Today’s Violin Lesson: how to deal with annoyed neighbours

AS AN AMATEUR violinist, I am well aware that the one thing you have to be prepared for is an annoyed neighbour (or several of them) whenever you play — and that often happens to be at the worst time of their day.

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It all begins

It happened to me a week or so ago. The lady behind my house began caterwauling with herself (you read that right) about how annoying my violin playing is. Her tactic was simple: should I hear her complaints, she expected me to stop playing.

So I switched from Ave Maria to the Hourglass Song (in case you don’t know, that’s like switching from a triangle to a high-pitched bass drum) and that just irritated her more. I, too, was driving a point here: violin playing is not against the law. if she cannot tolerate it, too bad. Besides, I probably would have started playing the Hourglass song in a few minutes anyway.

That drowned out her complaints for the day.

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Raising the bar

The next day I picked up my violin at about the same time and began playing The Beautiful Blue Danube. The woman probably had some unresolved fight with John Strauss II so she darted out of her house and began complaining to herself again. And one would have thought the previous day’s events would have told her something.

About half-an-hour into my playing session she came up with a new tactic. Threats.

She moved closer to my room window (so I could hear her better over the sound of my violin) and promised to set up a loudspeaker directed towards my house and set it off all day long at full volume. Now, as far as I knew the law, doing that meant she would be breaking it big time. To top it all off, this was a closely knit residential area, at least in terms of bricks and mortar.

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A solution

The next day the same thing repeated until she finally sent her son over to my house (he is about as old as me) to let me know in advance that she was setting up a speaker. So us at home sat down and patiently explained to the boy the dilemma and asked him to provide a solution.

He had three options readied: one, to brick the windows facing their house (Ha!) Two, to not play later than six in the evening (which I never do anyway.) Or, three, to close the curtains while I play (I’m still trying to figure out how this would help.)

Since that day, there have been no complaints. Perhaps the woman gave up, or perhaps she realised her wrong approach, or — hopefully —  she learnt to enjoy the violin.

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A world-wide problem

The reason why I wrote this article is not to relate my anecdote to the world, but because this is a problem beyond national barriers. If you play your violin, or any musical instrument for that matter, and you live in a close neighbourhood, the chances are everybody around you has heard you practice, heard your mistakes, heard your beautiful vibratos and, I would not be going too far in saying, appreciated it.

There will always be those who choose to have problems instead. This is a lot like the lady we saw just now. These turn out to be more troublesome to the violinist than a sticky bow, a loose string or a cracked chin rest. And the reason they are troublesome is not because they are irritated and bother the violinist with it, but because the way almost all of them approach the problem delivers a direct blow to the violinist’s confidence.

Civilisation is all about getting along with each other, and the violin is sophisticated music to listen to while you do that.

There is always the possibility that they come up to you, sit down and talk it out like civilised adults; but they would rather ask you to “Shut that noise off,” or “Stop that howling,” or say, “I’m going to call the police on you if you don’t stop wailing with that violin!”

This inevitably makes many violinists lose their confidence and begin to doubt their own style of playing and their capabilities.

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Violins, Cellos, Drums and Bagpipes

The only way to get through this is to believe in yourself, in your ability and the fact that you are playing well. And most of all, if you stop practicing because of the sore complainers’ sake, how on Earth are you going to get better.

Frankly, I could not have cared less for that lady and her complaining; but I soon realised there are probably other violinists who do, and who, therefore, let it affect them in adverse ways.

What I did was pretty simple: I ignored her and continued playing, and this was for several reasons; the lady does not matter to me, her thoughts do not either; the woman cannot deter me from achieving a degree of perfection in the violin; and if that lady cannot tolerate the violin, there is nothing I can humanly do about it: the Earth was not built for her, her wish is not my command, and if she cannot get along with neighbours, she probably has no hope for herself in society, because civilisation is all about getting along with each other, and the violin is sophisticated music to listen to while you do that.

My bigger plan, of course, is to play the violin so well one day that she’ll want to come and listen to it and I’ll bid her off. (I never said I was the all-forgiving God many people fervently believe in.)

This problem not only spans nations, but also instruments. Viola and violincello players have the same problems as violinists; and the biggest problem is for those who play Drums and Bagpipes, because they can be a little louder than the violin if played right.

I’m going to leave you with some food for thought: if you are a problem to your neighbour, play more often. Your neighbour may need you one day. Here is a quick anecdote about a Baroness to inspire you:

At the funeral of her only child, Baroness Ertmann realised she could not find tears. So her husband, General Ertmann, brought her to the Master. The master spoke no words but played music for her until she began to sob, so her sorrow found an outlet and comfort.

The Master is whom we now know as Ludwig van Beethoven. [vhb]