More questions to ALICE McVEIGH,
the 'agony aunt' of classical music
I have been searching around for this year's April Fools. Apart from
MusicWeb and an agony column Ask Alice at
Music & Vision,
has anyone found anything else?
(Forwarded to Alice by her editor)
Dear Desperately Seeking April Fool's jokes,
Morale in classical music must be even lower than you thought!
Yours, not fooling,
I have just finished re-reading your second novel, which is at once moving,
funny and completely uplifting. The bit where the dog Antoinette died made me cry
like a child, the character of Terence is hilarious and the scene where the cello
disappeared under the waters of the Seine will stay with me forever.
Tell me, are any of your characters inspired by real people in the various
orchestras you've worked with?
Yes, great, super, but next time would you mind shoving in a faked name and address?
(PS By the way, the dog's name was Anton, and the river was the
Thames. Otherwise spot-on.)
Note to new readers: Fred, the son of a prominent conductor, has been battling to convince
his family that he is cut out, not for the bassoon, but for a life in the Marines. Alice first
advised him to go for it, but was shaken last week, when Fred's request for her advice on where
to get peach-coloured knickers suggested that he might not be cut out for a life in the armed
Didn't quite understand your last, but perhaps you were short of space! I'm off on the first
training period in only a week and a half -- I can't believe it!!! -- but I'm concerned about
(a) whether my father will let me come back into the house long enough to retrieve my bassoon
and (b) whether taking the bassoon is, in fact, such a hot idea. Point is, and I hope you can
understand this, I really love the bassoon, I just can't see it being enough for my whole life!
I mean, I don't want to become a professional player but I'd absolutely hate never to see my
bassoon again. (It's name is Harvey, incidentally). It's no good asking his wife for help because
she's his fourth, not my mum, and never liked me. What's your opinion?
Lots of love, Fred.
PS By the way, I discovered the most amazing website, so, knickers-wise, I'm all sorted!!!!!
Bit tricky, isn't it? I mean, the impression I got was that, were your father to be given a
choice between taking you or a well-nourished rat on a long walking holiday, the rat would
currently get the nod, no questions asked. And these top conductors can be murder to deal with.
(As can the not-so-top conductors, as you've probably noticed.) I also happen to know that the
bassoon will be an expensive item to replace should he chuck it out the window at you.
Then again, I'm not an expert on the Marines, but my guess is that a bassoon might rank lowish
on the list of the things the ideal recruit would be expected to show up with. Have you a
sympathetic sibling who might be willing to spirit your bassoon out of the family mansion and
keep it for you, at least for a while? If not, have you an enterprising friend -- some musician,
possibly less endowed with family dosh than you -- who might be willing to do a bit of breaking
and entering on your behalf?
I think fair means or foul could be justified in its retrieval, but I really wouldn't advise
you to take it next week, ditto the peach thongs. It's kind of hard to explain but let's just say
that there some things your average marine just finds tough to understand.
I have been a rank and file member of a salaried orchestra in the uk for the
last sixteen years. Am I a vegetable?
Dear rank and file for 16 years,
I doubt it, as, if you were, you'd have curled up blackly at the edges by now like all
those worthy carrots I'm always buying and then forgetting to eat. However, even in
the bowels of a salaried orchestra, someone in that case would have spotted that you
aren't quite as fresh as you once were. (Of course, as the same thing is probably the
case with them, there might be policy in their electing not to mention it.)
However, if you feel yourself becoming dark and mottled around your edges, you must
not despair. Parliament, the Civil Service and many other famous organisations are proud
to boast any number of vegetables: why shouldn't orchestras do the same? There is also a
largish historical precedent for electing to become an orchestral vegetable; indeed, some
of the world's best orchestras are still full of them (the bow arm's generally the biggest
Basically there remain three basic courses of action available to you: you could rejuvenate
your flagging violinistic technique and artistic morale with technical exercises and solo
performances (yawn, yawn). You could resign and learn computing. Or you could found a new
political movement: Proud to have Gone Off. That's what I would do, if I was in your position,
but people who don't have full-time jobs never get On enough to actually go Off, do they?
I work for a corporate entertainment company and boy do I ever get fed up with the
diva-ike attitude of various artists!! I like the business but I really would like to
be able to work with musicians who are not only talented etc but who know how to behave
to a drop dead gorgeous brunette, 21, brains, gsoh, and all the fixings!
What do you recommend?
Frankly, I recommend that you forget the musicians entirely.
Listen, corporate entertainment is a great place to meet, not only whinging musos,
but loaded entrepreneurs, corporate big-wigs, and seriously moneyed socialites. What
you want to do is to take out a loan big enough to do your sensational looks justice in
top designer gear, and then to volunteer to show up at all the poshest functions, supposedly
in order to make sure the musicians don't scarper with the silver service but in actual fact
in order to impress all of the above with your sultry charms and organisational abilities.
If you insist, you can of course get your own back on the musos who currently drive you
bonkers by hiring them for your own wedding and pulling the Disaster-zone Bride-from-hell routine.
This is usually accomplished by (a) setting them up in a darkly-lit corner smelling strongly of
ex-cigarettes, (b) 'forgetting' to supply them with anything to eat and drink other than tap water
and mouldy sandwiches with processed cheese as a filling and (c) obliging them to play for a
receiving line which takes two solid hours to process and then, when one player finally charges
off for a loo break, inquiring sweetly why the music has stopped.
I am also grateful to Scott Morrison, Edie in Maine and others for their amusing comments
on the column, which always brighten my day!
Copyright © 18 April 2003
Alice McVeigh, Surrey, UK