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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Balls for baubles, plus a Romeo and Juliet prelude.
Into the sin bin with brass players and conductors,
thrown by classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

dear alice i'm a 14 year old girl and obviously my problem is boys there is a few that like me but i could never like them but there is a paticular boy i like but i dont know if he likes me sometimes i think he does other times i think the opposite how do i find out if he does or not without asking him????????


Dear Anon,

Ah, the age-old question!!!!!!!!!!!! Does he or doesn't he?????

With its incidental corollary: does she or doesn't she (know what a comma or a semi-colon IS, let alone know what to do with one if socked over the head with one on a dark night?????)

No, this is no time for cheap cracks. This is serious. On this answer may hang, if not the happiness of a 14-year-old life (though come to think of it, Romeo and Juliet were 14, weren't they???) but possibly the happiness of a 14-year-old's Christmas.

Well, first of all, you are dead right to dismiss the idea of asking him. If you have to ask, basically, the rule is, you don't want to hear the answer. Also, the very asking of the question suggests a humility of demeanor which (though charming) is oddly incompatible with being the adored. My guess (admittedly based on very little evidence) is that sometimes he DOES like you and sometimes he doesn't. What you now have to figure out is, assuming you're right on this, WHICH YOU IS IT that he reacts with liking to, and WHICH YOU doesn't do it for him? In other words, if you're acting the silly bimbo with your mates, is that the time he sidles up and teases you, and when you get the answer right in class does he recoil? Or does he warm to you when you're being funny at someone else's expense, and ignore you when you're being the real you? (If either of these is the case, then this is one guy you don't need in your life.) Do you feel you can BE yourself around him, and if you can't, why are you still worrying about this jerk???

(And if you're still figuring out who you are yourself, then don't fret, that's what being 14 is all about ...)

Try to figure out whether the you he prefers is the you that you really want yourself to be, is my advice, before going any farther down the road of liking him. Even at 14, unrequited love can be a terrible thing (and, just touching on R and Juliet again, even love requited can be no picnic ...)


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I need your expertise on a question that's bothering me. Why do composers of choral music write accompaniments for brass ensembles so loud that they overpower the choir?

I am a member of a 70-voice church choir, one that's well known and respected. We have traveled to sing at other cities by invitation, the last one Riverside Church in New York City, where we received a standing ovation. Therefore, we are strong in voice and ability.

Our choir director chose two contemporary works for our Christmas concert: John Rutter's Gloria and Randal Bass' Gloria. The works required four trumpets, three trombones, one tuba, and several percussion instruments including bells & whistles!

You can see that with all these loud instruments, we had to really exert a lot of lung power! Plus, our ears were assaulted to the breaking point. I want to know why, in the name of decency, would the composers want all that noise? Wouldn't it be just as good -- maybe better -- to have two trumpets, two trombones, one tuba and two percussionists? I'll be awaiting your answer with tired ears and voice.


Dear Frances,

First of all, you must not STRESS THE VOICE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If your throat is tired you have not been singing DIRECTLY FROM THE DIAPHRAGM BUT PUSHING FROM THE THROAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The voice must never be FORCED, even if 95 trumpets should be ranged against it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry, just lost it for a moment there. The old voice lessons coming back to haunt me, now where was I??

Yes, well, you raise several good points, and the blame for the current soreness of your larynx is widely shared.

First into the sin bin goes the practice of making the altos and violas suffer. (I deduced your alto-itude from the instruments you complained of, not because I am psychic, or because the ash from your cigarette can only have come from Algeria). They are the ones closest to the nuclear-level noise disasters that are the trumpets, trombones, and percussion. The lucky old sopranos only get blasted by the horns, which is much nicer. (It is an unfunny fact that last-desk violists -- placed immediately before the trumpets -- have been proven to suffer noise levels and hearing loss more usually associated with wielders of electric drills and road-cutting equipment.)

Second into the sin bin go the brass players themselves. What happens is that they get bored: half the time (and all the slow movements) they have nothing to breathe but air, and nothing to do except to look learnedly at such copies of Playboy and Vroom Vroom Monthly that they have put inside the covers of their music. So when they're given something to play, boy does a lot of pent-up boredom charge out!!!! (The good brass player thinks twice about this and compensates, but there aren't a helluva lot of good brass players out there.)

Thirdly, therefore (and one has to say primarily) the conductor is to blame. It is his/her job to curb the brass' enthusiasm, and yours clearly was ridden roughshod over. It is no use at all standing there with a palm raised towards the brass like a traffic cop, and it is very little use saying, 'Hush, hush, tweet, tweet, a bit softer if you please!'

balls for extra baubles

For, you see, brass players are simple souls, and there is only one language they understand. You simply say, BEFORE THE CONCERT STARTS, that you will have their balls for extra baubles upon your Christmas tree if they play one whisker over mezzo piano at any point, reinforcing this by demonic glares before after and during every brass entry, and there you are!!!!!!!!!!! Problem solved!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can tell, Frances, reading between the lines, that you are thinking harsh thoughts of Messrs Rutter and Bass, for scoring their choral works for massed ranks of brass and percussion. This is unfair. These two gentlemen were not EXPECTING choirs of 70 to essay works written for massed choirs of 500. (Any work with full brass scoring should have a choir of at least 300.) It was, I am sure, the last thing on their minds that some gutless conductor would allow some bolshy brass to ride roughshod over your finer feelings, not to mention your delicate larynx. So give them a break and have a lovely Christmas (I'll drink to that ...)


Copyright © 17 December 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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