Learning to play an instrument as an adult can be difficult, especially when many beginner level classes are geared toward kids.
However, a Kansas City class allows adults to learn how to play the violin with an added component made clear in its name.
Drunken Fiddles is a no-pressure and relaxed environment, says Laurel Parks, who started the class in 2015. Besides string instruments, it’s about socializing, making friends and drinking a little wine, too.
Parks says the class places a little less emphasis on the “drunken” part of the class’s name and more on the “fiddle” part.
“You don’t have to be perfect,” Parks says. “It’s not formal. It’s Drunken Fiddles. If you play the wrong note, it’s totally fine. You’re just playing harmony because we’re playing the fiddle. It frees people up from their own self-judgement.”
Once a week for six weeks, students gather at the brightly-colored ceramics studio at Belger Crane Yard Studios in Kansas City, Missouri. They mingle around a table of cheese, crackers and wine before they sit in a circle, pull out their instruments and begin warming up.
Three levels of classes accommodate all levels of learners from beginner to advanced.
The beginner class doesn’t begin by the students playing a tune. Instead, they start by sharing their plans for the weekend. After all, the class is also about socializing.
Wendy West Comens attended the beginner classes during the last six-week session. She says she decided to sign up for “Drunken Fiddles” after she had listened to her daughter play the violin for years and wanted to try it herself.
“I sat through 15 years of violin lessons with my daughter, and so I thought that I would just learn it by osmosis, but you can’t really do that,” West Comens says. “I think I know enough to know that I sound bad when I sound bad.”
One of the hardest parts about learning to play the violin is learning how to play without squeaking. After weeks and weeks of practice, West Comens says she finally has it down.
Laurels Parks has played the violin for about 34 years. She’s played with a few bands, including The Wires and Of Tree, throughout her musical career.
Unlike most of her students, she first started playing when she was 4 years old. Her first violin was just a box.
“When I finally got my actual real violin, I slept with it every night,” Parks says. “It’s so cool when you’re 4 years old to feel a sense of what you’re supposed to do in your life, but I remember that feeling — and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Parks says she started Drunken Fiddles at a time in her life when she wasn’t sure what to do next with her music career. She had been teaching private lessons, playing in symphony orchestras and playing classical music for a while, but then, she started Drunken Fiddles and knew that was her next step.
“It wasn’t always fun learning an instrument, and I lost my love of it for a while,” Parks says. “Doing something like this kind of brings that whole love back for playing, and music, and what it’s about.”
Another beginner student, Valerie Lewis, had played the cello when she was younger but was just recently given one again by her son.
She says she dreams one day of playing in the Kansas City Symphony. But for now, she learns alongside her friends at Drunken Fiddles.
“This class is awesome,” Lewis says. “It’s not only just playing — it’s the social thing. Everyone’s on the same page. We love music.”
Parks says most of her students don’t even realize how much they’ve improved over the course of the six week session. They figure out how to play without squeaking, they learn to play harmony and they learn to play more complicated songs.
“Most people here are just here for the friendship — just to laugh at themselves,” Parks says. “Then I have some people that are practicing a lot and are improving. You can just choose your own adventure with it.”
Rylie Koester is an intern for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at @RylieKoester.