Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why Does Play-Doh Smell Of Marzipan...?

We have just spent a wonderful evening at the Bridgewater Hall, listening to Colin Carr playing Bridge's Oration, Natalie Guttman playing Britten's Cello Symphony, Ralph Kirshbaum playing Elgar's Cello Concerto and Yo-Yo Ma playing Walton's Cello Concerto. The concert was part of the Royal Northern College of Music's International Cello Festival. We heard four truly stunning performances. Although Elgar's Cello Concerto really belongs to Du Pre, Kirshbaum still made me weep.

As the music flowed through me I became quite fixated on the percussion section. The bloke playing the timpani had both hands occupied for most of the night. There was another chap with a snare drum and another kind of drum; he had a couple of snare rolls and a few bangs on the other drum. Next to him was a chap with a couple of cymbals. He got to have a go at the end of both the Elgar and the Walton, but I don't think he was needed much for the Bridge or the Britten. (My memory may be letting me down here.) However, he had to slip over to a xylophone type thingy (which may well have been an actual xylophone) during the Walton which I guess kept him on his toes.

And finally, there was a young woman with a big J. Arthur Rank looking gong. She wasn't wearing a toga though. She gonged a couple of times during the Britten and I think once again during the Walton. I got to thinking about being a percussionist. She was turning the pages, and I realised that she would have to be able to read music so she could see when it was time for her to gong. I know that reading music at that level takes a lot of skill. I once turned pages for a pianist friend who was playing Prokofiev's Sonata for Violin and Piano and I could barely follow the music to turn in the right place. Heaven only knows how he actually played it. So I am guessing that the gong woman could read music at a very high level.

But with all that skill, all she gets to do is gong the once in a 30 minute piece of music. And the problem is, if she gongs in the wrong place it is a complete disaster. Ergo, she has to be both competent and confident. So, I wondered, if she is both competent and confident, and can read very difficult music, why doesn't she play an instrument where she gets to play a bit more of the time? Even the bassoon had more play time than she did. What prompted her to think 'I want to be a percussionist. In fact, I want to be the gong person'?

I'm not saying that being a percussionist is easy. Not at all. It just seems that it is both a responsible and yet a potentially dull role to play in an orchestra. I eagerly await correction from my erudite blog readers.

As a little aside, the evening was slightly marred for me by my current acute sense of smell. I have been finding many ordinary smells quite offensive this week. I walked past someone eating a hot dog in the street on Friday, and felt nauseous. I had to leave our staff room ten minutes later because someone was eating soup for lunch. (Perfectly nice carrot soup, but I couldn't bear the smell.) Tonight I was sitting next to a woman who smelled of marzipan. I tried to get my son to swap places in the interval but he couldn't be bribed. I thought it might be her perfume, but son suggested helpfully that perhaps she was made of Play-Doh. I was tempted to squeeze her leg just to see.

If I didn't absolutely know better, I might think that I was pregnant. (I'm not.) When I was pregnant I couldn't bear any strong smells, apart from the smell of rubber which I craved and would frequently pop into my local bicycle shop for a deep sniff. Is there another explanation, dear readers?


Caroline said...

No other explanation - you are pregnant! Yay! Ms M is preganant. How fabulous!

As for the gong playing - you should feel symapthy for her. She will not have allowed herself to enjoy the music at any stage. She will have been counting and trying to follow each note, always knowing that she could not miss her one moment. The pressure!

A couple of weeks ago, at my sax lesson, I ended up playing the drums. I hated it. The pressure to be constant was too much for me ... that must say something about me and my need to accept my missed beats. The gong woman will have to take herself away from the music and follow the notes in front of her. That is sooooo wrong.

That poor poor woman. She's probably classically trained and ended up playng a bloody gong whilst secretly lusting after a cello.
Life is shit. Sometimes.

trousers said...

My experience of seeing such pieces performed is quite few and far between - I love your description though, and the musings on the tribulations of the gong player.

Whenever I go and see bands play (a very different discipline to the concert above, of course), my focus of attention is always on the drummer (if its the sort of band that actually has one) - it just fascinates me. I'd rather see a band with a good drummer and a crap guitarist than the other way round, otherwise the whole thing would just fall apart. I can stand there for an hour shaking my head in wonder as he or she notches it up yet another gear or performs seemingly impossible fills, or just keeps the whole thing incredibly straight and steady, in perfect time throughout.

Anyway - enough of my own musings.

Why do you have a keener sense of smell? For the same reasons, I would have thought, as we sometimes have a phase of recalling dreams more clearly, or thinking about a particular subject or memory. As in - maybe there's no particular reason, it just happens.

Stray said...

I find percussion amazing Ms M.

I once asked my dad - a very competent drummer - how he did that - how he could take time, which for me slips and slides in minutes and hours and sometimes whole days, and split it up into tiny pieces all exactly the same size?

He shook his head and sighed. I don't, he explained, I just play the drums.

I played French Horn, and the fact is that there are many instruments - bassoon, tuba, sometimes horn, where you can spend an entire concert playing the occasional um-pa-pah that frankly wouldn't have stretched you as an 8 year old. The counting is half the pleasure. Knowing that although you're not the lead violin, the composer still intended your input, and it will be missed, is enough. That and the relief of not having to spend your sundays learning ridiculously complicated sequences! And you know that next time it will be Mozart or Mahler and you'll be blasting the whole way through.

On the playdoh. My best friend used to smell of playdoh *sigh*, it was vanilla oil.

I agree with Caroline that you must be pregnant. ;)


Caroline said...

I am compiling a list of baby names for your consideration.



Reading the Signs said...

This is going to be a bummer of a question, but - are you run down? Because, according to those in the know about these sorts of things, this is the time when your "etheric body" (which helps filter out the things that connect you too much with the world in terms of the 5 senses) may be a bit thin. Which is why people with M.E. are so often noise, smell, colour-sensitive to the point of overload. Just a thought.
Or perhaps you should consider a career as a perfumier or wine-taster and become a "nose" (and read Perfume by Patrick Susskind).

Paul said...

Aren't we all really improvisational percussionists in life's great orchestra?
Without a score, and unable to see the conductor, if there is one, we just have to use best judgement as to when to hit the gong.
Some play throughout, and ruin it for everyone else.
Some wait to get a feel of the piece before joining in.
Some have an instinctive understanding.
Some are too timid ever to play.
And some just enjoy the music.
Then again some go away and write their own tune while others work out lame analogies.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Caroline, I am so not pregnant! Now stop getting excited! I love your description of playing the drums - the pressure to be constant, and not miss any beats. I have never played the drums, but your experience resonates for me. I do need to be able to sit back and take a break sometimes. Perhaps I would make a good gong player? Oh, and you play the sax? How fab! I play the clarinet, although I haven't really played properly since I left school and that was a long time ago.

Hey trousers, yes, I agree entirely about a good drummer. They will make or break a live performance. You don't realise how they drive the music, until you hear a bad one.

Hey Stray, I love the question to your dad. You have such an analytical mind. I enjoyed playing the clarinet - you rarely took the lead, but you were always there in the background. A metaphor for me, for sure. We could get a bloggy orchestra together, we have woodwind and brass so far. Any other comers? (And I am NOT pregnant!)

Darling Caroline, I refer you to the above answer. Again. ;)

Oh Signs, I think you have hit your head on the nail. I have been feeling tired all week, and today I am definitely feeling ill. Hubby is on the sofa with a head cold, and son has just had a week off school with the same. Thanks for the information. I shall go and google 'etheric body' right now. (The good news is that I am pottering around the kitchen and 'My Cousin Rachel' is the new Book of the Week on Radio 4. I love Radio 4 so much!)

Hi there Paul, thanks for making me smile ;)

varske said...

Funny how the sense of smell gets more sensitive during pregnancy. My smell has vanished completely, not even gas or burnt onions, which makes cooking a bit like being blind.

But when I was pregnant I could definitely smell garlic and other strong smells, especially the unpleasant ones. Why is it the bad smells came back and not the good ones?

Dandelion said...

Yes. What caroline said.

Personally, I love the smell of Play-Do. Much nicer than the taste, which I find is rather salty, contrary to how sweet and yummy it looks.

Caroline said...

How about the name Lola. I sometimes hope that you will be a Lola.



Anonymous said...

Since when did being a musician involve piece work? Surely those with little else to do follow the score, acting as prompts and contributing when conducted to do so.

As for the smells, perhaps the atmosphere evoked a heightening of the senses, but then again...

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Varske, apparently smells trigger the most vivid memories. Don't know whether that fits with remembering the bad ones the most, though...

Hi there Dandelion, now just stop it! No pregnancy. No more babies, ok?! And yes, I remember tasting play-doh as a kid and finding it very unpleasant. I'm not too keen on the smell, either. Why would anyone buy a perfume that smells of play-doh, I wonder?

Now Caroline, how did you guess my name first go? I am so impressed!

Hey ad, who mentioned piece work?? The gonging was absolutely integral to the piece. I just can't help wondering about the psychology of the gonger, that's all. Just fascinated and thinking out loud, like I do.

Liz said...

This happens to me sometimes as well and I always freak out that I might be pregnant. And then I'm not. Then I worry that I may be losing one of my other senses since they say that when you lose one of your senses, the others get stronger. So basically, I'm just paranoid.

Cursed Tea said...

Hi Ms Melancholy

I am a professional bass player in an orchestra. I can tell you that playing percussion is one of those all or nothing jobs. When we play "pop"s concerts when the bass section has nothing but omm pahs the percussionists are running around like mad playing glocks, gongs, bass drums and snares. However in big symphonies they very often have to sit and sit and sit waiting for thier moment. But you are right - if they miss it then they are somewhat in trouble and somewhat looking somewhat stupid. However their "moments" are often so exposed and so crucial that a great number of percussionists use beta blockers in rehearsals and concerts to steady their nerves.

I'm about to let out a big music biz secret here but... there are countless stories of percussionists in opera pits who don't play for 200 bars so they go to the pub next door, have a drink (whilst still counting) and make it back in time for their entry. Of course on the concert hall stage its rather hard to get away with such a thing.

I'm totally envious of that concert - must've been something and yes Jackie was the greatest Elgar ever - the world lost the best cellist that would have been. Also very sad that Rostropovich has died ... Slava was a hoot and an amazing player and person.

I don't know if you are aware of it or not but classical musicians are more akin to rock musicians in that we like to party and party hard - we don't sit round sipping sherry and talking of Mozart - one of my non-musician friends was shocked when I took him to a pub in London after a symphony cncert and it was packed full of classical musicians!!

Best Wishes
ps I'd never hack it as a percussionist!!

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Liz, funny that, because I'm sure my hearing is getting worse!

Hi there Cursed Tea, I was really hoping that you would drop by! Thanks for the insight - I was imagining it to be very stressful, being the one in charge of the gong. That's the intrigue to me - that the responsibility seems to far outweigh the fun factor. I love the story of the percussionists nipping to the pub! It was a wonderful concert. Rostropovich was scheduled to be there, but he cancelled when he took ill. There was a lovely story in the programme notes about him and Britten getting drunk, before 'playing like pigs'. He sounds like a was a lovely man. How lucky that you live in this world.

prozac pony said...

Congrats on being up the duff, Lola (lovely name, by the way). I'll keep an eye out for you on the news - there's usually a lot of press interest when someone your age conceives - and shall be cheering you on from the sidelines.

Anyway, I can see that being a percussionist does require skill and musical ability - no arguments there. But I always used to sort of suspect that the musicians who chose this path had maybe found themselves being cast as townspeople in the school Nativity Play. Do you know what I mean?

Okay Lola, you'll be needing to take it easy, so I'll get out of your hair.

Will be happy to conduct bloggy orchestra, incidentally. No, please, don't mention it.


Ms Melancholy said...

Oh lovely Haloperidol Horsey, I can always rely on you, to say what other people are too polite to say. Lola is a perfectly good name, even if The Kinks did ensure it is forever associated with ladyboys. And I am still of child-bearing age, I assure you. In fact, I may now get pregnant just to prove to you that I can. Hah! That'll show you, won't it? (Oh, how I miss you when you go a-wandering. I can't be this rude to anyone else x)

haloperidol horsey said...

Yes, that seems like a very good reason to get pregnant, Lola - to prove to a dysfunctional blogger with extreme mental health issues that you are still able to. Way to go, lady.....(boy).

In fact, I was actually thinking more along the lines of Run Lola Run, but am grateful for being reminded of The Kinks. I once went to see them play in Edinburgh. It was rubbish, but I still like them.

How are you doing, Melancholy? I feel sure I don't see enough of you these days - but yes, absolutely, you must be as rude to me as you like. I enjoy it most fiercely and never ever take offence. I'm a bit like that, though.

You seem to be fairly sparkly these days, Shrinky, and that is very good to see. I hope you enjoy the rest of your bank holiday Monday, lovely Ms M.

Kisses (and stuff)

No idea why Play-Doh smells of marzipan, I'm afraid - but it definitely does.

Aaron said...

Loved the post MsM,

Of course I've always been a Smiths and Stone Roses sort of guy, but I do like a wee bit of classical.

Nothing wet, though.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey HH, you're right, we don't see anywhere near enough of each other. Let's go out sometime. See you over at nmj's at the weekend?

Hey Aaron, well, you probably know that I too am a Smiths and Stone Roses fan, but hubby is educating me. I do love the cello though. Such a melancholic instrument. Nothing wet? You are such a tough tyger. Roaaaaar.

rivergirlie said...

i think you'd have to be a really good counter to do percussion
'243 two three four, 244 two three four'. not the job for someone with my attention span.
cello festival sounds excellent - must take my daughter next year.

Drak said...

Hmm- sense of smell is often sensitized by a mix of dietary factors (e.g if you have a diet high in flavinoids - your smell becomes more sensitive to acids, if I remember correctly) and hormones.

Hormone affecting drugs, and natural bodily fluctuations (pregnancy, eating a lot of protein, 'time of the moon') can all affect general sensitivity.

May have to do some research into what can cause smells to change from pleasant to unpleasant. I have times (usually as a harbinger of a major 'down') when the scent of some 'floral' soaps is nearly painful.

Maybe the drudgery and dedication waiting for half a piece is weighed by the sheer joy of going 'bong' on a big gong?

Miss Tickle said...

MS M, I'm a bit late I know (and can I just say that I've missed you while I've been in Hell) but it isn't just pregnancy that makes your smelling go all weird, it is simply Hormones. My smell goes all weird every month. It is quite distressing, but nice when doughnuts are around. x

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi Rivergirlie, yes she sure did a lot of counting. Which is fine when the piece stays in the same time signature, but what about those modern pieces that change time signature bar by bar sometimes? Sounds hellish to me.

Hey Drak, wow, first time commenting and you come up with a belter of a response. I am most pleased with this information. Are you a scientist? Or just particularly interested in things smelly?

Hey lovely tickle, nice to see you again. Problem is, things that would normally smell nice - like fresh doughnuts - still smell horrible when I am that way out. And sometimes perfumes make me want to heave. I am such a delicate little flower, aren't I?

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