Alcohol and playing an instrument
We hear of brass players' fondness for beer.
But I'm going to assume that alcohol and playing the violin is a total no-no, but I want you to fess up - how many of you have ever combined the two?
When I was 17 I drank a pint of weak beer before a piano lesson, and my playing was very, very bad, but the teacher didn't say anything.
The only time I ever played the oboe drunk (half a bottle of Southern Comfort drunk) was one Christmas when a relative brow-beat me into it.
30 years later that same relative said to me "I remember you once played the oboe for me, and, frankly, you wasn't (sic) very good."
I mostly play the uke after at least one beer, but then I'm singing too.
I hope I never play the violin after alcohol. If only because I don't want to damage the instrument.
I would never drink before a lesson ( too early anyway) or anytime that someone had to listen to me, but I’m sure I’ve got home, after a hard day, and grabbed a glass of red to nurse before heading into the practice room.
There are a handful of players who seemed to be able to combine the two activities. Szeryng is one that springs to mind. On the whole, though, it is a bad idea.
I'll usually have a pint before a concert - no problem (or at least, no complaints). When in the audience I hate to watch players who seem inhibited; you'll never get that from me.
I've had a drink before a rehearsal maybe half a dozen times over the years, and once I played an evening concert after having two beers at a very late lunch (3pm). No ill effects from any of those. I think the concert performance may even have been helped slightly by the alcohol because I was playing with a shoulder injury and that shoulder was constantly tense. But I've never played a string instrument when anywhere near drunk.
I played guitar in a cover band many years ago. We usually had two beers before we started at all and three or more while playing... never a problem.
There's some written about this subject in Artur Rubinstein's memoir. About how he'd go to a dinner party, and after being wined and dined people would expect him to "play something." And of course -- according to him -- he nailed it every time.
Unfortunately, I have some relevant experience with this topic. Before or during a classical concert or rehearsal--Never. The technical difficulty, complexity of the music, and the expectations of the audience are high. But non-classical genres are different, different musical sub-cultures. If ethyl alcohol were a new drug instead an ancient one, it would probably not be approved by the FDA because the therapeutic dose  is too close to the over-dose [2-3] level, and the risk of addiction is too high; 2-10%, depending on how you define it. Benefits of 1 dose: relaxes the muscles, slows down my vibrato, suppresses the distracting mental chatter when playing from memory, releases the inhibitions when improvising (fear of playing a wrong note), kills stage-fright. I have never tried beta-blockers.
Some studies have show that, if one is to perform well "under the influence", one is supposed to practice under the same conditions (a.k.a. intoxicated).
Rocky, I see your point, but suppose one actually
I play a mix of pop, classical an everything in between.
Violin requires too intense of focus for booze to do anything positive for your playing, but despite that, I have mixed the two many times in the past.
I do a sort of relaxed get-together with a friend weekly and we rehearse stuff. Sometimes we'll get some food and have a drink beforehand, and it never helps. Even one drink, doesn't destroy my playing or anything, but just makes it a little bit sloppy.
I had a few glasses of wine once and recorded myself playing the Mozart oboe concerto in C that I was playing for my recital, and it was terrible, haha! However, I've also been recorded playing guitar and singing after a few (read: at least four) beers and it sounded pretty darn good.
A useful rule of thumb during a concert is to encourage the audience to imbibe more than the orchestra during the interval ;)
Music appropriate to this discussion:
I had a russian teacher who seemed to me was a in an intimate relationship with alcohol. Every time I went to class, he had a bunch of bottles scattered around his studio.
I always play MUCH better after a few drinks. Well, as long as you don't ask anyone else that is...
Clearly mention of the word "alcohol" immediately causes a polarization into pro- and anti- factions, even before it's associated with "playing an instrument". Each to his or her poison; we're all dying at faster or slower rates and apparently even sausages will accelerate the process.
One of the greatest trombonists I know will/can only play a concert drunk with a flask in his tux jacket to pass around his section.
Bazzini - Round of the Goblets
Martini - The Devil's Thrill Sonata
Here is a Latin haiku poem descriptive of more than one Irish session I've been to:
Alcohol? You need to find something more natural.
I found that ANY alcohol before I play is an absolute no-no. Even half a pint of beer. My co-ordination and control just isn't there.
Yeah definitely no alcohol before a concert for me. Henryk Szeryng always played his concerts completely drunk. So it’s possible if you’re super brilliant like him.
A functioning alcoholic is still an addict.
There is a famous story about Rostropovich and Shostakovich. ""[Shostakovich] gave me the score of his first Cello Concerto, and in four days I memorized it and played it for him while he accompanied me on piano. We were so happy, we drank a little vodka together.? We then played it again, not so perfectly, and drank more vodka. The third time I think I played the Saint-Saens Concerto while he accompanied his own concerto. We were very happy."
Once I was asked to play in a musical trio for an evening dinner for an Episcopal women's group. Statewide group with 200 or so attendees. I was on lead acoustic guitar at the time (before my viola days) and joined by a rhythm guitarist and a cellist. We had a fifth of Woodford Reserve with us and have to say it was a very laid back and enjoyable session.
Bruce that's a great story. And I can imagine Shostakovich telling the same tale - but finishing the same story with "and I played The Elgar orchestra reduction while he played mine! We were very happy..."
I once tried wine for performance nerves. Not only did it barely work, but it made me lose any technical control that the nerves hadn't already taken away. Understand why people might choose to drink, but it doesn't seem to go well with a performing career!
One glass of wine... but no more... helps for my nerves. Sort of. Nothing really *helps* them lol. I have the shakiest bow ever..
I was used to have one drink (wine, because I absolutely hate beer) in the middle of a performance when I was playing the guitar with my rock bands. But never combine alcohol with violin, it is nonsense for me.
Alcohol can be very selective it seems. It always affects my stomach: it is poison, after all. I have read that in some it only affects the legs (I have a friend who can barely walk and is never sick), although I'd guess all extremities (my friend isn't a musician, so I don't know). Dylan Thomas used to turn up at the BBC nearly unable to stand, to the extent that the producer often considered cancelling the broadcast, but upon relenting, Thomas would read his poetry perfectly in front of the microphone.
Wow, you encouraged me to create a new thread about smoking and instruments, which I've been always curious about.
I did play Irish violin music for a St. Patrick's Day party many years ago continually fueled by Irish whisky. Fortunately that music is easy to play, even when fueled thusly, and I was even more inspired by the drunker man who insisted on standing about a foot from my scroll practically swooning over the music and exclaiming how it brought back memories of his Irish childhood. (So, one vote for not so bad!)
One of my teachers was unquestionably an alcoholic. It never seemed to affect his playing, though, not even when he'd drunk so much he didn't feel he could drive.
Henryk Szeryng was a heavy drunker... I've heard that someone asked you "how can you play drunk?". "I have a secret, in order to play drunk, you have to study drunk".
There may be something to that. I had a supervisor who went through a bunch of dental work, occasionally coming in kind of looped from the pain meds. One time, she was enough gone that she signed papers with the wrong date-- which happened to be from the last time she'd had the drugs.
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