Music and Vision homepage Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller


Ask DGriffs

Helpful (and other) advice
doled out to the agonised by DGRIFFS,
while Alice is away in Greece ...

Dear Alice,

A new conductor came along to an orchestra I sometimes play in the other day (it was an outdoor concert but not too bad, except for the conductor). Trouble was, I didn't realise I was sitting next to his wife. By the time I'd found out I had already said some things about the conductor that his wife would not have wanted to hear, if you get my drift. I shut up after I found out, but I'm afraid it's too late. What should I do? (I thought about writing to the leader, who is very friendly but I'm not sure about it.)

(name withheld)

No, I don't get your drift. Did you perhaps admit to having an over-intimate knowledge of the conductor's trouser baton? Did you express the hope that he beats his wife more effectively than he does 4/4? Maybe you merely threw out the opinion, for her to take or leave, that his face was as attractive as a dysentery-ridden baboon's backside? Well, whatever it was you're b*ggered, and -- desperate situations require desperate measures. Forget the leader -- go straight to the Orchestra Manager and tell him how you enjoyed playing for this conductor after all those years. 'Of course, back then, his name was Dolores and he was a 36DD -- says he's known you for years!' Every orchestra manager has had an illicit sexual encounter with some large-chested woman whose name escapes him and he will suddenly find good reason to terminate the conductor's appointment.

Problem solved!



Dear Alice,

I've read your latest book (the funny one) where you make a lot of very good points about playing and teaching but you never address the subject of breaking bad news to pupils who've failed their Associated Board exams. I have one who probably failed yesterday (he doesn't know it, but his accompanist told me how it went) and I'm prepared for the worst.

How would you do it?

NM in Derby

The funny one? Oh, you mean the, 'Alice disses everyone she's ever worked for and wonders why she is reduced to being an agony aunt' book. I only bought it for the cartoons.

Actually, breaking bad news is easier than you think -- you do them no favours by being too soft. This is how to do it:

You: 'Hello, may I speak to Eric/Tarquin/Adolf? Thank you'

Kid: 'Hello'

You: 'This is Mr/Mrs NM/your cello teacher -- I've got your exam results here.'

Kid: 'Did I ... '

You: '... pass? No of course you didn't you incompetent little t*rd. Did you really think you could spend all term watching Eastenders and filling your loathsome little gob with chips and peas and still pass? You had more chance of growing scales than playing them! Your violin spent so long in a dark case every week it blinked when you got it out for a lesson. Your sight-reading score was even more abysmal, which surprised me as you were practically f*cking sight-reading the pieces. Speaking of your pieces, the examiner couldn't work out which order you were playing them in. Pass? Ha!!!'

Harsh but fair, I think?

Yours, DGriffs


Dear Alice,

My first child is now nearly two weeks overdue. I had hoped it might be a world-class violinist when it grows up (say, aged eleven), but given its complete disregard for the calendar, perhaps one of those interminably late 'wind' instruments would be more appropriate?



Dear Steve

Sorry Alice cannot answer this -- I am sure she would concoct a twenty five paragraph reply which would not only address your question, but publicise all five of her books, including the two she hasn't written yet, and the whole thing would be tastefully embroidered with a thousand exclamation marks from her magic punctuation bag. However, old mate, you're stuck with me although the fact that I know you personally may taint my answer.

I like the idea that your child, though still floating blissfully in a sea of amniotic fluid, is being groomed to be a prodigy already -- you could almost be American. Has it occurred to you that such naked ambition from the parents is transmitted down the umbilical cord (or should that be chord?) to the unborn child? If I were he/she, I'd think 's*d that for a game of soldiers, I haven't yet breathed, farted, screamed, eaten toast or checked my emails, and already I've got to play the bloody violin -- I'm staying put'.

Subterfuge is required here. Discuss loudly with your wife (and as close to the bump you can get), how the greatest ambition you both have for your child is to attain Grade 3 Flute by the age of 24 (which only involves turning up at the exam with a receipt proving you've bought a flute). Thus reassured, contractions will start immediately.

As far as what instrument to suggest once this sprog is flowing freely from both ends -- I like your idea of 'wind' -- you may find that suggestion horribly resonant over the next year or so!


Dear Alice,

Do you know anything about Amazonian spiders? all its features or about what kind of habitat it lives in? anything will help please.


Dear Jess

Ah, the Amazonian Spider -- my old enemy. You're in luck, I happen to be considered an expert in this field.

The Amazonian Spider was designed by Reginald J Mitchell, the first prototype flying in 1936. Based on earlier Supermarine racing seaplane designs, the Amazonian Spider was powered by the ubiquitous Rolls Royce Merlin engine which it shared with it's RAF stablemate, the Hawker Hurricane. Used throughout World War 2, the Amaz ...

... hang on ... I think I may have got confused between the Amazonian Spider and the Spitfire. In which case the answer to your question is no.


Dear Dave,

As a man of the world I wonder if I could call on you for advice. I recently met a very nice young lady and over the ensuing months our relationship developed (if you know what I mean). We now live together and almost everything is perfect. The one down side is, like your goodself she isn't a musician and fails to understand the need to practice. As a brass player it is important to 'keep your lip in' so I was wondering if you could advise me on how to convince her of the value of practice or better still devise a scheme where I could combine practise and keep her happy at the same time.

Best wishes

PS I have enjoyed your writings in Alice's absence. You may not have the same literary gift of Ms Mcveigh but you are certainly better looking.

Thank you for your kind PS -- I am of course renowned for my rakish good looks -- I've had offers, you know. As for my literary prowess, I think you underestimate me -- I have a novel in me, bursting to come out, which is uncomfortable and tends to alarm the children.

As a non-musician, I am perfectly placed to give you advice. You must point out to your young lady that were you a string player and therefore naturally gifted, you would be able to devote more time to her, but as you are a brass player and pathologically talentless, you need all the practice you can get. As far as 'keeping your lip in' -- I believe Harley Street surgeons can perform a minor cosmetic procedure to correct this and hence ensure that your clothes hang more naturally.

My tenure on the Ask Alice column is at an end so unfortunately it will slide back into three chapter answers, nauseating self-promotion and the epileptic use of punctuation. If the prospect of this depresses you, just be thankful that while she's doing this, she isn't writing another bloody book!

Toodle-pip!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (just to acclimatise you all)

Copyright © 15 August 2003 Dave Griffiths, Kent, UK



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