October 25, 2011

Sinistrality vs Dextrality

I stumbled across an interesting leftie vs righty discussion whilst trolling as usual. This remarkable transcript reflects my thoughts precisely and I probably couldn't have expressed it better than Ms. Fox (also partly due to my easily distracted, light headed, day dreaming ambidextrous brain). Hatred for lefthanders has existed in many cultures for centuries and has manifested in different ways even in the 21st century. Before reading Julie Fox's post, it would serve you better to read the carefully disguised vitriol running up to her reply in violinist.com.

From Julie Fox
Posted on January 26, 2006 at 03:35 PM


This was a very entertaining thing to stumble across while I was searching on the internet for... well, I don't remember what I was searching for the other night, but it wasn't this. But since the link came up, I couldn't help reading it since I'm the person being discussed here.

I wanted to take violin lessons for fun. You know, fun? Hobby? Personal enrichment? Among the hundred thousand things blowing my mind about all this is the unquestioned assumption that anyone who's interested in violin intends to go professional with it, and must address all the issues that could possibly be involved in that before starting. But with that in mind, I'm studying hard for that initial test for tone-deafness which all beginning violin students are required to take, and which all right-handers evidently pass with ease.

I'm not complaining; at least I'm not the one doing the rigorous screening for duds before the lessons have even begun. It must be exhausting.

But even though I feel your pain, I think there should be more of that going on in the world. I think people who are too big to have any hope of becoming racing jockeys should be denied horseback-riding lessons for recreation. If they aren't naturally small, either they meet the weight requirements by hacking off a limb or they won't be allowed to saddle up even once. There are plenty of amputees around who will tell you they manage just fine, so anybody who wants to be a crybaby about it can go cry somewhere else. I get to impose the rule because I'm quite petite myself. Hey, it's not my problem.

But seriously.

I did not "insist" that the violin is "my" instrument, or even suggest it. In fact, I have said to Pauline repeatedly that I have no reason to think I have any aptitude for it, any more than anyone else who's never tried it before. I also have no reason to think I DON'T have any aptitude for it. I don't know yet. I love music, I play classical and ragtime piano, and thought to branch out and try something different for the experience. I'm not taking violin to become some sort of renegade left-handed Rachel Barton. I just thought I would enjoy it, that's all. Fat chance of that now, but I've already bought the violin. Well, that's life for ya.

There's no hidden agenda, no desire to prove anything, no bid for special attention from a teacher when I should be on a therapist's couch instead - not for left-handedness, anyway. But thanks so much for the 30-second amateur psychoanalysis, which I shall cherish always.

What I did say is that if I take lessons I intend to do it left-handed. I said so because by the time I got the left-hand violin (yes, a real honest-to-God one, made by grotesque trolls who have some evil purpose best left festering in the dark), I had already been forced to debate the issue several times with other people, most of whom should have known better. It was none of their business anyway. I didn't want to debate it. It's other people who make an issue out of my being left-handed, not me. I wanted Pauline to just say yes or no without debating me over it. If she'd said no, I'd have tried somebody else. And I'd probably have been stoned to death for it, by the look of things.

I'm glad I asked somebody nice the first time.

To date, I still haven't seen one valid argument in favor of switching. "It shouldn't matter" and "It's just as hard or easy that way" don't count. They are not reasons. They are opinions. And I have yet to hear either opinion expressed by anybody who ever made a good-faith effort to learn the wrong way and still thought it didn't matter and was just as easy. Anybody who's been through that and claims it didn't matter or was just as easy is either lying or has a short memory. To find out how easy it is and how much it doesn't matter, try spending a half hour writing with your non-dominant hand. Mmm, feels good - and twice as pretty! Stick with it, and months from now you'll be great at it and can tell everyone how simple it was and how swell it would be if everyone did that.

And if you can explain what the point was in the first place, you get a cookie. I'm very sorry for anybody who's already been made to switch hands, and so glad you got past it, but you're doing a terrible disservice to the rest of us by not admitting that the reason you did was "I didn't want to, but I was talked into it" or "I had to, or they wouldn't let me learn." Pushing to have everyone who comes after you subjected to the same unpleasant experience just because you did it is wrong.
I'm still trying to work out what the conspiracy theory is about, in case there really is more to this than "we don't serve your kind here." That's all I can make of it at the moment, but it's a really venomous "we don't serve your kind here." The fact that it devolved more or less into a discussion about making allowances because it might be too late to turn me around is a bad sign. Is that what passes for open-mindedness around here?

No points for that, sorry. It's perfectly okay if you nab 'em when they're too young to fight back, huh? That's the spirit! Of course they can't find a left-hand violin the proper size, but the fact that any potential market for those has been squelched by right-handers refusing to let kids play left-handed might have something to do with that. Otherwise left-hand models would be readily available in all sizes, at a mere 50% markup over the normal kind. This is America, after all.

I suppose that grudgingly allowing violins to be played left-handed might lead to universal education, votes for women, racial integration, and other forms of coddling and catering. (Who the hell do they think they are, anyway?) And from there we somehow get to the total collapse of modern civilization, but I can't quite work out the path from point A to point B.

I'm hoping to figure it out, though, if someone will be kind enough to explain the reason - the actual reason, please - why everyone's so hell-bent on seeing to it that no one ever, ever, ever plays a violin left-handed. Never mind what I'm up to; what are YOU up to? It's a serious matter because you're shutting people out of something they would like to do, which they are entitled to pursue, and which, as musicians, you should be promoting to the general public as much as possible instead of doing what you're doing. That would be encouragement vs. discouragement. Making it easy vs. making it hard. Opening doors vs. slamming them in people's faces, just because you can.

Even worse, you're doing your level best to persuade all other violin teachers to join your lynch mob, which is not only downright nasty, but also unethical. What kind of thought has actually gone into all this? What are you trying to accomplish? What is the threat? It must be a whopper if it's causing so many teachers to turn down business rather than just... you know... teach.

I suspect it's just a mean-spirited sport. Am I wrong? Is there a metabolic disorder of the adrenaline gland, common to most violinists, that causes them to jump up and scream "Holy Mother of God, don't teach THEM!!!" whenever somebody suggests that left-handedness might not need to be clubbed like a baby seal? If there is, can I get it named after me? That'd be cool.

Right- or left-handed, it's the student's problem to work out how to achieve what the instructor demonstrates. Playing left-handed is an advantage there, since right-handers don't have a ready-made excuse for screwing up. (Oops, sorry. People who play right-handed don't make mistakes, do they?) I can imagine it would be difficult for the teacher, though, what with the bow going up and down exactly the same way. On the other side.

No no, I can't show you staccato on my violin if you're holding yours over there. Can't... think... everything... going... dark...

If I were right-handed, that's exactly the sort of master violinist I'd want to take lessons from, too. I assume the inability to explain the techniques clearly enough for everyone to understand warrants a discount on the fee.

I know the answer won't turn out to be "Go ahead and play left-handed, see if I care," because obviously everybody cared all kinds of ways when the comments were posted. Some cared enough to diagnose me as a mental case merely for inquiring about lessons, with plenty of concurrence. (That is not a normal reaction, folks. If you think it is, check with some right-handed people who live on planet Earth. I know some of that was tongue-in-cheek. Some of it wasn't.) Some cared enough to jump in with pre-emptive strikes on ensemble playing and having a special violin, without bothering to find out first whether I'm interested in one or already have the other. Everybody cares plenty. Nobody's said why in a way that doesn't boil down to "We don't serve your kind here, and death to anyone who defies us."

The bit about playing with an ensemble begs the question. People don't play left-handed in orchestras because right-handers won't let them. Get it? And never mind the seating arrangements. There's a perfectly simple solution to that which would neither affect the sound nor "ruin the silhouette." (Oh yes, there is. Think about it for 10 seconds.) It's just that nobody would ever do it, for the same reason they don't want people playing left-handed in the first place, I guess.

It's disingenuous to invent and enforce a rule that nobody can play with a group left-handed, and then tell left-handers they have to switch or give up because they'll never be able to play with a group. That's cute all right, but logic it ain't.

As for not being able to play other people's violins, I've been around for a while and have yet to walk into a situation where a violin was lying around which needed to be played by me, never mind having to borrow one in an emergency. (Quick - play Locatelli's "Labyrinth" or we're all done for! But... but this violin is... NOOOO!!!!) Is the prospect of anything remotely like that ever happening a reason to vigorously block all attempts anyone ever makes to learn left-handed?

The truth is that southpaws don't have a club. We used to, 20 or 30 years ago, but it's been disbanded. It's of no interest to left-handed people to see other left-handed people any more because they're everywhere these days. (Well, not around you because you immediately torch any who get within range, but in the world of the living there are lots.) There are a few hangers-on who didn't get the memo and are bucking for idiocy like having left-handed levers on all water fountains, but they're crackpots. I've never been one of them and don't know any personally, but they're allowed to be crackpots. They're probably like that because they got their skulls split open for trying to take an interest in the violin.

It seems it's right-handers who have formed a club now. I don't know what they need one for, since they're a majority. It must be about something terribly important to invoke all that rock-throwing and name-calling whenever a southpaw has the unmitigated gall to offer a northpaw money for violin lessons. I would flog myself for it if you hadn't already saved me the trouble, but I'd still like to know why anybody thought it was so vitally necessary to do that.

Whatever the issue is, clearly it's far more important than either spreading the joy or advancing the cause of music education - AT ALL, never mind in a positive manner. Nobody's the least interested in either one of those things. (With a few exceptions which were duly noted. And thanks much - you know who you are.)

So what's up with all that? C'mon, I promise not to tell.


Randel Prandel said...

History has it, Southpaws have superior dexterity than other contemporary dexterous souls.

VijayAnanth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary Graefen said...

nicely told experiance