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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

DGriffs is not amused by
classical music's agony aunt,

Dear Alice,

I have a problem with my principal. He is a brilliant player, marvellous tone etc, but he does nothing but tell me how to play. (How I should play, I should say). Phrase it like this, a bit less substance in the tone here, and so on, until I just want to scream. What does he think I did at music college, just drink myself silly every night? What price my fifteen years of freelancing? Why doesn't he realise that I'm just as capable as he is of deciding how to play? Is this a masterclass or what? And is there any solution that won't involve my getting rubbed-out?

Name and instrument supplied (but not for publication on any account, thanks)

Dear messed-about-by-your-principal,

How I sympathise. I mean, how I sympathise!!!! Oh, the strained, fixed smile, the cleverly disguised rising blood pressure, the whole emotional paraphernalia of the oppressed musician! Is there a player in the country, however stunning, who has not been bossed about by and generally been made to feel like a piece of (mouldy, odorous) cheese by a principal?

I doubt it. This is, after all, one of the ways in which principals are chosen. After they've narrowed the field down, scything first those with dangerously human senses of humour, and later those without the requisite narrow-eyed grimace, one of the last hurdles is the impromptu lecture, whereby the (potential) principal is given thirty seconds in which to offend the maximum number of section-members, with the palm going to the one who succeeds in patronising the majority in the shortest space of time.

To take your questions in order, then:

  1. You mean you didn't just get pissed at music college every night? (clue: we are not talking brass and percussion here)
  2. Fifteen years of freelancing? As an older, wiser cellist once said to me, 'Listen, Alice, it's not how many years you've freelanced in London, it's how many decades!!!!!!!!!!!
  3. Your principal doesn't realise that you know how to play for two reasons. The first is that he (or she) is so wrapped up in the glory of his own tone that he can't really hear anything else properly and the second is that of wilful disbelief. In other words, he feels so threatened by your competence that his only defence is attack.
  4. Honey, it's a masterclass if your principal feels like giving you a masterclass. Just lie back and think of England.
  5. No.

Yours unprincipally,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice

Apologies for not writing sooner. I must say how much I enjoyed hosting your column (a neat trick if you can do it) whilst you were temporarily indisposed (sacked), and may I also point out how the standard of reply has plummeted since my departure. The structure is predictable and hide-bound. In fact it is practically formulaic -- allow me to elucidate:

The DIY Guide to Ask Alice

Question: (*delete as applicable)

Dear *Alice/Ms McVeigh/Householder

I am a *conductor/bassoonist/coroner/prostitute/dwarf

I have recently *fallen in love with my tumble dryer/become pregnant through the sharing of reeds/discovered underarm deordorant/eaten a piano

However *since the sheep incident I cannot make a fist/we decided that Hitler was a silly name for a girl/my family have burnt all my clothes/scratching it does nothing to ease the irritation

Can you *help me/recommend a good plumber/do the Locomotion/help me out of these wet clothes


Unwitting fool (or similar)


Dear Unwitting Fool

Blah, blah, erectile dysfunction, blah, blah !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Blah, blah, blah !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Blah, blah, blah, Ghost Music, Hardback: Orion 1-85797-693-2, Paperback: Oriel 0-75280-920-2, superb book, 2.50, all good service stations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Blah, blah, Ashkenazy reads it on the toilet, blah, blah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Blah, blah, blah, cellist, blah, blah !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Blah, blah, blah, While the Music Lasts, Hardback: ORION 1-85797-939-7, Paperback: PHOENIX 1-85799-342-X, 1.50 at a jumble sale near you !!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! Blah, blah, latest superb book, blah, blah, small p*nis, blah, blah !!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!! All risks musical, blah, blah, discounts if you order more than zero, 5.00 signed, 7.50 unsigned, blah, blah!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! nonsensical use of italics in the middle of a sentence Blah, blah, blah, you b*stard, blah, blah!!!!!!



Not difficult, is it? Time, maybe to hang up one's mouse and make way for a younger, more vibrant and frankly succulent successor? I am waiting in the wings ...



Dear DGriffs,

Tsk, tsk. All this spleen just because I failed to show up with the gang at the pub last night!!!!!!!!!! Really, your chronic erectile dysfunction must really be getting you down!!!!!!!!!!! Perhaps you need to re-read Ghost Music, ('My absolute favourite loo reading,' Emmanuel Ax) or my equally erotic barnstormer, While the Music Lasts as recommended by sex therapists everywhere, now available at some charity shop or other near you!!!!!!!!!! Of course, with your super-small, economy-sized, itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny p*nis, you might find it just makes you feel even more inadequate, but here's hoping it works!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love (and sympathy) to Helen,

PS Special offers on All Risks Musical, this week only!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  1. £199.99 unsigned (well-thumbed, cracked spine, pages turned-down etc),
  2. 99p signed (mint condition, 'With thanks for the hot night in Rome, love and XXXs always Alice')
  3. unread copy of All Risks Musical (£4.99 down to only 50p due to squashed spider on back cover)

Copyright © 18 July 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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