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Psyche 1001 Case Study #46

Copyright 1983 by Bruce Jaeger. All rights reserved.   Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, May 1984

(NOTE TO STUDENTS: This case is also from the notebooks of the famous Iron Range psychiatrist, Dr. Sigurd Freudson. The Patient, Earl Klassen, is a tall man in his mid-thirties who has played the fiddle since he was nine years ond, and has never held a steady job. Mt Klassen was placed under Dr. Freudson’s care by the sheriff of West Tailings, Minnesota, after the fiddler had beed found wandering naked, in mid-winter, in the bottom of an abandoned open-pit mine., humming and playing his fiddle.)

Doctor Freudson (as Earl is led into the study): Good afternoon, Mr. Klassen!

Earl Klassen: Hello.

Doctor: I understand you play the fiddle.

Earl: Nobody really understands the fiddle, Doctor. I've been working at it nearly all my life, and I feel I've literally only "scratched" the surface.

Doctor: 1 think you misunderstood my question, but never mind Earl, do you realize why you were brought here?

Earl: I guess it must have been because I was trespassing in that old mine. Heck, I wasn't hurting anything!

Doctor: Earl, you were practicing your fiddle in the middle of the night-and stark shivering naked!

Earl: Well, I couldn't practice back at the boarding house--Mrs. Hugdimple put her foot down about that!

Doctor: So you went outside?

Earl: Yes. You see, I'd just had this idea for a new variation on "Sally Ann," and I knew I had to work it out right away or I'd forget it.

Doctor: You couldn't even throw on some clothes first?

Earl: Heck, there wasn't anybody in that old mine pit to look!

Doctor: But Earl, it was COLD! And you know, a lot of people would consider your actions pretty abnormal!

Earl: Not fiddle players.

Doctor: No?

Earl: No. Look, Doctor-when you're on a tune, you just gotta keep on it until you've got it.

Doctor: But why all the trouble? From what I understand, you're pretty good already.

Earl: Are you kidding? I'll never be good enough! Doctor, I'm just a nobody when it comes to fiddling. No matter how much I practice, there's always somebody better than me!

Doctor. I think 1 see your problem now-and a solution to it.

Earl: Sure, so do I. But I couldn't get away with smashing everybody's fingers!

Doctor. No, no! Earl, you fiddlers are all so self-conscious and insecure! You think your tone is always terrible, that you play out of tune all the time, and that the other guy always has the better batch of "licks. " You're going to have to change your perspective.

Earl: I am? How?

Doctor: Stop thinking of all those people who are better than you. There can only be a few thousand at most . . .

Earl: Thanks a lot!

Doctor (continuing) . . . and think of all the BILLIONS you're better than!

Earl: Yeah!

Doctor: You're a better fiddler than, say, Walter Mondale. Or Pete Rose. Or Lady Diana.

Earl: Or even you, Doctor. I bet I'm better than you!

Doctor. Now don't be silly. I happen to be a VIOLINIST, and the fiddler has never been born who can be compared to a decent violinist.

Earl: Now just a dog-goned minute. You're crazy!

Doctor. Am 1? Who was it they found wandering naked in a pit mine, you or me?

Earl: Let's forget about that for a minute, can we? I want to know where you get off in saying violinists are better than fiddlers. I'm sick and tired of hearing that! I can't stand it! Violins this! Violins that! Fiddlers ain't no good! Scratch! Scratch! Screech!

Doctor. Easy, Earl! Get a hold of yourself!

Earl: Sorry, Doctor.

Doctor. That's all right. I think we've finally gotten to the root of your problem. You're simply having trouble in dealing with your natural jealousy of violinists, and your way of coping has . . .

Earl: Natural jealousy of violinists! Now come on! How can you say that violinists are better than fiddlers. Gimme a break!

Doctor. Well, here's an example. How many fiddlers do you know who can play, say the Mendelsohn Concerto?

Earl: Say what?

Doctor. Point made! Now a violinist, of course, can easily play any fiddle tune ever written.

Earl: Nuts!

Doctor. Haven't you heard, for example, Leonard Bernstein's orchestrations of fiddle tunes? Now of course they don't give him much to work with in the way of melody or chord structure, but he's done marvelous things given the circumstances 1 recall in particular his performances of "The Devil's Dream" and "The Arkansas Traveler."

Earl: Hah! I remember hearing those on public radio. They were awful! Had all the life and charm of a bowl of cat food! Look Doe, you don't hand somebody a page full of notes and make a fiddler of him. Real fiddling is full of feeling love, drive and guts! And you violinists have all that beaten out of you by your teachers and all those rules about the Right and Only Way to play things. Heck, if it isn't written down on paper, you can't even play!

Doctor. Now settle down! I. . .

Earl: (Rising) Doctor, I have to thank you! You were right about my being a bit defensive about my playing, and now you've shown me how good I was all along. I feel a lot better! Doctor Freudson, that was pretty tricky of you, but it worked. Thanks!

(DOCTOR'S NOTE: Often the best way to "cure" a patient is to let him do it himself. In the above case, Mr. Klassen has overcome his feelings of inferiority by convincing himself of his adequacy. His fiddler/violinist delusions are harmless, if not actually beneficial, so I elected to leave them uncorrected.)


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