpected shapes in those moments of silence, the unfurling as the music felt its way to the next unplanned note.