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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

More answers from classical music's
agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I am a first-time writer from Germany and I have a problem in my chamber orchestra. I know it sounds odd but the problem is with the uniform. Before we had all-black and that was fine, but now with the new conductor we have to wear specially-made outfits -- very modern -- and I am of a certain age as they say and it is terrible. I feel sorry whenever I put on this for a concert and I am sure it is affecting my playing, also the colour they choose for me is not so good. Most of the women enjoy this change, but not me. Have you any ideas what to do?

(Name supplied)

Dear German player,

Sartorial questions are very tricky. Here in Britain there have been a few orchestras who've gone down the route you describe -- I believe the females in the Hallé went Nottinghamshire green for a bit, while the London Mozart Player ladies went rainbow and I myself have been obliged, in baroque orchestras, to wear anything bluey-green or even anything-so-long-as-it's-not-black. As far as I'm concerned, like some of your colleagues, at least it made a change, but orchestral players are by nature change-resistant (In how many other professions is it a plus to do things the way they've always been done?)

Still, cheer up. There is a secondary school near me that people fight to get their kids into, where the kids wear a mud-brown uniform with mustard shirts, which singlehandedly makes even the most nubile girls and promising-looking lads look as if they'd been mistakenly buried for several days and only recently exhumed. (My personal theory is that it was deliberately chosen in order to dampen down teenage sexual activities.) Your new orchestral outfit could in no way make you look even half as bad as that, even if you are 'of an age so obvious as to be called uncertain,' as E F Benson so brilliantly put it.

Remember that this too shall pass. The bright spark in orchestra management who dreamed up this scheme will move on to public relations, or your orchestra leader will spot a divine little black dress she can no longer get off tax or the conductor will realise that classical music audiences actually like traditional dress (how sad is that????) and you'll be happy as a clam again.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

In a recent Economist, the author claims that classical music is booming, and has been reprieved from the scaffold; also that people naturally 'grow into' a love of classical music as they age, so the 'greying' of classical audiences is nothing to worry about. I think this is loopy, what do you think?

Still worried in Bournemouth

Dear Still worried,

Yes, I too get the Economist, and I too wonder what they're smoking down there at times. What they love to do is to take a point of view so indubitably right that no one outside the immediate vicinity of Colney Hatch questions it, turn it on its head, pluck straws out of their hair and have a go at disproving it.

Columbia has a terrible problem with illegal drug running? Just legalise heroin! Nobody under the age of ninety-two gets off their bums to go to classical concerts anymore? Never fear, we'll all be living until 112 shortly, and it's very likely that half those grey heads we observe are really teenagers who borrowed their grannie's wig for a lark. As for those illegal immigrants upsetting the good folk of Dover, why, we wouldn't even have an illegal immigrant problem if, by a simple flourish of Tony Blair's pen, they became (drum-roll!!!!) legal immigrants!!!!! -- especially as they have skills we so desperately need, such as the ability to do smear-free window-washing at stop lights. Why, by attempting to impede the free flow of immigration, don't we realise that generations of governments yet unborn are practically condemning us to decades -- even centuries!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! -- of inherently unwashed car windscreens??????

But I'd better stop there. Rumour has it in writer's circles that, if you get too creatively Economisty, a team of talent-spotters from their head office swoops down and offers you a salary you can't refuse to go churn it out by the yard, and I owe it to my loyal public (my mum and Keith, basically) not to yield ...


Ask Alice

[Note to new readers: Fred, the bassoonist son of a famous conductor, has taken up Alice's suggestion and joined the Marines. There, despite his penchant for cross-dressing and a few ups and downs, he has generally prospered, though he missed his bassoon enough to hire a friend from his Royal College days to burgle his father's house -- from which he is barred -- in order to get it back.]

Dear Alice,

Glad to have you back! I went through kind of a rough patch while you were, uh, not available, but now everything is cool. (I was being bullied and picked on by one of the sergeants: long story!) Since then I was handpicked by the guys up top, and whisked off to a secret site to have 'training duties' -- great fun. We were given a lot of great gear -- pens that fire stuff, watches that have special backs with pills that prevent them from learning your mission if interrogated, all sorts. Then we had to learn how to deal with 'honey traps' -- special beds where girls call you 'honey' and stuff; I was the best at that one! -- and how to use this kind of camera that looks exactly like an extra key on my bassoon. (The 'specials', as they're called here, doctored my bassoon, so now, whenever I'm playing and I fancy taking a picture of somebody, well, Bob's your uncle!) Rumour has it that the three of us chosen for this mission (codenamed 'Negative Equity!') are going to be planted by parachute in Kabul, but I don't know why yet. Might have something to do with affordable housing.

Just think, I could have been messing about in some orchestra pit, earning peanuts, instead of being nicknamed Honey Allergy and sent on exciting missions for the good of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!


Dear Fred,

Follow me closely here. Look, this may sound far-fetched, but has it occurred to you that you could be getting a shot at the Secret Service, double-O Fred, etc ?????
Think about it.

Your friend always,

Copyright © 13 June 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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