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More on 'Muso mates versus non-muso mates'
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

After reading your previous 'Muso mates versus non-muso mates' post, here is a similar question -

I am a 'non-muso' and I have gotten my eyes on my cello teacher. He has a girlfriend who is also a classical musician. I should know better than asking you to evaluate my chances for me with this guy, so my questions really are:

- do you think musician couples share something deeper through music than couples in other careers together? and is musical talent/achievements one of the top considerations in selecting a mate? Just about every professional classical musician I know has a musician spouse/partner; is this because they work side-by-side and therefore have more opportunity to meet (just as fellow teachers, doctors/nurses, fellow window-cleaners, ... , you get the idea), or is it that musicians value musical talents/sensibilities so much that they are top qualities considered even in finding a mate? I am quite frequently touched observing the harmony/chemistry/dynamics -- whatever you call it, that seems to exist between players, say, in a chamber music concert, even in cases where there is no romantic relationship between players (for that matter, even the chemistry between a solo player and his instrument is touching). Or is it that I simply have an over-romanticized notion of the music profession?

-- your advice to the muso was to look for a mate in a non-muso -- then what's your advice to a non-muso who's got her eyes on a muso? I have to admit that there is something about musicians that attracts me (and it has nothing to do with glamour), and I probably liked him before even meeting him. but should one give up since there are countless other female musos in the queue?

Please feel free to give advice as -- 1) I am not a minor; 2) I have only good will towards my teacher and his girlfriend, and perhaps will not make any move even if he doesn't have a girlfriend.

Yours expectantly,
lovesick cello student

Dear lovesick cello student,

What an interesting letter!!!!!!! Not that the situation is interesting--all too common, in my opinion; I don't believe that I know ANY cellist well who hasn't fallen for at least one of his/her cello teachers--but the questions you raise surrounding it are interesting.

I have long maintained that the music teacher/individual pupil relationship is fraught with danger, even though I also think that such is life, and that educational authorities and councils who make fatuous decrees about teachers not touching their pupils ought to be lined up and shot at dawn. (I defy the greatest teacher in the world to teach someone vibrato without touching them.) It is probably the only one-on-one lesson situation the pupil is in, for a start; secondly, you are explicitly dealing with emotional expression; and thirdly, the music itself (as was famously posited in the 18th century) is prone to raising the emotional temperature. (I also have a theory, which no one has bothered to research, that musicians are higher-sexed than most -- amateurs as well as professionals.) This is without even mentioning the fact that you chose the teacher because you admired his/her playing, and that admiration is a very good foundation for fancying someone.

So there is the situation. You have one-on-one, physical, contact between two people united by a common interest (sometimes even passion) for the same kind of sound/music/expression. It does not take a rocket scientist to suggest that attraction (not always but often mutual) can be the upshot of same. Now to your queries:

  1. First intelligent question: Do musical couples have deeper relationships because of their shared passion for music?

    Some of them do. I have zillions of musician friends who love playing quartets together (my husband and I do, most of the time). On the other hand, there are downsides. Here are a few of the downsides:

    'You're rushing!!!!!!!!!!!! ... I don't want to play anything 19th century: not in that sort of MOOD ... I can't stand playing quartets with your friend X: he drags the end of every phrase ... I feel COMPLETELY drowned out at letter G ... If you go up the G-string one more time I'm going to quietly die ...'

    Here are some more serious downsides (which don't actually mess up my marriage, as my husband had the sense to make his living NOT playing, but which undermine many relationships I know about):

    1. Two of you being without proper pension provision in old age, not only one
    2. Every weekend of your joint lives disrupted by one or the other of you getting work in
    3. No evenings together, except when you're both too tired to enjoy it
    4. Childcare being an absolute disaster area, because of your childminder's preferences to have evenings free
    5. Serious problems/martyrdoms when one of you is much more successful than the other ('No dear, I don't mind giving up playing in the ballet. It's so nice that the London Symphony want you to go to Japan for a month ... Really, I'm terribly excited for you ...')

    This (and the fact that the average muso income is so much more suited to a secondary income than a primary income) is why I maintain that musos would be much more sensible to choose non-musos. Not to mention the pride (that springs from ignorance) that the non-muso would feel in his/her artistic partner ('Sorry, George, no can do. Have to hear the little woman's solo Wigmore recital, haven't I?')

  2. Second intelligent question: Is musical talent extremely important (for a muso) in choosing a mate?

    Well, it doesn't HURT, exactly, but I doubt it. The reason most musos land up with musos is proximity, proximity, proximity. We are so generally fragile of ego, us musos, that the attraction of explaining the mysteries we are involved in to a third party is generally much stronger than that of competing with a fellow-muso partner for success. But the music world is so anti-social in hours and so all-encompassing in effort, as to make that irrelevant. I have even known relationships collapse because BOTH PARTIES need to be told how wonderfully they play 24/7: not an easy trick to pull off!!!!!!!!!!!

    I think some musos DO actively seek a musician mate (preferably one good enough to intelligently praise their genius, but not good enough to threaten their innate musical superiority) but they often come unstuck by so doing.

  3. Third intelligent question: I have frequently observed the chemistry between chamber musicians -- even unrelated -- and even between players and their instruments ... Or am I over-romanticising the music profession?

    Without denying that chemistry often exists between musicians on stage (whatever their off-stage relationship, if any), and that this is one reason why live performances will never be entirely replaced by CDs, I feel that you ARE over-romanticising here. See downsides listed under question one. My guess is that half the 'chemistry' you enjoy while observing chamber music concerts is the rictus of murderous fury, when someone is getting in someone else's limelight/rushing through their best solo/not completely at one with one's intonation etc etc etc (Musicians don't only fake notes, you know!!!!!!!!!!!)

  4. Fourth intelligent question: What is your advice for a smitten cello pupil (amateur) of a professional saddled with a muso girlfriend, with 'queues' of other muso females desperate to steal him?

    Well, you asked for my opinion, but you don't have to like it!!!!!!!!!!! My opinion is: your teacher is unmarried, but a relationship is still a relationship. (Also, if he's the kind who might dump her for you, he's probably also the kind who will later dump you for someone else.) I am also discouraged (on your behalf) by the slews of females you mention who are chasing this guy. My advice (since you asked) is that you play it very cool and very professional. Go to his recitals but don't ask for his autograph with starry eyes. Practice hard, but for you and not for him. Should the relationship he's in falter, then by all means have a go, but don't become one of those pupils his girlfriend teases him about.

    And remember, we've all been there!!!!!!!!!

Good luck, fellow cello,

Copyright © 20 May 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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