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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On cello strings and pumpkin pie filling,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Can you recommend some really good cello strings? I've used Dominant for years but my friend says Larsen is the best. I am only a teenager and not rich but my parents are willing to buy me a new set before my Grade 7.


Dear Laura,

Oddly enough, I, like your friend, used to swear by Larsen soloist string (and swear at Larsen too, at the prices), though, on my cello Helicore worked better on the G and C, but I have over the last year completely fallen in love with a still more expensive string, Evah Pirazzi. These are chromesteel and tungsten on a steel core (whatever THAT means) but they make my cello absolutely BLOOM. They have the reputation of being hard to play in, but I haven't found that at all. You play for ten minutes and BOING!!! the glow is there. As for soloist or non-soloist varieties of string, I think, unless you've got such a fabulous cello that you have to worry about blending in a section, that you ought to just head straight for the soloist and unblushingly order them ...

Still, you ask any cellist and you'll get a different answer. I too used Dominants for years, until I noticed that they 'go off' sooner than other strings, so, although cheaper, are they really such good value? Also, it's a bit of a cheek on my part recommending strings to ANYBODY without having heard the cello ... Yours might be old and dark and sound fab with covered gut, for example. And Jargar strings simply go on forever, though I had to use one the other day when my G-string went while I was playing solo for a load of primary school-kids and I thought it sounded lousy. Incidentally, in case people think love of classical music is dead, clock this: I asked those 100-or-so kids if anyone wanted my broken string as a souvenir and every single hand shot up in the air!!!!!!! WHY?? I mean, a defunct cello string is one of the world's most useless objects. Even if you have a cello, it's no good to you ...

Perhaps they thought they could skip rope with it.


PS Final last tip: ALWAYS rub some pencil lead over the bridge and nut of the cello before putting on any new string ... and, if you can -- if no little group of 8-year-olds is looking at you agog -- take twenty minutes the first time you tune it to get it bang up to pitch.

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am not a fellow musician, but I AM a fellow American living in London and I wondered if you had any tips on keeping Thanksgiving over here?


Dear Gerry,

Embarrassed to admit that I don't -- keep Thanksgiving, that is. It's all a bit super-fattening and way-too-close to Christmas, when we're all going to stuff ourselves with turkey anyway. Sorry to disappoint. HOWEVER, and I know this is on the late side, we DO keep Halloween, and this is how I do it.

  1. You tell your eight-year-old she's too old for Halloween.
  2. She tells you she isn't.
    Repeat steps (1) and (2) until both are exhausted.
  3. Invite five close friends over for Halloween party.
  4. Receive phonecalls from seven next-to-closest friends begging for invites.
  5. Plan on 12 close friends for Halloween party.
  6. Dig out decorations from loft, buy sausage rolls, sandwiches, Scooby-Doo cake etc from Sainsbury's.
  7. Buy zillions of teeth-rotting sweets.
  8. Call on the tried-and-trusted eight neighbors not offended by Halloween who are fit enough to distribute sweets on the night and give them all the sweeties you have bought.
  9. Discover that two of the close friends haven't got costumes, and your daughter is wearing her witch's one but is resistant to loaning anyone her bat costume or her back-up witch's costume 'because they're still mine!'
  10. Explain about Christian sharing.
  11. Threaten cancelling entire party.
  12. Successfully loan out bat and back-up witch outfits.
  13. Have party. Swear you will never ever ever do a Halloween party again -- until next year, anyway.
  14. Have drink.
    Repeat step (14) until party seems a distant memory.

Oh, and Waitrose sells pumpkin pie filling -- very handy for homesick Americans.


Copyright © 4 November 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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