The Violin Family

In Vermont the seasons can change in the period of twenty four hours. When we left for Los Angeles it was summer, the sun was high, it was humid and everything was lush. We returned and autumn had fallen. There is just something about the angle of the light that is different, as if a scrim has been placed in front of the sun.


And so the slower, easy pace of the dog days is replaced with the hurriedness of fall. The stone wall that runs the length of our property becomes a thru way for chipmunks and squirrels with mouths stuffed full of nuts, freezing only briefly to stare and twitch their whiskers at the dogs. Their pace seems to set ours as we begin to stuff our arms full of firewood, like them, anticipating things to come.

This fall there is even more preparing being done. Over the past four years I have been working on a children’s book called The Violin Family. My idea has come to fruition and now comes the harvest. Our goal is for a release date of November 1.

It was important to me to define, to myself, why I was writing the book. Like working an etude, I believe that it helped to focus me - keeping me always true to why I was doing the work. The Violin Family is about THE Violin Family of stringed instruments; violin, viola, cello and bass. This family, beyond actually being these instruments, also happens to be a fictionalized family.

When I conceptualized the story, it was important to me that children be introduced to the stringed instruments. School string music programs are fast disappearing. As a musician and teacher I feel a sense of responsibility to help keep strings visible, especially for children.

I made the family fictional because I wanted to reduce what I term the “high-browedness” commonly associated with classical music. My thought was to humanize these classical instruments, to make them more accessible, understandable.

In our shop we rent stringed instruments and Paul and I also work with a Youth orchestra, so I’m privy to conversations between parents and children about deciding on an instrument to play. I think that the stigma, the “high-browedness” - of classical music often creeps into parent’s minds. Perhaps they, too, are a little afraid of the brown instruments. Maybe the recognizable face of the clarinet or flute, the upbeat, upfront music of the band, makes things familiar. Humanizing the strings in the book is my attempt to make them more familiar, aka more comfortable. Perhaps if you fictionalize the stringed instruments they are like you, no longer “above” you. They eat pancakes, feel fear, love and embrace family.

Complexities within a musical group are like those in any community; I wanted to offer an opportunity for kids, parents and educators to explore these relationships; musical and familial. My long term goal is to write about the interplay among more instruments in the Violin Family’s world: perhaps about their neighbors, the Woodwinds?

Writing the book, finding an illustrator and then the daunting task of finding a publisher has been an enormous growth opportunity for me. I’m pretty comfortable in my regular box, I know all of it’s wrinkles and corners. Stepping into another artistic genre was intimating, but I decided to do it anyway, maybe in no small part because it was scary. In that way Violet Violin and I seem to have quite a bit in common.

And that is a fortunate strings of events … if you ask me.

Melissa Perley

The Violin Family release by Rootstock Publishing November 1, 2019.