Everybody can teach English; teaching it well is another thing; but teaching it well and also playing the violin fairly well is extraordinarily rare. It takes many things to become great violinist: dedication, uncommon intelligence, keen hand-eye coordination, sensitivity to rhythm and pitch of sound, etc. In my case, my father gave me a timely training at an early age, which helped build up my basic ability to polish the skills all the way. Right at the first glance of the violin I fell in love with it, and the soul of it has ever since been my lifelong partner, and made me the only one English teacher who loves playing the violin.
In one of my old family photo albums there lies one special picture which was taken some seventy years ago. It has begun to fade from the original black and white to yellow through ages. It is a photo of the whole performers right after the performance in front of the stage on the “Eve of Music and Dance--first performance in Sin-ko,” my childhood hometown, with a population of less than 1,000. On the bottom of the photo is printed the subtitle which reads: November 16, 1941 (three weeks later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War broke out).
The First Eve of Music and Dance.
The event was sponsored by the local elementary school combined with passionate music lovers of the community. It was at this concert that I made my debut, when I was eight years old. The Eve of Music and Dance lasted only two years simply because of the wartime.
I’m right in the first row, second to the rightmost, kneeling down next to an adult dancer 3 or 4 times my age. I’m the only one holding a bouquet of flowers presented by my favorite Japanese girl classmate; besides, a 1/4 size Suzuki violin, a unique sight again, that has brought me endless glories to fill up the rest of my life.
↑ The Eve of Music and Dance, November 15,16, 1941, held at Sinko. (台東新港)
The photo of all the attendants was taken after the performance.
The writer is the second from right, first row.
I was born in Chengkung成功, Tatung County台東縣 , a small port town, under the Japanese occupation. At that time the “Imperialization” policy had just been enacted throughout Taiwan and the whole was being permeated with Imperialism, that is, people were adjusting themselves to Japanese way of life, the most apparent evidence was in the language change. There was nevertheless ethnic discrimination remaining everywhere.
My father was then a music teacher, when I was eight years old. Seeing that it was harder than anything else to compete with the Japanese colleagues, he thought of his own philosophy of life: not to be the Number One but to be Only One. The Only-One philosophy led himself to set up an aim: a unique music teacher.
It was not so easy to learn English by oneself as it is now, particularly in a remote place like Chengkung. So he began with the English correspondence lessons from Waseda University as well as Italian so that he was able to know all music terminology appeared in any music books. The silliest but greatest job he ever did was that he learned really by heart the whole dictionary of music terminology. His effort could not be overpraised when he was awarded an official approval of the licensed music teacher, the only one authorized in this county in the field of music. With this trivial success, he would later want me to follow his philosophy.
A little gifted self-taught musician, my father played various kinds of musical instruments, and the violin was his favorite. Seeing that every night he was playing the violin until far into the night, I was deeply moved by the lovely tone. When he was at rest, I would often take up the heavy and huge instrument—to me it was-- and curiously imitating him trying to play all children’s songs I could hum.
The First Violin Lesson.
When I started my elementary school, my father thought it was high time I began the violin lessons taught by himself. It was, I wonder, quite an innovating idea to have one’s child learn to play the violin which no people had ever seen, particularly in this remote port town. My father ordered a Suzuki violin for me. Right from the moment when I saw the 1/4 size of Suzuki violin I fell in love with it.
Soon a literally Spartan-like training began. Having gotten the basic techniques of fingering and bowing, I found myself practicing it very hard when other boys of my age were playing after school. Since I was taught to read the music, I was able to commit on my own in practicing and made an amazingly rapid improvement.
A Successful Debut.
Then I was told that The First Eve of Music and Dance was undergoing, and that I was to play in it. My father had me play Haru no Ogawa, The Little Stream of Spring and Kojo no Tsuki, The Moon above the Deserted Castle , a famous popular Japanese song everybody could sing. I was extremely nervous rather than excited. When the audience saw a child playing a musical instrument that they had only heard of but never seen, they were even more excited. As I came to somewhere in the middle, I felt something thrown onto the stage. It was money. I saw more and more, so I stopped playing and said, “I pick the money first, and then play again.” The crowd burst into laughter. I came back to my site and restarted the music. When it came to an end, the audience was again getting crazy and broke into shouting and thundering applause. “That was one of the happiest moments of my life,” I recall now.
↑ “I fell in love with the violin at the first glance of it.”
This was the happiest moment I ever had.
The happy time didn’t last long. The war gradually became raging, and the violin and I barely survived the terrible bombing threats of the war until it ended. Unfortunately, a fierce typhoon attacked our hometown and our humble house was collapsed, and so was my loved violin among the debris. The corpse of the violin was carried away all with the remains to rebuild the house. Now all but the soul of it has remained for the past decades and intermittently guided me to continue playing it.
Start of Career.
I majored in English at National Normal University , Taipei , and decided to be a high school English teacher as my lifetime career. At the same time I bargained a secondhand violin with all the little pocket money invested and restarted my violin lesson under a famous violin teacher of the music department at the same university.
As an English major, I took up all English courses including the history of English literature, English poetry, Shakespeare’s plays, English phonetics, reading and composition, psychology, the middle school education, etc. Although they were really so tough and heavy a burden on me, I had to make every effort, at least three extra hours, to practice my violin: one hour before breakfast, another hour at noontime recess, and one more after the library study hour, all at the farthest corner of the classroom building. I also joined the amateur string orchestra of the college playing the violin part.
The Farewell Party.
In the senior year, as my performing technique was considered so satisfactory I played on the stage The Last Rose of Summer, the Variation, composed by Henry Farmer at the farewell party. It is a worldly known Scottish folksong. The theme melody is in a very warm and alluring Adagio movement and the finale ended with spectacular spiccato stroke excellently matched by the piano accompaniment. When I came off the stage, the head of our department, Dr. Lian Shihchiu, the greatest authority of Shakespeare, approached and offered a handshake, saying, “Well done. I’ve had difficulty believing my eyes. A student of our English department played the violin.” Soon after the performance I could not but recall and imagine the first time I appeared on the stage with that small violin for children and received the applause and felt a sense of triumph. I know this memory would be remembered for years and years to come. I now deeply realized that a sense of uniqueness—an English-teacher-to-be who can play the violin fairly well—was going to keep pace with me throughout my career.
With graduation on the horizon, I was just about to step out into the world with a violin that cost me NT$3,000, a price approximately 8 times my first salary. It is made in Germany, not very famous one, but I have never ever wanted to let it away from me not because I was far from bourgeois, which I was actually, to afford to get a Stradivari but simply because I feel it part of myself.
Join the University Orchestra
In 1962, as an East-West Center Grantee under the Asian English Teacher Interchange Program at University of Hawaii , aside from majoring in TEAFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Langue), I was lucky to be qualified to be a member of the University Orchestra to play the second violin. It was that year that the university orchestra opened up so many doors for me, got acquainted with a few lifelong foreign friends, who helped build up confidence in performance, and what’s more, surprised the TEAFL teachers and classmates that I was a bit exceptional, not professional, though, thanks to my past violin experience.
At the Christmas concert, everyone of them joined the event and gave me a fantastic applause. Never had I had such a feeling of glory, and I firmly believe it was made possible by my love of the violin.
An Encounter with a Virtuoso.
It was the same year that I was invited to Mischa Elman (1891~1967) Violin Recital at McKinley Music Hall , Honolulu . Elman had a special weapon about musical performance, and that was worldly noted for the opulence, warmth, and vibrancy of his tone, the “Elman tone.” Especially his vibrato sounded so unique that nobody else throughout the world was ever successful in imitating this child prodigy. That’s why it was given the respectful title of the Elman tone. This Russian-American violin virtuoso was my idol. He made innumerable tours of the United States and Europe, but rarely in Asia .
It was, therefore, a golden chance for me to watch him play Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto at the concert hall, especially the second movement, called Cantzonetta, is my favorite. Its Slavic melody richest in expression would trigger your tears and sentimentality if you follow it passionately. As an encore, he played Franz Drdla’s Souvenir in D. As a child, I heard that Elman’s encore had inevitably included this piece of music.
In one of music books says: While Franz Drdla, the Czechoslovakian violinist and composer, was passing the tomb of Franz Schubert (1797—1828) on the tram in the outskirts of Vienna , he was struck by an inspiration. Promptly he took out a pencil from his pocket and got what had flashed in his mind seconds before down on the tram ticket. It was rewritten as soon as he got back to his residence. This inspired melody has ever since been played as one of the most popular violin pieces. It comes out extraordinarily marvelous and lovely when played in Elman tone. I love it and have played it on many occasions.
Elman’s recital gave me an impetus to work hard to make further effort in the violin playing. This precious experience would not have been possible had my first violin not rooted in me so deeply.
↑ The first concert was presented by the CSO in 1967,
conducted by CT Lin.
The Children’s String Orchestra.
Was it true that my obstinate idiosyncrasy about the violin music influenced so many people in Taitung? It was incredible that children’s dreaming about playing the violin after me became so prevalent that I had to instruct and organize a string orchestra composed of 40 kids, giving performances twice a year, which made their parents proud of them. It was an unprecedentedly established orchestra, which grew prosperous and kept expanding with my father’s coordination.
I was in my thirties, and faced with the dilemma of whether or not to continue to bear the burden of the orchestra besides my responsibility of high school principal. After all, playing the violin was merely my preferred hobby, while teaching English was my career work. Just at this time, thank God the chance to choose the alternatives came in. I got a good excuse to find someone else to take over the orchestra: I was awarded the scholarship to make further study at the Edinburgh University, Scotland. Now I could throw myself into my own study of Linguistics and Foreign Language Teaching with even more customary enthusiasm and concentration. Nevertheless I had not in the least thought of turning my back to the violin.
↑ The Formaosan Ensemble at rehearsal before the concert.
Several decades have elapsed since then. I have retired from regular work after thirty-three years of service for schools, and been teaching English and Japanese privately as a second career. Besides, I keep practicing and playing the violin very regularly for hours every day.
During my retired years, I have had chances to lead our ensemble to make an excursion tour twice, to Kobe神戶 and Tokyo東京 , and formerly appeared on the stage at the Taitugn Cultural Center on various occasions. I was more nervous than excited when I played The Meditation of Thais, 泰綺思冥想曲composed by J. Massenet, with my son’s accompaniment on the piano, which is my lifelong favorite piece. It is really unforgettable experience.
I have been also pursuing to conquer Zigeunerweisen by Pablo Sarasate (1844—1908), which is said to integrate all the from-basic-to-complicated techniques in the violin etudes and is the everlasting goal of many amateur violinists. It may take me years and years of efforts. I may never reach perfectness. So what? I will keep on playing until the day when I bid farewell and say many, many thanks to my violin for accompanying me all the way and making it possible for me to be the only one. It has been my greatest dream—my father would often encourage me by saying, “Have a dream to have your dream come true”—to be an English teacher and violin performer.
The members of the string quartet: from left,
first violin Songhuei Chen; 第一小提琴/陳松暉
violist Jinan Wu; 中提琴/吳晉安
second violin CT Lin; 第二小提琴/林哲次
cellist Fukwei Tsai. 大提琴/蔡福桂
Chen, Hsiang-ming 2002 Social Science Qualitative Research.
Markow, Robert 2004 String Teacher. Sydney : The Strad.
S. Eberhardt 1911 Violin Vibrato. New York : Carl Fischer, Inc.
Campbell, Margaret 1981 The Great Violinists. New York : Doubleday & Company.
Mozart, Leopold 1975 A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing. Translated by Editha Knocker Oxford University Press
延伸閱讀: 1. 夏威夷的呼喚(上)