Overture: New Musical Beginnings

The night before I was set to move out of the apartment I had been subletting for the fall  semester of my junior year, I found myself surrounded by boxes, bare walls and my two roommates. We were strangers upon moving in, but sharing a living space is a sure way to expedite friendship, and the three of us became very close almost instantly. In the corner of my empty closet, a violin case caught my roommate’s eye. “Lu, we’ve never heard you play violin before… will you play us something?” 

Her request made me hesitate. I hadn’t played violin in almost two years and couldn’t remember how to play anything off the top of my head. Suddenly, all the memories of dancing to our favorite songs in the kitchen came to mind, and I knew exactly what to do. 

“Here’s an idea – how about you pick your favorite songs and I’ll play them?”

“You can do that? Without looking up the sheet music or anything?”

“Sure thing,” I responded, thinking back to my years of sight reading, hundreds of hours of practice, and my carefully trained ear. I know my violin like an extension of my own body, and years of listening and playing have taught me how to instantaneously process a melody and bring it to life. 

Their dubious expressions turned dumbstruck as they started naming songs, and, one by one, watched me bring them to life by listening to a snippet of the song, bringing the violin to my neck, and using muscle memory to play it on the spot, adding harmonies and embellishments as I went.

“I can’t believe you were hiding a secret talent from us all this time!” they exclaimed. I wasn’t hiding it, exactly, but it’s true that my violin had been sitting at the back of my closet for almost two years.

An early snapshot of me playing violin.

I started playing violin at the age of five, driven to lessons and daily practice entirely by my mother’s volition. As a child, I dreaded the long hours and frustratingly slow progress, but with the help of my naturally musical ear I grew to embrace the hobby. As I entered high school, violin became one of the most central parts of my life. 

I loved the sense of community I found at music school, and cherished the feeling of playing in groups, the sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. And, of course, I loved the music itself. I was entranced by its sweeping declarations, its way of telling stories without words, conveying emotions that only music can. Living with parents who encouraged my musical pursuits, violin easily fell into my daily routine. Every day I came home from school and practiced for two hours a day, playing scales over and over again, picking apart notes and phrases, striving for perfection.

When I moved to Chicago for college, my violin came with me, and I kept up a daily practice routine. But without my parents looking over my shoulder, I began to question if I really wanted to continue spending time in the practice room, especially when I could be chipping away at an ever-growing mountain of homework or socializing with my new friends. I could feel my old routine of violin slipping out of my grasp, and it was scary. I wanted to hang onto this part of my life – hiding away in the practice room was my refuge from a sea of uncertainty that waited beyond the soundproof doors. But my time was too valuable, and I felt myself being pulled towards other things, new things. 

Just a couple of weeks into freshman year, I walked over to the club fair with a recent friend, recalling mishaps from our first few days on campus. The club fair was held in a huge room in the student center, and we followed a horde of fellow underclassmen up a wide staircase into a huge room of chaos. We were greeted by endless rows of tri-fold posters, folding tables, and streams of people walking up and down the aisles, each person talking a little louder than the person next to them. I lost my friend in the chaos and wandered down the aisles alone, totally lost, not sure how I would go about selecting between the five literary magazines and thirty volunteer groups. 

“There you are!” I was relieved to hear my friend’s voice, and even more relieved to hear that she was feeling similarly overwhelmed. Just as we were about to leave, we walked by a table in the corner with a notably more subdued vibe and a poster that said WNUR in huge letters. The seniors at the booth explained that the radio station was a great opportunity for music lovers to play music live on the air. I signed up, leaving with a sense of new beginnings. Although I didn’t know anything about working at a radio station, or rock music, I could envision myself being a part of the community. It was the first step I took outside of my comfort zone at college, and although I didn’t know it at the time, WNUR would become one of the most important parts of my life at Northwestern, a source of community and personal growth. 

It can be difficult to step away from something that has become such a large part of your life, especially when you aren’t exactly sure who you want to be or how to get there. By evaluating what aspects of my high school self fit into my life as I transitioned into college, I discovered that I needed to put my old hobbies aside to leave room to follow my instincts and see what I was drawn towards. In doing so, I chose to prioritize the person I wanted to become rather than preserving the person I already was. I didn’t know what lay ahead but I knew I was looking forward and envisioning the person I wanted to be. And that was all I needed to take that first step. 

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By Lu Poteshman

Lu is a rising senior at Northwestern University, where she studies English Literature with a minor in Art, Theory and Practice. She is passionate about all things music and art, and loves to paint, draw, design things, write creatively, cook and explore in her free time. She is currently working towards her dreams of being a book editor by day and DJ by night.

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