Music and Vision homepage


Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On playing the violin,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? ' Dear Alice,

My brother is a good violin player and four years older than me. (I'm ten.) I would like to play too, though I know I'm old to start, but he is really annoyed about it and keeps telling me to play cello or something instead. My parents say it's not too late to start violin if I've finally decided even though violins cost a lot.

'What do you think? (Am I too late and should I try cello?)

Ask Alice

Alice Dear Anthony,

First of all, you're certainly not too late ... I didn't start the cello until I was thirteen and nor did a lot of people (the most famous on cello perhaps being Alexander Baillie). Violin to be honest is harder, but ten is still a great age to start, especially if you really want to (and you sound as if you really want to!!!) I would guess that a keen and intelligent ten-year-old could make the same progress in months as a four or five-year-old violinist can in years. (I got farther in weeks, in my thirties, on the violin!)

My worry, to be frank, is your unnamed older brother. You'd think that four years -- which numerous studies have suggested is the best gap as far as sibling rivalries are concerned -- would be enough, but isn't always. It sounds to me as if your brother is either slightly neurotic, already jealous of you or (worst of all) hopes to be a violinist someday himself and doesn't fancy having his career in the X Symphony compared to yours in the Y Philharmonic. In any of these cases, I would urge you to think long and hard about whether you really want to mess up your relationship with your brother. After all, there are a lot of wonderful instruments out there. If you're big, the viola could be a compromise. If not, the cello is easier to play than either (though if your parents think that violins are expensive, they may rule out the cello, which is even more expensive!!!!) Not to mention all the woodwind and brass out there -- and even percussion.

The alternative is, of course, to try the violin anyway, despite your brother's annoyance. He might just be a pain in the arse, who has no intention of taking violin seriously and is just afraid that you might. Only you can answer this question!!!! Over the years I've known sibling cellists and sibling violinists (never, interestingly, sibling violists or double bassists) -- as well as innumerable professional couples on both instruments (and even a couple of violist couples). I have to say that in no case was it an advantage in the relationship. On either a conscious or a subconscious level there was always an element of rivalry, however stifled. Compared to the ease and friendliness of marrying/going out with/playing sibling chamber music with someone on a different instrument, it was ungood. (This is especially the case with violinists, unless one of the pair actively enjoys -- literally -- playing 'second fiddle'.) And cellists feel just as irritated, in that one is faced with a positive surfeit of Schubert's quintet and Brahms Sextets and otherwise it's the tensely polite 'No, no, you play this quartet; I'm a bit tired/out of practice/it's not my favorite anyway ...')

So: if your brother is just being difficult for the sake of being difficult, tell your parents you'd love a violin of your own. If not, ask the music director to let you try out some less familiar instruments. You might just find one that appeals even more.

Copyright © 18 April 2008 Alice McVeigh, Florida USA

Ask Alice



 << M&V home              Alice's previous columns >>