Take That, Tchaikovsky: I Can Play Again

Rebecca Raney
3 min readDec 22, 2021

Last year, I tried to play the Nutcracker and failed. This year, I did it.

Illustration/Rebecca Raney

At the end of this piece, I’ll play a little of the Nutcracker. But before I do, I want to tell you what it means to be able to play it.

Last year, around this time, I got my violin back from the shop after an extensive renovation.

I had quit playing years ago, and the instrument had been left in a hideous state — the strings had fallen off, the bridge had fallen. Bugs had eaten the hair out of the bow.

The violin maker’s shop/Photo by Rebecca Raney

That’s right. Bow bugs. It’s what they do. They eat the hair out of neglected violin bows.


Now, I hadn’t practiced or done any work on the violin for 25 years, but when I got it back from the shop, I thought, “Hey! Let’s play the Nutcracker!”

I don’t know what I was thinking. Did I think I would just sit down and knock this piece out, after having not played for decades?

Apparently that’s what I did think. I guess I thought I would just play, and maybe my fingers would need to shift by a millimeter or two, and I’d have it.

Well, that’s not how it worked out.

When I tried to play, I couldn’t even get the first note. I couldn’t get the thing to even produce a sound.

And — it was in that moment that the enormity of my neglect really hit home.

Image from YouTube/Photo by Rebecca Raney

This was not just an act of neglect.

This was an outright act of vandalism on my entire life. That’s what it felt like. Wholesale destruction. Here, I had worked for years. I had had this ability. And now it was gone. Just gone.

And to think, I had given it up to devote everything to a career in the newspaper industry — an industry that would collapse within five years of my packing up the violin.

To be fair, practically everyone I knew told me to walk away from that career because of the toll it was taking. I didn’t listen.

Now, on the upside, here’s another take: When I was in my teens studying music, it was not for the enjoyment of the music. It was for competition. And dominance. And teacher’s honor. It was not about the music at all.

So maybe this is what it took — a 25-year separation. So I could learn to approach music as an art and a discipline that’s a worthy endeavor in and of itself.

And that — to me — that is the gift of The Nutcracker. Here’s a link to a video with a little snippet of the overture:

Here’s the video version of this essay:

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Here’s the link: Rebecca Raney — The Reckless Violinist

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Rebecca Raney

Respectable journalist. Terrible waitress. Reckless Violinist. YouTuber/Novelist. Contributor at The New York Times. Follow at https://raney.ck.page/posts.