boozing on the bow strings?

August 25, 2010 at 06:58 PM ·

i can play better after one glass of wine or one microbrew.  after that, i play worse.  some world-famous orchestra players said they had a rule, NEVER MORE THAN ONE BOTTLE OF WINE BEFORE A PERFORMANCE.  they know who they are.  what do you think?  

Replies (29)

August 25, 2010 at 07:23 PM ·

Well, I have 30ys serious guitar picking behind me. With one band it went this way: arriving at the location - 1st beer. Unloading the truck - 2nd beer. Equipment ready on stage - what about another cool one?

You can imagine the rest, but never anyone was drunk or played bad. It was a wedding band, and surviving wasn't  possible without a little help.

This was long ago. Three years ago I had to play violin (classical) at an opening of a picture exhibition, together with my new pianist. I just wanted to accept the offered tiny glass of champagne, when I caught a horrified look from my partner. "You won't drink this now, won't you???" I replied "but this is just a small glass -" "but you'll have to perform, this is no barndance".

She was right. I never drink any alcohol before playing the violin.

August 25, 2010 at 07:28 PM ·

I don't touch my viola if I've had ANY alcohol, because I'd be fearful of dropping it.  I will play the piano (badly) if I've had alcohol (can't drop that, I can't even pick it up!), but even a half-glass will cause deterioration.  I can improv a bit when I've had a drink, or just piddle around on modulations and some riffs, but if I'm woodshedding anything, which is often, I don't dare.  Come to think of it, I don't even like drinking when I'm noodling around, because the last time I did that and tried to notate what I had done, I wrote it down one fifth too high.  >_O

Booze + music = crappy music

Unless you are a listener, upon which point the equation might read:

Booze + crappy music = music

August 25, 2010 at 09:58 PM ·

I lov to dwn a few drniks bfoer a cncert

August 25, 2010 at 10:03 PM ·

A conductor was putting on a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony at 8.  Unfortunately, his chorus couldn't be there until 6, so he started rehearsal without them.  In the middle of the rehearsal, the air conditioning broke, so they brought out huge fans to keep the orchestra cool.  This worked, but the conductor's score kept blowing away, so he had to tie it down.  During this, the bass section and two cellists decided that they had had enough, so they went to the tavern across the street and got really drunk.  In fact, the two cellists never came back.  So six-o-clock rolls around and the chorus arrived.  By then the air conditioning had been fixed and they continued with the rehearsal.  Finally, it was 8 and the concert began.  The concert was almost finished when the air conditioning went out again, so the fans were brought out and the conductor tied his score down.  It was very hard to try and turn the page while conducting, and he was about to quit, because it was the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied, the basses were loaded, there were two outs, and the fans were going wild.

August 25, 2010 at 10:08 PM ·

Well, I'm a fiddler, but this may be one time where violinists and fiddlers are a lot alike.

I always try and find the balance between where alcohol degrades my playing less than my hearing; that is where I usually sound the best.

August 25, 2010 at 10:27 PM ·

I've heard it said that a classical violinist could drink a rock star under the table any night. In my experience with these guys and gals, I think it's true :) Yep, a few drinks for me anytime if I don't have to drive. Doesn't seem to affect my playing, but I could be wrong :)

August 25, 2010 at 11:56 PM ·

Well, as someone who likes a few beers, I've found that even one small one affects my playing badly - the awareness and reactions just aren't there. And that's not as a soloist - just in the 1st violin section. So I have to wait until afterwards and then do my best to catch up!

August 26, 2010 at 03:27 AM ·

Some people are debilitated by nerves.  If a glass of wine helps calm the nerves, then the relaxing positive effect may outweigh the negative. 


August 26, 2010 at 07:27 AM ·

I live in France and play 2nd violin. I think I have a pretty high tolerance for champagne, considering how often we have it here. If a fly burps, it's a good reason to pop a cork. Rehearsals are Tuesdays, and we just happened to have guests over for an "apero" that day (most of our neighbors are retired so this happens quite often). I decided to allow myself one glass of champagne and I was off to the rehearsal. I drove the car perfectly fine and didn't feel tipsy at all, after all it was only one flute of chamapange (in a Waterford champagne flute just to make them upset, which are bigger than these silly little French champagne flutes). But, I was completely incapable of playing the violin and even hiccuped during a coda. So NO MORE CHAMPAGNE for me before a rehearsal!

August 26, 2010 at 07:31 AM ·

Well I've been to more than a couple of chamber music parties where alcohol was served in large quantities.  Drunk Shostakovich quartets are very unique sounding.  I remember thinking we sounded amazing but I doubt very highly that a pair of sober ears would agree.

August 26, 2010 at 07:41 AM ·

I have used booze in the past to loosen up my mind for some creative thinking but I'm can't help feeling that any "need" to take alcohol in order to be able to perform could be the start of a slippery slope.

August 26, 2010 at 08:31 AM ·

"Drunk Shostakovich quartets are very unique sounding"

Personally, Shosta quartets ALWAYS sound like that, drunk or not!

I've been to quite a few music get togethers where wine ran freely and it was generally used as an excuse for how we were playing! That's understandable ;o)

August 26, 2010 at 09:16 AM ·

 Josh I was at that performance; It ended with Timpanist missing the strike, First bass sliding to the ground and Conductor screaming foul play. The lights went out and all the fans were upset.

August 26, 2010 at 10:15 PM ·

" … can't help feeling that any 'need' to take alcohol in order to be able to perform could be the start of a slippery slope."

Agreed.  And I feel strongly that the earlier in life one learns this lesson, the better.

Dad was a very moderate drinker -- no drunkenness allowed in our home; and Mom became a teetotaler early in life -- probably before I was born.

I was 7 years old when Dad and I were sitting alone together in the den.  I asked him if I could have a sip of -- well, whatever the dark red concoction was in the small glass on the table.

Dad knew exactly what he was doing.  With me right next to him, where he could watch carefully, he allowed me to have what I asked for -- just that one sip.  No ill effects on me, no tipsiness.  But the taste was a big turn-off.  From that day to this, I've had nothing alcoholic -- no interest or desire for it.  BTW, as I recall, Dad himself had no alcohol the last 20-25 years of his life.

If people drink responsibly, in moderation, I don't have a problem with this.  It's drunkenness that causes harm.  I wince when I hear of the needless misery and heartache stemming from alcoholic excesses -- health problems, auto wrecks, destroyed careers, ruined marriages, unhappy children -- and must take this opportunity to speak up once again for temperance and self-control.

August 27, 2010 at 05:44 AM ·

Although I am breaking out of character, I agree that anytime you thing you 'need' alcohol, that is the best time to run like hell the other direction. I drink, in moderation; hasn't always been the case. From both sides, if I had to choose too much or none, I'd choose none.

August 27, 2010 at 04:23 PM ·

I keep thinking of Eddie Van Halen -- and I know I'm probably in a very small minority here in considering him the Paganini of the modern age (possibly even in listening to or really liking rock), but he is an absolutely brilliant musician.  And alcohol dependency chopped his knees out from under him, starting from a very young age when he drank to "loosen up" and came to associate playing with booze.  That dependency mowed down one of the finest technical guitarists that's ever lived.

There are ways to deal with performance fears that work, and we know what they are.  Alcohol isn't one of them, and an awful lot of incredibly gifted musicians have cracked up in that particular ditch.  One should never do anything to associate picking up or sitting down at one's instrument with addictive substances of any kind.  And I'm saying this as someone who really likes a good margarita or bottle of wine.

August 28, 2010 at 06:21 AM ·

According to the book "Under the Influence" alcohol is a stimulant in low doses. It boosts your brain power like caffiene or cocaine. I play really good with about 12 ounces of wine 12% alcohol. But then it wears off and when you drink more it might be too much and you cant play anything right at all.

August 28, 2010 at 07:11 AM ·

Hmmmm, so maybe that's what happened to me!

August 29, 2010 at 05:14 PM ·

I have a simple suggestion, so probably someone did it a long time ago: do the test. Record your playing and repeat it after some alcohol, drink more and so on. You will be surprised!


October 16, 2010 at 07:38 AM ·

 This is a very interesting topic.  A fellow colleague of mine, a pianist - has a ritual where he must have one glass of wine before every performance. I've never heard him play a wrong note, and apparently every single time I've heard him play, he's either tipsy, or flat-out DRUNK. I've personally taken one tiny glass of wine before performing - but I can't really give you an honest opinion, because they were pieces that I'd been playing since I was 7. haha. It's not like I needed to use my brain to play anyway, so..the alcohol affects probably weren't apparent in that case. I've also played in orchestra pits for tiny theatre gigs - (broadway music mostly) and it just makes it more fun, I guess. It's not exactly professional but, they failed to ever pay, that's just..a whole other level of discussion..

October 16, 2010 at 07:53 AM ·

I practise in the morning and in the evening.  the morning session is after breakfast (the most dangerous substance: fried tomatoes) the evening one after dinner and a glass of red wine. 

Its amazing what a difference there is and how much even a little wine deteriorates not only my playing but also my capacity to learn.  Sure, it feels good (which is probably why I still do it) and I can have fun with pieces - really let go and relax - but technically there seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of alcohol and my ability to play hard pieces.

Perhaps thats the dichotomy.  Alcohol deteriorates coordination and thinking speed but it enhances freedom to express and musicality.  Sure would explain why someone who was technically brilliant might sacrifice a bit of that for musical performance.

October 16, 2010 at 11:27 AM ·

Szerying apparently got fairly well plastered before his performances.  He'd do Paganini perfectly on stage, and then be obviously not sober as soon as he got backstage.  Who knows how that works?  

THe only time I tried anything like that was a stage rehearsal of an opera in college where I was the concertmaster.   Connected to the event was an afternoon recital with a champagne reception,  and I and a bunch of friends had forgotten we had a rehearsal in the evening.   I was a little worried going in but felt that I was doing OK.  Unfortunately, I found out later that I was kind of a mess until the third act.

Moral:  OK to drink a lot before playing if you're in training.  But that likely means becoming an alcoholic, which is never a good thing.


October 16, 2010 at 11:43 AM ·

Especially for orchestral playing, I won't drink anything before a performance. Even a half-pint or a glass of wine is enough to take the edge of the reactions and awareness. Do my best to catch up afterwards though.

October 16, 2010 at 01:32 PM ·

Hmmm; an extremely personal topic, to be sure.  Everyone is different, bio-chemically speaking. Some of us get plastered on one drink, while others have a seemingly limitless capacity.  I've been a seisun fiddler and guitarist in local pubs for over eight years now, and I've seen all manner of "variations" on this theme!

My experience has taught me that you are the worst possible judge of your own playing ability when substance dependency/abuse is involved. Your critical-analytical skills, whatever level they may be at, are very likely to go right down the tubes when dulled by alcohol or drugs.  Want an impartial estimation of how you sound?  Ask a non-drinker. 

Don't get me wrong.  I'm no prude when it comes to alcohol.  I love to have a pint of stout close at hand while I'm at seisun. Having said that, I'm careful to limit my intake to one pint over the course of a three-hour seisun. Frequently, I'll stick to a glass of ice water with a piece of lime.

A number of respondants have cited examples of performers (even world-class ones)  who couldn't function without adequate "lubrication". Anyone with that sort of chemical dependency has the proverbial lampshade on his/her head.  Some of you are obviously convinced that the lampshade, in your particular case, is quite becoming.  However, a lampshade by any other name is still a lampshade!

October 16, 2010 at 01:33 PM ·

In jazz and folk music circles where it's not uncommon to have a drink before going on stage, and to have a drink or two during the gig (as I shall tonight in a barndance gig) it's often the case that the performers like to have a drink or two when rehearsing, as do folk music sessions in pubs.  So they/we are well used to it.  But I never drink drink before a classical concert.

Some years ago we were holidaying in a little village in the Austrian Alps and went to an evening concert in the village square given by the town band.  The band marched into the square, resplendent in their blue and gold uniforms, got themselves organised and started playing in front of the two or three hundred audience sitting at tables.  After every number a couple of costumed pretty young women brought steins of beer on stage to the band, while others circulated in the audience.  The playing didn't resume until the steins were empty.  As the evening wore on the musical results were entirely predictable, as was the manner in which the band "marched" out of the square to their HQ afterwards; but it didn't matter in the slightest because the audience had been matching the band's imbibing, stein for stein.

[Added edit] I've just seen David Light's post.  I agree with his comment about having only one pint in the course of a 2-3 hour music session in a pub.  The practicality of playing music more or less continuously for that period of time is that you don't get all that much opportunity to do a lot of drinking – just a quick sip after a tune set – so a pint of Guinness can last most of the evening.  The other consideration of course is the law on drink and driving in most countries.  If I feel in need of a drink towards the end I'll have a coffee or a fruit drink, although if a pub customer offers to buy us a round, as sometimes happens, it seems churlish to refuse a half-pint (although I don't necessarily have to drink all of it – depends whether I'm walking home, which I usually do).   

October 16, 2010 at 10:50 PM · Churlish, indeed, Trevor!

October 27, 2010 at 03:16 PM ·

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy :-)

October 27, 2010 at 06:05 PM ·

Smiley only if your hands do not tremble like jelly on springs.

October 30, 2010 at 01:00 AM ·

Smiley, you're a caution, to be sure!

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