Does alchol help sometime?

June 29, 2007 at 12:19 AM · When Piero Rattalino went to the backstage to interview Szeryng before a concert he found him just a little step before to get drunk.

And he played in such a way!!

What is your relationship between alchol and playing: is it helpful or detrimental?

Obviously we are talking about reasonable quantity !!

Replies (55)

June 29, 2007 at 12:43 AM · i'm always intoxicated so i have no idea

June 29, 2007 at 01:16 AM · Ysaye was famous for always being sloshed onstage. So was Bjoerling.

June 29, 2007 at 01:18 AM · When and if I sober up I'll find out.

When I was running the Stamford Symphony with Skitch Henderson conducting hebrought in a famous actress to narrate something. She's no longer living, but I don't think I want to get sued by her estate. However, backstage when I said hi she about fell over and my wife had to grab her otherwise she would have almost passed out. When I querried Skitch he just smiled and said "don't worry."

The actress in question staggered to the end of the curtains, walked out on stage, did her thing beautifully, came off stage where I had to hold on to her to keep her upright. You just never know.

June 29, 2007 at 02:17 AM · My system doesn't tolerate alcohol well, so if anything I'll grab a brew after a good practice--sometimes.

June 29, 2007 at 02:30 AM · The ironic, yet cryptically informative thing that I noticed was that as I read the posts, the google ads were a mixture of violin and alcolol rehab. :-)

June 29, 2007 at 02:38 AM · I love to play while intoxicated. People around me say I play better too, but that might be because their judgment is impaired :D

June 29, 2007 at 03:00 AM · Seriously folks: drugs and alcohol do not mix with music--it should be intoxicating enough.

"It is the most intelligent and gifted among us who are crippled with this malady" paraphased: Abe Lincoln.

This is also a good reason to begin playing with something you truly love when practicing, and end the session the same. The stress that a musician encounters honing the craft should be taken with the same seriousness in my mind, as any other endeavor that requires self monitoring and discipline.

When an athlete doesn't warm up and down: injuries. When a race car driver is not 100% alert, crashes. When a violinist does not have 100% focus, they learn to play viola! ;).

June 29, 2007 at 03:15 AM · The other night I drank a glass of wine while practicing. It was in the evening, after work and after dinner, and I think it relaxed me little bit. It's not something I'd make a regular habit of, but it was fun.

June 29, 2007 at 03:48 AM · If you have plenty of right stuff to spare and aren't anywhere close to the edge of your ability in what you're going to be playing it probably doesn't matter. Don't look to the jazzers for examples like somebody was doing though. because literally the majority of the elite were on heroin. No idea what that does to your head. Got to be worse than a couple beers though. One of the best trumpeters let himself go so badly that he lost his teeth and had to learn to play using dentures. He's also one of the most recorded, because it was so expensive to support the addiction.

June 29, 2007 at 03:53 AM · As the Plains Indians used to say,

"Peyote can show the warrior the way, but it can't get him there."

June 29, 2007 at 04:07 AM · Well said Allan.

June 29, 2007 at 03:05 AM · Help is needed sometimes while playing.

You cannot go into performance cold.

One has to be in the mood to perform,otherwise your performance may be subdued and you may not be able to perform at your best.

Once you enter the stage,things change and you are in a totally different scenario---you are there to perform well and you will perform well if you have practiced all of the pieces involved..

After your gig,you are free to do as you wish...

Remember that taking any type of drug probably would cause your performance to be less than desirable.

All of the musicians I know take nothing before their performances because they know that by doing so will worsen their ability to play at a professional level [ability is lessened to a degree].

For other types of pieces [jamming] anything goes

that fits in well,as long as the music that is produced is appropriate to the listeners and the musicians.

The key is freedom to play---to loose yourself in the music you are playing and become the music

you are attempting to play....To play what is inside of your gut,and more importantly---what is inside of your inner soul...

We all have our own very special way to display the talents of our violin because it is in our blood-----most of the time...

Our goal is to display the talents of the violin all of the times we are playing...And to do so to the very best of our ability...

You MUST be relaxed and feel confident in whatever you are playing... If you play by 'rote' then others may notice...If you play what is in your heart or soul,then people will applaud...

Give your best--don't be shy---play freely to your ability... Be relaxed----give everything you have---bare your soul--add ornamentation sometimes--give the piece your own style........

Be assured,I cannot do much of the above--------few players can.......


June 29, 2007 at 08:13 PM · Interesting that the person who admits their system doesn't tolerate alcohol has the strongest opinion against it for the rest of us. . .

Personally, my consumption is as follows:

On tour with the rock band- One bourbon and a pint of good beer before taking the stage followed by one beer per set.

Improvised jazz performance- moderate amount of wine throughout the performance.

Wedding ceremonies- Nothing (I'm at church after all)

Recording studio- Whatever is provided.

Orchestral performance- One glass of wine before performance. Possibly one at intermission depending on the program.

June 29, 2007 at 08:46 PM · Each person has a different physiological reaction when it comes to alcohol. I'm just an amateur, but every time I've played (recitals, orchestras, or just playing a few pieces for my Rotary club on special occasions), if I even LOOK at a glass of wine, my fingers turn into sausages. I can understand how you can act or sing or do other kinds of things with a moderate amount of alcohol, but it has an instant and severe effect on my percetual-motor coordination and ruins my violin playing. (And my violin playing can't afford ANY additional problems)


June 29, 2007 at 10:14 PM · Albert, you said drugs and alcohol do not mix with music.

I am guessing you never heard any modern music made within the past 50 years?

Stairway to Heaven was written on acid and has been one of the most requested songs in the history of radio.

Where would Bob Marley be if it were not for love of fellow man and a plant?

I am not encouraging people to use them, infact if your reading this, I highly recomend you avoid them. Honestly. Doing substances that will mess with your nervous system is an easy way to throw years of violin study out the window.

But to say music and substances don't mix is absurd IMO.

Practicing and getting drunk is not exactly wise either.

June 29, 2007 at 10:29 PM · The Porter in "Macbeth" said:

"It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance." Act 2, Scene 3.

June 29, 2007 at 11:09 PM · “Teach not thy lip such scorn, for it was made For kissing, lady, not for such contempt.” - Another useful Shakespeare quote.

June 29, 2007 at 11:11 PM · Randy, interesting? not really.

Michael, drugs are not Vietnam and post.

Jim, a simple quotes book from the 70's.

Sander: ditto!.

June 29, 2007 at 11:55 PM · Sandy: you and I have appear to have some things in common. I enjoy some wine with a meal, but I would never consider taking alcohol before or during practise or performance. Alcohol is a depressant and a motor inhibitor, which by reason can only impede one's performance.

June 30, 2007 at 01:17 AM · drinking before playing.




June 30, 2007 at 01:22 AM · I could never imagine how Bjoerling could sing so beautifully so drunk-alcohol always made me vocally dysfunctional.

June 30, 2007 at 01:36 AM · I've been known to throw back a few shots before a recital, but never enough to impare my performance. I usually stop at 2 or 3 drinks. Anything more than that will make me too dizzy.

June 30, 2007 at 02:57 AM · It's so cultural, it seems to me. In America, where we drive so much, we have made it rather unacceptable to drink and drive -- in fact, the laws in California regarding drinking and driving are extremely punitive. So I think drinking and "working" (ie, performing) starts to fall under the same category as drinking and driving. I mean, I think if you show up for an orchestra concert after having four beers, you certainly don't go and breathe on the personnel director.

But I don't drink, so don't ask me.

June 30, 2007 at 03:27 AM · Well that's clear now--only men mostly fell off horses back in the day, and probably pretty rarely. Laurie, what do you think? ;)....

June 30, 2007 at 03:40 AM · I drink on average about 1 or 2 drinks most nights. Other nights, nothing at all. I steer a thousand miles away from anything in a joint that makes you hungry and start to say "Heyyyy mannnnnnn, chiiiiilll it would ya???!!" or anything stronger. A mid strength beer or a glass of wine for me. I'd never drink before a concert or an exam. No way. For me its a switch-off, relax and start conversing about pleasant topics type of activity. I can't stand people who get agro after too many drinks. On rare occasions (on my current average, about once every 8 years) I get totally drunk. I make a happy and talkative drunk.

June 30, 2007 at 04:46 AM · Two sips, and I'd be not only off the horse, but off the wagon!

At any rate, I think it's maybe more socially acceptable in Europe? Just not as big of a deal. I don't think it's a huge deal, either, as long as someone isn't sloshing drunk.

When they are, though, one feels a bit let down. I actually sat next to someone who'd really overdone it just before an all-Mozart concert, of all things! It's just so exposed, and there we were in a pretty small first violin section. It was NOT enhancing her playing!

But I've also played with people who'd had maybe one drink and were just fine.

June 30, 2007 at 04:55 AM · Randy Mollner: You are my hero in all regards------ very nicely done !!!

June 30, 2007 at 05:50 AM · I don't know about Europe. I knew a woman in England whose son was facing prison for re-parking a car, basically driving a few feet, under the influence. So she said...

I don't think alcohol does anything to fuel creativity. However, if you don't overdo it, it may put you in a state for say writing about what you'd otherwise just be your normal frenetic self about. Other drugs, you can do something and think wow, then later think that's awful what was I thinking then. But the experience can reveal how much more beautiful beautiful can be than you knew, and hint at some directions. Not speaking from personal experience of course.

June 30, 2007 at 09:00 AM · Probably Bazzini composed Calabrese when he once couldn't sleep because the calabrese he ate disturbed his stomach!

June 30, 2007 at 05:26 PM · I still clearly remember that night Ysaÿe was going to give a recital featuring his own solo sonatas. The curtains opened, Ysaÿe came up, singing: "What shall we do with the dru - hips!"

June 30, 2007 at 07:35 PM · I know what I'd do with a drunken fiddler:

1. Put him in the long boat till he's sober,

2. Keep him there and make 'im bale 'er.

3. Shave his belly with a rusty razor.

4. Put him in bed with the captain's daughter.

June 30, 2007 at 07:41 PM · Does the Captain's Daughter have a say in this?

July 1, 2007 at 03:43 PM · (During the Civil War, on hearing complaints that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant drank alcohol to excess)

Find out what Grant drinks and send a barrel of it to each of my other generals!-Abraham Lincoln

July 1, 2007 at 03:56 PM · I've only ever once drunk before a gig (I think, certainly recently). It was an unpaid help-out thing with a choral society so we made the most of it as a social event, I had a couple of pints of Stella in the pub beforehand. It didn't affect me that I was aware of.

Though I know that the record for one of the violins in the local band is 6 pints before a concert.

July 1, 2007 at 06:49 PM · Well, there's apples and oranges.

For situations where one is playing a tightly-scripted piece of music, anything that inhibits proper motor control ought to be avoided.

For situations in which the playing is primarily improvisational or shall we say ecstatic, something to free the mind from normal constraints might be considered useful. Or not; everyone's nervous systems are not programmed alike.

July 2, 2007 at 02:00 AM · Greetings, everyone!

I am an adult student, so the odds of me ever performing are slim. I would, however, avoid drinking before a performance, because alcohol inhibits proper motor control and judgment. In addition, it is a depressant, which is personally significant to me.

Of course, there is a difference between having a glass of wine and getting "smashed"! ;-)

Pete Townshend of The Who (and a great rock composer and solo performer) has had many bouts with alcohol and drugs. At a concert performance, during the tour for The Who's Face Dances album (their first album after Keith Moon's death, which was alcohol related), Pete was barely able to stay on his feet. In his state, he invited a kid in the audience to come onto the stage and to play his guitar, which must have sounded worse than Pete playing drunk. Fortunately, the duration of this incident was short.

Of course, rock music and violin playing are very different performance media! :-) (I cannot imagine a string quartet, say, smashing their instruments at the end of a concert, which was frequently done in earliest years of The Who.) :-)



July 2, 2007 at 10:22 PM · What about crack, PCP, LSD, or heroin? :)

July 2, 2007 at 10:25 PM · Pot is always welcome other stuff is crap.

By the way do you have some?

July 3, 2007 at 03:41 PM · I always have a sip of the Precious Blood about 45 mins into my performances.

July 3, 2007 at 05:01 PM · A few years ago, I tried having a glass of red wine before I played a Mozart sonata at a house concert in France. Firstly, I would have seemed rude or crazy not to (it was Paris after all!), and secondly, I was curious. I had performed the piece consistently several times before, so I wasn't nervous at all, and I wanted to see what would happen. Well, there were no slip-ups or "problems," but I wasn't quite as "on" as usual. Lesson learned -- but I'm glad I tried!

July 4, 2007 at 01:26 PM · We can say that drinking is not good before playing even though probably there is something worse: to throw up on the stage, right on a english gentelman in tuxedo with monocole.

That would be funny!

July 6, 2007 at 06:11 PM · Antonio,

I disagree with your conclusion from this thread.

I think we can agree that:

1. Folks who rarely drink do not like to drink before they play the violin.

2. Those who are not yet entirely comfortable playing the violin are even more uncomfortable after a few drinks.

3. Those who do have a drink or two before playing are not too enthusiatic about admitting it in a forum that may be read by a future employer and, moreover, is somewhat tilted against the idea of drinking.

4. The idea of playing with someone who has had a few drinks is distasteful to many here. (this is the best argument against having a drink before a concert that I have seen here, as it points out that the alcohol on my breath may affect other players' playing more than my own if they are worried about my sobriety instead of their playing)

It has been stated that "alcohol and music do not mix". History would suggest otherwise. The close connection between music, ritual, dance and mood altering substances is well documented and predates the history of the violin and music by millenia.

Additionally, prior to very recently, adult human beings, particularly westerners, drank very little EXCEPT wine, beer and spirits. This would include most of the great composers and players as well as Shakespeare.

Finally, if you have never explored the dynamic possibilities of a piece with which you are very familiar after a few glasses of wine, providing you are able constitutionally and legally to do this, you are missing out. After all, alcohol is not only a depressent, but a relaxer of inhibitions, and our inhibitions are often the violinists greatest enemy.

July 6, 2007 at 07:07 PM · These famous artists played well when drunk not because of the drink and drugs, but because they were very accomplished. They practised like madmen , and never watched tv during their formative years. They were also what we call nowadays - drunks; a somewhat harsh, non-pc adjective. Once a substance becomes part of your body -chemistry, it invades all aspects of your activity, thus you have the so - called "functional alcoholic." Being drunk is no help, but maybe one drink can help loosen up some nervous personalities. One drink kills over 1 million body cells though, damaging all organs of the body. Not a healing beverage, to be sure.

Szeryng also used cocaine, but Armstrong's favorite drug was pot; he nearly got the Queen Mother to eat a pot brownie at table in Buckingham Palace, according to "Satchmo," his official biography.

July 6, 2007 at 07:03 PM · Randy, I agree with much of what you said, except:

"It has been stated that "alcohol and music do not mix". History would suggest otherwise. The close connection between music, ritual, dance and mood altering substances is well documented and predates the history of the violin and music by millenia.

Additionally, prior to very recently, adult human beings, particularly westerners, drank very little EXCEPT wine, beer and spirits. This would include most of the great composers and players as well as Shakespeare.

Finally, if you have never explored the dynamic possibilities of a piece with which you are very familiar after a few glasses of wine, providing you are able constitutionally and legally to do this, you are missing out. After all, alcohol is not only a depressent, but a relaxer of inhibitions, and our inhibitions are often the violinists greatest enemy. "

I think it is wrong to connect mood altering substances as a "close connection", though certainly some may exist. A mother rocking her baby and singing lullaby rarely has a glass of wine; and, is as much the origins of music as we know it as any other form. And the Sunday morning hymns are rarely underwritten by a good belt.

Moreover, where these connections do exist, and there are as many where it does not exist, the music would be enhancing the altered state rather than vica versa, though the music has sometimes predominated as the end result.

The fact is that where alcohol and drugs are part of the music culture, it is recognized as a serious problem, nothing more and nothing less. And even in those cultural expressions where alcohol is present, it is as mixed concerning those whose constitutions really allow them to be at their best and those whose music degrades proportionally based on consumption.

And to the extent that it is correct that lightweight spirits were the standards, which I think is probably incorrect as well where they existed, the silent majority as well knew that alcohol might relax the nerves, but dulls the music; and, the tradition of a drink sometimes turns negatively far too quickly.

Finally, for a serious musician, playing serious music, there are now much more effective ways of getting on that performance level of focus and success that are very much life and music enhancing rather than detrimental.

I agree totally with the logic that a glass of wine probably doesn't hurt anyone. But, a musician should practice every day; and, more often than not the idea that a glass of wine helps comes to mean drinking every day for a lot of musicians--too many. More insidiously I've known few people who drink every day and can handle it well, and that would especially be true for musicians.

Do exceptions to all this exist? Of course, but I think they are that: exceptions--definitely not a close connection. The interpretation of culture really should begin with the interpretation of the individual rather than a watering down average or mean--far too often the tree in the forest. Paul Bunyon was an effective image for work ethic, but not for 'everyman'. That is how cultural stereotypes are formed and work.

The sparking wine and jazz imagery stakeholders knows very well how to capitalize on these dynamics--"Choose your poison" thinking. Basically, the greater truth remains, "pretty is, as pretty does" as a somewhat cheezy but nonetheless real expression of that silent majority's experience.

My 83 year old conservatory mentor has been drunk on music for 75 years, and never drank, and her Mozart on piano though technically too demanding for her now, is nonetheless intact and lucid. Her memory from violin is 100% present and she corrects me as if she had played it yesterday rather than sixty years ago. Important:::"This" is why music and alcohol do not mix.

Music, is and should be intoxicating of itself. Irregardless if we cheat to help it along, it is still cheating and truly, in this sense, becomes a chosen poison.

July 6, 2007 at 11:58 PM · Very thought provoking topic. I will now look somewhat askance at the bottle next time I think of having a beer. I wil reach for an apple juice instead.

Have we got time for just one, very short aside? Could someone define, in precise English, the meaning of the word "cheezy", which Albert has mentioned and one other recent thread also uses. I just don't understand this word at all. I gather it means something like "weakly sentimental". Is that correct? This is a legitimate, honest request for enlightenment.

July 6, 2007 at 11:59 PM · Cheesy: Of poor quality; shoddy. From "The American Heritage Dictionary", 4th edition.

A more informal definition might be "tacky; in poor taste".

July 7, 2007 at 12:36 AM · not really tacky I think--more like something that would make one roll their eyes and shake their head. Silly, slap-stick, something like that.

July 7, 2007 at 01:05 AM · Thanks Anne and Albert!

One other observation re alcohol and its harmful effects in music:

When I was a university student we all went on occasional "pub crawls" into the early hours of the morning (don't know if they call it that in the US) - especially after exams. The zaniest things would happen. I remember having an argument with one girl about the Jews and the Nazis in a basement nightclub. She shouted into my ear, and I would listen carefully, then she would turn her head and I would then shout into her ear, while she listened carefully. Bizarre. Both drunk of course. The music so loud we had to do that to understand one another.

The point is that you do things 'under the influence' that you wouldn't normally do. Namely, stand next to enormous speakers while damaging your hearing. I used to wake up the next morning with ringing in my ears. That's actually what made me give up the late night sessions.

July 7, 2007 at 03:55 AM · I heard Szeryng play the Mendelssohn concerto on his Guarnerius (Guarneri probably used to drink a bit too, which would explain why some of his violins look so rough), and all I can say is, his performance was the memory of a lifetime.


July 7, 2007 at 06:47 AM · Speaking of memories and alcohol. They've recently discovered something that seems pretty revolutionary about memory. I think it was due to a grad student at McGill just working with rats in a maze and accidently stumbling onto it. They were giving a rat a learning-inhibitng drug and testing him in the maze. They accidently discovered that when it was drugged and had to recall something he already knew, the learning inhibiting drug caused him to appear to have forgotten it. They refined the experiment to see if the drug had caused some kind of general amnesia and discovered that it hadn't. It was only the specific memories that were recalled under the drug that were affected. They've repeated similar experiments in humans with the same results.

The conclusion they've come to is that a memory is re-created when it's remembered. Not only recalled, but created anew at that moment. That's how the learning-inhibiting drug erased memories that were recalled. I think that has really profound implications in psychology and also the brain as a machine, for example it's a very naturally efficient use of the physical brain space. It also explains things like why memories of events become less accurate with the passage of time - each re-creation happens in a different present context.

A long time ago something bad happened and the memory of it had me in a bad state of affairs. I couldn't deal with it and it caused me to have the strangest feeling of my life, a weird feeling like I was sinking into the ground. Just nothing left. I said dudes, what am I going to do, I don't trust myself. One guy said red wine. I think he said it had to be from Chile :) He said go on a drunk of successive nights and it will melt away and fade a little each time. It was something I hadn't seriously tried, so I loaded up on Chilean Cabernet or something and went on a drunk that lasted a week or two. And of course it puts you in a warm fuzzy mood and and whatever you recall you recall in that context. So when I heard about the McGill discovery I thought that's how that worked. It works. Just don't become an alcoholic. I didn't, in case there was some doubt :)

July 7, 2007 at 02:02 PM · So, after diligently reading all the posts on thsi topic and not skipping any, I wonder why the obsession with alcohol as an intoxicating substance to put in your body in order to feel comfortable on stage?

I'm not a drinker. Lucky me. Now, I am thinking in terms of a little bit of a different approach to this question.

THere are medications now more widely available for disorders of the nerves and minds that have opened up the opporitunities of life, including music-making and music career for many people. The more widely available medical and psychiatric care is quite recent, so perhaps we might cut some slack to these performers and ask ourselves if maybe in our day it would have been different. They would have had access to medication? As one who takes medications for various reasons daily, I have to continually question myself about the effects of these medications on my ability to analyze and percieve my playing and what is going on around me. How tight am I with the rest of the section or with the quartet or with the piano etc. etc.

For those totally inhibited by nerves, I can see how having a few drinks would make their music more relaxed. But now we have better solutions for that.

And what about pain medications? Should those in pain take equally intoxicating meds when they are playing or about to play or practicing? For a professional musician, that is a hard question. But I have decided that playing in pain makes worse music than if I treat the pain. And I do believe that the body adapts to the medication and the musician in me adapts to playing with that substance in me. But there is a difference between falling over-intoxicated and taking medication to make ourselves feel well enough to play. It is a fine line in the decision-making process.

You just have to do your best to make the most professional, responsible, and best-informed decision for your particular situation.

As for someone who has no condition or problems psychiatricly or medically, I wouldn't see the point in drinking before playing....then again, we all know that the unstable drinker is the most detrimental to their own self and careers.

Does this mean we must rely on the opinions of others to determine whether or not we should take anything to enhance or allow a performance?

This is a VERY complex issue, not merely bound to the most obvious cultural response (as others have brought up what is the norm for beverages in various cultures).

There is a basic answer to the question, though it is complex in my mind. Whatever substance one takes, whether directly because of performance, or regardless of does it AFFECT performance for that particular person. Ask others around you for advice in that area, as it is hard to tell about yourself.

Not a moral question. Just like any other question we'd ask ourselves about our performing and practicing because we care so much about being the best we can be.

(I think I am awake now, wow. One of these days someone is going to have to teach me to overcome this verbosity).



July 8, 2007 at 05:49 PM · How about ginger beer for the non-AAA members?

July 8, 2007 at 07:37 PM · ...or out of it :)

No worse than Prunes.


July 8, 2007 at 07:48 PM · I used to suffer very badly with exam nerves, but was amazed that my teacher suggested 'a wee dram' (of whisky) would help. Didn't do it though because I would have had to drive myself home afterwards.

I can't comment on attitudes to alcohol in Europe, but the Romans had us Brits sussed two thousand years ago when they brought over their wine and got us intoxicated. Shamefully, we forgot everything else they taught us like how to make glass and wash, but we never lost the taste for alcohol.

I always sounds better when I've had an alcoholic drink, but that's only my perception - probably not a shared one.

July 12, 2007 at 08:14 AM · 'Reasonable quantity' can be interpreted in different ways. We shouldn't forget that there were as well violinists who destroyed their lives with alcohol: Christian Ferras or Joseph Wolfsthal for example.

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