14-year-old violinst relearns to play after ATV accident
In the traumatic accident, the teen lost most of the fingers on her left hand
By J.E Mathewson
Idaho Falls Post Register
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — They told her she would never play violin again.
Fourteen-year-old Claire Zollinger had been the youngest member of the Idaho Falls Symphony, but everything she loved was taken from her in a horrific ATV accident.
After three ambulance rides, a life flight and multiple surgeries, Claire was missing most of the fingers on her left hand, the hand she needs to play her favorite instrument.
""My teacher is left-handed, and she still plays (right-handed). That's just the way they're made,"" Claire said, sitting on her living room couch, clutching her violin on her lap. ""I knew I had to find a way (to keep playing). I love it too much (to give up).""
Claire picked out a new violin, her fourth, just seven months before the accident. She had been playing since she was 4 and felt the violin was meant to be part of her life.
""They say in Harry Potter that 'the wand chooses the person.' I feel like that with the violin because she loves this violin,"" Claire's mom, Hellen Zollinger said. ""When you go get a violin, people try them out for a long time and they know which ones feel right.""
Hellen Zollinger said she called everyone in the music industry after her daughter recovered from her surgeries - in an effort to find someone who could help Claire find a violin she could play from the left side.
Mom came up empty-handed.
""I quit trying to find one, especially since the woman (at a music store) laughed at me,"" Hellen Zollinger said.
Claire's instrument is an 1849 violin, handmade in New York City. While it has its quirks, Zollinger said her daughter loves it.
After the accident, Zollinger set out to find someone who could restring Claire's violin so she could use it while relearning how to play.
The girl must hold the bow in her injured left hand and pluck the strings with her right hand - something the experts said couldn't be done.
But Claire refused to give up.
""We were blessed with a violin teacher who was just as head-strong as Claire - Tonya Summers of Idaho Falls,"" Hellen Zollinger said. ""There were not a lot of people with experience in this area, but she talked them into helping us.""
For seven long months, Summers worked with Claire.
""It was really hard and frustrating,"" Claire said. ""I knew what I could do. I knew everything in my head. I could read the music, and I knew how it was supposed to sound.
""But my hand, it just wouldn't do it or it wouldn't do it as well as I used to.""
Idaho Falls Symphony Music Director Thomas Heuser said playing the violin right-handed is the orchestra standard.
""With beginning students, you start them right-handed whether they're right- or left-handed,"" he said. ""If you were to try and play left-handed in an orchestra, it would be extremely difficult, given that in an orchestra, uniformity is important.""
Claire pressed ahead.
""One night I heard some squeaking of a song coming out and then I heard this scream,"" Hellen Zollinger said. ""She got it, and once it clicked, it just clicked."" Today, nearly two years after her accident, Claire is playing again.
Soon, she will return to the Youth Symphony, although she will be sitting in the back of the violin section.
She also will perform Saturday at Primary Children's Medical Center, where she was treated after her accident.
""(I'm) going to play some songs that are very special to me,"" Claire said. ""(During recovery) I remember there was a piano in a little room and I remember thinking, 'I'm going to come back and play (here).'
""I hope I don't cry while I'm playing.""
Reporter Jen Mathewson can be reached at 542-6751.
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