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On teenage violinists and ... girls,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Does being a competent violinist impress girls? I'm sixteen, male and a grade eight violinist (the highest pre-professional grade there is in England, don't know how it's done in the USA) and my performance level is really above that. But does that impress girls? I'm getting kind of desperate for a girlfriend and I just wondered whether letting the girl I fancy see me play the violin is a good thing or a bad thing. Thanks for your help. Oh, and if you know of a good trick for keeping one's left hand relaxed in a fast piece (like a moto perpetuo) and when doing fast vibrato, that would be great too.

Dear young violinist,
Thanks for the question: loads of issues here. But first of all, well done you!!! Grade eight at sixteen is really good. It certainly ought to impress anybody, even if they're completely unmusical, as it requires qualities of (a) intellect -- all those stupid scales to memorize!!! (b) solidity and determination (fly-by-nights need not apply) and (c) unusual sensitivity and depth of character. And the violin is one of the absolutely hardest instruments to do it on, as well. There is even, in the American musical 1776, about the American Revolution, a rather inane song sung by Thomas Jefferson's fiancé that goes 'and he plays the violin/he tucks it just under his chin ... '

But I digress.

However, there are other issues here too, both social and cultural. The sad truth is that most kids these days are not 'in' to classical music. It is sad but possibly even truer that even your friends would probably be more impressed to see you playing long notes as a backing group to some unmusical pop star than essaying, with no little class, the Bruch violin concerto. Unless the girl you fancy is unusually good at music, this may be true of her as well ... In other words, classical music has an image problem. It can seem (I hate to write this) a little geeky, a little fussy, a little old-fashioned. So I suspect that you don't want to get her in a position to hear you play Meditation from Thaïs -- or not yet. Your first job (with her or with any other potential girlfriend) is to dispel this old-fashioned image from her mind.

I believe you to have already surmised the first way in which you can do this, which is to dazzle with speed. The simplest (to you and me) moto perpetuo dazzles the unmusically gifted. Now you know (and I know) that it's a lot easier to play these flashy sort of pieces than the Beethoven violin concerto, but chances are, she doesn't. Jettison that idea you had of entering the school talent competition with a classy violin piece. Go for show!!!! And try to look a little stern and mysterious while you're about it: a cut above all those pimpled adolescent youths who don't know an up-bow from a down-bow.

The second way is one I already hinted at above. Beat them at their own game. There are endless arrangements out there of jazzy and even rock-type classics arranged for violin with orchestral backing tracks. These will knock people's socks off at (above-mentioned) school competition. Again, you and I know that the violin is not a geeky instrument. It takes breathtaking control, stamina and skill. But the fact that you can soar over a whole (canned) orchestra will be immensely more exciting to most teenage girls than any amount of bow control. (Sorry, but there it is!!!!)

Another image you have to dispel is that of self-centeredness -- the otherworldy musician. Find out what her interests are, and talk about them at least as much as about your own.

The only thing that really bothered me about your question was your wonderfully honest comment 'I'm getting kind of desperate for a girlfriend.'

It is a savage truth of teenage life that the ones who want it the most don't get it the most. Girls (and guys too -- admit it!!!!) tend to go for those with the self-confidence to seem (whatever they're actually thinking) as if their lives are already so amazingly exciting that they're not really bothered whether they have a partner in it or not. Girls (perhaps especially girls) relish a challenge, and tend to fall, en masse, like complete prats, for the most not-bothered, couldn't-care-less, guy in the entire class/group/orchestra. There is something in the female make-up (I blush to write this) which just adores the idea of being the one to succeed where others have failed, to light the fire of the seemingly untouchable. The fact that these guys tend to be very bad news is neither here nor there. The fact is: if you seem even remotely 'desperate' girls won't get interested in you (as a boyfriend, that is; they might like you a lot as a friend). Pleasant but distant is what to aim for, and never underestimate the use of humour, however stupid. If you saunter past the girl of your dreams saying, 'Hello, ugly,' with a grin, you're much more likely to intrigue her than if you blush and stammer when asking her how she felt she did in the maths test.

Now, with regard to your interesting technical point, like bow angle, this is a perennial headache to even professional musicians. Don't grip with your left thumb (as you've certainly been told) and don't let the fingers you're not vibrating on tense up in latent sympathy with the vibrating finger. Try not to care so much (bit like the girlfriend issue, really) that you press too hard -- back off and ... it'll fall into place!!!!!


Copyright © 1 December 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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