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"Dear Dr. Arnie" from In the Key of Strawberry

Posted by Guest Blogger on Apr 7, 2014 2:17:00 PM

Arnold and CAThe Guarneri String Quartet (photo by Erwin Fischer) and Charles Avsharian

Arnold Steinhardt and I have shared  decades of wonderful times beginning back in the ‘60s when we both participated in the Marlboro Festival. We had also been on a tour together where he was the featured young artist and I was in the small chamber group backing him. While we both studied under Ivan Galamian at the Curtis Institute and Meadowmount, it wasn’t until later that we actually met and formed a long-lasting friendship. Our mutual friends were many… all fun-loving young men and women from the finest musical backgrounds. What we all had in common was our passion for music… and having as many laughs as possible. Over the years, I’m happy to report, our strong link of a warm friendship has never waned.

We have  kept up our happy valued relationship over the years… through the family times, the Guarneri times, my SHAR years, publishing the quartet’s Beethoven quartets (including some hours of amazing, unpublished videos made in his family apartment in NYC), dozens of concerts, and continuing up through current times. I can’t remember a time when a broad smile wouldn’t  spread across my face after having lunch together or just hanging out for a while. Arnold is just that sort of person… he brings out what humor and joy you have that might be waiting for a tickle. His writing continues to tickle me… and I am absolutely certain that it will tickle you as well.

Charles Avsharian
CEO, SHAR Products Company

Editor's Note: The following advice column originally appeared on Arnold Steinhardt's blog In the Key of Strawberry and is republished with permission. Steinhardt is the founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet and the author of two books: Violin Dreams and Indivisible by Four. For more stories visit here or follow on Twitter.

"Dear Dr. Arnie" from In the Key of Strawberry

The SHAR Music Blog and In The Key of Strawberry are pleased to post “Dear Dr. Arnie,” the syndicated musician’s advice column hosted by the legendary Dr. Arnie. Examples of his advice, featured below, will undoubtedly be of invaluable help to musicians of every persuasion.


Dear Dr. Arnie,

I have an orchestra audition coming up next month and worrying about it has given me sleepless nights. Please help.

Dear Sleepless,

Have you tried practicing?  It’s a little known fact that the more you practice, the better you get, the better you get, the more confident you are, and suddenly you’re sleeping like a baby. If, however, you are one of those unfortunate people who get worse with practice, I recommend a glass of warm milk, a cookie, and a Philip Glass recording directly before bedtime.


Dear Dr. Arnie,

My French horn teacher says I make a puny sound on the instrument. How can I improve my sound?

Dear Puny Sound,

Eat oatmeal. Yes, you read this correctly. Oatmeal. But not just any kind of oatmeal. Only steel-cut oatmeal, cooked for at least twenty to thirty minutes, can give you the kind of gorgeous heart-melting sound you’ve been looking for. No short cuts with instant oatmeal, please. That will only water down your sound even more. For the central European repertoire, I recommend adding brown sugar and butter.


Dear Dr. Arnie,

I’m already a pretty solid violinist but with one exasperating deficiency. I have no down-bow staccato. I’ve tried everything to build up speed: slow practice, varying rhythms, raising my arm, lowering it, even using different bows. I’d love to impress my friends with this nice bit of virtuosity but nothing seems to work.

Dear No Down-bow Staccato,

Make yourself a thermos of strong black coffee. Then rent or download any classic horror film: “Night of the Living Dead,” “Scream,” “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” etc. Drink all the coffee as you watch the movie. Once you begin trembling all over from fright and caffeine, place the bow on the string and slowly draw it toward the tip. Voilà. There’s your down-bow staccato. Warning: Do not drive a car or use any kind of farm machinery for at least eight hours after finishing the session.


Dear Dr. Arnie,

I believe that the second oboe in our orchestra is after my job as first oboe. He smirks when I make suggestions and sends letters to the orchestra management complaining about my playing. At last night’s concert, he actually burst out laughing during my solo in the second movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto. What should I do?

Dear First Oboe,

Have you considered arsenic poisoning? Simply rub a little arsenic on your colleague’s reeds before each rehearsal while he’s schmoozing with other woodwind players in the section. The letters to management will quickly disappear and sooner or later so will he. A word of caution: The next second oboe player to come along may also want your job, and the one after him or her as well. To avoid suspicion, consider an alternative to arsenic the second and third times around.


Dear Dr. Arnie,

I’m the violist in the Brouhaha String Quartet. Our first violinist plays too loudly whenever I have a solo and drowns me out. I’m reluctant to make a fuss, but on the other hand, my solos should be heard, don’t you think?

Dear Drowned Out Violist,

Certainly, every viola solo must be heard. The next time your first violinist plays too loudly, inform him in no uncertain terms of your solo. This might seem unnecessary but first violinists are often clueless that anybody else might have something important to play. If he persists in playing too loudly, ask him not to, first politely, then more firmly. If that has no effect, make him understand that viola solos come somewhat rarely and are therefore especially important. If he still remains unmoved you might try getting on your knees and begging him tearfully (sobbing might in fact be even more effective) to play more softly. However, if all else fails, I suggest you arrange to have a horse’s head placed in his bed during one of your string quartet concerts. Oh, and don’t forget to have a card placed next to it inscribed “This is no viola joke.”


Dear Dr. Arnie,

My boyfriend and I have different tastes in music. He likes Mahler. I find him long-winded. I like Vivaldi. He finds him boring. Any suggestions?

Dear Musically Incompatible Ones,

Try Lady Gaga.


Dear Dr. Arnie,

I have graduated from music conservatory with honors and I’ve won first prize in several international competitions, but my solo career seems to be going nowhere. Any advice?

Dear Going Nowhere,

It is obvious that you are spending far too much time mastering your instrument and cultivating your artistry—elements of little value in getting concerts. What impression do you make when you appear before the public? You might try striding on stage with extreme bravado, or conversely you could appear monklike, dressed in black, hands clasped together in devotional service to your art. Both approaches have great audience appeal. Do you toss your head, sway back and forth, or gyrate your hips when you perform? Listeners love it. Do you look soulful, ecstatic, tragic, or deeply moved depending upon the music you’re playing? If not, do so without hesitation, and might I suggest for myself a modest fifteen percent of your engagement fee for the concerts that undoubtedly will start rolling in as a result of my advice.


Dear Dr. Arnie,

My name is Gaetano Ponticello and I am the conductor of the Lower Transylvania Symphony Orchestra. Quite frankly, my troubles with the orchestra started the moment I stepped onto the podium. I gave a downbeat but nobody played. When they did finally play, if I indicated Forte, out came Piano. If I asked for Presto they played Lento. Soon after my arrival, I began to receive letters, one addressed to Semiconductor Ponticello, another to Mr. Ponticello, Director of the conductorless Lower Transylvania Symphony Orchestra. These letters are not, I repeat, not funny, but I have no idea how to gain control of my orchestra.

Dear (ha-ha) Semiconductor Ponticello,

Actually, those letters are very funny, but never mind. Maestro, do not despair. There are so many ways to improve your situation. First, place a generous amount of Transylvanian cash on each stand. Second, attach a blinking laser light to your baton. Third, and this is most important, purchase a sequined white suit, preferably one that glows in the dark. Your problem undoubtedly is that the musicians don’t see you well enough. Which brings me to my real business: selling a complete line of men and women’s glow-in-the-dark sequined formal wear. (You think I can make a living from the pittance they pay me for this lousy advice column?) Simply go to my website,, and I’ll make you a deal you can’t resist. Buy for your entire orchestra—just imagine one hundred sequined, glow-in-the-dark musicians—and I’ll make you the deal of the century. No longer will you be called (ha-ha) Semiconductor Ponticello as you stroll proudly down the streets of Lower Transylvania, and if we’re able to close the deal I’ll make enough money to quit this ridiculous Dear Dr. Arnie advice racket forever.

Read more from "In the Key of Strawberry"

Topics: Violin, Arnold Steinhardt, Advice, Humor, In the Key of Strawberry