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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

the 'agony aunt' of classical music,
answers more of your questions

Dear Alice,

Thanks for publishing my letter ... I still can't believe Saddam would be routed so fast! Is it safe to go public with my story now? And could I send you my first draft?

Also: it's about my stormy relationship with Saddam's sister at Juilliard, but I just can't think of a snappy title.
Can you think of anything?

(name supplied)

Dear Name supplied,
Yes, terrific moment when Saddam's statue was smashed to pieces, and personally I think you could go public already!

As for your title, well, I'd love to help but I am famously hopeless at titles. The brilliant title of my play about a conductor obsessed by his father's past (Beating Time) was first suggested by a cellist friend, and I still can't believe that my first novel (While the Music Lasts) ever got published, bearing as it did midst snow and ice my original title (The Secret Files of an Orchestral Anarchist) ...

However, my editor suggests we throw this one open to the readers. If anyone out there has a knack for punchy, winning, saleable titles then now's your chance!


Cartoon by Noel Ford of Alice McVeigh from her book 'All Risks Musical'

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

My wife and I are thinking of IVF, should I take up the viola?

(By the way, what does IVF stand for?)


Dear DGriffs,
I appreciate that you're feeling low, which, as I was infertile for twelve years, I can empathize with. However, I am not convinced that your case is so hopeless that you need to take quite such drastic measures. The viola is not an instrument to be taken up lightly. My friend played professional viola until tendonitus struck, and she was, in her weakened state, converted to fundamentalist Christianity, with an irrevocably disastrous effect on her sense of humour.

Seriously, however, the effect of viola-playing on one's sperm count remains unknown, but inconclusive studies in Switzerland suggest that, exposed to the sound of a viola, your average sperm pretty much gives up the will to live. I also think the needs of your partner must be considered. Some women might be put off sex altogether by the sound of a viola.

My advice would be to consider the trumpet. The same trial to which I previously alluded (though as I mentioned it has yet to be replicated in double-blind form) suggested that, upon hearing the sound of a trumpet, the spermies started swaggering around like nobody's business, jumping into bed with chicken eggs, toad eggs, indeed any eggs, and generally showing some serious get-up-and-go. Time and tests alone will ascertain whether an antidote can be found for those trumpeters over-afflicted with this condition, but, circumstanced as you are, I think it definitely worth a try.


Ask Alice

I'm training as an opera singer and am finding that my bust is getting in the way. Whenever I inhale, I find that my ample bosom escapes from my bra. What can you suggest?


Dear Carole,
Your bust is not getting in your way -- no, this is -- sorry, these are -- two of your prime assets in your chosen field. The career of an opera singer is indispensably linked to the rising and falling of a truly magnificent bust, preferably all smooshed together by a cagey corset which, at the same time, allows you to indulge in diaphragm breathing.

How do you suppose Georgiu or Kiri Te Kanawa first impressed? How else do you expect to smite susceptible conductors, agents etc with the power of your charms -- oops, I mean talent? The only downside that I can see is that, as you must know, opera directors increasingly choose to ask singers to sing inside-out, on their backs and/or upside-down, in which case your assets really might escape you at some point. (This is called 'creativity', 'thinking outside the box' or 'buggering up the singers'.) My advice is to pretend this will bring on a violent migraine or vertigo, and distract the director concerned by mentioning something which might appeal just as much to his sensation-seeking mentality (removing your shoes to enable the tenor to suck your toes etc).
Think about it.

Ask Alice

Authentic performances, come on McVeigh, admit it, they're f***ing awful. Why do you think Beethoven tore off his own ears (or was that Van Gogh?) -- just to rid himself of the awful sound of gut strings, horse pube bows and no bloody vibrato.


Dear Dave,
(Your query reminds me irresistibly of a cellist friend who joked that she'd given up vibrato for Lent!)

But the answer to your question, it has only recently been discovered by musicologists that Beethoven inserted pens into his ears until he was unable to hear not because he was fed up with musicians' tone colours, but in order to drown out the sound of their constant whinging. As he prophetically remarked when having a pint with one of the lesser-spotted Bachs, 'They'll bloody well appreciate us when we're dead. Musos! Don't know they're bloody born.'

Some of the gripes that inflamed him included a soprano who claimed he'd unkindly refused to alter the key of one of her arias in Fidelio simply because he 'heard' it in E major, another who objected that Beethoven had ruined the 'patina' of his voice with his impossible dynamics in the Ninth Symphony, while violinists were unanimous in moaning that it was insulting to leave such a delicate matter as the tempo of a violin piece in the hands of some unwashed timpanist. In the end, sad to say, Beethoven simply decided that enough was sufficient.

(As for your theories about Van Gogh, do get a grip! Most kids in my child's reception class know that Van Gogh cut off his tongue as the result of losing a bet. Nothing to do with the ears at all).
Cheers, Alice

Ask Alice

I have been asked to perform Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 3 with a local amateur orchestra -- a great honour, I am sure you will agree. However I have two main worries for which I crave your reassurance:

1. I do not have a piano -- would a theremin, or maybe an automatic washing machine serve as a viable alternative?

2. For the performance I need to be comfortable -- should I wear a thong or the full bustier? (I am considered well-endowed in the bust department, for a man).

Awaiting your pearls of wisdom...


Good to hear from you, but I would advise you never to perform with an amateur orchestra, even on a really decent washing machine. As for the thong, well, frankly, it's an age thing. Personally I'd say to give them a miss once you're over forty (or, indeed, in many cases, over eighteen).
Yours cordially,

Ask Alice

Did heman Finck live at 212 Finchley Road in a house on the site of what is now Camden Arts Centre?

Who he?
Where there?
What that?

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Our neighbor's kid, nine years old, has a set of expensive drums which he practices on loudly in the garage. Of course his parents don't have to listen, but we neighbors do. How can we get these people to let the kid in the house?

Fed up in South Carolina

Dear Fed-up,
Sorry to hear about your problem, which must be not uncommon. Let's see what you could do ... If the drums are pricey, you could bribe a local youth to steal them for you. This would not of course prevent the lad from buying another set, but chances are the next drum-kit would be kept indoors, to the great benefit of your blood pressure.

Another option is to descend on the dazzled parents, claiming to be from a major record company seeking to set up the next top boy-band. Warn them that their little money-spinner's far too valuable to be allowed loose in his garage, and in fact that round-the-clock surveillance by a reputable bodyguard would be a sound idea.

The last option would be to offer your nuclear shelter (make sure you have one) as a practise-room until the little perisher's big break comes.

Whatever transpires, never, repeat never, simply complain to the parents about the noise, inform your local police or neighborhood authority, or tell the budding basher to put a sock in it. Ear-drums are admittedly important but being on good terms with one's neighbours is one of life's imperatives.
All best, Alice

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,
At last! Someone is listening! I never thought you'd actually print my letter, and get back to me! I've always wanted to be in the Marines, and your letter gave me the determination to take on my family and tell them what I really long to do. (Did I mention that my father is a prominent conductor?) Unfortunately he has now chucked me out of the family home, saying he never wishes to set eyes on me ever again, but I am so elated by having been accepted by the Marines that, believe me, I can live with this. I start training next week, and I am going to name my very first gun Alice in your honour!

There is just one teensy-weensy little thing that's worrying me now, and I wondered if you might have the answer (again!) It's this: I get my (second-biggest) thrills, after being almost a real Marine, that is, out of wearing my mum's undies (and summer dresses, but that's another story!) Can you recommend the best place (maybe on the web) where I could access some slightly lacey but not too revealing bras and undies, preferably peach-coloured? ( -- goes with my complexion, actually). Looking forward impatiently to your advice!
Your friend forever and ever,

Dear Fred,
Thanks for your letter, but I think we may just have to rethink your case from the bottom up.
Love, Alice

Many thanks for all your queries -- keep them coming! -- and hope to get to more next week. Toodle-pip!

Copyright © 11 April 2003 Alice McVeigh, Surrey, UK




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