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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On Wieniawski at the Pope's funeral,
anonymous letters and breaking a leg,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Did you recognize the mournful tune blasting over the Vatican sound system in honor of the Pope? Second movement of Wieniawski First! Could this be a new trend in the Funeral Music Movement for gigsters? Better 'oil' those upper registers of the IV string. I've played Beethoven string quartets for funerals and various Bach pieces but never this! Any guesses as to the artist of the above rendition? My guess is that it would be a Polish fiddler in keeping with everything else.

J9 in the Big Apple

Dear J9,

Sorry but I missed the Pope's funeral due to being in Chincoteague, on the Virginia coastline, probably either out on a canoe (oh those aching arms!!!!) or on a bike (oh those aching calf muscles!!!!) But what a good choice for a Polish (and proudly Polish) Pope. I've always loved Wieniawski's violin concertos. Anyone who knows/guesses the artist involved please let me know.


Ask Alice

I read your stupid comment in support of arresting the classical musicians. The musicians were getting paid between 80 and 120 pounds a day which is not a low salary. In fact it is much higher than the european average. ALSO DON'T THE POLICE HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO THAN ARREST MUSICIANS? LIKE MAYBE ARRESTING MURDERERS AND THIEVES? France's murder rate and their burglary rates have been going up so why don't they deal with that?

Thanks for this. Having never received an anonymous letter before, I am deeply grateful for the new experience.

Tell me, have I the pleasure of addressing (a) the conductor of the orchestra concerned (b) a member of the orchestra concerned or (c) someone involved/related with/to any of the above??

Sorry to sound doubtful but the bitterness of your tone does does rather lead one to suspect one of the above, not to mention your inside information (none of the news articles I accessed knew the exact amount the Bulgarians were being paid in order to undercut local French musicians). Of course, you may be right, and that the French musicians would have required better pay than the amounts you mention. If so, then the French musicians' union is more powerful than I had suspected, even if the vast majority of the players are nearer the 80 pounds a day you suggest than the 120 pounds (probably the leader).

On the other hand, you assert that the French coppers have arrested 'musicians' which apparently is quite untrue: only one person, the organiser of the tour, was arrested. So the fees you quote may be equally suspect.

My opinion of the principle involved, however, remains the same. What are unions for if they can't enforce minimum wages for their members? And where do such lowest-salary-acceptable policies take us, as a profession, other than downwards????

By the way, next time have the nerve to sign your letters. Thousands of agony aunts would have trashed yours for that reason alone.


Ask Alice

Is there a phrase to say to an orchestra conductor that is comparable to the phrase 'break a leg' that is said to stage actors?


Dear Joe,

I have done extensive and far-ranging research on this one (I asked around 8 people on two continents) and I really don't think there is. Whether this is because conductors are naturally reviled or because nobody dares to wish them well before a performance, I really don't know. For what it's worth, however, these are candidates people have suggested in order to fill this crucial gap:

  1. 'Bust a baton!'
  2. 'Break an elbow!'
  3. 'The original saying is wishing bad luck on the performer so that, because wishes are guaranteed not to come true, good luck will actually follow. Direct equivalents are therefore, "Break a string", "Break a reed", "Swallow a fly", etc, for string players, reed players, singers etc.'

I however am irresistibly reminded of the advice of a friend of mine at Indiana Univ. school of music when I agonised over what to tell a dear friend who generally messed up his recitals, in the receiving line after his. Our mutual friend told me to clap him on the shoulder and say, in loud and ringing tones, 'You did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' thus (with any luck) avoiding making any incriminating falsehoods such as 'Loved it! ... You were brilliant! ... What a star!' ... etc.

Even so, you'd still better make sure that the performer in such a case actually did do the dirty deed. I recall observing someone rushing up to an opera star at music college saying what a divine performance he had given the previous evening, only to be told, 'Actually I wasn't on last night: I've got a bad cold.' The mortification of the would-be encourager may be imagined ...


Copyright © 15 April 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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