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Ask DGriffs

A flood of correspondence meets
M&V's newly appointed 'agony uncle'

'A new world order is upon us -- the ranting abuser of the Queen's English has been sent to the Tower. Henceforth, gangs of roving exclamation marks may peacefully graze, safe in the knowledge that the Cruella de Ville of punctuation will no longer strewing their carcasses across the literary wilderness that has been Ask Alice for the last eight weeks. I, DGriffs, have accepted the challenge to provide succour and advice to the musically bewildered. I will be a sympathetic ear (or indeed any other organ, where I see fit) where one is needed, and in situations where this is not required, I will call upon my vast, incomplete and wholly unbalanced musical knowledge to keep you, the poor befuddled reader, on the musical and emotional straight and narrow. So, I call upon the serried ranks of the Ask Alice Army to give me your best shot -- I will not fail you as did my immediate predecessor!'

Dear DGriffs,

I heard that you're a violist.
What's your opinion of the shocking fact that many viola concertos are actually played by bloody fiddle players? -- witness Vengerov, Zukermann etc.

Mine is, get your sticky fiddle fingers off our concertos!

Your fellow toiler in the alto clef,

You have me pegged correctly, GG. I have noticed that you share the normal violist's affliction of being unable to spell your own name, resorting lamely to initials (although I applaud your ability to type at all). I am particularly interested in the use of the words 'many' and 'viola concertos' in the same sentence -- such fertile imagination surely lifts you head and chin-rest above your fellow under-achievers.

It is an accepted fact that players of the dreaded violin desperately crave the warm and frankly arousing sound of the viola. The violin is, on the whole, a half-baked idea and any such instrument valued under £20,000 is far more effective if used as an over-resonant table-tennis bat. Of the truth of this the very existence of the E-String is proof enough. As soon as a violin concerto reaches those heights you are effectively listening to someone playing an electricity pylon (witness Beethoven's Concerto in F for Electricity Pylon and Substation -- Op 240V). Is it any wonder that the limited domain of viola concertos has been so comprehensibly invaded by the disenchanted violin-playing fraternity? Tempting as it is to echo your condemnation of this invasion, may I point out that we can't play the bloody concertos ourselves -- not enough open strings, too many high bits, etc.

So, at least as far as yours the undersigned is concerned, the fiddles are welcome to them.



Dear DGriffs,

(Never heard of you, frankly, but then, I'd never heard of the novelist girl either)

I freelance and my problem is with one particular orchestra manager, who books people in strict order of (get this) how much they fawn on her. Also, probably because she was a rubbish player herself at one time, she seems to have it in for people who play really well. At first she seemed to like me, but I haven't been booked for ages and I think she's sussed out that I really can't stand her. What do you think I should do?

(name withheld by request)

My name may not be familiar, even to my parole officer, but who cannot have heard of 'name withheld by request' -- it fairly trips off the tongue. Whilst I hold no torch for my USA-born predecessor (the novelist girl to whom you dismissively refer), I would like to point out that, in her defence, English is very much her second language -- which makes her success as a novelist all the more remarkable and indeed depressing.

Your question deserves a long and deeply considered answer. However, in this life you rarely get what you deserve. Still, on the basis that you seem to have annoyed some orchestra manager or other, might I suggest that you consider being generally less annoying? Starting now?

(PS I mean, it's hardly rocket-science, is it?)


My name is Professor Christoph de Blume, and I am concerned about the peculiar relationship between Beethoven's use of the canonic structures in the late to middle distance and Berlioz's (ditto) in the Te Deum. Can you refer me to a UK source?

Dear Prof de Blume

At last, a question to challenge my vast knowledge and resourcefulness, a question into which one can truly sink one's dentures. Can I, as a fragrant viola-player, I refer you, as a Gallic slime-scoffer, to some idiotically musicological UK source?




Dear Editor-in-chief and, indeed, others,

I wonder if I could trouble you for your erstwhile columnist Alice McVeigh's new email address? She was good enough to suggest that we could jointly investigate some latent sub-clauses on my next trip to London, but I understand that, due to some unfortunate misunderstanding, she is no longer connected with Music and Vision.

Under these circumstances, although we have had our differences on the subject of EU exclamation point stockpiles, I am hoping to interest her in a provisional post here in Brussels for the preservation of sub-clauses, a subject which, I suspect at least, she has very much at heart.

(Especially as my wife no longer seems to understand me.)

Yours, with grateful thanks, in anticipation of an early response,

the Rt Hon Algernon Ffitch Hyphen Ffitch MEP


(Note to new readers: When Fred, despite a penchant for peach-coloured thongs, left the Royal College for a career in the Marines, he was thrown out of home by his conductor father, and had to hire a student friend to steal his bassoon from the house. Now his initial enthusiasm for the military world seems to be waning ...)

Dear Basil, Editor-in-chief,

How can you do this to me?
Alice is my only hope! Nobody else listens to me and sympathises the way she does. She's like the older sister I never had!

How can you heartlessly fire her simply for being bolshie to Keith? I mean, what an idiotic reason! What does Keith's ego matter compared to my whole life's happiness?

Why, without Alice I wouldn't have ever joined the Marines! I'd still be stuck in my dad's posh mansion in Belgravia locked up with my bassoon, instead of here in darkest Herefordshire, being bullied -- yes, I said bullied -- by the most horrible platoon in the entire world!

Listen, without Alice's overt encouragement, I'd never have antagonised my father by having my bassoon 'stolen' out of the family home by an acquaintance from the Royal College of Music; so I'd be actually allowed back home!

In fact, without Alice, I'd never have bought the peach thongs that caused all the trouble in the first place!

Hey, hang on a sec. I think this may require a spot of further thought.

Will get back to you ASAP

Yrs faithfully,


To the Editor, Music & Vision

I am writing to object, in the strongest possible terms, to the firing of the luminously talented Alice McVeigh from your agony column. I am a long-serving prisoner in the Scrubs (though I was framed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) on a trumped up murder charge, and the only thing keeping me going, from Friday to Friday, is the chance of reading Alice McVeigh's brilliant, thoughtful, exquisitely-parsed and elegantly-turned advice to musicians and music lovers such as myself. (I am also a prominent writer on the late Victorians.)

Bring back Alice!!!!!!!!!

(Wormwood Scrubs, name withheld)

Dear Alice,
C'mon, get off it Al, the exclamation points gave you away in the second sentence! Just sit back, take some deep breaths and calm down. 'Your' column is in safe hands! Your friend and replacement (heh heh),

Copyright © 30 May 2003 Dave Griffiths, Kent, UK

[Note from Basil to Keith: Clever chap, this DGriffs, but a touch too acerbic for the general readership, I think. Suggest you swallow your pride and give Alice a ring.]



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