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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On mini-disc players, Mozart in the jungle and ads for tenors,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Have you got a mini-disc player,
and would you recommend one?

B D, Cardiff

Dear B D,

Oddly enough I have just invested in one, partly in order to make decentish recordings for my own use and partly for pupils, my quartet etc. In fact I ordered one from the reliable HiFiBitZ, on the internet, on the very morning of the concert for which I needed (so desperately) my tenor. The girl assured me that Interlink Express (the express is the funny bit) would make delivery before 3pm, so I was justly disappointed when it did no such thing.

However, with that sunniness of disposition for which I am renowned, I decided it would probably show up the following day.

To give them justice, they did indeed bestir themselves by late afternoon enough to try, but I was out. I called them to save them trouble (ha ha) on Friday, telling them that I would be playing with the English String Orchestra on Friday (we accompanied Julian Lloyd Webber on the Rococo, a deeply unimpressive performance. Aside from insisting on doing it in the -- deeply inferior -- original version, the most stirring part of the rendition was Lloyd Webber's quasi-Samurai warrior outfit, consisting of black headband and white over-blouse.)

But back to the res. I kindly phoned the depot of Interlink Express to tell them not to bother trying to deliver on Friday, but that I would stay in on Monday for the delivery. This was a pain, but I did it. It wasn't until five pm Monday that the penny dropped, and I called up Interlink Diabolically-Slow's depot in Dartford, and gently inquired why my mini-disc hadn't come.

'Oh, the route-driver didn't show up today, innit,' said a charisma-bypass victim called Lindsey, who should be slowly roasted on a hot grill.
'You might have called,' I suggested. 'Especially as it was MEANT to arrive last Wednesday!'
'Well it's your fault! YOU might have been in when we came before!' came the charmless retort.

I attempted to complain to her manager, a loser called John, who couldn't have cared less, but wound up complaining to Interlink Express' main office, where a concerned manager called Lynn sorted things out (or so I rashly thought). Lynn and I grew very close over the next few hours, and I hope to invite her to come on a long walking holiday with me sometime. She promised that my delivery would be before 9:30 the next morning.

At 9:45 the next day, Interlink Express disaster-zone duly appeared, shoved me a bag which had once contained a Sony mini-disc player but which now mainly contained deformed lumps of metal, and departed. The box bore every appearance of having been jumped on by a solid fellow weighing no less than 17 stone, which was roughly the description of the surly deliveryman. It might have had a lump on concrete dropped on it from a height, which is more or less what I wanted to do to Interlink so-called Express (ha.)

At this point I was beginning to wish I had never heard of mini-disc, let alone been rash enough to order one. However, the day was saved, not by the Powerpuff girls but by HiFiBitZ (remember them??), who had been the proud sponsors of the demolished mini-disc. Their manager Chris, touched by the story of my plight promised that he would send out, by Business Post (glory be upon their name) not just a replacement mini-disc player but the next model up, at no extra cost, which has just arrived, accompanied by a courteous Business Post delivery man bearing zero resemblance to the loser from Interlink Express.

So the moral of this tale is that I would like to urge you all to give your business to HiFiBitz, especially if you are in ANY area other than Kent. They are brilliant. Imagine sending me a player worth 50 more because I'd had problems with ANOTHER COMPANY ALTOGETHER!!!!!!!!

However, if you live in south London, please request that they employ Business Post for the delivery. Just tell them Alice sent you ...

Ask Alice

Hey Alice,

Have you heard about this forthcoming publication:

Do classical musicians really lead such depraved, destitute lives? Or is this just sensationalist rubbish?

A guitarist

Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall

Dear guitarist,

Thanks for this: haven't heard of, but I bet I will ... I think this Blair Tindall must be a very brave lady, because it certainly doesn't sound if, after publishing her classical freelancing memoir, she will ever play the oboe in New York again!!!!!!!

In answer to your question, I personally don't often play in orchestras since my seven-year-old was born (child-friendly it ain't) so I have had to do a bit of research in order to answer your question.

The people I've spoken to (all, I hasten to stress, in the UK) actually seem on the whole to feel that classical music is much LESS sex, drugs etc than it used to be. This is partly because orchestras have become feminised over the last decades, as its status and money have sunk, and partly because it's become tougher and more competitive. Those brass players who used to fall ass over apex in Mozart Requiems due to having sunk nine pints before the concert (I heard 'em!!!!) are no longer employed. The culture of boozing has given way to a culture of beta-blockers. People practice hard bits before concerts; they don't prop up the bar. And sexual harassment is more of an issue nationally than it used to be (which isn't to say it never happens anymore, but ...)

However, things may be different in New York, and I await this memoir with interest. (Also, as I know myself, authors are under HUGE pressure to shift their books, and make their marketing as sensational as poss. I was myself approached shortly after my first novel appeared in 1994 by The Sun newspaper, offering me untold sums in exchange for naming names in classical music who supposedly (and in some cases even did) inspire characters in my novel.

Hmmmmm. Sometimes thought I missed a bet there ...

(However, I did wish to work again!!!!!!!!!!!)

Ask Alice

G'day, Alice.

Just thought you might like to know that the Goooooooooooooooooogle ad above your tale of woe was:

Corelli, Del Monaco, Domingo, Gigli, Kraus, Schmidt. 400 tenors.

Hundreds, see! You've just got to know where to look ;-)

OK, let's get serious here: list in order of rarity (and we'll assume equal skills) -

tenor, counter-tenor, and players of the ... harp, baryton, cor anglais, baroque flute, tuba, ophicleide, bass (not baritone) sax, serpent, alto clarinet, ondes martenot, natural horn, vielle (that's a hurdy-gurdy, not a medieval fiddle).

And that's just obvious instruments -- all are required in European concert music of the last three centuries.

You could have been much worse off, now couldn't you?

Malcolm (Tattersall)

Dear Malcolm,

Thanks for this. Of course, with my previous life as a stone age cellist, I still know quite a few players of the baroque flute and natural horn, and I even know some underemployed harpists and cor players but yes, otherwise: fair dues ...


Copyright © 24 June 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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