Music and Vision homepage Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller


Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On car CD players, difficult students
and telling conductors to 'break a leg',
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I am fairly computer literate for my age (70s) and have just bought a great new car. Unfortunately my CD player keeps going on random and it is driving me crazy! (or, as you would say crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) I listen to the first movement of a symphony, only to have it skip the next and go on the the third, or even the next symphony altogether! Why does it do this and how can I stop it?

classical music lover, Virginia

Dear classical music lover,

I can't stop it (I bet I am less computer-minded than you, though younger) but I do think I know why it happens. The car, you admit, is new, and the latest thinking is that everybody out there hip enough to have a new car is going to want to skid through a series of non-classical numbers, not listen to a Haydn Symphony played in the order the dear boy composed it. My infallible method of sorting out such modern disasters (scream, 'SIMON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!') is not, unfortunately, going to help you much, but I am assured that somewhere in your new-car manual (probably translated from the original German) will be something simple and helpful like this: 'to use again the resetting meckanism hold down the kvp key whilst humming (in the correckt key please only thank you) the begginning of the verk that you hear most want. It will assist much if you desengage also the car key from the correckt ignitionne position A and re-engage it positiong B into. Press helpfully then the IIIrd button from the left of the dashbord engine (without the heater on having) and an A-flat whistle (mezzo-forte).'

Yours, glad to have been of great assistance,

Ask Alice

New responses to the call for 'what to say to a conductor, not a thespian, about to go on stage':

Alice --

How about 'bash a bassoon', 'flog a flute', or 'trash a trumpet'?

Bob Jordahl

Ask Alice

I think that what is said to actors ('break a leg') is highly suitable for conductors, personally!

E Hutton

Ask Alice

dear alice, i've recently started giving piano lessons and am loving teaching. however two bratty students are really peeing on my battery. they never pitch up, are always late with their fees and think that just because i'm 19 and therefore quite near them in age they can be really rude to me. I really enjoy teaching and i do need the money, so telling them to take a hike is only going to be viable once i find others. please help me deal with this without strangling them or getting blood on my mom's new persian rug.


Dear Rashmi,

Spare the persian rug, at all costs!!!!!!! But it sounds as if you do need to get tough. Don't involve their parents at this stage, but say, in a controlled but meaning voice, 'I think we need to have a little chat about your attitude, Josie.' Then, when she says, 'Hey my name's Samantha!' then, golly gosh, zowee, you've got a dialogue going!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No but seriously, you go back to the 'chat about your attitude,' bit. You say, 'I don't feel that you are giving me the respect I deserve here. I'm doing my best to teach you, because I love teaching and I think you have talent, but it's got to be a two-way street.'

(If Samantha has zero talent you still have to say this, as long as you still need the money. SORRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Samantha then has several choices. She will either snap out of it (best case scenario), whine 'I never wanted to do piano anyway, it was all dad's idea!' (whereupon you calmly point out that, having been talked into it by her father, she still has to give it her best shot and not waste your time and their money), or burst into tears (you comfort her, repeat the lie about the talent and Bob's still your uncle.)

There is another, very teenage, possibility, which is that she'll just go sullen and sulky. If this attitude persists, it's every bit as bad as the rudeness you are now suffering and you are going to have to speak to the parents. Remember that they're on your side: they obviously have some support for the notion of Samantha's continuing to murder the piano, and that they can be your best ally AS LONG AS YOU APPROACH SAMANTHA FIRST. Attacking Samantha by meanly calling up her mum to complain about her behaviour is an act of war, in teenage terms, and the beginning of the end will then be nigh.

(Don't ask me why: I only work here ...)

Yours, wishing you luck,

Copyright © 29 April 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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