Thursday, March 14, 2013

How To Get Rid Of Your Butler, Really

      One of my posts on Barcelona described an encounter with local folk instruments called  grallas and this reminded me of something I wanted to go on about. A few posts ago (Trombone 101), I appended things with a video in which Jeeves the Butler puts in his papers over Bertie Wooster's playing of the trombone. In the original Wodehouse story, Thank You, Jeeves, the offending instrument is a banjolele and why the screenwriter thought a trombone would be better, who knows?  Irrational prejudice is something trombone players have been dealing with since before Arthur Pryor's time and it's why we don't look down on accordions.     

        Although I enjoyed the joke (we're used to it), the trombone was, nonetheless, a poor choice. Even our detractors must admit that, when it comes to an instrument capable of producing a sound so irritating and awful you want to pull off your own head, the trombone isn't even in the hunt.  In fact, in the video in question it sounds to me like they played it without the outer slide so it would actually sound shrill.
        If they wanted an annoying brass instrument, I would have gone with the French Horn. In the hands of an artist, few things rival it for sonorous beauty. But I'm willing to bet that, given it's inherent difficulty, even good horn players will admit that the overwhelming majority of people taking it up are incapable of making it sound any better than a funnel stuck in the end of a garden hose.
            Any reed instrument would have been a lead pipe cinch.  Few things in life make you want to run screaming into the night like a/an (insert name of reed instrument here) wielded by a beginner or incompetent player. Ask any parent of an aspiring clarinetist and, if they're honest, they'll admit to sometimes saying, "That's enough for today, sweetie." No, sorry trombone haters of the world, the worst we ever sound is flatulent.
            If, in keeping with the character of Bertie Wooster, you wanted to throw in irritation and  eccentricity then, without doubt, double reeds are your guys. Okay, most people who play oboes, bassoons and English Horns are normal and well adjusted. But there's something about some men who take up double reeds that, well, I once played in a community band with an oboe player who carried around this folding chair with an attachment for holding his horn up. Oboes never looked that heavy to me but on top of this his hair looked like he cut it himself. Then there were the bassoonists in an orchestra I joined - one was a perfectly lovely women and the other a man with no discernable personality traits other than condescension. It could have something to do with the patience needed for dealing with the reeds. Or maybe they attract the type of people who fixate.
            As an added bonus, this family of instruments contains such weapons as the aptly named heckelphone, rackett and bombard.  I mean, if you really wanted to bug somebody, do these sound perfect, or what?


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