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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On the perils
of Baroque dating,
teaching adults and slimming,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Hey, Alice!

No one in my family is big on so-called 'long-hair' music, but I find myself rather attracted to the older stuff. Baroque, that is. So, I decided to ask this girl at school, who's studying music, if she'd like to go to a concert with me. She was really abrupt saying NO! Well, I didn't think so much of it that time, but when I asked her again to another concert, she said no, she had perfect pitch and didn't like that music. Huh? What does that have to do with the price of rice, and so on? Can you explain this? I don't know whether to ask her again or not. Or maybe something else? Is she nuts or am I? Help?

Mark from Monmouth

Dear Mark,

Well, I have SOME sympathy with your potential girlfriend, but very little.

The truth is that baroque music played on 'authentic' instruments is usually played with the A pitched at 415, instead of at 440 (for classical-period authenticity it tends to be around 430). What these bizarre truths mean to most of us is the nuisance of heaving the same baroque/classical cello from 415 to 430 and rarely getting the string really settled (plus, gut strings tend to move more anyway.) What these bizarre truths mean to that small number of musos who have perfect pitch (God very kindly slung all the notes at 440 in their ears at birth, giving them a deeply unfair advantage in music theory and harmony classes) is that they perceive a piece in A major (say) played at authentic pitch as a piece in A-flat major. That probably wouldn't be too upsetting for the poor dears, but, given the fact that you only have to LOOK at a gut-string for it to slither downwards or upwards, the work might wind up being in A-flat-flat major, and correspondingly painful for their delicate eardrums.

Your friend might also worry that she might even 'lose' her perfect pitch, which can happen, if someone with perfect pitch turns to playing a lot at a lower pitch. I myself had (personally, no freebies from God) laboriously reached the stage when I could effortlessly sing a perfect 440 A, a talent I lost after as I started messing around with my A at 415 and 430.

However, and more importantly, this little madam sounds to me like one of life's losers. Just shouting 'NO!' at someone kind enough to ask one to a concert these days is just pathetically unhelpful, and, as most people don't know perfect pitch from a hole in the ground, her second answer is scarcely any more useful. She might at least have ventured to explain!!!!!

In fact, she sounds to me like one of those people who give their hair 100 brushstrokes every night, go mad if they see a speck of dust on the mantelpiece, and will never bring you breakfast in bed for fear of (O horror) crumbs. Take my advice and find a good-humoured, earthy girl to have fun with. Oh, and don't neglect your healthy attraction to baroque music: any CD with Andrew Manze, Elizabeth Wallfisch or Le Quatuor Mosaique should thrill you.

Yours gratuitously,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Enjoyed your article in The Strad about teaching adults, but it seemed to me that you failed to address the problem of the adult who has reached as high a level as she or he can reach, and still wants to study with you! What can I do, as it is depressing me, and must be depressing him?

Name withheld

Dear anon.,

You are missing the point here. You may be fed-up -- and I'm sorry about that -- but your pupil is clearly not, otherwise he would not be expending his hard-earned cash on YOU. Getting fed-up may, in short, be what you are being paid for, so you can just put up with it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No, but seriously, I think that these situations are difficult. You may want to have a chat with this person, in which you admit that you think you've taken him as far as you can and that he might think about trying (the patience of, you do NOT say) a different teacher. If he swears eternal fealty to you and is kidding himself that he's still improving, however, I don't think you have any option but to carry on. You may not know it, but getting out of his wife's sight and into your house may be the high point of his week. You may in fact be doing him a signal service psychologically while wasting his money musically.


Ask Alice

I am a depressed type two diabetic who would like to lose some weight. As a (7lb plus) expert in diets have you any suggestions for someone who feels really lousy without adequate carbohydrate intake?

Name and address withheld for fear of reprisals.

Dear type-two,

Well, you've come to the wrong place, for a start. Not because I'm not still losing weight (SLOWLY) but because I'm using something called Slimfast, which is, as far as I can tell from the packet, is mainly composed of, er, sugar. And for you, sugar, sugar is an absolute no-no, right? (Or am I confusing type 2 diabetes with type 1 diabetes??) Either way, I bet sugar is out.

Anyway, as far as my limited medical knowledge goes, the stuff that goes into Slimfast (aside from the milk) is skimmed milk powder, sucrose (SUGAR), maltodextrin, vegetable oil, Cactose (SUGAR), antioxidants, added vitamins and, er, SUGAR.

You could, of course, always try my other favoured diet, less drastic but still workable. I really ought to spin this out into a mega-selling book, but here it is:

  1. eat less for breakfast
  2. eat less for lunch
  3. eat less for supper

Yes!!!!!! Here you have the secret, and now YOU can spin this into a mega-selling book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Doesn't work as fast as the dreaded Slimfast, however, which emerged from a study in The Times as one of only three diet products that actually worked against placebos.

(Good old sugar: you can't beat it!!!!!!!!!!!)
Yours, hanging in there,

Copyright © 3 February 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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