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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On musicals, publishers and Starker,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I'm at my wits end ... and thinking that I'm going slightly round the twist. I am looking for a musical, which I'm sure was entitled Samson and Delilah which I performed in when I was about seven or eight, at school. That would have been about (gulp!) thirty years ago. I know I didn't dream it all -- since I can remember most of the songs ... but can I find it anywhere? Can I test-tubes! Any ideas? No idea of publisher, composer ... anything. But I can tell you there was a song starting 'Samson, cut your hair, you wanna be with it but you're really a square ...' Mmmmh. Bet that doesn't help, does it?


Dear Allison,

I enjoyed your note so much that I'm publishing it, in hopes that someone will have the answer you require (assume you've tried Google, Chappells of Bond Street etc). I have to say that I've never heard of it, though the lyrics remind me of The Nativity Kings, 'We're bopping down to set our crowns, to set our crowns on Jesus ...'

I'll let you know if we get anywhere!!!!!

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I have finished my first book (based upon my doctoral thesis in music) which I submitted to an academic press in the USA, saying that they could have first refusal. Since then, my work has come to the notice of a much more prestigious publisher, who yesterday made me an offer for the book! I am thrilled, of course, but I don't know what to do about the first press, who are still considering it. Do you think there would be legal implications of taking the offer I've been made? And what about offending a university I would very much like to work in who have been very encouraging about the book but not yet made me an offer? (I really need an academic job somewhere!)




Dear B,

First of all, very many congratulations on having an offer from a major university press to publish your first book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! -- There are many scholars out there in music, all over the world, who will be envious of you, especially these days. My husband is a music professor, and I know how many talented music academics there are looking for publication.

My advice, which I give with regret, is to shaft the publishers you first offered it to. You don't say how long they've held on to it, but the fact that a much more prestigious publisher snapped it up suggests that they were sleepy not to grab it sooner. Also, life has taught me that loyalty in the business world doesn't do you any good; nor do publishers expect it. Several writers I know have cut out on verbal contracts to sell books to publisher A, when publisher B starts looking interested, and (since no academic publishing house makes money anyway) I can't think that you could have any legal problems. If you want an academic job, these days, being published just isn't enough: you need to grab the biggest fish that you can, if you hope to even get to the interviewing stage for a university post. (I suspect that the first publisher you approach will have seen all this before, and not be the least fazed by it. Be apologetic, but don't abase yourself. S/he will certainly think all the more of your brilliant mind, having seen a more important publisher jumping at it, and suspect s/he should have done the same, but into every publisher's life some rain must fall!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

I suffered several times in my cello-playing career due to being rashly loyal. I once turned down the London Mozart Players, who I went on to play with quite a lot, because I didn't want to let down a friend. (Luckily they tried again.) Worse, many many years ago, mid-1980's, I had a cello quartet led by a marvellous cellist who was at that time principal cellist in an extremely long-running West End show. He rang me up one Saturday morning to ask if I could fill in for him as, unbelievably, every cellist on the list was unavailable. Instead of remorsefully dumping the ill-paying fixer of the tiny orchestra I'd been due to adorn, I refused to switch. I certainly should have done so, as that might well have led to dep work over many years. But no, I stood firm: I refused to let X down (not considering that X would have had two dozen cellists he could have gotten, for such an unimportant job.) The principal cellist cajolled me and begged me and wound up telling me (which was true) that I was being an idiot, but he went elsewhere in the end and I went to my lousy appallingly-conducted orchestra job (paying, back then, around 55 including porterage!!!!!!) The opportunity never arose for him to ask me again, as one of the usual players was always available, and I lost my chance. (For me, playing in a West End show was never a dream, but, you never know, it might have been very handy ...)

So steel yourself, and do what you have to do, and good luck with your music book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Ask Alice

I have been enjoying cellist Janos Starker's memoir The World of Music According to Starker (Indiana University Press, just out) -- enjoying it rather more than I did serving in his cello tuition snake-pit at Indiana University, in fact.

The world of music according to Starker -- Janos Starker

I thought I'd share this joke he cites (and possibly even created):

Three cellists die in the same car crash, and show up at the pearly gates, where St Peter greets them.
'Who did you study with?' he asks the first.
'I studied with Rostropovich,' he proudly says.
'Down to hell with you,' says St Peter. He asks the second cellist the same question.
'I was a pupil of Leonard Rose,' he responds. Sternly, St Peter points downwards.
'And you?' he inquires, of the third cellist.
'I studied with Starker,' he timidly responds.
St Peter opens his arms wide.
'Welcome, my son,' he says, 'You have suffered enough.'

Copyright © 11 February 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK




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