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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Practical advice from
classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

Ciao Alicia!

Zis ees a very embarrassing situation. I am an operatic tenor and my agent always hees arranges zees engagements where I have to sing with two other operatic tenors (also verrrrrrrrrrrrrry famous, but, you understand, not verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry good as me!!!!!!!) I would like for our identities to remain segreto, not for me, but to protect Placido and José, si?

Ze trouble ees I hear a registrazione, how you say, a recording of a recent concert, si? -- and ze sound of three individual operatic tenors trying to yell over each other beltissimo ees one of ze least pleasant sounds on ze planet. Obviously I am paid molto molto for zees dates and am grateful to my agent, but how I tell heem impossibile -- I cannot inflict zis baccano terribile on ze innocent public a moment longer. (He ees a verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry good agent in other respects and I don't want to annoy him. si?)

Could you helpa me at all?



Luciano's Quality Ices (no relation)
Choc Mint Chip Avenue

Dear L in Napoli,

Don't worry about any singers guessing your identity. I happen to know (from personal experience) that singers get so dizzied from the effort of using the cavities in their nose and head that all but the most obstinate resident brain cells pretty much give up the will to live. (This is frankly what makes teaching singers their text such a hoot.)

Your question is an intriguing one, however.

Firstly, as everyone knows, agents are the most important people in an opera star's life. Now I haven't met your agent (or indeed anyone's agent, as they don't exactly shower orchestral cellists with invitations for representation) but I'd be willing to bet my house that he'd be crying into his beer at the very notion of an end to all those record-busting, knee-weakening, saliva-dripping contracts that the three tenors concerts provide. And -- follow me closely here -- an agent crying into his beer is not a happy agent. And a happy agent is the kind of agent you need to keep you in the style to which you have become accustomed. Frankly, I can see the three of you in your bath-chairs and zimmer-frames, still honking out O Solo mios in thirds to the multitudes. The multitudes may, indeed, stop throwing you their knickers and start throwing bus passes, but, as long as they don't actually chuck rocks, I think you may assume you are fulfilling a deeply-felt need.

Therefore, my advice is: sod the artistic principles and keep waving the hankie.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Living in India, with the monsoon season about to hit, I am getting concerned about my clarinet reeds. How is it possible to keep them from going mouldy? I speak from experience when I say that a mouldy reed has neither the taste nor the sound of a clean reed. Yours in all sincerity, Catherine.

Dear Catherine,
Ah, how you take me back!!!!!! I grew up in southeast Asia (not a lot of people know that) and the monsoon rain was vertical, with a kind of malevolent grandeur about it. I remember that during one such, in Burma, I saw a cobra swimming next to a guy wading along barefoot. I was so impressed the way he just kept going, flicking a bit of water in the snake's face if it wandered a bit too chummily in his direction ...

And once, in Singapore, my sister and I were picked up from school not by our driver (who hadn't been able to get the car across the river) but by the Embassy driver, a notably surly type, who refused to answer the questions my sister and I plied him with (even the simple ones, such as, why aren't we heading for home?) No, he just drove us two nervous and sodden little twits (aged seven and eight) straight to the nearest foreign embassy, where they happened to be having a big 'do'. I will never forget the blank look on the face of our beautifully attired hostess, arm outstretched in welcome, at seeing two unknown schoolgirls dumped on her doorstep. 'Well, bugger me,' she probably mused, 'What am I going to do with this little lot?'

But as to your question, now, there you have me. Haven't a clue, frankly. The conjunction of the monsoon season and music never made much impact on me, possibly because the only musical experience I had in that part of the world involved a little old lady who taught the Skater's Waltz, on the piano, to half the young girls in Singapore. It was the only piece she knew -- once she'd taught you that, she had pretty much shot her bolt -- but I can still, decades later, give you a shot at the definitive Miss Lane version of the Skater's Waltz (and so, I'll bet, can my contemporaries) so she did not suffer in vain.

I am also handicapped on your query in that I've never seen a clarinet, not close-up; though I know -- in a general, theoretical sort of way -- like Australia, or the concept of Free Will -- that they exist, just behind the flutes and not unadjacent to the horns. But in a spirit of gung-ho international cooperation, I will still have a go. Have you tried a hair-dryer? Shall I pass on Colin Lawson's email address? Would a sprinkle of local coriander be any use?

Yours in complete, unsullied ignorance,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I don't know whether this is a real 'question' or not, but the most recent argument around here is as follows:

After studying the piano for six years and the viola for nine, my son decided that his true instrument was the electric guitar. My daughter now complains that I stunted his musical development by forcing him to play the 'wrong' instruments for so many years. I contend that he didn't figure out until rather recently that he wanted to play the electric guitar. Anyway, after all of those years of piano and viola, he sorted the technique of the electric guitar in around three months flat. I think it worked out pretty well. Do you believe that parents should rotate their children through many musical instruments to find the best match, or insist that they stick with one long enough to develop a little competence so they'll figure out why it's worth the bother? Or do you believe that parents should do what they think best and ignore whiny complaints from adolescent girls?

LN in San Jose

Dear LN,

Now with the broad general principle of sticking the heads of adolescent girls in buckets, I am altogether with you, but I find there is more to your query than that. The truth is that choosing the correct musical instrument at any age is at least as much an art as a science. (Coincidentally, I address this topic in article form in this very issue!!!! Yes, two clicks is all you, the reader, need to know to avoid in future the grisly blunder you, LN, have soulessly perpetuated on the delicate psyche of your poor defenseless son !!!!!!!!!!)

I also feel that you should know that I've run your question by our panel of world-famous experts here at Music & Vision [You ran it past who? Basil] who are unanimous in pointing out that, in addition to being so out of touch with your own son's character that you tried to fob him off with an upright, that inflicting the viola on a person yet to reach voting age is reckoned in some states to constitute a rather obscure form of emotional abuse.

So, my advice is: go stick your head in a bucket !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Copyright © 9 May 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

Ask Alice

Alice McVeigh. Photo: Simon McVeigh



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