# Tuesday, 04 September 2007

Are you a piccolo player or a violinist?

Some years ago, we went to hear Beethoven's Sixth Symphony being played by the Halle Orchestra. Being one of my favourite pieces of music, it was an altogether excellent evening off. However, one thing bothered me...

During the recital, one man sat in the middle of the orchestra, apparently not doing anything. He was dressed in the same black jacket with tails as all the other men in the orchestra, but he did not seem to have a musical instrument with him, and sat there with his arms folded all evening.

Now I can understand anyone wanting to sit listening to Beethoven's Sixth, but why would they choose to do it in a black jacket with tails, sitting in the middle of the orchestra?

The riddle was finally solved during the fourth movement, "The Thunderstorm." This movement wonderfully depicts the scene of a sudden thunderstorm in the middle of a countryside outing (which is the theme of the whole symphony). Right in the middle of this piece, the man in question unfolded his arms (gasp!) and reached into the inside pocket of the aforementioned jacket, and withdrew a piccolo.

For those of you not familiar with a piccolo, it is a bit like a small flute. However, when I say "small," I mean small enough to fit in the inside pocket of a jacket (with or without tails). Here is a picture of a piccolo to add some visual interest to this otherwise long and apparently pointless story...

a piccolo

During the peak of the thunderstorm, the man put the piccolo to his mouth and played the three solitary notes (two in close succession, then one shortly afterwards) that Beethoven deemed appropriate. He then put the piccolo back in his pocket, folded his arms once again and sat there motionless until the end of the symphony.

At the time, I was amused by this, but didn't really give it much further thought. However, it came back to mind the other day, and it sparked an interesting (to me) observation in life that I thought I would share with you.

Some people go through life and really join in. Whenever there is anything going on, they are involved. They are a bit like the violins. Like them or not, it's hard to find a symphony ever written that doesn't have loads of violins at its heart. In many ways, they are the fried onions of classical music.

[In case anyone is wondering at that rather strange analogy, I should point out that my father firmly believes that all cooking should begin with fried onions. They form the basis of all his savoury delights. Since violins form the basis of pretty much all orchestral music, it seemed like a good analogy]

Other people sit there with their arms folded for most of the time. Just once in a while they will pull out their piccolo and play a couple of notes, but then they will quietly put it away again and resume their silence. These people rarely make much impression on life. That's not necessarily a good or bad thing, it's just an observation.

So, it occurred to me to wonder, am I a piccolo player or a violinist? How about you? Feel free to leave a comment if you like. I won't be offended if you don't though :-D


P.S. I showed this blog post to the Boss, and just to prove once again that women are more intelligent and deeper thinkers than men, she added the following observation:

Sure, some people sit there inactive most of the time, but when they do make some movement, it is significant. The piccolo may only have played three notes, but they had a very deep effect on the mood of the music. Similarly, kettle drums (my favourite) are sadly not a featured instrument in many pieces, but they nevertheless play in important part when they are used. So the observation is still valid, but the conclusion is more complex.

I think this is getting too philosophical for my little brain! Maybe we need to contemplate it further before releasing Silver's Observations On The Significance Of Musical Instruments In Everyday Life (or SOOTSOMIIEL for short - just rolls off the tongue doesn't it?). Remember you saw it here first!

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