Strung out and scaled down;Opinion

11th June 1999 at 01:00
As a responsible parent, there are certain things I will not permit in our house: the manufacture of nail bombs, peak-hour telephone calls to Grandma in Australia, andviolin practice.

Please don't get me wrong. I support the campaign to keep music in schools, but that is where I believe violin practice most definitely belongs: in school. Schools are there to give our children the kind of things that we parents cannot. Things like GCSEs, dissectable frogs and a sound-proofed room in which to practise the violin.

I have nothing against the instrument itself. In fact in the hands of Max Bruch and Nigel Kennedy I can quite understand why it repeatedly tops Classic FM's pop chart but my eight-year-old son is not Kennedy, and if he were I think I would be wanting to send him to one of those Menuhin schools specially set up so that a budding violinist can be fast-tracked to virtuoso level without his family having to listen to all that early rubbing together of bow and string.

There is no sound on Earth worse than a child learning the violin. Fingernails drawn down a blackboard are melodic in comparison. I would rather hear The Birdy Song or Margaret Thatcher reading the Gettysburg Address than my own son sawing his way slowly up and down the scales.

For this reason Ginny was diverted on to the piano as soon as we could get one into the house, and Sarah Jane received extra pocket money when her music teacher confessed that our eldest daughter was tone deaf.

Now, however, Tom has been beguiled by peer pressure to drag his bow in discordant misery across four protesting strings. When I grumbled at the school for inflicting this upon us last week, Mrs Lank, the violin teacher, reminded me that every beautiful swan was once a visually-challenging duckling. Alas, a school concert was probably not the best place for me to point out that, according to Danny Kaye, the Ugly Duckling hid himself away "all through the winter time" and transformed without upsetting his father's concentration.

Mrs Lank was not amused. "There are worse sounds than a child playing the violin," she insisted, and then went on to prove her point by conducting six of Tom's friends in singing Early One Morning. Truly awful.

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