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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Recent changes in UK legislation impinge on the world of
classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

I am a horn player of modest experience, and I have recently become concerned about new Government legislation prohibiting the playing of musical instruments whilst driving. I personally find I do my best practice whilst hurtling down the M4 at 90mph. I can even point my bell out of the window and play the Siegfried Horn Call as a rebuke to anyone who cuts me up. I am concerned that the use of a hands-free kit for the horn would render my practice less effective (although it would be useful for rehearsals, as I could then read the paper at the same time).

Do you feel that Messrs Blair and Blunkett have overlooked the needs of the musical profession in this regard? When else are we supposed to practice -- before we set off at 8am to get to Cardiff or after midnight when we get back?

Yours hands-freely,

'Schumacher', SE London

Dear 'Schumacher',

I am consumed with envy at the notion of your whipping out your horn on the motorway for a spot of impromptu practice.

Speaking as a cellist, and leaving aside the difficulties inherent in lack of space etc, I find that, by the time I've got the bow out, tightened it, rosined the bow hair, and begun to adjust the spike, the traffic has (even in the most torrid of M25 delays) pretty much left me for dead. I dread to think of the language that would head my way (let alone the gestures) were it to be observed that I had so much as put bow to string. (Yet again, the brassies/windies score at our expense!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

No, but serious, in answer to your cri de coeur regarding practice, I am ruthless. If you still have to practice, after leaving music college, you really aren't very suited to the profession. Practising obfuscation, yes. Practising faking, certainly. But practising such that you need worry about disturbing your neighbours at dead of night or break of day??? No, no, the wrong idea altogether; this is not the way to a long and satisfactory musical career.

Here are my rules for same:

  1. Leave your instrument strictly alone except when necessary. And sling it around like a spare coat when it is.
  2. Buy your principal a Christmas drink (or a Saturday drink, or a happy evening drink. Any bloody excuse.)
  3. Look tough and hardworked. Talk a lot about taxes (and ways to minimalise same). Moan about the congestion charge.
  4. Make jokes about the condition (dire) of your bowhair or reeds. You've simply been 'too busy' to sort it.
  5. Talk convincingly about the possibility of leaving London for Newcastle -- or Spain. Or Hong Kong. Make them appreciate the fact that you're still around (for now, anyway).
  6. Never volunteer for anything. Showing keenness is disastrous.
  7. If you make a mistake, blame the conductor, blame the weather, blame the M25. Never admit it was you, unless they can prove it.

And never forget, in a choice between your near-neighbours and your employer, your neighbours have the edge. Your employer might fire you next week; your neighbours, frankly, will be around forever.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice

I am incensed frankly, or maybe that should be frankincensed, just to be seasonal.

A few evenings ago, I attended a concert by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. It had to be cancelled last year when the band was inadvertently attacked by the Central Band of the United States Air Force in a 'friendly-fortissimo' incident. (Apparently they were under the impression that they were attacking the Al Quaida String Quartet at the time. Not only that but they were murdering Eine Kleine Nacht.)

Anyway, I digress. I sat down, while a lady sitting in the row in front opened a huge box of sweets encased in noisy cellophane wrappers. Throughout the concert she stuffed down about ninety five sweets, spending at least thirty seconds inexpertly fumbling with the wrapping before shovelling each confection in. During the pianissimo passages, the sound of this activity was particularly obvious but she was practically drowned out when the band hit full-swing. When, oh when, are these uncouth musicians going to realise that we confectionary fans resent having to strain our hearing over Pomp and Circumstance No 1 to catch the mellifluous delights of a hazelnut crunch being disrobed?

Fancy a caramel-surprise?

Yours sincerely

Gloria Stoatgobbler

Dear Gloria,

My own view is that anyone daft enough to voluntarily incline an ear to a band ought to be grateful for any well-meaning effort on the part of the general public to diffuse the pain. However, I accept that others may feel otherwise, and that you might feel peeved at the extraneous sweet-wrapping noises when what you really wanted to hear (sigh) was Liberty Bell or similar.

However, consider the alternatives.

You could have heard this lady hacking and shuddering through each piece, conscious (instead of cough sweet paper unwrapping) of every grinding breath squeezed from clogged-up, congested lungs. Or alternatively this lady could have sat at home, possibly re-reading Jane Austen, possibly not, while yearning instead to hear the 'glorious' sound of massed clarinets. A little tear could even have fallen while she reflected on that treat she was missing, as brain damage must be suspected.

Instead of which, you suffered some disruption to the quieter bits (there were quieter bits??? Really???) of a brass band performance.

Big deal.
Too bad.
Get a life.

Yours, full of womanly sympathy,

[Note from Keith to Alice: Personally, I prefer explosive annoyances rather than gentle rustlings. I was once at a professional orchestral concert in a hall with a polished wooden floor. Sat just in front of me was an elderly man, a friend of the conductor and also of mine, who, sadly, had prevously lost an arm in an accident. Whilst the music played, he held a box of small, hard, round, multi-coloured sweets in his remaining hand. During a pianissimo passage, he suddenly dropped the box on the floor. Spectacularly, sweets rolled in all directions, across the floor and underneath the chairs. The unfortunate perpetrator then preceeded to crawl around on the floor, trying to rescue as many of the sweets as possible!]

Copyright © 12 December 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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