Interesting question in one of the papers today; if harps are heavenly instruments what’s hell’s most devilish musical instrument?
No question in my mind. A violin in the sweaty, ignorant grasp of a beginner. I mean, after about twenty minutes of “practice” the arrhythmic sawing gnaws into your brain with it’s sharp orange teeth far more effectively than my nightmare moth larva.
You either have to flee, holding your ears and screaming, shut the door and burrow under a mattress or gently remove the violin from the dear sweet innocent beginner’s stubby little digits and smash it repeatedly against the nearest hard object.
I know. I used to be that beginner. Having mastered the recorder to the point of chewing the mouthpiece of my first wooden one so badly it had to be replaced by a plastic Dometsch with a nicer tone and more robust mouthpiece, I wanted to learn the flute.
Sadly, the flute was an instrument not available on hire for lessons at school and there was no way on earth ma and pa could afford to buy one.
But violin lessons were available and money was found to hire a violin for me. I didn’t like it on sight. It wasn’t glossy and richly rufous-brown boxwood. It was kind of light grey. Weird really. I thought it might be made of some cheaper wood like ash but never dared to criticise. It looked as though it might be from Ikea.
My violin teacher was a short, Spanish chap with a figure like a weeble, thick dark hair, black-framed bottle-bottom spectacles. Perfectly pleasant, I’d imagine but his jacket was stiff with body odour. All my music teachers (apart from my Spanish flute teacher much, much later) were slightly repellent in one way or another. If anyone remembers my piano lesson blogs, they might recalls the young chap with such purulent pustules all over his face that every time I sat on that piano stool with him, I was terrified that something might explode and spread the virus to me like a very bad horror film. Nightmare During Moonlight Sonata.
The violin teacher Senor Something had clear skin but I could barely understand him because his accent was so thick. He took my arm and moved it to demonstrate the way I should have been bowing. He always did it with sufficient force to disturb my chin from its resting place on a nice new yellow duster. It wasn’t a great teaching method, particularly since when let go, my tone would revert from “reasonably mellow” to “screechy horsehair.”
It wasn’t so much the torture I was inflicting on my parents and little brother, it was the fact that I couldn’t tolerate the terrible noise myself. My dad’s sawings in his workshop were far preferable and they came complete with a really lovely smell of fresh timber. My playing was an abomination that bore no resemblance to my favourite classical music of the time, Holst’s The Planets. I could scarcely believe it was the same instrument.
The tunes in the book were appallingly simple. There was no excuse. I scraped and bowed, bowed and scraped but gave up before I even got on to Book Two for Beginners. It was an abject failure. Funnily enough, neither mum nor dad ever said “Now J you really need to persevere because you could be good.” The minute I announced my intention to abandon my violin, mater was on the phone asking how soon she could get her deposit back.
I have a friend who is first violin in a Gloucestershire orchestra. She was taught properly at her nice Wimbledon girls’ school and picked it up again when her own kids were at school.
It was only when I went to a performance and watched her and her fellow violinists really going for it during Tchaikovsky’s 1812 that I remembered my own pathetic violin attempts and felt a pang of jealousy.
They were having such a good time and there was such enthusiasm – besides the ancient church windows nearly being shattered by the crow-scarer “cannons” – that I felt a little pang and thought what might have been if only I’d put in more effort.
Then I thought “Nah. I was much better off with the flute.”
So yes. Violin at number one and for the runner-up hellish instrument, the sound of a whole band of kazoo players takes some beating.