Music and Vision homepage


Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH
and the yay-boo school of journalism

Dear Alice

Please advise the best way to proceed in the following situation. A composer is getting his first piece, a duo for two different instruments, performed in public (a big event). He chooses two players from the small conservatory he's part of -- no one gets paid for this. Unfortunately one of them is not good enough, even after two rehearsals. He can't replace her because of the rarity of the instrument and the only other player of that particular instrument doesn't want to play. Should he a) press on, ie continue with her despite a possible suboptimal performance, b) get an amateur from the outside, c) pay a professional player to substitute, or d) change the piece to use another instrument for which he has a confident player?

name withheld

Dear anon composer,

This reminds me of the yay-boo school of journalism, as perfected by my father. When we lived in southeast Asia he used to have to go on government trips, presumably in order to assist in the notion that he was working, as opposed to sitting in his study writing biographies and listening to Bach's B Minor Mass or beating the hell out of a tennis ball (which was rather more often the case). His reports back to Mom and us kids went something like this:

'Had to go to Mandalay (boo) up the Irrawaddy river on a boat (yay), where the hotel was flea-ridden (boo) but where there were topless dancers (yay) ...'

In your case, we have 'I am a composer who is having a work performed (yay) but one of the players is rubbish (boo), it's being done at quite a big event (yay) but unluckily may sound like crap (boo) ...'

At least you're not paying these players, even though it sounds as if at least one of them deserves it. The fact that your only possible substitute is not free means that, unless you're going to get very hoity-toity and withdraw your work, you're just going to have to bite the bullet on this. My suspicion is that the performer's feebleness will reflect worse on her than it will on your piece, but then, I haven't seen the piece. It's also possible that her weakness will embarass you so profoundly that you'll wish you'd never composed it.

If the latter is the case, what are the chances of your persuading her to plead illness and cancel the performance, which might prove to be in the best interests of you both?

If you do persuade her, what are the chances she will ever agree to play for you (or even speak to you) again? (And do you care?)

Only you can answer these questions!!!!!!!!! -- and only you can know the depth of your pocket or the talent in your area if you decide to go pro.

Composers are often urged to feature rare instruments, in the hope of getting more performances of their works (the world is not exactly short of violin solos) but it can backfire, and it sounds as if it's backfired on you. Perhaps you might consider writing works that can be done in several combinations, so if you've written it for bagpipes, Celtic harp and alto flute it could also be rendered on violin, cello and piano ...


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

As I write, it looks as if America has committed the impossibility of re-electing George W Bush. What are your theories about how this happened?

Puzzled in southwest London

Dear Puzzled,

Forgive any brain fuzziness: I too was up most of the night, feeling progressively more aggrieved (as was one of my dachshunds, who has a foot infection her vet collar won't let her GET AT!!!!!!)

My niece, who is a teenager, put it this way: 'At least when George W Bush does something, even if it's wrong, he sees it through to the end.'

Er, well, uh, yes.

(Well, she is only a teenager, though a very bright one.)

My own theories, though fuzzyish this morning, are not quite as fuzzy as that. I believe that Bush won because:

  1. Many Americans don't want to pay higher taxes, even if it would mean better health provision for the poor and almost poor.
  2. The word 'liberal' is a dirty word in many parts of my country, corresponding roughly with 'the devil.'
  3. Many Americans don't care about gay people's rights, since they're going to hell anyway.
  4. Many Americans are annoyed that Bush is so unpopular worldwide, and feel, in a rather stubborn, almost admirably contrary way, that by electing him, they will annoy Bin Laden, the French etc. They little realise that Bin Laden is doing Scottish dances in his cave this am, knowing that reams of suicide bombers will still be queuing up for him. (The French, on the other hand, are not doing Scottish dances, but who cares about the French????!!!!)


PS Keithie baby, get these horrible spiders off my page!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Halloween is OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Copyright © 5 November 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK




Ask Alice

 << M&V home              Alice's previous columns >>