“You must be proud of  Annie!” Mary smiled, laying a warm hand on  Lynn’s arm in the busy street.


Lynn was perplexed. They knew each other only as mothers of kids in the orchestra.

” I mean about her being first violin,” Mary said, confident Lynn understood.

 “Oh there’s my bus….must run, see you tomorrow!”

First violin? she hadn’t said a word to them about this.      


 “Fifteen and stroppy,” thought Lynn as she did up her seat belt. Oh for the old days, when she could at least admit she was wrong sometimes. She’d had a habit of bowing her head deeply, wordlessly, and long – like some ancient Chinese – when she was little. It was her way of apologising.  She’d done this only with Lynn, not even Alistair, it was a code both understood.  No more.  She eased the car out of the supermarket car park, remembering back to when their doctor discovered Annie’s hearing was not up to scratch. She was three, and seemed to live in her own world.  She was pretty, affectionate, funny and though not a great talker, they accepted this was part of her character. So it was a great shock to be told she had severe hearing problems.

 “It’s all correctable, over a period of time,” the specialist had said soothingly.  Lynn remembered Alistair saying in reply

“It’s been a family joke that Annie prefers music to conversation.” The guilt they felt! 

 It had begun with the Bruch violin concerto.  She was obsessed with it for months, nagging them to put it on. She wanted them to leave the room and sit in there alone, almost in a trance, with the volume turned up. They’d thought it was funny and all the time she’d been quite desperately deaf.

 Lynn told the specialist “I’m certain she can hear a violin.”

 “I’m sure you’re right,” he replied. “It’s normal speech and the lower tones she has problems with, but a violin, high notes, she can indeed hear properly.”

 “Peculiar” thought Lynn, driving through rush-hour traffic “how a disability led to this feeling for music.”  Over the years up till twelve, Annie had undergone five operations. Her hearing was as good now as it would ever be and though not quite on the level of most people’s, she could manage well.  She still had a habit of watching people’s lips when they talked, and the odd hilarious misinterpretation, but the speech therapist in those early years had brought her on in leaps and bounds. Yet words would never be her main way of communicating. By the time they found out, she had discovered her inner world and these early habits, so unconscious, had remained. 


At six Annie had said “I want to play the violin”.

“You’re a bit young yet. Wait a year and if you still want to, you can.”

By the time three months had passed, Lynn was so worn down by the nagging, she took Annie along to the local music school. They saw romantic harps, bossy trumpets, elegant clarinets, all being used by kids in groups of three.

“Well,” the violin teacher said “not everyone can play a violin. It’s hard to explain, but here, Annie, hold it and we’ll have a look….yes, good.” Lynn saw nothing except Jane holding a violin as anyone would.

“I’ll try her out for two lessons. I’ll know by then whether or not she has a feel for it. If she hasn’t, I’m afraid I can’t teach her.”

This was news!  Lynn would discover over the years that teachers loathed wasting time on someone who didn’t have this “feeling” for their instrument.


Annie passed that test. After a year the teacher moved away. Before she left, she said to Lynn “She’s lucky to have found her instrument so young.  Annie and the violin are a perfect match. Her technique’s a bit odd, but she has passion.”


By the time she was nine, she was in the beginners’ section of the youth orchestra. This was a relaxed, casual set-up, the kids had enormous fun. Yet it was amazing the music they produced within a few months. Annie moved up swiftly through the ranks from third, second, first violin. She loved practising, even moreso when she discovered Mozart. What was it about his music that was so compelling, so deeply personal? Then she got to thirteen and  changed into a sulky, unmotivated teenager almost overnight.

 “I hate the violin, I’m stopping with it,” she told them at the table one night. “I’m sick of practising, I hate the whole thing”.

Lynn went with her to Anthony, who’d been teaching her for the last three years. 

 “Oh no, Annie”.

 For such a calm man he became furious. His eyes were blazing, his little red bow-tie leaping with anger on his Adam’s apple.

“You’re not going to stop playing. Cut down your practice to 15 minutes a day, but you’re coming here to lessons twice a week. I’ve never heard such rubbish! Now Lynn, off you go, we’re getting on with the lesson”. 

Annie, incredibly, accepted this without protest.        

“Imagine what a mouthful you’d have got if you had said that!”  said Alistair over a glass of  wine that evening, One Direction blasting from Annie’s room.


She’d moved up into the junior orchestra. There was much more commitment here,  in the age group from  15 to 19.  Though she moved apace from third, second and up into the first violins again, the conductor was democratic. He didn’t want prima donna’s and gave all the firsts the chance of being “first”. Though Annie loved the long weekly sessions, she’d almost stopped completely with practice.

 “I can’t be bothered nagging,”  Lynn told Alistair’s mother. “She’s got a busy time at school now, too.” 

Her mother-in-law pursed her lips.  She was Old School and considered Lynn too soft. Discipline, that’s what children today lacked.


“50 Year Jubilee – Hamilton Youth Orchestra”. The posters were everywhere, and wonder of wonders, the newly built concert hall was being loaned for the occasion. This was rare, the permanent Resident  Orchestra being possessive and proud of their acoustically perfect home.

Lynn pulled into the drive, and braked.

“Yo, Mum.” Annie was locking her bike, having finished her paper round.

“I’ve just seen Mike’s mum?” Somehow this was question instead of the calm statement she  had planned.

 “So?” Annie said, belligerently.

“She told me you’re first violin tomorrow. Why didn’t you tell us?”

“And have you telling everyone, showing off about me? It’s no big deal, I knew you’d carry on about it. Well, I’m not wearing boring black and white, and you can’t make me. I’m going to wear the black waistcoat, and my blue Levi’s and you’re not going to stop me.”

 Off she flounced  to her room, while Lynn sat down exhausted on a stool, the only sound in the house again One Direction.  Parents had been asked to make sure the kids wore only black and white, not even a ribbon of another colour.

 “Come on, now,” Peter was humouring Annie over the curry. “You don’t want to let the team down, you have to follow the rules this time”.

“I’m wearing jeans,” her face closed up.


Sunday morning.  Rehearsal was beginning at 11.30,  the concert at 2.00. Annie appeared at breakfast in the white shirt (tail out) waistcoat and blue jeans.

“You’re not going like that!” Lynn yelled.

“Stop me then,  I won’t go if I can’t wear this”.

“Get your short black skirt on, that’s all I ask,” Lynn  tried to reason.

“No, I’m wearing this. Dad, tell her to shut up will you, she’s boring me”.

Munching  toast,  Alistair was trying to stay out of it.

 “They asked you to stick to black and white. You’re the leader this time, you’re going to be noticed. Be realistic, Annie.”

“Rules, rules, that’s all I get! I’m sick of this,” back up the stairs, thump thump.

“I’m going to have a heart attack,” Lynn said to Alistair.

“Leave it,” he said “she’ll see sense. Give her time.”

“Time! she has to be there in half an hour, she’s so damned unreasonable.”

Alistair made coffee, forcing her to sit and gape into space for ten minutes while she was seething with rage. Annie appeared in the kitchen, violin case clutched in her hand.

“You have to drive me, Mum.”

“I’m not going anywhere. Get yourself there. If you want to be bloody minded, take the consequences.”

 She got up and walked past the astonished Annie, spilling a bit of coffee down the jeans as she passed.

“You’re so careless.  They’re filthy,” Annie yelled, leaping out of them and running to the kitchen tap. Lynn hadn’t been able to find this pair when she sneakily looked for them the night before. All her jeans except this pair were soaking in a bucket, just to be on the safe side. Fired up, she grabbed the jeans from Annie’s hands and put them in the washing machine, turning on the programme.

“I hate you! you’re disgusting, you spilt coffee down me on purpose!” Once again, up the stairs she went.  

Within minutes she had appeared downstairs again in the short black skirt. In a reasonable voice she asked “Ready, Mum?” as though the past half hour had been a figment of  Lynn’s imagination.

“I’m too old for all this,” thought Lynn as she staggered to the car. “Who’s arranged it so that I’m going through menopause at the same time she’s going through puberty?”

At two o’clock, twelve hundred people applauded as the conductor walked to the podium.  The sixty musicians looked magnificent. Their usual mess of riotous colours and specially ripped jeans had been transformed to a sea of harmony in black and white.  The conductor shook hands with Annie. She looked serious, slightly pale.

“Nervous?” whispered Alistair.  Her mother-in-law had insisted on them sitting in the first row left, in front of the strings, but Alistair had managed to convince her she’d see better from the fourth row.  Annie deliberately didn’t look at them. The deceptively slow opening notes of the overture of Weber’s der Freischutz began in the string section.  Within three minutes the whole orchestra came alive. Whether it was the sense of occasion the hall bestowed, or the fact that their clothes united them so clearly, they played their hearts out. The concentration on every face was intense, they were young people loving their music and it showed. The applause rang to the rafters.

Annie stood to shake hands with the conductor and as she turned back to sit again, caught Lynn’s eye, stopped and bowed her head deeply.




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