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On disfunctionality, choral singers, princes and swastikas,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Some years ago I read a novel (can't remember details, but I think it was by A N Wilson) in which a female character left a choral society she had sung in for many years, having been voted off the committee. She said she had suddenly realised that, far from being there for love of music as they might claim, her fellow singers were really all members of the society for rather sad reasons: inability to make friends, desire to escape the wife/husband, nothing to occupy themselves at home and so on. Choral singing is my chief social activity (I'm a reasonably good tenor) but, ever since reading this, I have been looking at my fellow choir members and wondering if Wilson's character may have had a point. Is this the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the glass? Should I take up the cello instead? Or do functional people simply not do music?


Dear Will,

Good question!!!! Personally, I don't think there is any doubt that disfunctional people are drawn to real ('classical') music much more than disfunctional people (see answer below. Even Prince Charles, God help us, learned the cello for some years ...) However, the good news is that, the older I get the less likely I think it is that there actually are any non-disfunctional (or 'normal') people anyway, end of story. The degrees of abnormality may (and, indeed, do) vary widely, but, basically, 'abnormal' is the new 'normal' and you may indulge in your passion for choral singing without worrying whether you are likely to spend the rest of your working life having your brain attached to electrodes trying to figure out whether you are in fact a secondhand car salesman or (alternatively) an incarnation of Buddha.

Anyway, for YOU, personally, there is certainly no escape from your particular choral society. A 'reasonably good' tenor, as you must know, has a price above rubies, even in professional operatic choruses. My own father, now 74, who gave up being a reasonably good choral tenor back in the early 1990s, is still getting phone calls offering him leases of small Pacific Islands and shares in off-shore bank accounts if he'll come back and sing (which he won't, preferring to leave his house only in order to sock little balls over a net with a racquet). Your choral society will rope you to the chair rather than lose one of (what is bound to be) its precious few real tenors. So get out there and enjoy the feeling of being truly appreciated!!!!! (not least by me, for I adore a good tenor.)

No, my main beef about choral singers is that they have such a bizarre communal sense of 'humour' that they seem to think that anything, from being insulted by a conductor to singing diabolically out of tune, is actually hysterically funny. A conductor might say, 'Sopranos, you're flat! Get up to that G on a rope ladder!' and, instead of fixing him with a jointly withering glare, the sopranos will almost invariably titter. Or a conductor might moan: 'Bassi! Wakey, wakey! It's still nine hours to bedtime!' -- upon which the bassi, either in order to curry favour or because they are, to a man, congenital idiots, will generally simply nudge each other ribwards and go, 'Haw, haw!' instead of organising an impromptu working party with a view to ascertaining the colour of the conductor's insides.

Still, your letter, among others, gives me hope that this can change ...

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

What is your opinion of Prince Harry's wearing a swastika for 'fun'?

C E, Canterbury

Dear C E,

Gosh, this is a toughie. I mean, if you're asking, was the Prince a prat (and his older brother too, for aiding and abetting him) then, well, of course he was. If I purely and simply blame the two young princes for being prats, well, to be honest, I don't, and this is why.

The Royal Family is clearly completely disfunctional. The Queen must be unique even in these lax post-war times for having had three out of four of her children getting divorced: while Prince Charles' many eccentricities (I'd prefer crazes but I have a readership to consider) can most kindly be put down to HIS being put down, repeatedly, by his crazy father and emotionally cold mother, in his youth. He hasn't been there for his sons in their formative years, due to worrying about things about which he knows practically nothing, such as homeopathic remedies and modern architecture, and Diana (who WAS with them, at least) was too neurotic and too obsessed with her own troubles to do them much good.

No, the people truly to blame for the great fancy-dress-party swastika disaster are all teaching at Eton College.

Now I realise that rich people send their kids to Eton simply for the label, and not for more than the minimum educational acquirements, but surely, over God knows how many years, some teacher or other ought to have murmured SOMETHING about the Third Reich and the Final Solution into the pure-wood-from-the-neck-upwards heads of our future monarch and his younger brother????? I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is one issue likely to arise at some point. They are, in all probability, likely to have to lay wreaths on graves of unknown soldiers from that (and other) conflicts for the rest of their natural lives: it is irritating to think, thanks to the complacent stupidity of a lot of old Etonian teachers, that this will mean nothing to them.

(Or maybe it will, now. Who knows????)

Yours, still more than doubtful,

Copyright © 21 January 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK




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