Friday, 1 April 2016

Wagner Can Damage Your Health

It is usual on April the first to write spoof news reports and I suppose blog entries. But when the president of the United States visits the country where he keeps a special prison for torturing people and berates that country for its human rights record, then a few days later as the president of the only country that has ever actually used nuclear weapons waxes indignant because a small country on the other side of the world seems to want to have such weapons itself, it’s hard to know what is truth and what spoof.

Meanwhile in England a viola player is suing his orchestra because his hearing has been permanently damaged: it seems the conductor had seated the violas too close to the brass for a performance of something by Wagner.

Actually I do sympathise, even though the only times I have ever played in orchestras it has been in the brass section: sometimes on trumpet, sometimes on horn. Horn players can have almost the opposite problem to our violist: the horn has the reputation of being the most difficult of all instruments and certainly if you hear a cracked note from an orchestra it is likely to be the horns. For technical reasons, the same fingering can produce many different notes on the horn, and it’s only by very fine lip and breath control that one can select the right one. If the conductor puts the horns too close to the timpani, the shock-wave from a goodly drum-bash can be picked up by the bell of the horn and be sort of hydraulically concentrated as it travels through the several metres of brass tube to emerge in a puff that can blast the player’s lips right off the mouthpiece. (That is not, by the way, the reason horn players stuff their right hand up the bell.)

Still, viola players are always odd. Look at a photograph of any string quartet: I guarantee that the one who looks weirdest is the violist.

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