The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

October 20, 2007

The trumpet is a harsh mistress

trumpet mouthpieceAt the end of one episode of Grey's Anatomy, Burke and George can be seen (but not heard) jamming along one evening, seemingly enjoying themselves. Burke is playing the trumpet, and George is playing the clarinet. It is the only reference that I've so far come across in the series that the two of them are playing musical instruments.

I do not personally know any hospital doctor playing the trumpet or clarinet, but to me it seems about as realistic as Monica of Friends being a chef, yet also being able to spend most evenings at home. That degree of realism would be "extremely unlikely".

For the trumpet is a harsh mistress. She demands your constant attention. One hour per day is the minimum you have to spend with her, and I doubt whether a doctor like Burke with 48-hour shifts and all that can really spare the necessary amount of time to practice regularly. But ignore your trumpet one day, and much of the time that you have invested in your relationship will have been in vain. Things that were well worked out and went smoothly the day before yesterday will suddenly feel about as awkward as they felt at your first encounter; instead of ecstatic high-pitched sounds you will hear nothing but painful moaning when you touch her with your lips. Also, the fingering will feel strangely clumsy, like you'd never touched her before.

And of course, the exercise will be anticlimactic; the hour spent with her will be a protracted experience of utter frustration. You'll be all sore, but painfully so, because as you played up that scale, the note at the climax just didn't sound convincing, and you know that it's the punishment for not spending enough time with her.

Burke should have been living through a frustrating experience with his trumpet equally bad or worse than his relationship with Cristina. Like what every person who isn't lucky enough to be a TV character has to go through when learning to play the trumpet.

Posted by Horst on October 20, 2007 08:39 PM to my so-called life | Tell-a-friend
Jann said on October 21, 2007 07:39 PM:

You have described very eloquently the struggles of an adult learning skills more easily acquired as a child; and if your demanding trumpet mistress monopolizes your time your time for seven hours a week, that's okay. But if she tries to keep you away from your blog, well, that's where you should draw the line!

As for the doctors, my guess would be that they started learning their respective instruments at the ages of eight or nine, and at some point reached a degree of proficiency that doesn't require an hour of daily practise to maintain. The jamming would be their way of relaxing and de-stressing after their grueling work shifts. But that would just be a guess ;-)

nora said on October 24, 2007 02:44 AM:

i know a doctor in linz who plays a brass instrument.

Jann said on October 25, 2007 08:39 PM:

When I said that some skills are more easily acquired as a child, I was empathizing with you, Horst, and thinking of myself, trying to improve my German, and finding it somehow much more difficult than when I was a teenager. Then I could learn a list of twenty vocabulary words in five minutes and remember them, well, forever. Now it takes longer than five minutes to learn twenty words, and if I wait two days to review them, I will have forgotten about a third. One good thing: by the time I've looked up a word for the *third* time in my German dictionary, I'll have the meaning firmly fixed in my mind.

And when did the grammar rules get so much more complicated, and why are there so many more separable prefixes than there used to be? (They must have simplified it for us in HS, I tell myself). I actually understand how to use separable prefixes, what I find hard is understanding how exactly they change the meaning of the verb.

And I'm not interested in talking about bank accounts in German; people who work in banks speak English. What I want to know is how to say in correct, idiomatic, informal and/or colloquial German (so that any car mechanic would understand) is: "I don't think the tires are balanced properly because the car vibrates at all speeds over 110 kilometres per hour." I think I need a tutor.

I emailed my cousin Tom a few months ago that I was feeling depressed, and that I was driving around listening to CD's of old men speaking German fast and mumbling. Two unrelated events. Tom emailed me back that listening to old men muttering in German would make anyone depressed, and that I should cease that activity immediately! That cracked me up!

My point: I can empathize, Horst. I'm not going to give up on German, but I struggle with it!

dieter said on October 29, 2007 09:45 AM:

Don't feel bad, Jann! I am a German native speaker - well, as I grew up in Vorarlberg, some might disagree. Ignore them, I grew up with Arena Synchron like any modern child.

However, talking to a mechanic (or an electrician, or whoever...) in his language is quite a different thing, believe me. And what is even more unfair: You can spend ten years on getting yourself on mechanics-level in let's say Berlin, and then you go Vienna and start at ground level all over again.

Jann said on October 30, 2007 06:14 PM:

Thanks, dieter, I feel better already! Of course, one doesn't need a car in Vienna, and I can't imagine wanting to drive around Berlin, but I do want to see Hallstatt, and other areas around Salzburg, so maybe all I need is the Salzburg version of, "There's nothing wrong with the alignment. Just balance the tires, please." If the conversation (about cars) were to get any more complicated than that, I'd be hard pressed to understand the English version! ;-)

dieter said on October 31, 2007 08:40 AM:

@Jann: I checked "alignment" in and found nothing satisfactory. As you mentioned, cars are optional in Vienna, and I opted against. Thus, my - German - vocabulary in the field is minimal, and in other languages it is practically nonexistent.

However, "balance the tires", definitely means "Reifen wuchten". My dad did have a car back at home... ;-))

Jann said on October 31, 2007 06:07 PM:

Thanks again, dieter. Your thoughtful explanations are appreciated. I even feel a bit more optimistic about achieving some modicum of proficiency in German ;-)

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