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Ask DGriffs

Aunts and Uncles, with DGRIFFS.
While Alice is away ...

Dear Sir,

I understand that the wonderful Alice is away charming the people of Crete. Their gain is our loss and as my problem is of an urgent nature I can't possibly wait for her return. I have always loved listening to Music of all genres (types) and it has always been an ambition of mine to play. The problem is which instrument to choose.

My options are somewhat limited due to an industrial accident I sustained recently which resulted in my losing two fingers of my left hand. I tried to play the piano which was far from satisfactory and I gave up. It has been suggested that as an alternative I take up the viola as the loss of my digits will not impair my playing and as most viola players can't play their parts and can only manage one note in three or four I would not feel out of place. Any advice you could give would be very much appreciated.


My heart goes out to you -- anyone who loses two fingers and then is stupid enough to concur that playing a musical instrument is a viable option needs sympathy, not to say derision. However, if the rigours of learning a musical instrument appeal to you in spite of your digit shortfall, then who am I to pour scorn.

However the two remaining fingers on your left hand are, I'm afraid, still surplus to requirements as violists are only required to play open strings, and most have their instruments professionally tuned by experts (I have a little one-legged man from Zurich who does mine). In all honesty, a bleeding stump should not prevent you from rising, phoenix-like through the ranks of most professional viola sections. Be thankful that you still possess sufficient fingers to place into your ears, thereby drowning the filthy racket of the second violins.

If you crave a real challenge, may I suggest you take up the trumpet. Admittedly you only need the right hand, the ability to spit and a spare liver to play this instrument to a passable standard, but the remaining fingers on your left hand are ideal for holding a cigarette to help you pass those idle moments while you miscount bars rest.



Dear Alice,

I play in early music, or what some people call the 'cobweb' brigade, and I'm worried. For years I murdered my shoulder muscles holding the baroque violin 'properly' (without using a chin-rest) but the chickens have come home to roost and my doctor tells me that the shoulder tendons have been severely damaged. Should I wear a chin-rest, to the derision of my friends or chuck it in? To be frank, I really can't handle the pain.



Cobweb? What a quaint euphemism. You must be one of those poor souls who firmly believe that Beethoven should sound as ghastly now as it did in the days when he himself couldn't hear it. I am sympathetic regarding your music-rooted ailments -- I too have suffered for my art. My haemorrhoids can be directly related to Mahler (the resemblance is uncanny). However I think I have a solution, O feeble one.

You worry about the derision of your friends if you should wear a chin rest and well you might. I am a player of a more modern instrument and I find it easier to attach the chinrest to the instrument rather than the face.

After you have played using a chin rest for a month or two, your contorted body should resume a more normal shape. If it doesn't, sell the whole kit and take up bell-ringing in Paris.

Yours, DGriffs


Dear Alice,

I have a severe cold, but I also have tickets to tonight's Prom. I am obviously worried about passing on my germs, but I am also worried about what my (newish, stunning) girlfriend will say if I fail to take her. Can you advise, perhaps with good excuses?!!

reader in Waltham Forest

Ah, a subject close to my heart! You may think that having uncontrollably fluid and deafening sinuses may be considered bad form at a Prom concert but nothing could be further from the truth. My wife and I attended a Prom the other night (in the expensive seats, of course) and were treated to an invigorating and enthusiastic display of sneezing, coughing and expectorating. The gentleman in the row behind us was a one-man mucus factory and, in the absence of the tablecloth-sized handkerchief one would need to deal with such production, proceeded to ingest his phlegm during every pianissimo passage in the slow movement of Rach 2. The Budapest Festival Orchestra may have some of the most delightful string playing, but the effect is not enhanced by the sound of snot whistling noisily around other peoples' tubing.

So, no excuses necessary. Set yourself up with a man-size box of Kleenex (or perhaps a copy of All Risks Musical, whose pages are equally absorbent), and the scores of all the works on the programme. Then entertain not only your girlfriend, but anyone within fifty feet, by giving a good blast or a rattling snort whenever a quiet passage comes along. And between movements, you can join the rest of the audience in evacuating every orifice as loudly as possible.

I hear that Roger Norrington is encouraging catarrh suffers to attend his performances in order make the concert not only sound but even smell authentic ...

Yours, DGriffs

Copyright © 1 August 2003 Dave Griffiths, Kent, UK



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