There was a period – probably a couple of months – where the music ‘work’ (in a fairly broad sense) I was doing kept me doing a quite neatly balanced amount of playing violin and viola. Broadly, I was doing one-off classical jobs on viola (lots of practising orchestral parts!) and band practices on violin (using the pickup, quite a lot of writing my own parts, playing from memory / by ear / improvising, a lot more emphasis on the looks of the thing). Not an even distribution as such, but a division of labour that kept me in training on both.
That’s changed this month. Partly because I happen to have a period of a lot of band gigs (four in the course of February) and not much orchestral work (nothing between last weekend and mid-March at the moment); also because the freelance work I have picked up has temporarily swung to violin – both the just gone opera job and a St Patrick’s gig doing solo Irish folk and sitting in with a function band. At present the only viola job I’ve got in the diary is a choral/orchestral concert six weeks away which I won’t have the music to for probably five weeks.
So what’s the big deal with that? I hear you ask. Well, between you, me and the whole of the public internet, I tend to be rather reactive about music practice. Most of the time, I practice almost exclusively for the upcoming performances / recordings. Just working on technique or polishing up a solo repertoire rarely grabs my attention – there tend to be so many other things to do, like updating my blog, and doing laundry, and my part-time desk job, and sleeping …
And while violin and viola are similar (compared to the difference between, say, guitar and flute), they’re not so similar as to be able to leave one on one side for two months to play the other and then come back to it without a drop in standard – particularly if I want to play sympathetically to the inherent qualities of the instruments, rather than just produce the right notes. (As my viola-playing father always insists, and I entirely agree, a viola is not a violin transposed down a fifth!)
The frontman (if he’s human – I’m not sure) of the Filthy Spectacula asked me in a recent practice ‘What can you play?’. I reeled off various things that I can get a tune or some chords out of more or less, then pointed out that the more important question might be what do I own: I can make a passable fist of mandolin, for instance, but I’ve never owned one, so it would be a big ask to want me to play it in band gigs to change the sound up!
It’s fashionable to talk about the ‘time-rich’ and the ‘money-rich’ as if it was a zero-sum, and those with no money to spare must have time on their hands. That’s not a good principle, and nor is the reverse that the wealthy have no spare time or effort. But while I certainly can’t afford the money to own all the instruments I can sort of play (‘Hello. I’d like to buy a bass guitar, a mandolin, a mandocello, a ukelele, a bouzouki, a double bass, a djembe and a tambourine please … oh, and a melodica. Is credit card all right?’), I think I will need to muster the time to make sure I can really play the instruments I own good examples of. (The cheap tin whistle can probably deal with staying neglected in a drawer for a bit longer.)