Not Quite a Violin, Definitely Not a Pipe

Ever since I got started on this lovely little Sherlock Holmes kick, I have been envious of his ability to play the violin (I’m also a trifle envious of his pipe addiction, but we’re not going to talk about that).
There’s something intellectual about the violin, isn’t there?
Violins are the British accents of the orchestra world… everything just sounds more intelligent coming from them (I do, on some level, feel the same way about any stringed instrument… which I why I dabbled in flute, and took piano lessons for ten years… I am uncool).
Kronos quartet, anyone?
How about Bernard Hermann’s violins in “Psycho”?
Do they, or do they not, make murder most foul sound absolutely divine?
Is that a weird thing to say? Was that over the top? I can never tell.

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes I recently finished Maria Konnikova’s “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes” (I recommend it), in which Holmes’ violin allowed his brain to consciously disconnect from the rigors of his case, allowed the subconscious to take over and make the connections that Holmes couldn’t see.
The pipe also performed the same function, but like I said, we’re not going to talk about smoking today, thank you.
I thought, “That’s what I need! Brilliant!” So I’ll admit to feeling a bit disappointed in myself after reading those words and striving to craft a list of tasks that are stimulating and enjoyable, but also allow me to consciously disengage.

Let me just say that the page was BLANK.
I don’t play a violin, my flute is both dreadful and no longer with us, and my piano playing was always very technical and required Herculean concentration.

I occasionally refer to my mind as “The Hamster Wheel”, because there are always bits of information whirling around in there, and during the course of a day, there are few moments of conscious mental silence. I was a bit frustrated, because in those moments when I desperately need to think and yet to not think, I have very few skills that are engrained so deeply that I can do them without conscious effort.

Then it occurred to me… setting aside any terrors beforehand and any self-recriminations afterwards, singing is my instinctive conscious thought shutter-upper. When I am singing, it’s one of the few times in which I am completely, 100% comfortable. Even taking into account nerves, crackly post-nasal drip voice, and the very real possibility of sailing off of any given platform at any given moment into oblivion (is that just me? I always feel like I’m teetering on the edge), singing has become an instinctive expression. I can sing without thinking about singing, which frees me up to think about other things. I’ve done it so often that I know what my voice will do… and that explains why, in the hours after a Christmas Cantata or a long rehearsal, significant things that were buried in my mind have worked their way to the surface.

Let me just say that this realization (which came after a curiously terrifying performance in front of my coworkers) made me quite, QUITE happy.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to execute arias when I need to hunker down and solve a problem, but it does relieve the suspicion that I was forever hitched to the hamster wheel, and destined to race in place until my brain’s circuits fry. This also tells me that there are other areas which are not yet instinctive, but they can become so, because brains are fantastic.
Those other areas (which do NOT include pipe smoking, so STOP) would be considerably more convenient, as I can’t always just stop what I’m doing and break out into “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be fun… but most definitely inconvenient.


6 thoughts on “Not Quite a Violin, Definitely Not a Pipe

  1. I loved the Sherlock Holmes of my youth. A big fan of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Greene. I wrote The Record Killer as a tribute to Doyle. I put a couple of chapters on my blog, let me know what you think of them if you give it a read.


  2. Can’t say the Kronos Quartet is my favorite of all string ensembles, but they certainly do play intriguing music.
    I have a friend (who does play the violin) who says the same thing happens to her brain when she plays as happens to yours when you sing, it seems. I can’t think of anything I do that works similarly. Though it’s true that if I’m writing a book, many other thoughts don’t worry me while I’m sitting down and doing it. Hmmm.


  3. I find it interesting that you liked Konnikova’s book. I tried reading it and kept asking “When is this author going to make the case that thinking like Holmes is a worthwhile practice?” I finally gave up and took it back to the library unfinished, something I almost never do.

    I liked your description of the hamster wheel. In meditation circles, it is often called monkey mind. “Your mind is a monkey. Your mind is a dancing monkey. Your mind is a dancing monkey stung by bees.” Meditation is what you use to get back to just being the monkey, not to have the monkey go away. If you’ve done that, you are either asleep or unconscious.

    Wonderful that you have found a natural way to accomplish your goal. I do mention meditiation though because it is a lot quieter and can be done without drawing unwanted attention from strangers.

    You mentioned you are still suffering from your congestion. Are you sure you have eliminated dairy? It takes only a little to make people miserable and can be found in so many different foods where you don’t expect it, like baked goods.

    As usual, I’m full of unsolicited advice. Take care,



    1. The funny thing about the book was that it wasn’t new information, so I could definitely see why you might not finish it, particularly if you’re already a “mindful” thinker. I was just incredibly happy that there was actual research that backed up some of the things that I already did.

      I’m researching different forms of meditation, actually… because when I need to think at the office, singing will not help much.

      Actually, my allergies are great right now! I just mentioned the congestion as something that pops up during seasonal changes.


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