Saturday, September 27, 2014

Elnora's Violin

Our fourth grade teacher read installments of The Secret Garden out loud to us during class. I wanted to read ahead (and I guess I couldn't find a copy in the library) so I went up to the box of my mother's old books in the attic and found a book by Gene Stratton Porter called The Magic Garden, and I started reading it. I soon forgot about The Secret Garden, and became obsessed with the Magic one.

The novel is about a girl who called herself "little hungry heart" because neither of her parents, who were very rich but no longer loved one another, seemed to love her. She did what any rich five-year-old girl would do, and got into her chauffeured car, tricked the chauffeur, and ran off into the woods. There she found a barefooted teenage boy playing his violin in the middle of a swamp, imitating the sounds of birds. A wonderful friendship began. It became my favorite book. Nobody in Boston or New York knew about Gene Stratton Porter. She was a part of the mysterious Midwest from whence the maternal side of my family came.

When I moved to the Midwest I began reading all of Gene Stratton Porter's novels and her writings about nature (they were in used bookstores all over Illinois). I particularly loved (and still love) A Girl of the Limberlost, particularly the chapter where Elnora, the protagonist, discovers a violin for the first time.

It turns out that Elnora's father, a man she never met because he died while walking through the swamp on the night she was born, was a violinist. She eventually gets his violin, and through playing it (which she takes to immediately and obsessively) is able to heal her mother's complicated heartache, and eventually repair their relationship. The need to play the violin was simply in her blood.

In 2005 I met Sharilyn Spicknall, an Indiana born-and-bred violinist who had never heard of Gene Stratton Porter. In my romantic eye and ear I considered her playing as the Indianaian essence of what Elnora would have sounded like (and I still do). I wrote a piece for her called "Elnora's Violin," a musical "illustration" for A Girl of the Limberlost.

I had a "Limberlost" moment the other day. My maternal grandfather had given Marshall a violin, and my paternal grandfather had given Marshall a bow. These instruments are now in my house. I decided to try the Chicago-made Grandpa Henry violin (Grandpa Henry shared certain traits with Elnora's father) with the Grandpa Nathan bow, and the experience felt like an explosion in my musical mind. Yesterday I got together the gumption to make a recording of Elnora's Violin with that violin and bow combination.

You can here a compressed version of it here, and a better-sounding uncompressed one that will take longer to load here.

People who found this post because of their love for the novel and for the Limberlost, might want to listen to listen to a recording of "Song of the Limberlost," a piece I wrote for solo harp that is based on more images from the novel. The harpist is Julia Kay Jamieson. The piece is in four sections:

Trees are harps in winter
The very essence of June
Elnora finds a violin
The song of the Limberlost

No comments: