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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Men problems this week for
classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

[Note from Keith to Alice:
Is this DGriffs again, do you think?

Dear Alice,

I have been a member of a provincial orchestra for a number of years. Over the last couple of years I have found myself becoming more and more attracted to the principal cellist, a vivacious, charming, fine-looking woman, and a truly fantastic player. So far I have managed to control my feelings but things are now coming to a head. During rehearsals I am obliged to be in a position where I can view the object of my desires without giving the game away but I now find myself missing cues, playing wrong notes and generally finding it impossible to concentrate on my music. Should I (a) tell her how I feel but run the risk of rejection, (b) be patient and hope that fate will somehow throw us together, preferably in a situation where I could save her from drowning etc or (c) enter holy orders and hope that a strict regime of cold showers and the Bible will put me back on the straight and narrow? Any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated as I try and pull myself together (Excuse the Pun).
Best wishes,
Confused of London

Dear confused of London (and who isn't????)

If you are DGriffs, as I think you are, please check out answer (a) below. If you are somebody other than DGriffs, please check out answer (b) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(a) Dear DGriffs,

I am so sad, so sorry, but it can Never Be. It's not that I haven't noticed your shy smiles, eager glances, lustful ooglings and completely ballsed-up playing but -- and I hope you'll be able to understand -- I Adore Another. (It's true that we've never met, this other and I, but I have fallen for his writing style, especially his punctuation, and live in hopes that he will return my last email. In the meantime I fantasize, principally about his manly commas and broad strong semi-colons.)

Hoping you will forgive me,
Your friend always,

(b) Dear Confused,

Get a life you sad git.


[Note from Keith to Alice:
Are you sure you're not being a bit terse with DGriffs? Don't forget he's sent us some of your ripest queries since the very start of the column. I hate to get involved in your private life, but I really think you owe him one!

[Note from Alice to Keith:
See answer (b) above

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am a harpsichordist, and passionately believe in the One True and Authentic Faith (raw vegetables, Bach's flower remedies, quorn, gut strings, the Green Party, etc.) However, I have observed in myself of late a strange yearning to switch on (the horror of it!) Classic FM and a hideous, lurking desire to play piano again, preferably a Steinway grand. My harpsiplonks (I own several) seemed to look reproachfully at me, but I have to admit that I listened -- right the way through! -- to the Prokofiev violin concerto recently. Is this the beginning of the end?

Desperate of Blackheath

Dear Desperate,

Yes, I have to say that I think your case may be serious, though you haven't (yet!!!!) gone to the extreme lengths of eating meat or fancying someone of the opposite sex. At least you've taken the first step -- a brave one -- of admitting that you have this problem, and that is hugely in favour of your recovery. My advice is that you consult a doctor with expertise in this field: there are several in the Netherlands I could recommend if you are worried about being spotted in London, including the well-known Dr Ludvig van Guttierthanthou of The Hague.

But don't despair. More people in the authentic world than you suppose have secret yearnings to 'come out' as admirers of Brahms, Mahler and even -- almost unbelievably -- Saint-Saëns. The true faith is not quite as narrow and rigid as you think, and backsliding is not uncommon: some baroque specialists have for years moonlighted in top contemporary ensembles, generally in rudimentary disguise. My guess is that -- if you seek expert guidance, stick to your herbal teas and try not to dwell on your perverted cravings -- the fit will subside and you will be tinkling away as advertised in a few months' time.

(I'm assuming, obviously, that you don't want to be de-programmed, which is available privately though not on the NHS; check out


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I heard about you from a friend of mine, and wonder if you could help me? I am a full-time member of an orchestra -- rather not say which orchestra, or which section -- and I have a problem with my long-term desk-partner. It's not that he drinks or makes sexist comments or anything, it's just that every time I get a bit enthusiastic (well, it's marked fortissimo!) with the bow, he moves his chair away in a rather marked manner, and starts moaning about 'the good old days' when the orchestra only had about two women in it. He never comes to the pub, and never says anything to me unless I say something first, and, even then, he normally objects to it. (Example: 'It's a nice day,' to which he'll say, 'Not in Scotland it isn't', or similar.) He's never actually rude, I can't say that, there's just this covert antagonism all the time. What can I do to make life on the same desk more bearable?

Female fiddler

Dear Female fiddler,

I assume you've already tried the obvious ideas: crop rotation within the section, sleeping with the principal in return for a seating switch etc.

In which case, you should probably just chuck in the towel. The most scintillating conversationalist in the world (such as you are not, frankly, judging from your example) would make little or no headway with the kind of Eeyore you've got landed with. Don't waste your sallies on him, but develop a good rapport with others in your section. If it's a whole section full of grumps bring a book you can perch on the stand while putting up a convincing show, to the conductor, of studying the minutiae of the part. (I've written a few books perfect for the purpose, see sample below!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) In the last resort, I suppose you could even consider paying a spot of attention to the job at hand.

All Risks Musical -- book cover

It is a sad fact that there still remain neanderthals to whom the very existence of women in the orchestras is an abomination, and any effort put into changing their minds is an effort wasted. As my daughter, now five and decidedly not suffering from an image problem remarked when observing that some of the boys in the playground didn't want to play with her, 'They're probably just jealous of my amazing beauty!!!!!!!!!!!'

It's worth bearing in mind, however, that desk-partnering is a mini-marriage, with cagey compromises required on all sides. If your effervescent spirits grate on your partner, do please try to curb them. (Try saying, 'I can't believe how lousy this conductor is.') Otherwise I run the risk of getting a letter from the Grinch griping, 'My desk-partner never shuts up and is always rabbiting on about the weather conditions in the Hebrides' ...

Which would not be funny.

Kind regards,

[Note from Keith: OH yes it would.]

[Note from Basil: PLEASE stop this bickering.]

Copyright © 23 May 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

Cartoon by Noel Ford from 'All Risks Musical' by Alice McVeigh

[Note from Keith to DGriffs:
Due to a row have regretfully had to fire Alice.
Would you be interested in her slot?





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