Music: ‘It makes everything right’ |

Music: ‘It makes everything right’

Dave Frank
Appeal Staff Writer

As her sister played an old Catholic hymn over the phone, Betty Neff remembered why she’d played violin.

Neff, 81, used to stay home most Saturday nights as a teenager and play 1940s and 1950s pop music. She and her sister had violins. Her father, she said, could play anything.

Sixty years later, Neff was telling her son about how beautiful “Ave Maria” sounded when her sister played it to her from Indiana and how she also used to play violin.

“I guess he saw how much I liked it,” she said, “because, for Christmas, he bought me a violin.”

Now, she practices in the computer room of her house in Gardnerville, reading music off a fold-out music stand and playing along with music from a tiny stereo.

The bow she uses looks like a staff when she holds it. Her violin sticks straight out from her shoulder like a crossbow when she plays.

Neff, a small woman with thick cotton hair, said she loves playing on her own and with an area ensemble because of what the music does.

“It makes you very happy, and it makes you realize things,” she said. “It makes everything right.”

She said playing music makes her feel the lyrics, too.

“Like how much you love someone,” she said, “or how much you miss someone.”

One of her favorite songs, she said, is “Always,” a love song by Irving Berlin.

Other members of the Not Quite Ready for Carnegie Hall Players, the small adult violin ensemble Neff plays with, said starting their instrument again or, like Lori Mogab, for the first time, has meant a lot.

Mogab, 55, started two years ago. She said she was at a church conference and listened to a man play a 45-minute version of “Amazing Grace.”

“I was just mesmerized,” she said, “and I came home and I said, ‘I want to play (that).'”

This is the third year for the ensemble, started by director Sue Kitts, a teacher at Play Your Own Music which is opening later this month. They practice once a week, give a few performances each year and play classical, folk, Celtic and pop songs.

Kitts said the ensemble members are passionate about the music, but adults learning or re-learning an instrument can get frustrated because they have a firm understanding of music yet aren’t as flexible when they learn as children.

After the group finished a run-through of the “William Tell Overture” on Thursday, Kitts complimented the musicians but told them they needed to speed up their tempo because they sounded like a “slightly tired Lone Ranger.”

Mary Mueller, 58, played violin for a few years as child, a few years in her mid-30s and recently realized that she missed playing music.

She’d gotten caught up in adult responsibilities, she said, and doing what adults are supposed to do. She said lost track some of the things that made her happy when she was younger.

Learning music as an adult can be difficult, though, Mogab said, comparing it to “tapping your head and rubbing your tummy at same time.”

And, though Neff still hears “squeaks and squawks,” when she plays, she said she’ll stay with the violin as long as she can.

“I’m not good,” she said. “It’s like I’m a beginner again, but I love it.”

• Contact reporter Dave Frank at or 881-1212.