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Ask DGriffs

While Alice is away in Crete,
DGRIFFS tackles all comers ...

Dear Alice,

I am a music teacher of some years experience and don't know what to do about a parent of a pupil. He is constantly calling me to talk about competitions and so on that his kid could do, obviously regarding him as some kind of flute genius. The kid is not too bad a student, to be fair, but not in the league his father thinks he is (and the mum is even worse).

Any ideas how to handle this?


Flute? Genius? What strange word association. I remember competitions from my youth when various piano and violin teachers entered me (steady!) in local music festivals. There surely is no sight more terrifying to a child than the slavering jaws of an audience of proud parents, all but two of which are willing you to fail. Most children hate music festivals and those that don't are clearly so disturbed that society is too late to prevent them winding up as alcoholics, prostitutes or crack-addicts.

My advice is to point out to the parent that entering a child in a music competition is now regarded as psychological abuse and that, if they continue, you will have no option other than to contact the relevant authorities. Accountancy firms, banks, factories, brothels and prisons are crammed with the musically disenchanted who scraped or puffed their way through some tortuous arrangement for the glory of their parents, neighbours etc.

If that fails, when the child has its next lesson, turn up in a swimming costume, heavy make-up and wellington boots (regardless of your gender) and then, hey presto: no more pupil, no more problem!



Dear Alice,

I borrowed a friend's ace bass for an audition and duly got a trial. But my friend says I can't have it for the trial. What should I do? I should tell you that my double bass is crap and I can't afford a good one.

A bass-player

A double-bass made from crap -- how unusual. Perhaps you could crap yourself another one, but try harder this time?

Seriously though double-basses are crude instruments and any devotee of Changing Rooms and other makeover programmes should have no difficulty in knocking up a decent-ish bass in an afternoon. MDF is a very common material for instrument makers but don't forget to paint it brown. (most basses are brown and it's a safe, neutral colour!) All bass necks are made from 4 x 2 planed softwood and should be painted black on one side and a sort-of vaguely off-white on the other. All fingerboards are black.

The best strings to use are mains electricity cable but do remember to strip off the insulation before using. They do not necessarily need to be in tune -- the machine heads on the modern bass are basically only there for effect -- nails will serve just as well.

Obviously its not quite as simple as I describe but B&Q, Homebase or any DIY superstore will have all the materials you need for the job, and many will have a information sheet to help you.

Good luck!

Yours, DGriffs.


Dear Alice,

I have an audition for a smallish opera company coming up and I'm worried I might appear too much the city mouse (I've had some success abroad). What should I wear/say? How should I play it? The role I really want is probably not available, but you never know, do you.

(Name supplied)

Many people assume wrongly that having a good singing voice and an ability to act are the most sought-after skills in opera. This is not so, especially when one looks at the smaller regional companies. You need to be cheap, and you need to ensure that when you sing, your outrageous vibrato entirely masks the note you are singing, and (no matter which character you are playing) you should wave your arms about in a manner which suggests that you find singing quite an effort.

What to wear? Well, tempting as it is to arrive dressed as a Gondolier, Brunhilde or Papageno, this should be avoided as people will assume you are an anti-capitalist protestor, a singing telegram, or raising money for Children in Need. You need to be smart but still distinctive -- avoid nudity, carrying a ventriloquist's dummy and beekeeping outfits. Say little, preferably in Italian. And repeat everything you sing over and over again getting steadily more agitated. (They'll tear your bloody arm off, believe me!)


Copyright © 8 August 2003 Dave Griffiths, Kent, UK



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