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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On scales and trumpets,
with classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I am a professional oboist with a degree from the Royal College and over a decade's experience and I am fed up with the examination boards. Some of the scales I think they've just made up! I mean what exactly is the Spanish phrygian minor? Does this differ I wonder from an Icelandic phrygian minor, for example, or does one just play any old minor scale and shout olé! at the end! I've also never heard of a crabwise scale or a diminished (octatonic) scale (played tone, semitone one way and semitone, tone the other way, by all accounts). What exactly is this idiocy in aid of, other than driving teachers and students insane?

Name with-held in order to protect my pupils' results!

Dear Oboist,

Cheer up. I'd never heard of them either. However, here are the definitions for the Spanish phrygian minor scale I have culled from various sources:

  1. A scale with a sufficient income to set itself up in Spain upon its retirement.
  2. A minor scale with pretentions to a trendy modality but an address on the Costa del Sol.
  3. A frigid scale, that feels a bit sad about it, but who still cheers up twice a year on holiday.

As for the octatonic, sources close to one told me confidentially that an octatonic scale is a scale, preferably attacked on the piano or strings in octaves, that only gets cranked up with an injection of high-octane fuel, and only ends (like the definition of 'pi') when some public-spirited citizen hits the player over the head with a blunt instrument.

Yours, always keen to assist,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Doesn't your heart leap up when you hear the sound of a real instrument, like the trumpet?

A trumpeter

Dear trumpeter,

(Listen, mate, don't talk to me about trumpets. My five-year-old has decided it's the instrument for her ...)

It was Wordsworth, I believe, always an excitable type, who said his heart leaped up when he beheld 'a rainbow in the sky.'

I have little sympathy with this point of view (or POV, as scriptwriters put it, as in, 'camera from Wordworth's POV: cue rainbow.')

However, my own view is, rainbows, schmainbows. My heart leaps up when I behold the carpet man in the doorway, as I did just now!!!!!!!!!! Said fitter is shaven-headed and short, sporting, for reasons best known to his girlfriend, serpant tattoos writhing down not one but both arms, but I have never in all my puff seen a dreamier-looking man. Not even the sight of Placido Domingo, with that smouldering dark glare, has ever thrilled me so completely. (He takes tea with five sugars. Why is it that handy-dandy DIY types always go for sugar??)

Yes, we have been decorating and the question I would like to address is: why?

Why do we put ourselves through all this?????????????? Why are my toenails still fragrant with white gloss paint and my hands so tired from ceiling work that I can't hold up the cello, let alone play it?????????????? Why is the house covered in dust and bits of ex-wallpaper?????????????? Why can I, as of even date, enter only three rooms without breathing in to the point of faintness due to displaced furniture??????????????? And why is it that the sight of a perfectly ordinary bloke (with pretty foul tattoos) can send chills of anticipation tingling down my spine??????????????

The answer is that humankind (in common with not being able to bear much reality) has lousy memory, and I had forgotten, in the five years since we last decorated, just what hell it is.

The answer is that there is some irresistible force in this time of year, that bewitching turn from summer into autumn, that, not content with sending us blackberry-picking in the woods with the dogs, corrals us into revolting carpet warehouses and barrack-like DIY stores.

The answer is that nest-building is a human instinct, witness the chronic, indeed witless, rushing around we females do while pregnant, in defiance of medical advice to relax and rest. No, we have to charge around our houses, making perfect little places for our offspring-to-be, painting, scrubbing, cleaning, polishing -- as if the little one, even when among those present, would frankly give a damn. Weird. Very weird.

Sorry, I know this has b*gger all to do with the sound of the trumpet ...


PS By the way, any idea where I can get hold of a baby trumpet?
PPS (Is there such a thing as a baby trumpet?????????????)

Copyright © 5 September 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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