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The Violin Lesson

What was the best Christmas present?

For me, it would be something a family member made, like the pictures and the book my granddaughters made and gave to me last month.

Or, maybe it would be the certificate for “free violin lessons” from my seven-year-old grandson Jake.

Jake has been taking violin for about a year. One day he will be a good performer, but he is not yet ready for Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, nor has he been trained to teach others to play.

I have always wanted to know how a violin works, wondering, how does that funny looking instrument make such beautiful music in the hands of an unaccomplished player? In my efforts to play other musical instruments, I know I could never be an adequate musician. But my lack of talent does not keep me from wanting to know how good musicians make their instruments work.

Several years ago, when I told my wife that I wished I could play a violin, she bought me one. It was an inexpensive, mail-order version. I could never make it work. It had come without a bridge, a small but essential part that positions and supports strings, aligning them in a way that when the violin bow makes contact, there is a sound.

So we had packed up the violin until the other day when Jake came to give me the violin lesson he promised at Christmas.

With the help of Jake’s dad, we adjusted a new bridge and put the violin in working order.

Jake had a lesson plan in mind. He was going to teach me to play part of the scale using the violin’s E-string. Using tape, he carefully marked the places on the violin where my finger would push down that string to make different notes.

His plan for that first lesson centered on that E-string.

As we were about to begin, in a last adjustment, the E-string broke.

Although I thought we would have to postpone the lesson, Jake calmly said, “I think you can learn with the A-string. You can do the same things as on the E-string and get the same practice.”

That mature reaction to crisis made me think my grandson might have the makings of a real teacher, not just a child pretending, as he did in earlier times when he dressed up as a garbage man, firefighter, policeman, or pilot

My confidence in him increased as he carefully instructed me how to hold the violin and the bow, stressing that good posture is required for good violin playing. He gave me several drills to play a series of notes using the reference points he had marked. I respectfully responded to his suggestions for adjusting my positions and movements.

When the lesson was over, Jake, who has just learned to write, carefully put down instructions to prepare for the next lesson.

I was amazed at how much I learned from this time with a seven-year-old teacher. He was cool, calm and authoritative as he guided me through my beginning experience with a violin. Every time I hear a classical violinist or a country music fiddler, my pleasure will be a little richer.

Even more than the value of what I learned, I treasure the memory of the joy I got from having the seven-year-old teach the seventy-two-year-old—and know the pride my teacher had in doing such a good job.

If there are other lessons from Jake’s Christmas present, one of the most important may be this: There are people of all ages around us, with experiences and talents that could make them wonderful teachers if we just honor them by asking them to share with us.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage.

This week’s (January 20, 24) guest is Emily Colin, author of “The Memory Thief,” in which a young woman begs her mountain-climbing husband not to take on Mount McKinley in Alaska. He goes anyway, promising, “I will come back to you.” But, as she feared, he falls to his death. Still, that promise to return is haunting. Learning how it is fulfilled is the backbone of the novel, which is set in Wilmington with side trips to the Swiss Alps, Colorado, Chapel Hill, and Wildacres Retreat in the North Carolina mountains.
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4).
This week’s (January 23) guests are Catherine Bishir and Michael Southern authors of “A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina.”

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/the-violin-lesson/

Disfranchisement–then and now

They “disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.”

It sounds like what North Carolina Republicans might have said behind closed doors while they were gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts to assure their party’s continuing dominance.

However, the words came from a white Democratic state senator more than 100 years ago. Legendary historian C. Vann Woodward used the quote to show the thinking behind the white supremacy political movement in the late 1800s.

Both efforts, the post-Reconstruction “disfranchisement” and the 2011 redistricting, reduced the influence of African Americans in state government.

What made me think about the link between these two events, separated by more than 100 years?

First, an early reading of an upcoming biography of Josephus Daniels by Lee Craig reminded me of the Democratic Party’s successful efforts to minimize or eliminate African American influence in North Carolina politics at the turn of the last century.

Secondly, talking recently to a Democratic former state legislative leader, I suggested that Republicans had gone much further in redistricting to marginalize opponents than Democrats ever had. He smiled, and said, “Oh no, we would have done as much [after the 2000 census] if we had had the tools and hadn’t had Republican judges looking over our shoulders.”

Was there an element of revenge in the modern Republicans’ gerrymandered redistricting plan? It was certainly there in post-Reconstruction politics. Here is more of Woodward’s quote: “One main object was [so] to redistrict the state that for the next ten years not a Republican can be elected to the Legislature…I believe in the law of revenge. The Radicals disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.”

As Reconstruction came to an end, white Southerners blamed all their political problems on newly enfranchised blacks and their Republican or Radical allies, which they called “the Negro problem.”

“The Democrats employed a variety of devices to diminish the Republican vote,” according to Michael Perman in “Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South.” “One tactic was to redraw electoral districts so as to disperse black voters throughout the white-majority districts and consolidate the remaining black vote into one, perhaps two, congressional seats. Through similar gerrymandering schemes, they also diluted the black vote for the state legislature.”

In North Carolina during early post-Reconstruction times, black areas were put into separate governing units, which were controlled by the white Democratic-controlled state government. Meanwhile, white areas were given “home rule,” the power to govern locally.

These efforts to limit black participation were marginally successful. But they did not prevent blacks and Republicans, joined by white Populists in a Fusion partnership, from taking over state government in 1896 and dismantling many of these white-control devices.

In response, white Democrats mounted the successful white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900 that finally “solved” the Negro problem by freezing blacks almost completely out of the electoral process.

In today’s North Carolina, the Republican program to disperse blacks and Democrats into Republican districts and crowd the remainder into a very few districts has been, like the white supremacy campaign, successful in minimizing African American influence.

With the shift from a Democratic majority in the legislature and the results of new redistricting plan, African Americans have gone from being a powerful minority in a majority party to a powerless majority in a minority party.

The warning a supporter gave to a new female African American legislator says it best. “[Y]ou’re going into a war where you are a minority in every sense of that word. Not just because you’re a woman, not just because you’re black, but because you are one of the few Democrats.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage

This week’s (January 13, 17) guest is Bland Simpson, author of “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

Bookwatch Classics airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). Wednesday’s (January 16) program features Anthony Abbott, author of “Leaving Maggie Hope.”

Bland Simpson’s new book covers the Civil War era from two different perspectives. The first is that of a talented waterman and captain, but one who was enslaved and badly treated. The second perspective is that of a naval officer who had his own set of challenges as he served first the United States and then the Confederacy. It is hard to see how anyone could bring these points of view together in the same book, but Simpson, has done it in “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.”

Next week’s (January 20, 24) Bookwatch guest is Wilmington’s Emily Colin’s author of “The Memory Thief.”

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/disfranchisement-then-and-now/