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An old friend - Joel Hall

Music has always enhanced my life. It did in elementary school, when I got to leave school for half the day twice a week for a special music program in another county.

It enhanced my life in high school, when I got to perform with the Southeast Virginia Youth Symphony and meet one of my musical idols, Yo-Yo Ma.

In college, it gave me a lot more to talk about than the average student who spends his or her weekend drinking. Instead, I performed with Latin pop bands at Plaza Fiesta off Buford Highway and at high society dinner parties at sprawling mansions on Peachtree Battle.

When I left college and took an English teaching position in Japan, locals immediately took notice of my musical talents, putting me on stage in front of 1,000 people to perform a concerto with the school's music teacher -- only weeks after arriving there.

A few months later, I met a mandolin player from Alabama (who just happened to live in Japan with his Japanese wife) as well as a dobro player from Boston who worked at a Japanese technology company. We formed a bluegrass band called the Iide Mountain Boys.

Pronounced "ee-dey," Iide is the largest mountain in the Ou Mountain Range of Yamagata Prefecture, the snow-filled bowl that I lived in for two years.

In addition to playing at local senior homes, community centers, and a Japanese County Music Festival filled with ten-gallon-hat-wearing, Confederate-flag-waving Japanese people, I was also asked to play an outside concert during a fierce blizzard on a stage made of ice.

While playing music has thrown me into some awkward and odd situations, it has also opened up a lot of doors for me and introduced me to a lot of interesting people. It has also provided a source of balance in my life.

Usually, a good way to tell when my life is off balance is when it is devoid of music. Confronted by the gargantuan task of balance my job at the newspaper and having a life, I was starting to feel off balance until a recent opportunity came along.

About two months ago, without ever hearing me play, a local jazz artist asked me to play violin on several tracks on an upcoming jazz CD. This opportunity came about purely on the recommendation of a friend who is a backup drummer for the band.

I was honored that this sought-after jazz artist wanted me to be on the CD, but about a week after I said yes, I was terrified, because I was terribly out of practice. My violin case, a constant companion that defended me from bully attacks in my childhood and took me halfway around the world, had been sitting in my closet, practically unused for almost a year.

This was one of those opportunities that doesn't come along very often and I knew that if I didn't want to embarrass myself, I would have to put in some serious time in the practice room.

When I opened the case, it was almost like visiting a long-forgotten relative. I was hit with a rush of memories of adventures my violin and I had taken.

I came across my "spiralblock" and it brought memories of my dreaded lessons with Frau Gorzinska, my insanely strict Austrian violin teacher who left me wanting to smash my instrument after every lesson.

I came across a congratulations letter and a concert program from my senior recital. I remembered how three years ago, I was able to put on a well-attened, hour-long concert at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. But, by the way I fumbled through pieces I had once played with little effort, I realized that I had my work cut out for me.

For the first few weeks, I was frustrated and almost angry that I was made an offer that I couldn't refuse. However, I eventually realized that God was giving me a chance to cultivate my talents once more.

Most people are blessed with many talents, but often let them go to waste due to lack of money, time, or just out of pure laziness. However, some incidents in life spur us in our side and remind us just how much we are capable of when we apply ourselves.

While I still have some butterflies about it, I think that I'll be okay.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.