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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Muso mates versus non-muso mates,
with classical music's agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Having done all I can with Messiah and Passion performances for this year, I decided to indulge in some reading of glossy magazines. A large part of the one I've read so far, is devoted to Britain's fifty most eligible bachelors. Well -- that's all well and good, but would they put up with the life of a peripatetic musician? I know my last beau couldn't.

So -- how about classical music's most eligible bachelors? Who are they? Where can we find them?

Yours expectantly,
Lovelorn Violist (yes -- I know!)

Dear Lovelorn,

Eligible? Classical music? Us over-forties are so out of the single swim, you see; and most mothers of six-year-olds have got all we can handle without messing about with dating, even if they are (at the moment) single, which I'm not. (I have this on authority from my single-mum friends). You may have observed that classical music isn't exactly stud-studded at the best of times, either. Even in the youthful department, I understand, there is a plethora of attractive females and a shortage of available males. A friend of mine who works for the National Youth Orchestra recently described most of the female members as vying with each other to entice a recent, Eton-educated, attractive young male fiddle soloist -- while I can still remember the heart-burnings of half the teenage girls in the DC Youth Orchestra (who made up two thirds of the orchestra) over one principal horn player, decades ago. Another friend complained that she had male musos queuing around the block to have an affair with her, but not even one interested in anything remotely resembling 'settling down.'

So, are there eligible bachelors in classical music, and, if so, where can they be found?

Well, forget conductors, leaders etc. Which of these would hold your hand over a disappointing audition? They've got their own fishies to fry. You might be lucky with an orchestra manager or publicity manager, but chances are they wouldn't understand. A starry violin prof at your Conservatoire? Come on, you know better than that. A rival? Don't even think about it. A player in another section? Here, historically, is more fertile territory. As you are a violist, allow me to commend to you the more youthful and less jaded inhabitants of the winds and brass. (Had you been a bassoonist, I'd probably have suggested a violist!!!!!!!!!!)

But the best idea of all is still probably to avoid musicians altogether. I realise, from your letter, that you feel recently let down in this department, but I still feel that the best partner for a muso is a non-muso. This is not so much for family-based or purely economic reasons as because a professional musician to a non-muso is someone glamorous and faintly sex-appeally, whereas to a musician it is merely one step up from window-cleaning. You want someone to treat you like a princess? Don't choose a trumpet or oboe-player, then. You want sympathy and generosity? Avoid stars like the plague. You want someone to admire and respect you? Go, not for an orchestra manager, but for a fund-manager.

And this situation in classical music is getting worse. Every year there stream from the conservatories five talented females to each single talented male. I feel that your letter represents but the tip of an unrecognised, uncharted iceberg. Still, if it comes down to a choice between an affair with your randy principal or going out with the dullsville bassoon, tick the box that says, 'None of the above,' and get going on the speed-dating game (recently described in the national press). Believe me, there are eligible men out there. They may just not be many in the business you're in.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I understand the the Brazilian pernambuco tree is now endangered. International organisations have been debating measures to restrict the wood's use worldwide. CITES (the convention on international Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora) might soon consider listing pernambuco. What are the implications for bow-makers and string-players internationally?

Violinist, Sydney, Austalia

Dear fiddler,

Well it's undeniable that pernambuco is a truly amazing wood, but I recently tried a seriously cheapo, fibreglass bow, which was better than quite a lot of wooden bows I've been obliged to test for students over the years. I just wonder how much of this is snob appeal and how much the fact that pernambuco really is the only choice (I love my Louis Bazin bow to distraction). Let me put it this way, I would bet a lot faster on the clever-clog bow makers coming up with a high-tech replacement for pernambuco wood than I would on their discovering a way to make string instruments that actually sound like the old Italians. Also, it may be that the bow-makers (not being stupid) are protesting in advance of the fact (after all, CITES has yet to list pernambuco, which would give it protected status). But watch this space!!!!!!!!!

Yours, seriously jet-lagged from my holiday in the US,

Copyright © 23 April 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK



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