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On brains, hats, wives, books, music and animals,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? ' Dear Alice,
In the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of AARP magazine, Richard Gehr reviews Oliver Sacks' new book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. He quotes Sacks with respect to music therapy for Parkinson's disease: 'While the music lasts' (my emphasis; the phrase is of course the title of one of your books) 'it gives them precisely what they lack, which is tempo and rhythm and organized time.' Have you read the book?
Jim, in South Carolina

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Alice Dear Jim,
No, though of course I've heard of Oliver Sacks, and seen the opera based on his famous The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
His latest sounds fascinating.

I can't however claim any copyright on the words your mention. According to Google, David A Powell swiped it for his book of literary criticism, along with While the Music Lasts: The Representation of Music in the Works of George Sand by somebody called Harkness -- not to mention While the Music Lasts: My Life in Politics by William M Bulger. Probably the best-known swiping must be by some musician called Jesse Harris, who called his CD by that title.

Not meaning to brag, however, but my novel (published by Orion in 1994) DOES appear to have been the first to have spotted the beauty of T S Eliot's lovely lines:

music heard so deeply
that it is not heard at all
But you are the music
while the music lasts.

My friend Fiona (a music therapist) thinks that humankind, in addition to not being able to bear much reality, has barely scratched the surface of what music can do. Oliver Sacks would probably agree with her.


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? ' Dear Alice
I'm a classical music fan, and sometime singer. While watching an orchestral concert at the Kennedy Centre recently I suddenly wondered whether all those second violins were secretly hoping to become first violins? Is there a natural progression, or are we talking two differents breeds of animal?
Jack in VA

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Alice Dear Jack,
No, no, no on all counts!!!!!!!
First, violinist aren't animals, even the ones at the forefront of the firsts. Animals are exclusively found in the brass, percussion and double basses. (OK, I'll give you the odd cello, as I'm in a good mood.)

Secondly, although there usually are a couple of young whippersnappers in the ranks of the seconds fretting that they're likely to forget how to play with around nine zillion leger lines, most second violins are very happy in the seconds, thanks, and would not appreciate being bunged in the ranks of the firsts.

This is for the following reasons:

  1. The money is the same, though, of course the principal second and the next one or two will be earning more than most of the firsts will -- though the leader and sometimes the top firsts will be earning more than even the principal second.
  2. Those leger-lines are buggers.
  3. The conductor always picks on the first violins (well-known, internationally recognised fact).
  4. Therefore it's basically safer in the seconds.
  5. The average distance between notes where seconds normally play is zero-point-six millimeters. The average distance between notes where the poor firsts generally play is zero-point-two millimeters. What is millimeters to you and me is death by a thousand nervous breakdowns to violin players.
  6. On the other hand, you never get to be leader/concertmaster in the second violins.
  7. But your family life is better and you don't need so many pills so you probably live longer.
  8. Second violins have better senses of humour.
  9. Which they need, the way the first violins patronise them.

Hope this answers your question!!

Copyright © 18 January 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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