News Bulletin

April 1, 2014

In The Key of Strawberry is 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.

Photo credit: Dorothea von Haeften

Dr. Arnie photo credit: Dorothea von Haeften

Share this Story


  1. From Sonya Hamlin on April 1, 2014

    Have I told you lately that I love you? (this tune is charmiong on the viola, if you’d only stop playing and listen!!)
    This latest installment is, and you, are great!. Love Sonya

  2. From Jennifer C on April 1, 2014

    Dear Dr. Arnie,

    My newly formed string quartet has received some very nice praise from the likes of the New York Times and even Strad Magazine upon our very first concerts together. However, after almost one year, we can’t seem to find a permanent name for our group. So far we have called ourselves the following names, but cannot seem to agree on any one of these: Power Playground (“we are not a rock band”),
    Vortex (“no!”), Starling Murmuration (“seriously?”), TET (Nevermind), and Ye Ole Quatettery. Can you help us?

  3. From Carlos Cabezas on April 1, 2014

    Maestro,, I like your blog very much!! I have been trying the down-bow staccato for ever, I will give me one more chance with your remedy, =) Thank YOU! =)

  4. From SuzyR on April 1, 2014

    Dear Dr. Arnie,

    Your photo suggests that you are actually a Freudian psychoanalyst, which might be why your advice to musicians is, I’m sorry to say, a little off key.

    From your advice, it appears that you are not a musician, at least not the sort who plays in a symphony orchestra.

    Glow in the dark suits indeed!

    Signed: Ima Ghast

  5. From Cho-Liang Lin on April 1, 2014

    Dear Dr. Arnie:
    But what can I do to actually play in tune?

  6. From lien on April 1, 2014

    LOL! this makes my day, i especially like the oatmeal advice :-) … awesome portrait Dr Arnie :-)

  7. From Linda Beuret on April 1, 2014

    Long time fan and admirer , not only of your playing, wishes to tell you I find you handsomer without the mustache. I suppose your wife gets a vote too.

  8. From Maru Rangel on April 2, 2014

    Hello Dr. Arnie, congratulations for your new column. I will like to share with you my writings in El hijo del Averno with my column named El Anafre Chipocludo or How to cook without fire in hell.
    Love and Happy Birthday!!!
    Paolo and Maru

  9. From Nan on April 2, 2014

    Dear Dr Arnie, it is very late and you are more than likely in bed, and I see that I have missed wishing you happy birthday on your exact b’day date, although it is only 10:20 in New Mexico. So from my heart strings (more In tune than those of my viola) to your violin strings, I wish you a wonderful new year. And no bad feelings intended but what about that mustache??? naninano

  10. From joan patenaude-yarnell on April 7, 2014

    I am laughing myself silly as I read these wonderful bits of advice. Makes me want to do the same for a few suspect singers I often have to deal with…. Sage advice and handy suggestions. Great material for my Blog


  11. From diane allen on April 7, 2014

    this is kinda funny, but I hope you will write another serious book…. what is funnier, I took up the violin at age 69 but am not doing well. advice?

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Story Index

Photo credit: Dorothea von Haeften

April 1, 2014

News Bulletin

In The Key of Strawberry is 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 …

David Soyer

February 24, 2014


Last summer I was once again a participant in the Marlboro Music Festival. As always, the school generously provided my wife, Dorothea, and me with a house off campus. This time we were given the former home of David Soyer, the cellist of our Guarneri String Quartet for thirty-seven of its forty-five-year existence. Dave passed away in 2010, his wife, Janet, in 2011.

Photo credit: Dorothea von Haeften

February 1, 2014

Violin Collection

You can only play one violin at a time, but that doesn’t mean one or two extras might not come in handy once in a while.


January 1, 2014

Me and my Violin

Marc Lifschey, one of the greatest oboists of his era, once told me that after retiring as a performer and teacher, he had sold his oboe. On the face of it, …

Ear + Worm

December 1, 2013

But the Melody Lingers On

About to walk across New York City’s Central Park on a sunny winter day, I suddenly heard the strains of Santa Claus is Coming to Town wafting out of a …


November 1, 2013

And What Then?

Two and two make four. But what about two against two? They only add up to trouble if you ask me.

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Calling Planet Earth

What on earth is the ISQA? Hint: Perhaps you’re not asking the right question. Read on to find out.

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September 1, 2013


Global warming, war, famine, pollution- all subjects of great concern to us. But what about string quartets?

Tom Heimberg

August 1, 2013


How important is it to be the very best at what you do? And what if you’re not?

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July 8, 2013

Drunk as a Skunk

PUI (Performing Under the Influence) is not illegal as far as I know. Perhaps it should be.


June 1, 2013


Money makes the world go round, doesn’t it? Well, almost always.


May 1, 2013


Who is more important, the composer or the performer? Or are they like Siamese twins who simply cannot get along without one another?

Thou Shalt Not Steal

April 1, 2013

A Bible Story

Stealing is wrong. You know it. I know it. Or did I?

Arnold Steinhardt

March 4, 2013


There are a few so-called left-handed violinists. Personally, I have to use both hands to play the violin, but maybe I’m just not talented.


February 2, 2013

Fritz Kreisler

What happens when four people in a string quartet can’t agree on how to play a musical phrase or even on the merit of an entire work? The great violinist and distinguished composer, Fritz Kreisler, presented the Guarneri String Quartet with just that problem.

The Interview

December 28, 2012

The Interview

Giving interviews is something musicians have to do surprisingly often. But no matter how much I improve my interview skills, they will always be mediocre in comparison with those of a fellow musician I once met.

The Juilliard String Quartet (from left)—Joseph Lin, Joel Krosnick, Samuel Rhodes, and Ronald Copes

November 22, 2012

An Open Letter to Sammy Rhodes

You think quitting smoking is hard? Try quitting a string quartet. My 4-step program might just help Sammy Rhodes quit the Juilliard String Quartet.


September 7, 2012

A Night to Remember

Have you ever heard a concert that you will never forget? And have you ever gone out on a blind date with someone famous to thousands except to you? I have, and both events happened on the same night.

Arnold Giving Colbourn Commencement Speech

May 7, 2012

Colburn School Commencement Address

The first time I gave a commencement address, the school folded one week later. I try again at the 2012 Colburn School graduation ceremony.

The Steinhardt String Quartet, Press Poster

April 1, 2012

The Steinhardt String Quartet

The string quartet has been described as a truly democratic group without leaders or followers—a republic of equals. Think again.

Arnold Steinhardt Sixth Grade Class Photo

March 1, 2012

Teach Me!

Mr. Moldrem, my first violin teacher, easily taught baffling rhythms to his students by comparing them to different fruits. He was a shining example of the teacher’s elusive craft.

Jascha Heifetz

February 2, 2012


In Jascha Heifetz, the right body, heart, mind, and guidance came together to produce a violinistic miracle.

The Arnold Steinhardt Metronome

January 5, 2012

You’re On Your Own

I have very mixed feelings about the metronome, mainly because it’s so….metronomic. But let me explain.

Meryl Streep as Roberta Guaspari

December 4, 2011


Musicians are often compared to actors, but if you’re good as one, should you necessarily be good as the other?

Rock Concert T-shirt

November 1, 2011


I go to my first rock concert ever with ear plugs in my ears and discover up close why the world’s ears are at risk.

Manuscript of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge

October 3, 2011

Opus 130

How often does a work of music change your life? Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet, Opus 130, changed mine but it took me several years to realize it.

Arnold Steinhardt's Violin Case

September 9, 2011

My Violin Case

It’s just for a violin and bow, right? Wrong.

Rudolf Serkin, pianist, and Arnold Steinhardt, violinist, 1980

August 2, 2011

Marlboro at Sixty

The Marlboro Music School celebrated its sixtieth anniversary last summer. For many of us, it was the most important musical experience of our lives.

Stage F-F-Fright

July 1, 2011

Stage F-F-Fright

An age-old problem has a host of possible solutions including specific practice, meditation, and an unlikely drug.

Del Gesu Beare, Scrolls

June 6, 2011

An Old Friend

The violin I play is my partner and my friend. Such a violin that I’ve not seen in thirty years returns for us to get reacquainted.

Practice, Practice

May 3, 2011

Practice, Practice

Practice makes perfect whether in ballet, tennis, chess, or music. But hours of mindless practice may lead you astray. Enter the master teacher as guide.

The Duo

April 1, 2011

The Duo

An exciting and unusual new chamber music endeavor. Now booking!


March 1, 2011

A Meditation on the Meditation

An alluring violin solo in an opera by Jules Massenet acquires a life of its own as a violinistic showcase. Beloved by some, belittled by others, the Meditation has nevertheless remained in the repertoire for over a hundred years.

Forty Year Story

February 3, 2011

Forty Year Story

I was young and inexperienced but I managed to do right by my students. The consequences might surprise you.

Perfect Pitch Tablets from Tone Deaf Comics

January 3, 2011

Perfect What?

So your little genius has perfect pitch. Big deal.

David Soyer

December 6, 2010


When someone I know dies, I find myself taking inventory almost without realizing it. In David Soyer’s case, I will remember him as a marvelous cellist, an uncommon musician, and as an extraordinary human being.

Paganini's Birthday

October 27, 2010

Paganini’s Birthday

I pay tribute to the great violinist with words, music, and a letter sent to him at his grave in Parma, Italy.

Photo from Opus

October 4, 2010


Michael Hollander’s play about string quartets explores both this great medium’s pitfalls and its bliss.

Hermes/Mercury, God of Travel

September 6, 2010


Open your hearts and minds to the great adventure of getting from point A to point B on firm ground or at 35,000 feet, on time or maddeningly late.

In a Sentimental Mood

August 2, 2010

In a Sentimental Mood

“Sentimental” according to one definition, means having sentiment or feeling but that quality seems to have fallen on hard times. Why are we so uncomfortable with a heart that beats unashamedly on the sleeve?

Dinner Music

July 1, 2010

Dinner Music

A string quartet competes badly with hot dogs, mustard, and relish.

Disney Hall

June 2, 2010

Something New, Something Old

We’re tired of hearing the same old works over and over again, yet unhappy if not downright uncomprehending listening to the very new. Something’s got to give.

Joe Vita

May 4, 2010

Joe Vita

A passion for music appears in an unlikely person and place.

Twelve Note Story

April 23, 2010

Twelve Note Story

Take a deep breath and try to settle down. I know, I know. The task is daunting, but you’ve worked hard. Just be relaxed. Be focused. And now get practical. …

News Alert

March 30, 2010

News Alert

The United States Bureau of Weights and Measures has just announced at a national news conference that chamber music may cause global warming. Read on.

Sophisticated Traveler

February 28, 2010

Sophisticated Traveler

It happened to me. I sure hope it doesn’t happen to you. But it could.

Grammy Award

January 18, 2010

Grammy Awards

It will be an honor just to have been nominated for such a prestigious award, won’t it? Won’t it???

Shall We Dance?

January 4, 2010

Shall We Dance?

I play Bach for an elderly musician who responds by dancing for me and opening up a new world of understanding.

Looking for Work

December 1, 2009

Looking for Work

The Guarneri String Quartet retired, but a guy’s got to do something with the rest of his life.

Birth Pains

November 4, 2009

Birth Pains

Mozart’s String Quartet, K. 421 in D Minor was the very first music the Guarneri String Quartet read through after deciding to form as a group. I can think of two other birth events associated with this emotive work.

The Guarneri Quartet

October 6, 2009

For the Very Last Time

The Guarneri String Quartet says goodbye after forty-five years on the concert stage.

Gray's Papaya

September 1, 2009

Gray’s Papaya

Where a hot dog on a bun with mustard and sauerkraut is undisputed king.

Second Concert

August 3, 2009

Second Concert

Musicians usually perform for the well-heeled members of society but I unexpectedly play for an audience of homeless people — with moving results.

Arthur Rubinstein

July 7, 2009


“I just loved your playing”, he said at the end of the concert. But did he mean it?

Life, Death, Music

June 13, 2009

Life, Death, Music

A teenager I’ve never met before sets in motion a story of life, death, and the enormous power of music.

Almost on the Riviera

May 11, 2009

Almost on the Riviera

I audition for a movie role as a violinist. So close to stardom, yet so far.

The Abode

April 1, 2009

The Abode

Where do chamber music players go when they retire from concertizing? Here’s your answer.

Yehudi Menuhin

March 5, 2009

Genie in a Bottle

I record, therefore I am at your service at any hour of the day, every day of the year, for eternity.

A Brush with Fame

February 8, 2009

The Brush With Fame

For mere seconds, a crooner, an actress, and a violin student come together in unlikely fashion.

New Years Thoughts

January 1, 2009

New Year’s Thoughts

Some comments from the Guarneri String Quartet’s listeners on the eve of its retirement.

The Swan

December 1, 2008

The Swan

One of the most alluring melodies ever written for the cello. So sweet, so simple. Well, not exactly.

Mr. Oliver

November 10, 2008

Mr. Oliver

A music teacher in danger of losing his job prompts his class to write a letter of support with unimagined short- and long-term consequences.

Tooth Talk

October 8, 2008

Tooth Talk

It’s not food, it’s not a roof over your head, and it’s not procreation. So what exactly is music good for?

What Good is Music

September 11, 2008

What Good is Music?

It’s not food, it’s not a roof over your head, and it’s not procreation. So what exactly is music good for?

A Tale of Three Violinists

August 10, 2008

A Tale of Three Violinists

When one young, one old, and one truly terrible violinist meet, ignorance, greatness, and comedy reign all at once.

Last Words to a Son

July 11, 2008

Last Words to a Son

My mother gives me a compliment just before leaving this earth at 101 years of age.

A Dog's Tale

June 12, 2008

A Dog’s Tale

I’m such a wonderful teacher. You don’t believe me, do you? Let me show you why.

Remembering Izzy

May 10, 2008

Remembering Izzy

Isidore Cohen, a distinguished violinist, is remembered and honored in a most unusual way years after his passing.

A Noteworthy Day

March 2, 2008

A Noteworthy Day

Sounds. They’re everywhere. Who is responsible for them? And I’m not talking about music.

Solo Bow

February 2, 2008

Solo Bow

Perhaps I shouldn’t have read those program notes about Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 18 #5 before we, the Guarneri Quartet, walked out onto the stage to perform it.

In the Key of Strawberry

January 1, 2008

In the Key of Strawberry

The Talmud says that a dream not understood is like a letter unopened. A search for the meaning of my strange dream comes up with surprising results.

Hiroshi Iizuka

December 1, 2007

Cousin Sam

There are large foundations and small foundations. Then there is my cousin Sam whose generosity proved contagious.