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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Disorder in the ranks,
dealt with the ALICE McVEIGH way

Dear Alice

I am principal second violin in my youth synphony but recently I have found that one annoying person who sits in my section, constantly questions my bowings and technique and even goes as far as to ask the conductor about it. Incidentally, this person plays last desk and I am always proved right but its so annoying! He never listens to me and he has to be the worst violinist I've ever heard. He can't count and when he plays he looks as though he is sawing away on the strings. What's worse is that he tells the other people in my section to follow HIM rather than me! Please help me deal with this problem: I fear I might take a machete to his head if he doesn't stop being such a pain.


Dear Rashmi,

One of the first things the clever and cadgy string-playing female has to learn is that MEN DON'T LIKE BEING IN THEIR SECTION. This is not because men are sad, immature creatures who always think they know best, but because most men are VERY sad, excessively immature creatures who are sure they always know best. I've seen them writhing like an egg whisk just because a female section principal suggested they did something (oh horrors) DIFFERENTLY. (And that principal wasn't even ME!!!!!!!!!!!)

The example you give is far from the worst example of what I describe. Admittedly, your non-friend in the back of your section obviously feels that his masculinity is being challenged by not being principal of his section: however (luckily) his playing is so lousy that he is in challenging you merely making himself into a joke. The ones to watch out for are the bright sparks who really ARE rather talented, and wouldn't make TOO much of an ass of themselves if given a shot at leading: the ones who smarm up to you and pretend they think you're the bees knees but in actual fact spend all their time telling their mates how you slash around with your bow and have all the sense of rhythm of your well-below-average sea snail.

If I were you, I'd cultivate the habit of chortling quietly to yourself every time your helpful buddy pops up with a bowing suggestion etc. Don't actually say, 'Don't call us, we'll call you,' but smile pityingly, thank him for his imput and stick to what you chose in the first place. The object is to appear to be trying to encourage someone who -- however lousy -- is at least interested in the proceedings, but without giving the slightest suggestion of taking him seriously. A short course of this kind of treatment will probably do the trick, but, if it doesn't, you must appeal to a higher power, and inform either the orchestral manager or the conductor that you feel you are being undermined, to the detriment of your section. Hope it doesn't come to that, however, as it won't make you look as capable as I'm sure you ARE. Quelling disorder in the troops, after all, is part of the job.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice

You have got to feel sorry for some of our arts correspondents. The guy from Metro came to see our controversial production of Don Giovanni, hoping to see sex, drugs, and violence. All he got was a Mozart opera where the singing was incandescent, the orchestra sparkled, and the brilliant production brought the Don to life in a modern setting. He gave it a one-star rating. Can you believe it?

G B, London

Dear G B,

Of course I can believe it. Reviewers such as you describe really ought to get out less. Trouble is, they get so jaded and blase (Keithie baby, where the hêll is the áccent thingië??) that they don't know how dead they are. If a production gets the reputation of being risque (dittø?) they trot along with tongues hanging out; and if not insufficiently titillated they savage the piece out of sheer disappointment, regardless of any musical wonders on offer.

For me it's just another aspect of the production-is-all problem of our current age. I suffered the Gotterdammerung (KEITHIE, ÜMLAÜTS!!!!) from hell a few years ago, and wound up closing my eyes rather than assault them with a Brunhilde (wait for it) with a paper bag over her head. It's time these egotistical producers learned that they are only a part of the whole presentation -- that the music is the thing, the whole thing and nothing but the thing. And it's time reviewers learned to ignore them, and to accord just praise and censure of the performance where it may be due.

Now I have agreed with you, any chance of a half-price ticket?????

Yours, with tongue hanging out,

Copyright © 8 October 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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