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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Choristers and Christmas gifts,
with classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Is it true that choristers are actually a race of vile subhuman mutants, or is it just that orchestra players treat them that way?


Dear John,

Vile, never. Mutants, imposs. And as for subhuman, I think the word you were aiming for was 'suburban.'

It must be intensely irritating for a thoughtful, intelligent and musical singer to be constantly patronised by orchestral players. (The rest of them luckily won't have noticed.) Simply on the basis that it is far, far easier to do than play an instrument (though still difficult), singing in choirs is simply not recognised as an art-form by us snobs in the band. Purely because they clog up our changing rooms (boy do they clog them), wear (way too much) perfume, we moan about 'choral dates', and roll our eyes at our desk-partners when they strain for the top notes.

This cruel, mean and degrading behaviour must be stopped!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am perfectly willing to declare December first 'Be kind to choral singers day' (I almost just put singers, but really, one has to draw the line somewhere) on one solitary condition. This is that when conductors -- choral specialists are particularly prone to this -- make dire jokes that not one single soprano, alto, tenor or bass singer titters. Or guffaws. Or giggles. Or snickers. Frankly, the worst thing about choruses is that they have absolutely rotten senses of humour.

This kind of behaviour drives orchestras batty. A conductor will say, 'Trumpets, you were late at letter R. R for reprehensible,' and will have the sopranos literally rolling in the aisles. A conductor will even say, 'Tenors, your fugal entry made me reassess my belief of man being God's last word', and have the tenors practically wetting themselves. Some chorus members, I firmly believe, actually enjoy being criticised, demeaned and insulted. Whereas the correct orchestral response to such remarks is (a) to pretend not to have heard, (b) to scowl and make an actionable statement to one's near neighbour about the conductor's private life or (c) to assault the conductor, chorus members just lap it up. If orchestras are cats, then choristers are often dogs, and not self-respecting dachshunds either, but ones that come back humbly for abuse and seem almost to revel in it.

So, this is the deal. December first is the Be Kind to Your Local Chorus day, but, from now on, you're one of us, and not sychophantic hooters and titterers and chuffers. Stand up for your rights!!!!!!!!! Get real!!!!!!!!!!!! Look your conductor in the eye and make him wilt!!!!!!!!!!

Oh, all right then. Just don't invite him to your next church social.

Yours, without a great deal of hope,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am desperate to find a musical Christmas gift for my young nephew, a percussionist at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Have you any good ideas?

Musical mum, Cheshire

Dear Cheshire Mum,

A cheque is always good.

But the best present in your crisis -- one which never grows stale, whose cartoons never fail to cause hilarity, and which is the exact opposite of what a critic once said about a Jackie Collins ('Once you put it down you just can't pick it up.') is available now at the Royal Festival Hall bookshop, on Amazon, and on -- yes, it's the all-singing, all-dancing *racey* All Risks Musical, an irreverent guide to the music profession!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sex!!!!!!!!!!! Nudes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

All Risks Musical -- book cover

Libby Purves: 'Sharp, wise and perfectly in tune.'
Steven Isserlis: 'Richly entertaining.'
Unidentified flying choral singer: 'I couldn't stop laughing!!!!!!!!!!'

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,
What's with all the 'sex?' There isn't any, not in your funny book, anyway. Don't you mean your novels?

Dear Keith,
Statistics prove that your average punter is four point oh-oh six repeating times more likely to order a book with 'sex,' 'nude,' or 'racy' in the adverts. Except for choral singers, who go for 'a real hoot, knickers in your own family tartan' etc.

[Note from ex-chorister Keith to Alice: hmmmmm ...]

Copyright © 28 November 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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