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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On horrible examiners,
identifying recordings and locating singers,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

My problem is this: my child has been learning clarinet for about 2 years and really liked it. Her teacher then suggested that she enter her for the local music festival. She was in the class for woodwind grades 3-4 (she's doing grade 3) so I didn't expect her to win, but the experience we had there took my breath away.

The examiner (judge, I guess you'd call him) was a professional player of high qualifications. Perhaps his qualifications were too high, because he was absolutely horrible to every person in the class. Even the eventual winner was made to feel like a terrible person, because he disapproved of the way she was holding her flute. Everyone there was hauled up, one by one, to be torn to shreds by this judge, who gave us to understand that they were all wasting their time trying.

Ever since then my daughter has been trying to quit (unsuccessfully, because we haven't let her). She simply has lost the interest she had -- all because of this one person! Tell me, Alice, if I found out where he lived and shot him, could I get off on manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility?

Desperate in Kent

Dear Desperate,

Oh deary deary no, we can't have that!!!!!!!!!!!!! You must certainly NOT shoot this judge!!!!!!!!!!! Apparently you can die almost instantly from being shot, and what we are after here is a long, lingering, slow type of death, involving boiling oil, pulled-out fingernails, and lesser-known, slow-acting Asiatic poisons.

I felt a bit the same as you do quite recently, when I attended (for the first time ever) a gymnastics meet (I have to point out that Rachel and I were there purely in support of her brilliant little gymnist pal Rhea, as we are neither of us addicted to anything requiring anything like such hard work and dedication). But gymnastics is famous for emotional and even physical abuse of its participants by coaches, judges, etc (see Olga Korbut). One almost expects sadistic perfectionists to be drawn to it -- and they are.

Yet playing the clarinet (of all the inoffensive, unobtrusive little instruments!!!!) ought to be essentially a peaceful activity. One does not expect, having gone to the fuss and bother of putting one's head above the parapet in a local festival, to have it shot off. One is entitled to expect judges to bend over backwards to cheer up the little b*ggers, and, to be fair, most of them seem to, at least in the acting area where my daughter has her go. The acting ones seem very much in this very luvvie-type mould: 'Now my little ladies and gentlemen! Very well tried, upon the whole, VERY well tried, very well ESSAYED indeed! I may venture to remark that you were, upon the whole, a great CREDIT to your parents, to your SCHOOLS, and to your dear, dear DRAMA TEACHERS! (Is that yours at the back, darling, the one waving and SMIRKING over at you? Well, and why NOT?)'

But, tedious as these thesps can be, I am very glad to see them saying to all those my daughter defeated, 'Now you'll all come back and do even BETTER next year, won't you! Don't forget, we'll EXPECT you!' The impression you have given me is that this glum and disgruntled b*st*rd judging the woodwinds might as well have said, 'Why don't you save my time and yours and all go home and chuck your flutes and clarinets in the fire?????' Shooting is FAR too good for someone like that, whose own disillusion has clearly soured him to curdle-point. I would complain to the festival organisers, in hopes that he won't be asked again. I would find his address in the Union book and send him an anonymous letter pointing out, very politely, that he has possibly put your daughter off the clarinet for life. But on second thoughts I really don't think I'd kill him, because you don't want to go to jail, and his life sounds suitably unbearable for him already. Why put someone like that out of a misery he so obviously deserves?????

Yours sadistically,

Ask Alice

I learned this nice piece of music by listening to a free classical music CD from NW airlines. Alas, I lost it and don't know the name. It is a high speed violin duet that I can whistle and then send to you. My kids called it the Honeybee song because it was very active.

Can you help me?

Doug Barnett

Dear Doug,

Sorry, no, but I'll try to help by publicizing it. Can anyone out there help??
If not, you could probably get hold of the whole CD by contacting Northwest Airlines on the internet and asking for their playlist.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

What a wonderful discovery! I didn't know such things existed as you!

I'm keen to contact that marvellous British singer Anna Reynolds -- do you have any address for me? Thanks.


Dear Nigel,

All you guys this week are making me feel (even more) useless (than usual) because she is not in my British and International Music Yearbook (admittedly, mine is 2002 edition). I can only suggest that you get hold of a 2005 one (2006 is probably out by now) and have a check under sopranos. (They mainly give the contact details for agents, or email addresses.) My only other suggestion is that you might contact the RAM, Guildhall etc (whichever she went to) as some of them keep records of their ex-students, and even try to get them work, upon occasion.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Your grammatical lapse in last week's column reminded me of some doggerel from the 1884 presidential election:

We seldom speak as we pass by,
Me to Jim Blaine nor him to I.

Jack Taylor, Virginia

Copyright © 9 December 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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