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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On diversions for horn players,
with classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

In recent weeks I have been searching diversions from professional horn-playing in ways not requiring too much musical thought. Having already tried tae kwon do, Civil War re-enactment and conducting, I hit upon the noble pursuit of chess -- specifically, of the Internet variety, where you can intellectually humiliate complete strangers from all parts of the world.

However, I am worried about the adverse side effects this might have on my playing. I have already found myself replacing questionable, aggressive notes in Mahler 9 with more secure lower ones, and every time the principal horn leaves his chair I get a strange urge to jump into it in a curious L-shaped manoeuvre. I fear this cannot be good for business.

What do you advise? Should I abandon this fad in search of a less cerebrally involved pastime like the bass trombone? Or perhaps devise an Elo rating system for horn playing? Also, can you suggest a strong defensive line against the Danish Gambit?


'Kasparov', SE London

PS You can get baby trumpets, only they're called pocket cornets, and this necessitates playing in a brass band which I would advise against most strongly. Baby horns are also available.

Dear 'Kasparov',

First of all, thank you for reminding me to gratefully acknowledge all those gleeful souls who have written in (or in one case called up) to say that I am a moron for not knowing that there is no such instrument as the baby trumpet ...

I'm secretly relieved to hear that no one has yet invented such an instrument, as the notion of such a weapon in the tender hands of my five-year-old fills me with a quiet dread. There is surely enough pain, suffering and despair in the world already.

Now, to your question!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Many horn-players, even those favouring as I do the pawn defense (just keep marching the pawns forward until they all get taken and we can all have dinner) have a similar urge to wangle an L-shaped manoeuvre into the principal's seat, preferably while wearing hob-nailed boots and while the principal is still sitting in it. However, as you observe, this instinct is best resisted. Principal horns are among the feistiest of orchestra animals and, should you follow your instinct, you could easily find one bending your arm or leg into an L-shape, probably backwards.

But I feel it would be wrong to blame chess for this urge, which is as natural and blameless as that of wishing to kick a conductor. Internet Chess might even assist in sublimating the desire and, should you chortle as he fluffs a top note, you could always tell him afterwards that it was because you had just thought of a move that would sort out that young squirt Ahmed in Khartoum once and for all.


PS I love the idea of an ELO rating for horn players. In fact, I loved your whole letter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PS My husband, who is chairman of our local chess club, was once defeated by a kid in short trousers who plays for England employing the Budapest defence (which was new to him). He could probably work out a good answer for the Danish gambit, but I'm afraid all that occurs to me is a good-hearted if wrong-headed waitress tempting me to sinfully augment my coffee in Starbucks.

Ask Alice

Dear Alice

Since hosting your column whilst you were in Crete my life has transformed (other than being harassed constantly by gay bass trombonists). I am now invited to all the best society events and I am rarely seen without some starlet on my arm at some do or other. May I ask how you yourself cope with being recognised in the street, forever signing autographs, and opening the pages of the tabloids in trepidation for fear that you will see your own face staring back at you? I'm struggling but have at least managed to develop a rather chic cocaine habit and now have an account at Harvey Nicks. What's your secret?

Feel free (or should I say compelled) to lie, as indeed I have done.

May I stop using my DGriffs monicker now please?


Gloria Stoatgobbler

Alice McVeigh in Crete. Photo: Simon McVeigh
Alice McVeigh in Crete. Photo © 2003 Simon McVeigh

Dear Ms Stoatgobbler,

I can't say, to be honest, that it's impinged upon my life to any great extent.

Occasionally, in orchestras, people will say something supportive, such as, 'The trouble with you, McVeigh, is that you simply know f all about brass instruments,' or, 'Great column, shame about that nerd they got in when you were away,' but really, you know, it hasn't altered my life or spending habits (or should I say mania???) at all. I think, as none of my friends would agree, that I'm still the same humble, cello-toting scribe I never was in the first place.

This is no great disappointment on the whole, as I think I'd look pretty funny with a starlet on my arm.


PS 'Stoatgobbler? Does your wife know that she is about to become known as the fragrant Mrs Stoatgobbler???

Copyright © 12 September 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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