Music and Vision homepage


Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Why Joe Bloggs rules,
with secret tennis player ALICE McVEIGH

I just found out through a friend in DC (where I lived for seven years) that John Martin passed away, and found your website when I googled his name. I first encountered him when I came to Washington in 1994 and engaged him for a concert. I had no idea who he was, but at the first rehearsal he put bow to string and I stopped breathing until he stopped playing (it was the intro to an aria I was singing, so I had to start breathing again at that point).

When we asked for his bio, he gave us the shortest one I had ever seen: John Martin recently retired after 54 years as principal cellist of the National Symphony Orchestra. Whenever I asked him to play something, he'd say, I'm retired, I don't have to do this any more. But he always did. A beautiful and classy man.

Gershon Silins, Toronto

Dear Gershon,

I'm printing your lovely letter because I think it says it all about John Martin.

It also says it all about musicians whose bios go mad:

Joe Bloggs was born at a very early age. At the age of three he could lisp the alphabet, while at five he was singing (unaided) most of the Sesame Street songs! Once he was seven, Joe started the piano, which he abandoned at eight in favour of the flute, his mother having spotted that he was getting nowhere fast. By the age of 12, Joe was starring as principal flute in the Junior school's production of Oliver, where the reviewer pointed out, 'Never, in the history of Tubbenden Junior School, has a principal flute player missed fewer notes than Joe Bloggs.' By the time Joe was 14, his talent had been spotted at senior school, where he appeared as 'Flutist on the Roof' (due to no current violinist having the nerve) in the senior play. At the well-known music school Klondike Conservatory, Joe conducted his own 'Joe Bloggs orchestra', set up the 'Joe Bloggs chamber choir', and won an award for 'hardest-worked student of the decade'. Recently, Joe accepted a position as chief vocal coach and top wind clinician at the local school (Klondike High) where he is kind enough to additionally coach the hockey and gymnastics team. Now a composer, conductor, arranger, flutist, clarinetist and stalwart of the local church choir (where he decorates the first baritone section) Joe is available for work as wind clinician, vocal coach, gymnastics supremo and composition teacher, anywhere, anytime (he's completely desperate). For details see


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I understand from a friend of a friend (who gets your Christmas letters -- very amusing, by the by -- that you are a tennis player. Why do you never mention this in your columns?

Tennis fan

Dear fellow tennis fan,

Well, partly for the reasons hinted at above. I mean, I am not exactly to tennis what Perlman is to the fiddle. I started at 8, not realising in the least how privileged I was, on the grass courts of the Tanglin Club in Singapore, reached my peak at 12 in Burma (where the embassy kindly provided my family with its very own court) and it's been downhill ever since!!!! For decades I only ever played at my parents' clubs in the Washington area, on annual visits (except for a brief assault on the Knoll tennis club in Orpington, where Hyacinth Bucket would feel RIGHT at home!!!!) I only got re-encouraged when the dear old British tennis association generously picked darkest Orpington (or, as my editor Keithie baby would prefer, Orkest Darpington) for the venue of its most recent attempt to beef up indoor tennis in the hope of uncovering the next Henperson ... Here, along with several other local worthies, I signed up for ladies tennis mornings and mixed doubles tennis evenings, indoors, in a (probably vain) attempt to resuscitate those skills of my youth.

In fact, I played my (very!!!!) first tennis match, in fact, last Saturday. We went out there, the four of us representing Bromley Tennis Centre, not exactly determined to 'do or die', but more to lose with dignity -- as, it must be said, the team had done, without exception, so far this season.

We were being led, however, by the stalwart Sarah Fisher (she of the blistering serve and stunning volley) and she and Lana Petrova (no relation) having put one over the Sevenoaks 'A' ladies pair (while self and Alison Heath were squeaked by the Sevenoaks 'B' ladies pair 7-5 in the third set), we realised we were in with a shout at making waves in the (VERY short, this being our first season) team's history. As expected, Sarah and Lana then made short work of Sevenoaks 'B' while we toiled onwards with Sevenoaks 'A'. We swiped the first set, but they were up 5-2 in the second, when we were forced to halt, due to a cock-up in the court allocation. To our joy, however, we had done so much better against Sevenoaks 'A' pair than Sevenoaks 'B' had done against Sarah and Lana, that the match was ours, to be celebrated throughout history in song and story. (I mean, look at the fuss made about the Charge of the Light Brigade, or Blenhiem, or Dunkirk, for instance. What's that got on Alice and Alison vs Sevenoak's 'A' pairing, anyway???)

I am currently fleshing out a musical, tentatively but snappily entitled: The Charge of BTC's women's doubles 'B', which goes something like this:

Life was boring, life was bland
Then fate rose and took a hand
By the time the sun would sink
Little would anyone ever think

That BTC's brave pairing 'B'
Would triumph over adversity?
For nothing in their palms suggested
that such an outcome could be expected.

Suggestions for a composer (preferably one already completely mad) on a postcard to:

Copyright © 16 December 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

Ask Alice




 << M&V home              Alice's previous columns >>