Printer-friendly version
Laurie Niles

On substances

June 14, 2008 at 4:22 AM

I thought I'd come up with a poll that had as much validity and made as much sense as the recent news stories, spread all over the world via the Internet, that have cast musicians as a bunch of substance abusers. So where do you stand in no-where-land?

Actually, the hysteria lies not in the stories or in the words of our fellow musicians, but in the headlines, like, "Just One More to Calm the Nerves" and "Nigel Kennedy hits out at substance abuse in classical music." Those are written by editors, not by the people who wrote the articles. Blair Tindall's article was simply a first-person observation piece, reasonable enough, touching on myriad points that are worth exploring but distilling most of it with the point: "We, like anyone else, are just people. We're tempted. We say yes or no to drugs. But, because of our discipline, we most often say no: drugs and impairment are not worth risking a lifetime of practice." (And by the way, welcome, Blair.) Kennedy's comments also came from personal observation, basically saying that beta-blockers work on nerves but don't help a bad musician play better; that musicians sometimes drink or have a joint; and that "performing under the influence of alcohol or dope would be cheating the audience."

In other words, a true substance abuser can't perform effectively as classical musician; just as substance abusers tend to fail as bus drivers, tax accountants, parents, etc. etc.

We knew that.

But what of the actual issues of substance abuse, related to musicians?

What is considered a substance? Are we talking about narcotics, pot, or beta blockers? Alcohol or cold medication? How about coffee? Not to mention meat, or how about prunes, people?

Every single one of these substances has its own issues. Some are illegal in most places. Some tear families apart. Some are medications doctors prescribe and can be used in a constructive way -- or abused. The same substance that is considered food in one culture may be banned in another. And substances like alcohol and coffee can be acceptable in a person's life but still can have an egregious effect that same person's ability to play music if they are taken before a performance. And then there are prunes.

Does anyone have anything of substance to say?

From Hannah Wright
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 4:55 AM
no, i'm not in denial...but because i don't i don't!

So both answers? :P

From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 5:07 AM
From Ted Naemura
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 7:45 AM
Perhaps there’s a notion we could call VUII: Violining Under the Influence of Intoxicants. Consider how the law provides that it is okay to drive after you’ve been drinking, you just can’t drive while under the influence of what you’ve consumed. Like driving, stringed instruments are complex pursuits. Stringed instruments recruit so many fine motor skills. Practicing strings requires a cheerful and open attitude, and dividing attention simultaneously between many small tasks. None of those components really succeed while playing/practicing “impaired.” If you’ve ever practiced after taking a glass of wine, for example, you have probably experienced some of this inhibiting effect.

If one is going to take up his or her violin, and has or will consume drugs or alcohol in conjunction with playing, the union of chemical and string is something to think about. Speaking only for myself, I believe the less necessary it is that a person ingests a substance during an endeavor as physically fickle as violin tone production, the more one might examine why one is employing the chemical in the first place.

If you do put the question to yourself and it’s just too hard to answer, or if you have some rather unique answers to the question, or if the mere inquiry makes you feel defensive . . . those do start sounding like denial/rationalization/avoidance components of a larger problem.

Music and addiction are strongly attached to emotional states. I wonder if anyone in science or academia has rigorously studied the interrelationships as pertains to chemically-dependent classical musicians; finding the themes to their adventures.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 7:59 AM
"What is considered a substance?"

If some half-wits can make a buck if something's a substance, then it's a substance.

From Charles C
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 8:51 AM
Isn't playing the violin enough of a drug in itself that we don't need crack (unlike those violists needing a break from their misery)?
From Anne Horvath
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 12:55 PM
I have nothing of substance to say, but I do have a chocolate abuse problem...

Seriously, beta blockers can hardly be put into a substance abuse category.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 4:57 PM
LOL Charles! I’m on cracklin and I’m not sure whether is my cracklin support group or a substance itself (crackvicom?):-)
From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 5:32 PM
Oh geez Anne, how could I forget chocolate? But seriously, you are right, it does not seem right to lump beta-blockers in with "substance abuse" stories. They seem like two separate issues.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 5:44 PM
In my hood we have roving gangs of nervous classical musicians breaking into houses to buy beta-blockers. I'd call it a problem.
From Bernadette Hawes
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 7:34 PM
If drinking 10 cups of very strong tea a day is substance abuse, then I'm guilty!
Otherwise I'm in denial ha ha.
From Joe S.
Posted on June 14, 2008 at 11:46 PM
Bring on the Tequila!!!!
From Bob Annis
Posted on June 15, 2008 at 3:45 PM
I find I can no longer abuse caffeine. Now THAT's a problem.

Due to time and income constraints, my problem seems to be a massive drug deficiency. I hope to work on it in future.

From Charles C
Posted on June 15, 2008 at 6:37 PM
Yes. From now on aspiring crackalinists must consume massive amounts of Kracktzer and Fleth and Sevcoke and Pagajuana and Auerin and Galamabis.
From Mellisa Nill
Posted on June 16, 2008 at 12:05 AM
I was recently directing a beginner ensemble while taking a narcotic for a chronic back problem that I have. While attempting to make a decision on the bowing of a passage I made the comment "Never make bowing decisions under the influence of narcotics", because I couldn't make up my mind.

One of my players made it her MySpace quote, and in less than 12 hours, v-commer and friend Emily found it and asked me about it.

Lesson learned: keep your mouth shut when trying to make bowing decisions under the influence of narcotics, especially when you live in a small town.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on June 16, 2008 at 12:35 AM
Never admit to a substance abuse problem in a small town...


From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 16, 2008 at 5:20 AM
Actually Robert and I considered installing a Breathalyzer test for posting on, along with a public-service "Don't drink and post!" campaign.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 16, 2008 at 10:57 PM
since Laurie seems determined to include prunes among contraversial `substances` I tried some abuse. I sat a prune on a cold hard plate and shouted at it for three hours using the vilest language possible. Then I ate it.
Alas, it had the last word....
From Bob Annis
Posted on June 17, 2008 at 3:45 AM
Here in the US we waterboard our prunes. Better hurry before the new congress outlaws that sort of thing.
From Eitan Silkoff
Posted on June 17, 2008 at 4:58 AM
yea steven why is it you have so many typing errors?
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 17, 2008 at 11:21 PM
you mean like writing myname wrong?;)

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine