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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Inner voices, composers and cellists,
and Mud and Noodles re-united,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice

I have a lady friend who was principal cello in an orchestra but she now associates cello with the monster of a conductor from her orchestra days and the six miserable hours of practice daily. I want her to play again and collaborate on my music as my cello-playing skills are not up to what I need for my complex music.

What can I do to help? It hurts me inside to see her talent going unused.

Rick Draganowski
(a composer, I think)

Dear Rick,

Thanks for this, and believe me, I sympathise with your cellist friend. Which among us doesn't carry such a burden, from somewhere in our pasts (musical or otherwise!!!!) I think your best bet is to encourage your friend gradually. Invite her for dinner, and suggest going to concerts. Ask her advice (we all enjoy this) about bits of your compositions. Make her feel that you appreciate her, not only for her cellistic abilities and experience, but as a friend. And, one mellow evening, suggest that she cast a critical eye over one of your cello compositions. If she still shrinks back, because of various hurts in her past, you have to respect this and move on (in a musical sense) yourself, for example, buttonholing cellists leaving concerts and bribing them to perform/record your works. But it sounds as if your friend is not entirely averse to being drawn back (very gently) into the fold of music and musicians, and I think it worth a go.


Ask Alice

Quote from Renée Fleming's marvellous new memoir: The Inner Voice, the Making of a Singer (Viking):

'Another factor working against opera singers is that taste in recordings has moved toward warmer, thicker tones in every repertoire, and that type of sound doesn't cut through orchestral textures as well as a brighter tone. It takes more volume, and therefore more breath pressure, to be heard when using a darker sound ... Unless the conductor and the orchestra have a disciplined sense of dynamics when accompanying singers, we wind up believing we're not meeting expectations. As we can hear and feel the surge of sound behind us, we become aware that we're not able to ride over it as easily as we should be able to, so we compensate by pushing and singing louder. Singers who succumb to this temptation soon lose their vocal sheen and burn out much more quickly. If I could wave a magic wand and effect any sort of change for singers today, it would be to address these balance issues. Dynamic markings should be read with an understanding of the context in which they were written and adjustments made to reflect the kind of orchestra and size of the hall, so that the human voice isn't expected to vault over this suddenly enormous hurdle. There is nothing exciting about a climactic solo passage when the singer's voice is covered by the orchestra. How can the audience feel the thrill the composer intended when the vocal line is buried at its richest and most powerful moment?'

Comments please!!!!!!!!!!
(More on this book next column)

Ask Alice

Dearest Mud,

Please forgive the chasm of years separating us. I feel as though I haven't missed a beat, yet I know it's true. I think of you every April 5th. I miss you.

And now, there is so much to cover in a medium that lacks a sense of closeness that words fail me now. Suffice it to say, lots has happened. I have four children, two from my new husband's former marriage, two from mine. My parents live with me now (long story), and this is my email.

As we always used to write to each other, 'please stay in touch!' In my mind, I've done it a thousand times! Let me know if there's a better way to reach you, but thank goodness for the internet for now! Why I didn't think of it earlier is beyond me.

Love always,


Noodles is my oldest friend. We were best buddies in Singapore, aged eight, and stayed in touch until mid-twenties when we temporarily lost each other. Now mid-forties, I get this email, which made not only my day, but my year as well. Blessings on Google, for letting me hear from Nancy McIntyre (Noodles Macaroni) again. Blessings on the internet, and the way it reunites friends hourly. And (if you're wondering) why 'Mud,' well, I can't remember EVERY torrid detail, but I'm sure I said, 'If I can't do (whatever it was) then my name is Mud,' and the rest, as they say, is history ...

Copyright © 25 February 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK




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