Violin's good vibrations soothe the soul and keep brains sharp, Millikin teacher says

2010-07-08T00:01:00Z 2010-07-08T23:30:02Z Violin's good vibrations soothe the soul and keep brains sharp, Millikin teacher saysBy SHEILA SMITH - H&R Staff Writer Herald-Review.com
July 08, 2010 12:01 am  • 

DECTUR - Jennifer Orange longed to regain the musical talent she had when she played violin as a child.

"I had to pick an instrument in grade school and took up the violin," said Orange, 61, who took private lessons through high school.

When she went to college, she said, "I wanted to take up the violin but instead I got married, had to raise four kids and just worked and didn't have time."

Now, thanks to an adult violin class at Millikin University, Orange can make time for her beloved instrument between the time she is working as an occupational therapist and volunteering as a master gardener at the University of Illinois Extension Macon County.

"Now I just worry about keeping my brain stimulated, but it's all coming back to me," said Orange, who began the nine-week class two weeks ago.

Jennifer Hood, a 20-year-old Millikin University student, also is learning to play the violin to add to her repertoire of singing folk and bluegrass music.

"You can't really sing and not play the violin when there's a jam going on," she said. "I grew up in a bluegrass atmosphere, and my dad plays in a bluegrass band."

Hood and Orange are learning the basics and getting the technique down, from hand placement on the strings to moving the bow.

Hood carefully listened as instructor Deonne Orvis explained proper posture for playing.

"There are a lot of details to remember," Orvis told those in the class and led them in playing "Mississippi Steamboat," a song that serves as a bowing exercise playing two of the instrument's four strings at a time.

"Remember to let the bow move down toward the floor and let your wrist relax," Orvis said when she stopped playing to remind everyone.

If there is anything to be remembered, it is how crucial finger positions are on the strings.

Tammy Quick, 49, is not part of the class but is taking private violin lessons from Orvis.

She purchased a violin in 2001 and stuck it in the back of the closet. She thought it didn't work because no sound came from the bow when it connected with the strings.

"The strings on the bow were made of synthetic horse hair, and that is why it wasn't making any notes. The bow has to have rosin on it," Quick said. "So I took it to Deonne to look at, and she told me that the bow just needed to be changed. I was so excited then that I could finally take some lessons."

She has been taking lessons for the past two years in hopes of honing her skills and giving a solo performance before family and friends.

"I'm continuing to advance, but it would be nice to one day be able to play in front of my family for Christmas, but right now, I'm just doing it for myself," she said.

"I must be getting better," she chuckled, "because now when I pull out my violin case to practice at home, my cat doesn't run away."

The hardest part for those learning to play the violin is keeping in mind the details of what each hand is doing and moving the bow at the same time, said Orvis, who is part-time faculty member at Millikin.

Terry Cunningham, coordinator of outreach and community relations with Millikin's School of Music, said the university started offering adult violin classes to everyone in the community several years ago.

"Most of the students do it for enjoyment and their own self-enrichment," she said.

Orvis said most of the students she teaches are retired, and "they had a violin in the family closet, forgot about it and now want to learn how to play it."

She said one of her star pupils who took lesson from her is Linda Fahey, head of nursing at Decatur Memorial Hospital.

Orvis smiles with pride, "Linda played the violin before she switched over to the cello and now performs with the Community Orchestra in Springfield."

Some people who truly love the violin go on to become virtuosos of the instrument, but the cost is not always financially feasible for everyone.

But, Orvis said, recent research showed playing the violin with all its vibrating sounds is good for stimulation of the brain, eye and hand response and circulation.

"I'm always recommending and encouraging older adults to play the violin," she said.

sheilas@herald-review.com.|421-7963

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