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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Freedom, A Serf's Charter,
by classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Has it ever occurred to you (it has to me) that bowings are simply for those too unimaginative or too lazy to figure out a bowing of their own? (I refer to orchestras, not solo playing.)

Yours imaginatively,
Keith Harding (architect, amateur cellist)

Dear Keith,

Yes, I have to admit that it has occurred, and not infrequently either. One of the nicest things a principal can do is to turn around and say, 'Free bowing!' In fact, perhaps you and I (you don't mention where you live) should get together and form a Movement to Set the Bowings Free! (Hang on, MOSEBF is not perhaps the snappiest selection; how about Freedom: A Serf's Charter or FASC for short?

Of course, it wouldn't work in lots of situations: the more romantic or contemporary the piece the better, (the authentic world would die of collective heart-failure, despite my late teacher Bill Pleeth's stricture that a real cellist should be able to produce exactly the same sound from a stroke in either direction.) But I'll never forget the sudden glow that Siegfried's Idyll took on when all of us strings were allowed to change bows as they liked -- that wonderful endless-bow sound, as if the orchestra had suddenly acquired a piano pedal.

Unfortunately, it would also have the effect of giving busy-body principals more time to talk down to their sections, if they were let off fussing about which way our bows should jointly be headed.

Perhaps this FASC notion requires a touch more thought ...

Alice (the kind of principal who does bugger all, but does it with immense panache)

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I know this isn't really a music question, but has it occurred to you that the great British reserve is a thing of the past?

I am a person of mature years (well, I'm over fifty) and I was rattled the other day in Waitrose when I was stuck between a couple of teenagers complaining about their boyfriends' attitudes to sex and an in-depth discussion of her piles between a Waitrose employee and her colleague on the next till.

I have neither boyfriend trouble nor piles, and I am not without sympathy in either case, but I can't simply imagine all these matters being canvassed in a supermarket a few years ago.

Bass-baritone, London

Dear basso profundo (and I use the word profundo in both its meanings),

God, I am so glad you asked me this question!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought nobody was ever going to stand up and say, enough!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In fact, to be honest, I thought I was uniquely blessed, in having a face so open, and a manner so American and so easy, that everyone in the entire country inflicts their most intimate problems on me. Only this last week, having had the misfortune to have to be obliged to get quotes from several tree surgeons:

(Click on this handy icon for sexy, in-depth, colour photos of Alice's Tree Problem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

All Risks Musical -- book cover

As I was saying, having been told to get quotes from a few tree surgeons, I was treated to Tree surgeon A's troubles with his gout (nothing to do with wine, apparently that's an old wive's tale), Tree surgeon B's worries about his unemployed-and-proud-of-it young son, Tree surgeon C's possible brain tumour ('It's just here it seems to get me'), and the decline in Tree surgeon D's business prospects due to his partner and wife's rank incompetence.

(Click on this handy icon to see handy-dandy video of tree surgeon D getting his kit off!!!!!!!!!!)

All Risks Musical -- book cover

And all this was before the chap from Country Interiors fitting the new kitchen worktop started in on his ruddy divorce.

Now I pride myself on being a good listener, but I very nearly told the chap from Country Interiors to stuff his divorce. It was a close-run thing -- a very close-run thing -- whether I left him to drivel on to himself and went out to walk the dogs, who (however hard their lives may be) have at least the grace to keep it to themselves.

(Click on this handy icon to see one of Alice's dachshunds in the bath!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

All Risks Musical -- book cover

No, these days it's just let-it-all-hang-out. It's listen-to-how-my-boyfriend-beats-me and let-me-tell-you-about-my-drink-problem and it's time the British remembered that a touch of repression is interesting and mysterious and that us up-front Americans enjoy having to dig a bit to really get to know somebody.

Personally, I blame American television.

Hell no, I don't blame anything American. (These days, we get blamed for absolutely everything.) Despite the prevalence of US shows where real people actually stand up and scream at their ex-wife's sister's seventeen mixed-race lovers purely and simply because they've (all, simultaneously) committed incest with their father-in-law, we Americans can still hold up our heads with pride and say, Well, yes, very true, but what about Kilroy and Aussie soaps -- not to mention absolutely revolting Japanese programmes revelling in torturing contestants with having to eat live slugs -- and even in Italy, land of the Renaissance, there are now programmes in prime time where Italian housewives do judged stripteases.

So there.

But thank you for your stimulating inquiry, and may your next trip to Waitrose be rather less illuminating.


Copyright © 3 October 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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