Nathan’s Corner: The Sound of #Music (#violin)

Behind every good musician is a dedicated mother.

I remember very clearly, at the age of four, my mother coming to me and asking if I would be interested in learning the violin. To my mind, trying was the operative word. So, after taking lessons for a short while, I informed my mother that I was ready to quit and was shocked to find that was no longer an option. Trapped!

I am so grateful for Mom’s [eh-hem] persistent  encouragement, and for the tremendous investment of time and money that my parents put into my musical training. It was one of the greatest parts of my childhood.

In college, however, things began to change. I had an intensely Russian violin teacher, who was very serious about the violin. I love playing the violin, but I don’t think I was ever serious about it. Not in that way, anyway.  I remember once sitting in master class, listening to one of the other students play beautifully, and thinking, “Wow, I’m glad I’m not that good.” It’s not that I didn’t want to play well, but that I understood the intensive commitment required to achieve that level of skill, and it was not appealing.

Finally, the day came when I was just starting to pack up my violin after a multi-hour practice session, and I was suddenly filled with despair at the realization that I would have to practice again the next day. That was when I realized that the time had come to change paths.

Even though Mom has always been proud and supportive of me, I strongly suspect it was initially a disappointment to her when I changed from studying music to studying theater. I think she feared that I would end up neglecting my violin—and that fear was largely realized. Many a year has passed since I played violin with any regularity, although I would always jump at the passing chance to perform when occasion arose.

Here’s what I would try to say to comfort Mom:

All that time studying the violin was not lost or wasted. It was a critical part of my life, and helped shape me into the person I am today. And my time with music hadn’t ended, it was merely a season. Seasons go and seasons come, and that is simply part of the cyclical nature of life.

Since moving to Owasso, things have begun to change.

Over the past few months, I have had more invitations to play violin than in the past several years combined. After one performance, I was approached to begin teaching a violin student. That has been a surprisingly delightful and satisfying experience, and I have felt nudged by the Spirit to seek more opportunities for that.

I feel like my season of music may have returned to a period of spring.

Recently, our stake president advised me to record some of my music. What I have been playing has been simple, unaccompanied arrangements of hymns, which lets me express my heart without exposing how rusty my technique has become. He said that doesn’t matter: sometimes simple is exactly what people need.

Not only that, but Emily emerged from the bath one Saturday evening (the bathtub being a prime spot for revelation in our house) with a message. She felt very strongly that we needed to record the three songs that I had ready within the next week, and that we would be blessed for doing so.

Time flies when you’re trying to make a recording in a week on a budget of $0.

We turned to Richard Torrie, a friend from church who had a small microphone that we could plug into Emily’s laptop. I found some free sound editing software, plugged everything in, and gave it a test run in our living room.

Unfortunately, the sound quality was bad: it flickered in and out like there was a short in the little mic.

We turned to Bro. Torrie again, and it turned out that he was setting up some nice microphones for the choir to perform that Sunday at church. He suggested that they might work better, and even offered his mixing board for us to use. Had we not been recording that very week, those microphones wouldn’t have been set up for us and ready to go.

It was the following Saturday at this point—the last day of our one-week challenge—and I went over to the church to record. I did a first take, only to hear on playback the exact same flickering problem we’d had with the other mic—it turns out the problem was not with the mic, but with the sound input on Emily’s laptop.

I ran home to get my own little laptop, but try as I might, I was not able to get it to recognize the microphones at all.

Emily wisely called some more friends—Grant and Stacie Gardner—who, without question, loaned us their own laptop to use. It worked, and was just what we needed, just when we needed it. What angels surround us!

I finally returned to church for an epic, multi-hour session of recording three hymns on unaccompanied violin.

The Outcome?

I would like to say that, after all that, the story has reached a triumphal conclusion. But I don’t think we’re there yet.

It seems that these mics, as nice as they are, were not designed to handle a close-up recording of as complex a sound as the violin. There are times when I would play a big, sustained, resonant note on my instrument, only to hear it transformed in the recording turn into a high-pitched squeal, or sometimes even silence. Also, because I was not set up to combine multiple takes, as can be done in a professional studio, any single take has plenty of the little squeaks and slightly-off intonation that any performer dreads. I’m sure that I’m more critical of them than anyone else would be, but I feel like there is still a gap between what I can express in live performance and what is conveyed by these recordings.

What’s the next step? I hope at some point to do some actual studio recording. But until we have the opportunity to do that (and the finances to pay for it), I’ve decided I’m still going to share what we’ve got.

These are our amateur recordings of the three pieces I have arranged and performed several times over the past few months. I hope you can listen with forgiving ears, hear what I’m trying to express from my heart, and find some enjoyment in them.


This is an arrangement of two of my favorite Christmas carols—“In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Still, Still, Still”—that I first performed at the annual Nativity exhibit at the LDS church Bartlesville. It’s the first of the recordings I made, and has the most long, sustained notes, which I was mentioning had the most trouble with the microphone. I loved how, in the context of the evening’s concert full of gorgeous choir music, the simple sound of the violin seemed to evoke the stillness of winter.

CLICK HERE TO PLAY (some desktops may download to play).

How Great Thou Art

This hymn was loved by both of Emily’s parents and holds a special place in the hearts of her family. Emily and Kirk asked me to play it at Jeanine’s funeral, and although I was terrified that I would be a blubbering mess, I think mom would’ve been pleased with how it went. The expression of a heart filled with gratitude for the atonement of Jesus Christ, the song is familiar enough that I kept any fancy arrangement to a minimum and just let people sing along in their hearts.

CLICK HERE TO PLAY (desktops may download to play).

For the Beauty of the Earth

A few days before Emily felt prompted that we should finish our recording in a week, I was asked to play violin at a church conference. I started looking through the hymnal, trying things out. This has always been one of my favorite hymns, and as I started playing it, the arrangement just flowed into me. I would play a section of it, and it would come out fully formed. I would repeat it a couple times to get it stuck in my memory, and then the next section would unfold before me. It was really an extraordinary experience. I think the result, which incorporates bits of “All Creatures of our God and King”, is a really joyful expression.

CLICK HERE TO PLAY (some desktops may download to play).

Posted in Music, Nathan permalink

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Nathan’s Corner: The Sound of #Music (#violin) — 10 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your post, Rick. I enjoyed reading it–it’s a good reminder about how not only persistence but the support of those around us helps us to get past our learning curves.

    I feel grateful for my supportive parents, and for my love of music, and I’m excited to see where it takes me next.

  2. It’s a nice tribute to your mom, yes what we learn shape us into who we are, you wouldn’t be a dedicated writer if you hadn’t been a dedicated violin learner playing hours and hours. I am grateful to my mom, who raised us alone, to gave us the opportunity to study music. My first instrument was the violin, but I had to stop because my family ears were bleeding when I was playing.
    You play well. I look forward to hear more and see the evolution.
    And, oh yes bathtubs are good for revelation Archimedes could tell you that! :-)

    • Vous êtes une femme drôle! Il est vrai que nous pensons le plus intelligent quand le monde est calme autour de nous. Lorsque le violon avait été chassé de la maison, avez-vous commencé à jouer quelque chose d’autre? Hahaha