Well, the great violin string tragedy might not have been a tragedy to anyone else, merely an annoying incident. But around here, things have a way of taking on dimensions that just . . .
I don't know if I've told you that much about my younger son, Thomas. He's Autistic. Nowadays they call it Asperger's, but back when he was diagnosed, there was no such thing. He's very high-functioning, and high IQ –which helps him intellectually compensate for things that come automatic to most people, and almost 80% of the time "passes" for neurotypical. He's one of the main reasons I ended up pulling the boys out of public school (another long and involved adventure that including me in the elementary school office snarling, "Give me my children! I can do this badly by my self!) and homeschooling for the next 12 years. Anyway with all those years of one-on-one and plenty of time to teach and practice real life skills (since he wasn't sitting in a school all day) he has just blossomed. He looks so NT sometimes that it's just easy to forget he's not.
So, his A string has drifted off in such a way that it was making an unpleasant sound. It could be tuned to "A" but was just off, in someway that Thomas couldn't quite make me understand. I could tell that it was louder and brighter than the rest of the strings, and just didn't seem to fit in. After several conversations, he made me understand that for him, this was a serious problem. It made it painful to play the violin, in a NOT metaphorical way. As with most autistics, his sensory input system just works differently from ours. I told him to consult with his teacher. He did, I was there, (I don't normally go any more, but I knew this to be a "new" situation for Thomas, and he'd have trouble breaking into the regular flow of the lesson to ask. So I'm there to say, "Thomas has a question about his A string.") he got a long lecture on strings, their history, their makeup, etc., and in the end the pronouncement they were basically a personal choice, and also depended on the violin. The same string can sound different on two different violins. You can make sweeping generalizations about certain brands being generally "brighter" or more mellow, etc, but really, it's trial and error until you find the ones you like best. No help, at all.
After the lesson we go downstairs to the Fret Shop and try to get a young man to help us, whose first piece of advice was, "you really need to get Phil (aforementioned teacher) to help." Then we get more theory, and the guy plucks on the strings, notes that the A is louder, figures out what brand it is, tells Thomas that that is generally the most mellow brand and any other might make it harsher, finds out that the strings are almost a year old, tells us most serious string players replace their strings every 3-4 months, and we should tell Phil how old the strings are and get more advice from him, and come back later, since Phil's in another lesson. Another guy agrees with him.
Finally I gave up. I'd never had a shop try so hard to NOT sell me something. So I say to Thomas, "Let's talk to Phil again at the Sunday rehearsal," and we leave. We're driving and talking, and Thomas is trying to impress upon me just how painful it is, and I finally realize he's telling me he won't use the violin in the condition it's in. It's that painful. (And that changing back to the old violin this close to the Christmas concert was equivalent to changing all the music, because everything would sound different . . . You get used to having these sorts of discussions if you live with an autistic person with extraordinary hearing, for 20 years.)
So I just turn the car around and go back in and tell the boy (and now the manager's involved, because we're there a lot, and good customers —two violins, not counting the rental, and related stuff so far) that there must be string buying, today. Luckily for us, Phil has walked down with his 2 students (yes it's an hour later) and the boy and I tell him the situation. Phil, bless him, understands Thomas and the problem (that Thomas can't make the decision and I don't know enough to pick a string, and that the guys in the shop, who have heard Thomas play, and talked with him enough, especially by this time in this episode, to know how serious a musician Thomas is, and how sensitive his hearing is and are afraid to be the one to make the wrong decision on a string). He asks Thomas more questions about the strings he already has, and what brands they are (the D&G are one brand, the A was another brand, and the E was yet another.) told him to just try replacing the A with the same brand as the D & G. And agreed with Thomas that the E string could also use replacing, but with the same brand, because E strings are the easiest to go wrong with, and the most unpleasant when you do. Whew.
I don't know about you, but I now know more than enough about strings, and their brands, and qualities.
Just to add it all up, it's an hour or so at home talking about the problem and establishing that he needs a string and help with the social interaction parts of getting one. It's 30 minutes into Huntsville to the Fret Shop, 30 minute lesson, an extra hour in the store, and 30 minutes to drive home. Three and a half hours that I normally would have been at home, probably wasting my time on the internets.