Monday, 1 August 2011

Are you a violin or a big bass drum?

I was listening to BBC Radio 2 the other morning. I always enjoy their Thought for the Day and that morning it was given by Rabbi YY Rubinstein. He was talking about the terrible killings in Norway and expressed his regret that the perpetrator was so full of hate for others. Rabbi YY went on to liken the human race to an orchestra. It's made up of many different instruments which each create very different sounds and yet, when they all play together, they can harmonise so beautifully.

I love this analogy and it also works on a smaller scale... our community, our family and friends, even the characters in our writing.

A number of my friends are pianos. They’re happy to join in with the others but they’re just as comfortable assuming a solo role.

I know a kettle drum. She rarely speaks, prefers to sit and listen, but when she does say something, everyone takes notice and her words resonate.

I suspect that a lot of us, myself included, are second violins. As long as we’re not too tightly strung, we’ll harmonise with the rest of the orchestra and not stand out in a discordant way.

It’s sometimes quite the opposite with my writing. All my characters want to be a solo piano and, although I tend to throw in the odd glockenspiel, I wonder if I have enough second violins, enough support characters, to ensure that my scenes are realistic.

If I could choose an instrument to be, I’d be a silver saxophone... mellow, sensual and commanding everyone’s attention... but then even a violin can dream.

What instrument would you like to be? 

Rabbi YY is a well-know Jewish speaker. You can read the transcripts of some of his talks here.


  1. I love this idea. I think maybe I'm some sort of drum - a quieter, more muffled drum. I do tend to do things in a syncopated way, I'm a bit off-rhythm. I would love to be an oboe - mellow, true, beautiful, soaring, catching at the heart unexpectedly.

  2. Isn't music amazing? It's so wonderful the way you can liken it to the human race or writing or cooking. When I think of you, I hear the "Girl from Ipanema. You know the instruments in that.


  3. A lovely this Blog and what a wonderful way of imagining us all living in harmony, each the perfect instrument. If only!

  4. Lovely analogy Rosalind, and I love the animated cello (or is it a double bass?) playing itself!
    @sueperfluous... I agree! I was about to say I'd love to be an oboe and you put it beautifully - that's just how I feel about the sound of an oboe. Never mind, room for more than one oboe in an orchestra right?! Jane Gray

  5. I love this analogy. In groups, I'm more like the kettle drum. One on one, I can be a bit more like a solo piano.

    I read the beginnings of a YA novel once--can't remember the name of it now--but the MC thought of her friends like the instruments they played in band. It was a fascinating way to look at things. :)

  6. Maybe I'm a non-achiever but I love being a violin, any violin.

  7. Hi Ros .. gosh I'd be anything if I could play in tune .. and play or keep time (full stop!) ... but I'd definitely like to be in there - don't leave me out!! So .. the door opener to let the orchestra in .. that I could do safely! Cheers Hilary

  8. Me, I'm the triangle. There but rarely heard.

  9. Hi Sue, I thought about wanting to be an oboe too because they're so serene but the responsibility of having to tune the entire orchestra would weigh too heavily on my wooden shoulders!

    Hi Manzanita, I'm not sure about the Girl from Ipanema but I do agree with you that music is truly amazing :-)

    Hi Pauline, if only indeed!

    Thanks Jane and hi. Funny how so many of us are thinking about being an oboe.

    Hi Cherie, as I've created this analogy, I will most definitely allow you to be more than one instrument as long as you don't get confused.

    Hang on, GigglesandGuns, I never said that violins were non-achievers. We're all pretty darned skilled us 2nd violins. It's just that there are so many of us in a full orchestra.

    Hi Hilary, I'm sorry but the door opener is not a musical instrument (unless someone has placed the tuba there to get some fresh air into the room!) If you're feeling insecure about this then do please join Bob as a triangle.

    Hi Bob, nice shape you've got there and a lovely sound too ;-)

  10. What a fab analogy! I used to play second flute as a kid, which was perfect. You don't have to be that lone voice ever, but your support is essential.

  11. I think I'm a piano - I love to play with others and harmonize and blend, but sometimes I like to shine on my own too. Then I want to blend again. First I'm shy, then a show-off, then shy again.

  12. This is such a unique idea! I'd love to be a piano, but my family takes me about as seriously as a kazoo! Julie

  13. Nice idea, if I was an instrument I'd be a trumpet - only used on the best of occasions! haha! No, I'm probably more like a piano!

    Duncan In Kuantan

  14. I'd like to be an oboe. You only need one or two of them, and they have a very unique voice. :)

  15. Hi Beth, that's exactly why I've chosen second flute for myself. We can both feel safe but still be needed.

    Hi Melissa, what a lovely way of putting it... and a piano you shall be!

    Hi Julie, there's nothing wrong with being a kazoo. I used to love the song 'Rosie' from the 1960s that was played on the kazoo.

    Hi Duncan, I rather like the idea of the trumpet, shiny and eager with a clear voice that carries far.

    Hi Talli, letting you into a secret, many years ago I played the oboe in the school orchestra VERY BADLY so it has coloured my feelings about it these days but it is a lovely sound.

  16. I would like to be a clarinet so that I could be either assertive and do the odd solo but also be an exquisite sound maker in a group that makes people feel good!

  17. A very interesting analogy! I would like to be a flute. Just love the flute!

  18. Though I play violin, I would be an oboe--usually unheard, but when it sounds it is haunting and memorable.

    Tossing It Out

  19. What a lovely analogy for people, can use it for my current MC! :) I'm so unmusical myself I wouldn't know what instrument I am...maybe a second violin.

  20. love this analogy. I'd like to be something like a flute.

  21. I'd like to be bells or a piano. But I'm pretty sure I'm a second violin also.

  22. Good choice, Susan. Clarinets have a beautiful sound.

    Hi Ann, a flute it is then. My daughter made the most enchanting music on her flute... many years ago.

    Hi Arlee, aha, another oboe and yes, we'd all like to be haunting and memorable.

    Hi Damyanti, there's nothing wrong with being a second violin and feel free to use the analogy with your MC.

    Hi Lynda, thanks and flute is a good choice.

    Hi Rebecca, bells always seem so frivolous and I suspect they're not taken too seriously by the others. You're very welcome to come and join us in the violin section.

  23. Hi Rosalind! Just wanted to let you know I've given you a long overdue honorable mention on my blog. Thanks for all you do! Julie

  24. Though I love to play drums, I don't think I'd consider myself one. I love violins--but I find that they can be too melodramatic...I think I'd be an electric guitar--since they can do both energetic rock and mellow acoustic.

  25. I would be a cello. Hanging out in the background being mellow. I love the analogy and I love music!

  26. Gosh, this is an interesting post. There are days I'm a trombone and other days when I am just a broken drum!

    I'm going to be thinking about this today.

    Cool thought provoking writing.

  27. Some days I feel a little primal, so I'd be a simple tanned drum. such a wonderful analogy by both the rabbi and you. I loved this post!

  28. What a lovely post. I'm a piano, because it can do everything. Musical notes need context and a piano can be polyphonic as well as a solo voice. You have everything you need to make a piece of music understood.
    But actually, I think I'd be an enharmonic keyboard. It's a rather unusual piano that splits the black notes into their two true tones. On a conventional piano, D sharp and E flat are one note, but musically they are distinct. The enharmonic piano, a rather experimental instrument, has two notes for every black one, by a rather complicated feat of engineering. The sound is provocative and divided. It looks like the bonnet of a van.


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