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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On Paganini on the mandolin,
piano pupils and Bush's latest deal,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Re Paganini on mandolin

Earlier this year I heard a recital from a really excellent mandolinist. It can be quite a dramatic instrument at times. However there are two problems with playing the caprices on the mandolin. These do not include triple and quadruple stops, which are absolutely no problem at all. Firstly the mandolin has a top note, ie the last fret on the E string -- I would expect Paganini went a lot higher. Secondly I don't think harmonics are possible, as they are on the guitar, for example.

Edwin Goodbuddy, cellist

Dear Good Buddy,

You're dead right, I'd forgotten about the harmonic difficulty, what a prat I am ...

Yours etc,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am a piano teacher with a worrying 13-year-old pupil (well, they're all worrying by four in the afternoon, but this one comes a little earlier)! She is talented, and plays with real expression, but is so shy she won't say ANYTHING from the beginning to the end of the lesson, so it's very difficult to judge what she's thinking. As if this wasn't bad enough, her performances are dreadful. I don't mean she misses notes; but all the expression disappears completely. Her mother -- who is easy to talk to -- claims she enjoys the piano, otherwise I would have thought it made her miserable, and I can't get anything out of her about her feelings (surely she notices?) about her emotionless performances. What can I do?


Dear Mary,

Well, I don't blame you for being worried, because this girl (let's call her X) must have some real issues. What I'm doubting is whether the issues are actually musical. I suspect her mother, who after all ought to know, is right, and the piano is a release for X. I also suspect that anyone whose musicality is enough to impress you in a lesson is perfectly capable of realising that all that release and expression has been stymied by nerves in performing situations. It probably makes her both happy (in lessons) AND miserable (in performance): she may even be enduring the latter in order to enjoy the former, with you.

I think the mother may be the key to this. Presumably X can talk to her, even if respect (or nerves) may stifle her communication with you. Point out to the mother that there is no need for X to perform in public (Jane Austen, an excellent pianist, never did!!!! -- yet she adored music, and played every day). Music can be many things, to many different people. You can also encourage her gradually, over time, to perform four-handed with you, or with someone else she trusts, and try to get over her performing phobia that way.

What worries me more is what is behind all this. It could be simple adolescent angst (13 is a horrible age; I can still remember it) but it could be some kind of depressive disorder or other psychological trauma. It's not normal for a thirteen-year-old to clam up with an adult for an hour on end, and I'll bet X is not the life and soul of the party in the classroom either. I think you owe it to X to suggest to her mother that she see her GP to get a referral to some kind of counsellor, just to make sure nothing more serious is going on than performance phobia here.

Good luck, and let us know how you get on!!!!!!!!!!!!!


And now, a word from my father:




BATON ROUGE, LA -- The White House announced today that President Bush has successfully sold the state of Louisiana back to the French at more than double its original selling price of $11,250,000.

'This is a bold step forward for America,' said Bush. 'And America will be stronger and better as a result. I stand here today in unity with French Prime Minister Jack Shiraq, who was so kind to accept my offer of Louisiana in exchange for 25 million dollars cash.'

The state, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild.

'Jack understands full well that this one's a "fixer upper",' said Bush. 'He and the French people are quite prepared to pump out all that water, and make Louisiana a decent place to live again. And they've got a lot of work to do. But Jack's assured me, if it's not right, they're going to fix it.'

The move has been met with incredulity from the already beleaguered residents of Louisiana.

However, President Bush's decision has been widely lauded by Republicans.

'This is an unexpected but brilliant move by the President,' said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. 'Instead of spending billions and billions, and billions of dollars rebuilding the state of Louisiana, we've just made 25 million dollars in pure profit.'

'This is indeed a smart move,' commented Fox News analyst Brit Hume. 'Not only have we stopped the flooding in our own budget, we've made money on the deal. Plus, when the god-awful French are done fixing it up, we can easily invade and take! it back again.'


Copyright © 7 October 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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