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.
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.