More questions and answers with
music's agony aunt,
My son wants to learn how to play a musical instrument but as yet is undecided
about which one. He's a large eight year old. He started off by saying he wanted
to play the violin, then the viola (God help us) but is now undecided. My own views
are quite clear. Anyone who thinks that by scraping a few hairs from the arse-end of
a horse over the dried and stretched entrails of a domestic pet can make anything
remotely melodious must be quite mad. It's quite obvious to even the tone-deaf that
the reason any orchestra is made up of loads of scrapers all playing the same parts
is that the rule of percentages dictates that if you have say ten cellists in a
section then perhaps two of them play half of the piece correctly, and providing
they both don't pick the same half you stand a fair chance that something
resembling music may result. Can you advise me on how I can persuade him to take up
a real instrument like say the bass trombone?
Here is an instrument that can be played in a variety of styles with a rich,
sonorous, bright, melodious, serious, comical, funny and magnificent kinds of tone.
The player of this king of instruments doesn't hide in a section but is there to be
listened to and admired. What do you think?
Someone who might just happen to play the bass trombone
Dear Someone who m j h t p t bass trombone,
Do I detect a subtle anti-string-instrument subtext here???
And, if I do, dare I confess (you're going to drop your trombone lubricant) that I am
somewhat in sympathy with it??
The sad fact is that, though stringed instruments do have numerous advantages over
- more and better concertos (and solo repertoire generally)
- more and better opportunities for chamber music
- a statistically higher chance at getting into a youth orchestra
- a good deal more quiet charm
However, you are still undoubtedly right to observe that you can get away with
bloody murder in a string section. You can play like an angel at the back (as I
always do personally) and no one will ever know: you can even play fairly piggishly
and only your desk-partner will know for sure. This is all Deeply Unfair and
Seriously Irritating, especially when anyone with half an ear can separate the
stunning first horn from the persistently wobbly second horn or the exquisite
second clarinet from his seriously overstretched principal clarinet. In other words,
you are, at least, in control of your own destiny. Not to mention the satisfaction
that comes from having some real input into the product. If you are one tenth of a cello
section, you are at the mercy, to some extent, of the other nine tenths, several of whom
(statistics vary on this point) are almost certain to have lost the will to live.
Oh, the agonies of a principal cellist who soars elegantly skywards in a
Shostakovich symphony only to have the reviewer (correctly) point out the ropiness
of the cello section!!!!!!!!! Oh the trauma of the trial violinist whose desk-partner
misses the big shift and whose putative principal glares backwards in his direction!!!!!!!!
And how many double bassist's hair has been turned grey by insensitive conductors' blame
being nailed to them, en masse, whereas at least a few of them were completely
innocent as charged!!!!!!!!!!
Yes, the longer I live (and I have been thirty-nine for several years) the more
I feel a sneaking sympathy with your point of view. Wind players pay much less for
their instruments, and generally receive much more satisfaction from orchestral playing.
Personally, I love the French horn (despite it's being French) but they all have their
good points (except for the piccolo, which, in common with the French nation, really
ought to have been suppressed at birth.)
The flute can dazzle, the oboe (and cor anglais) are untouchably beautiful, the
clarinet is versatile enough even for jazz, the bassoon has a characterful charm,
the trumpet can be seriously stirring, and the tuba deeply thrilling. (And yes,
even the trombone has many good points, not least of which is its general proximity
to stage exits / pubs / car parks!!!!!!!!!)
So, anyway, good luck to your eight-year-old sprog in picking (only!!!) one out of
that little lot ...
I play piano with a couple who though not married are a couple. One of
them is a wonderful player and one of them really isn't. How can I manage to
convince the one I love to play trios with that the other (who rushes, can't count,
is out of tune and so on) is musically expendable? Or can't I?
You can't. But you knew that already, didn't you??
Of course you did. What you are doing here is railing against Fate.
The world is full of people you really like who remain inexplicably married to people
that, really, you couldn't imagine sharing a medium-sized carriage on Connex Southeast
This is Life, as my mother used to say. Indeed, my sister and I spent many happy
childhood hours perched on a balcony above our ambassadorial residence during parties
saying, 'Why is she married to that?' (or the reverse), in frank and full
imitation of our elders.
No, what you have to decide is whether player A (the good one) is brilliant enough
to compensate for his (or her) bringing player B (the hopeless one) inevitably along.
No one can advise you on this one. Only you know how much chamber music you otherwise
have access to, or the level of player A's charms, or, indeed, your own spouse's view
about the arrangement, assuming you have one. (Their house or yours? Food thrown in
or not? Vacuumed or not -- and by the playing spouse or the non-playing?)
These are deep waters, too deep, frankly, for a mere writer to wade into without
But my advice, since you asked, is to enjoy working with player A and put up with
player B. After all, life is short.
Much too short for yours, the undersigned,
I am zee French spider qveen, and I am most unimpressed avec votre article about ze spiders
(aussi un autre about ze Queen et un autre about ze inhabitants
de la belle France).
I zink que vous ought to check out votre facts regarding zee French,
et aussi les spiders
very pronto, because vous etes up the creek without a paddle.
Au contraire de votre opinion,
the French (et aussi the spiders) are le plus charmant, le plus exquisite et aussi
la plus belle de toute le monde! Et je would like to see vous coping avec toutes
les insects sans us, matey!
So lay off des roi, des spiders, et bien les français, ou else!
Votre non ami toujours,
Un spider français et royale, Mme A spidere
Advise you to stay a l'autre side de Channel, due to cool new weapon
je has accessed called,
le spider catchere, que catches le spider at un distance et aussi
allows one (comme moi) de put
de spider entre de jardin toute de suite at un distance.
So sod off.
Copyright © 25 July 2003
Alice McVeigh, Crete, Greece