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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Problems of the back and the leg, dealt swift blows
by classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH


I have a problem with my back so that when I sit down for more than ten minutes or so it is very painful to stand up again and I have to wriggle around quite a bit before it stops hurting too much. If I keep on sitting it gets worse and worse when I do eventually get up. This is not too much of a problem in rehearsal as I can stand up and practice my belly-dance movements between pieces or while the conductor is trying to get the woodwind in tune (you know, get the As right, then try the Es and the flute is sharp, the clarinet flat, with the oboe somewhere in between!)

I can even manage a light concert with songs in between the orchestra pieces because I can stand 'to get a better view' between numbers (well that's my excuse). However more formal occasions pose a serious problem, as I don't think such antics would be appreciated. Have you any suggestions?

Fellow Cello (well that's what you called me once)

Dear Fellow Cello,

Sorry to hear about your back pain, which is not of course unknown among cellists (and probably even worse among violinists and violists, given the bizarre way they hold their instruments of torture.)

I assume you've tried wooden blocks under the back legs of your cello chair? -- I use these with baroque cello and find it helps the angle of some disaster-zone chairs quite a lot. An alternative is a back assist, those (black foam) triangles that some people use. I personally find the angle too acute for playing, and entertain persistent visions of slipping down them and landing inelegantly on my bum, but I think this depends on one's physique, and an orthopedically-trained violinist friend swears by them. (They were available mail order from Innovations, I believe.)

An excellent violist I know carries around his own orthopedic stool, like a black tripod and rather swish looking: you could look into these, as providing better lumbar support than most chairs do. Many cellists also swear by (as opposed to at) piano stools, when available.

I don't know anyone who plays professionally who has not at some time suffered back, neck, arm or hand strain. Hang in there and it will subside: if not, you need not an agony aunt but an agony alleviator ...


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am concerned about a desk-partner friend who constantly jiggles his leg during rehearsals and even performances. How do I let him know that this is driving me insane????

Violist (name and locality withheld)

Dear Violist,

You remind me of my grandmother, who almost never said anything serious (Heaven forfend) but once, when I was a student, she wrote me a letter full of wisdom, which I have kept. She wrote: 'Alice, you are a wonderful girl, but two things worry me about you. You are sometimes intolerant of people not as clever as you are and (the killer blow) you are always wiggling your knees!!!!!!!!!!!!' (My italics, my exclamation points).

She was spot-on on both accusations, as even I admitted at the time. Clearly, I was driving my grandmother insane much as you are being driven by your desk-partner. As a fellow jiggler (see fellow cello above) I am of course chock-full of empathy with him/her, but the sympathy is lacking. We nervous sorts owe it to our fellow men (and women) to restrain the exhibitionism of our condition.

However, you are not your desk-partner's grannie (or, if you are, you have been sadly lacking in honesty.) Try asking your desk-partner (solicitously) whether he has been recently flea-ridden, or whether he suffers from St Vitus Dance. If the answer to both questions is in the negative, then tell him that jiggling in time to the music is amateurish and jiggling out of time with the music distracting. If he then tells you to get lost then he is a sad little tosser. (You'll have noticed how wonderfully I have completely conquered the habit I used to have of being intolerant of other people's little foibles ...)


Copyright © 14 November 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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