Adapted from an interview with Mark Rendell
When I was about four years old in my preschool in Victoria BC there was a guitar guy who came in and serenaded us children, and I became obsessed with the idea of playing guitar. Being four years old my hands were too small to get around the neck of a guitar, so my mom put a violin into my hands and said, “This is a guitar.” At age four I was none the wiser, so that’s how I started playing the violin.
I was just like any kid who grows up playing classical music. The number of times I wanted to quit was unbelievable. But I kept on going through the love-hate relationship for the first few years. A lot of that may have come from the fact that I started out practicing with my mother. She would come with me to my classes and then we’d go home and she’d work me through everything I’d learned together, which was a pain in the ass when you want to be running around with your friends firing super soakers and having fun.
When I first moved out to Halifax when I was 18 I had already given up violin for a couple of years. I smashed my arm to smithereens skateboarding when I was 16, which put an end to my classical career at the time. I didn’t even bring my violin for the first semester. But then I started noticing all these really cool people playing acoustic music – folky stuff, all sorts of different junk. Just before Christmas I started playing in a group that included the HMC’s executive director-to-be, Faye, and was the brain child of our mutual friend Thomas Hoy (who’s gone on to write incredible music since). Faye had joined forces with Thomas and our other dear friend Marc Blouin, and I think we adopted some other people along the way. So I brought my violin back after Christmas and joined in.
Playing with that band was really cool for me. It was really unique to be able to play the instrument that I’d grown up practicing with other people in a really fun situation, because I had been one of those kids who always played very much by themselves. I played in a few other youth orchestras while I lived in Victoria, but it was never really my social circle. I was very much a bedroom violin player. So it was great to play really fun music that other people enjoyed hearing with friends, and many of the people who were in that band are still my very best friends to this day.
I still enjoy playing by myself. I find it very meditative. It’s a way to kind of step outside of my schedule, step outside of the demands that come with being alive. It’s just an injection of beauty into one’s day. But playing with other people is an absolute blast. You’re communicating with other people through this wonderful medium of music. It’s a really beautiful thing to be feeling yourself as a part of this single organism that’s coming together and making beautiful, beautiful art. It’s cool, it’s exciting, and often it’s really moving.
We just had our end-of-term concerts and I had a blast playing the Bach and the Charpentier and the Zelenka, but surprisingly I had a really special experience playing the Ravel (which is a beautiful piece of music but I hadn’t been wild about playing it until the concert.) Something just clicked. I don’t know if it came across to the audience, I don’t even know if that moment of connection was felt by the other musicians, but it was very much an incredible moment. I think we’d been practicing it so much that I’d forgotten at points how beautiful the music actually was. But to stand up in front of all these other people and have it all click was just this most incredible high. I came out of it feeling more elated than I have with anything I’ve ever done. Forget sex, man. Music’s way better! It was just incredible.
Many of my best friends have been made through music, and much of my greatest joy comes from playing music with other people. I think it’s really good for the soul. There have been periods of my life when I haven’t had music and I really felt it. I think many of the darkest points of my life when I feel low energy and creeping sadness tend to be moments that music doesn’t feature heavily in my life.
The fact of the matter is that for some reason, god knows why, humans find a great deal of joy and pleasure in music. Just like many of the arts, it’s hard to quantify why exactly we get such joy from doing this, but we do. It’s something that makes our lives justified. The HMC has been the most wonderful place where I’m encouraged to play music, take lessons, and continue to refine my skills. Nothing else I’ve been involved with has come anywhere close.
I’m doing the journalism program at King’s right now, and I’m hoping at the end of it to find employment as a writer. After this year I don’t know where I’ll be. Journalism (as I was reminded numerous times today during the “life after journalism school” seminar that we attended) jobs are few and far between, so the likelihood of getting full time employment straight out of journalism school is bit of a joke. But there are lots of opportunities to make money writing. The mantra that’s repeated all the time is, “There’s no jobs but there’s lots of work.” I think that’s true of a lot of fields these days. There’s just too bloody many of us with too good of an education and not a good enough economy to support all those jobs.
I adore music, I love music, but I’ve known from a very young age that music wasn’t going to be my career. There’s not that many opportunities for people who don’t want to spend three hours practicing a day, and god I certainly don’t. I’m lucky if I spend three hours practicing a week (don’t tell John) but that’s the reality for a lot of “ex” classical musicians. It’s not for lack of love, but lack of opportunities to play in a place that obviously wants you to be the best you can be but isn’t going to judge you and isn’t costing you a fortune. That’s huge, and that’s exactly what the HMC does.