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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On the plight of Cassie in Brisbane,
with classical music's agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I grew up in Mount Isa. You might think it's the end of the earth, but it isn't. It has a population of sixty thousand and is only ten hours' drive from the nearest professional orchestra and opera company. More to the point, it has several music teachers and I learned enough about playing clarinet to get into the Conservatorium in the state capital at eighteen and do quite well.

Towards the end of my time there I met a really nice geology student, and we married after he graduated and got a good job in the city. I'm now playing occasionally with the orchestra and more often with a couple of chamber groups, so everything worked out really well.

However, Rob has just been told by his company that he has to relocate to Newman for two years. Newman is the end of the earth -- a mining town in the middle of Western Australia, three hours' drive from the next nearest shop. If you've seen a movie called Japanese Story you've got the idea.

How can I retain my musical sanity? Are there any techno-fixes like playing duets via satellite-phone with a partner in Karratha??


Dear Cassie in Brisbane,

(I'm touched that you don't think we all know that Brisbane is in Queensland, let alone Aussieland!!!!!!!!!) Of course, don't expect us to speak to you, green with jealousy as we are, but I'll do my best (I myself have British cousins who emigrated to Melbourne: you can imagine it: the swimming pool, the Christmas photos, etc etc!)

I haven't seen Japanese Story (being the least film-wise person in Greater Orpington) but I can imagine what you're on about. We have places like that in the US. Imagine it: the lonesome filling station. The gossipy owner of the General Goods store. The prairie. The rattlesnakes. The lonely, alcoholic doctor. The sunsets over the long straight empty highways. (Why is it that British people always imagine the US to be New York and Disneyworld???) But I drift from the point, which is: what is a sane, accomplished, professional clarinet player to do while stuck out in the boondocks???

I once received a personal letter from a violinist friend upset at her husband's being sent to Alaska with the Marines. Her plight turned out to be a lot better than she'd expected, due to finding a few soul-mates and doing chamber music, though her then address (PO Box something, North Pole) always struck me as hilarious. In other words, you might just be luckier than you fear.

However, I wouldn't count on it. You need a Plan B. Currently, as far as I know, there is no way to play with people electronically, though, with video conference facilities gaining in popularity, this can only be a matter of time. Plan B could involve setting up a teaching centre and branching out: no use offering only clarinet lessons, come prepared with flutes and oboes and CDs of accompaniments. Plan B could involve writing a novel, brushing the dust off your watercolours, starting a family. Plan B could involve taking a master's course from Sydney by internet. But you sound like the sort of person that has to do something, or go mad from boredom, so don't go unprepared. Think creatively. Think of it as a two-year sabbatical from your current life, an opportunity to really get down to something -- research into the early clarinet repertoire, perhaps.

Having a kid is a lot like that. People don't realise it, but it is. You basically think, OK, I give up a couple of years to this little jaunt/project and then I charge back to doing orchestral tours and writing novels and then -

POW!!!!!!!!!!!! -- it hits you!!!!!!!!!!

What you have actually done is just resigned from all of the above for about thirteen years, and mortgaged your heart forever.

But don't let me put you off ...

(And let me know how you get on!!!!!!!!!!)

Ask Alice

Dear Alice

With regard to your last column, I'm delighted (!) to be able to inform you and your readers about an organization in the US that caters to single classical music lovers! (I'm helping you to catch up on the !!! you gave up for Lent.) Anyway, it isn't free, I have no current connection with it (did once, many years ago) and invite you to investigate for yourself, even though you are happily married! (All too many of us aren't. Either happy, or married, that is.) You'll find the Classical Music Lover's Exchange at

Many years ago I found a positively delightful single gentleman through their kind offices. Unfortunately, we couldn't keep it together, but I still remember him with great fondness. (He was a bassoonist. Need I say more?)

Keep up the good work. Long live Dvorák!

Kelly in the US!

Dear Kelly,

Many thanks for this, and for your liberal use of my favourite punctuation mark!!!!!!!!! I feel we must be kindred spirits!!!!!!

I hope US single readers will try the site you recommend, if they feel like it; and I hope, if there is a similar UK site, someone writes to me about it. Many years ago my best friend Helen Griffiths and I wrote and paid for a 'seeking love' advert in Private Eye magazine for a very dear, seriously single, male violin-playing, classically-music-mad friend of ours. He was too shy to follow up any of the responses (several sounded great, as even he admitted!!!) and, some years later, hitched up with a lovely lady doctor, but your experience and mine just go to show that (a) everybody's doing it (b) 'classical music lover' does elicit a great response and (c) bassoonists can be terrific!!!!!

I personally feel it is the bounden duty of married people to try to hitch their single friends up with suitable partners wherever poss. I like to pretend that this is because I am worried about the pressures on the environment of escalating need for housing commensurate with increasing divorce statistics and burgeoning numbers of people choosing to stay single, but I fear it is really because I am an interfering, meddling pain in the ass ...


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am a subscriber to BBC Music Magazine, but I'm worried about whether I should continue after hearing about the recent resignation of the entire staff. Have you heard about this? What do you think?

M&V reader in Hampshire

Dear Hampshireite,

I have indeed heard of the mass resignation from this brilliant mag (I am not a subscriber, but often buy it). Which I think fairly noble of me considering that they considered (twice, last year) putting my book All Risks Musical on their cover instead of some boringly, obligatory CD, only to decide it was beyond their budget (Still, that wasn't the fault of the staff, was it.)

All Risks Musical -- book cover

So I am as one with you in your (genteelly implied) doubts. I too suspect that the BBC management are trying to stitch up the magazine (possibly literally, given that the title has been sold to a Bristol-based publisher who specialises in embroidery). If I am right, this is a terrible betrayal of BBC Music Magazine staff, their loyal readership and (surprise!!!) the original ethos of the BBC. As is the BBC's decision to shove Young Musician of the Year to the far reaches of the beeb, where many fear to tread (or lack access).

So man the barricades!! Write to the new BBC director-general!! Go boldly where no subscriber has gone before!!!!!!!!!!!

(It probably won't do any good, but what the hell.)

Yours pessimistically,

PS Thanks also to Ryan for the info re piccolo trumpets etc. I am very grateful. ASTM

Copyright © 30 April 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK








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