DRQOD: Ghandarvas and powdered wigs

I always enjoy Patty Mitchell’s “BQOD” (Blog Quotes Of the Day) over at oboeinsight. I’m in the thick of dissertation writing these days (technically, it’s “doctoral document” writing, since I’m working on a DMA, not a PhD), and this morning I ran across a couple of items that won’t make it into the finished product but are too fun to keep to myself. And so I present my Dissertation/Document Research Quotes Of the Day:

1. From How to Play the Bansuri: A Manual for Self-Instruction Based on the Teaching of Devendra Murdeshwar, by Lyon Leifer. The bansuri is an Indian transverse flute. Ragas are, to oversimplify, scales on which Hindustani melodies are based.

Sage Narada and the Gandharvas

An ancient legend tells of the great musician and wise man called Narada. Once, while practicing he was visited by a spirit who transported him to a celestial realm. There he saw the most beautiful creatures, dressed in the finest of of fabrics, but broken, distorted and clearly in agony. When Narada asked his guide what had caused this agony, he was told that these pitiful creatures were gandharvas, ragas whose forms had been crushed by his own faulty renditions.

I shudder to think how many ghandarvas I’ve tortured with my own “faulty renditions.”

2. From The Virtuoso Flute-Player, by Johann Georg Tromlitz, written in 1791, and quoted in the outstanding The Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle by Grey Larsen. Totally unrelated to the previous quote, except in that I read it this morning and got a chuckle out of it.

When the weather is very hot, and one perspires freely, one commonly loses one’s embouchure in the course of playing, since the flute slips away from the place on the chin where it is supposed to rest, on account of the perspiration which prevents it from making firm contact, and impedes the progress of the piece. Quantz suggests a remedy: in such cases one should touch one’s powdered wig, and wipe the powder that sticks to one’s fingers onto that part of the chin so as to stop up the pores, and one will be able to play on without interference. But this is not correct; the powder does not stop up the pores, and the perspiration keeps on flowing, and now it mingles with the powder to form a viscous and slippery dough, far more injurious to the secure placement of the flute than perspiration alone. When I meet with this problem I wipe the perspiration away and continue to play. Meanwhile the most intelligent course is not to play any long, difficult and non-stop pieces during hot weather.

Tromlitz’s solution to the slippage problem—not playing difficult pieces on hot days—reminds me of the old joke where a patient says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this,” and the doctor says, “Well, don’t do that!”


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