Author: Faubel, Melinda

Instruments aren’t living beings.

Instruments aren’t living beings. Or so my mother tells me. It’s a hard concept for me to grasp. I feel guilty when I ignore my animals – after all they are living things that perceive change of routine and most domestics are bred to seek interaction with humans. Thus commitment to an animal is a commitment to make the care of them a priority throughout its life, even in the face of changing circumstances and situations.

I have a tendency to carry that over to my instruments.

Each of my three fiddles has a name and a personality. There’s Betsy – she’s like a fat old farmwife that sings with an alto voice. Maybe the sound is a little flat, but there’s a lot there and it’s easy to strike up a conversation. The German has a kind, but not generous heart. He gives you what you put in – with him you always get honesty, and after 10 years together, it’s a comfortable relationship. He’s also easy – just as happy to be played by me, as he is by a guest. I’m still figuring Fr-- out. He’s the smoothest singer but also resents being ignored. He’ll sing prettily for you if not too much time goes by, but prefers a steady relationship to one that is hot and heavy one moment, only to cool off the next. Fr-- also plays the most “individually” of the instrument – he has to has his own way for everything, including the exact placing of the fingers. But he’s well worth the effort through tone and playability.

So you see – in some ways my fiddles are very much alive to me and I interact with them as I would my furry 4-legged companions. Thus, when I ignore them for months on end, I tend to feel a bit….guilty.

“Do you know how long it’s been?”, says Fr--. “Hey, I think my strings are rusty”. Betsy sighs and slides down to settle on the German a little more comfortably from her position propped against the wall on the floor. “No complaining Fr--“, Besty says reprovingly, “at least YOU a can see what’s going on, while we are stuck in these dark little cases.”

Here’s the problem. In some cases guilt is useful. It can motivate us to do what is right. For example, not riding my horse for a long period of time if she’s in a stall and I haven’t made provisions for her to get other exercise SHOULD cause me guilt. And that guilt SHOULD cause me to rectify the situation – another living thing’s wellbeing is in question and as the owner I have a responsibility!

In other cases guilt is less useful. I haven’t been to the Wednesday night jam that I wrote about in a previous column in MONTHS. LOTS of months. This is linked to the guilt of not playing my fiddle. In this instance the guilt has become de-motivating, and is no longer useful. The longer I go without practicing, the worse I feel, and the less I want to either pick up the fiddle, or attend the jam (with or without the fiddle).

Something that was previously enjoyable to do, and brought happy memories when I saw the fiddles arranged in my living room, now gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach.

“I should be practicing”, I think when I sit in my recliner at the end of another exhausting day filled with lame horses, grad school applications, moving boxes, and a 40+ hour work week. But instead of finding joy in the thought of this activity, it becomes a point of dread – yet another thing to add to my already-too-long-to-do-list.

And the cycle of guilt continues.

Of course my mother (yes the mother of fiddle lessons and delicious meals) pointed out that fiddles AREN’T animals and exist in stable stasis until I decide to play them. And no guilt should exist in the meantime – because the fiddles are there to please me!

But practicing isn’t exactly like vacuuming either! Do I feel guilty when I don’t vacuum or leave the sink full of dishes? Absolutely not!

Sometimes guilt causes me to do the right thing when it matters (wellbeing of an animal for example, or an overdue apology), however I need to accept that in this instance, guilt about not practicing isn’t motivating me to actually DO it (as shown by my practice record in the last six months), and thus is NOT HELPFUL. Time to break the cycle and employ a new strategy! After all, my fiddles and I have a 17 year relationship and a brief hiatus during one of life’s major transitions doesn’t mean it’s over – Besty, the German, and Fr-- will happily wait until the day, in the not-too-distant future, that I can lift them to my shoulder and say “shall we?”.
Posted:  3/19/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email