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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

A cry from the back desks of the violins,
answered by Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I play in a (good) amateur orchestra, where the leader moves all the violins around (in terms of seating) several times a year. Now I know I'm not the world's greatest violinist, but I am always either last in the first violins or nearly the last in the seconds, in common with about three other people he clearly considers hopeless. How can I get him to realise that I'm a better player than he thinks he is? (Needless to say, HE never moves!) I used to think it was because I'm so much younger, but a few of the young ones seem to be put in fairly exalted positions, certainly compared to me, anyway.

Violin player

Dear violin player,

Now thousands of people all over the world are crossly saying, 'Why doesn't this girl get a life?' but thousands of fellow orchestra players are full of fellow feeling. It's extremely difficult to explain to non-musicians how intensely irritating it is to be constantly passed over and belittled by being put in a position vis-a-vis the conductor whereby he needs a loud-hailer in order to speak to you -- and you need a telescope in order to see him.

I have a couple of suggestions to try BEFORE you go to the mind-boggling extreme of asking to speak to the leader and point out that (as they rotate anyway) they might as well give a few people other than the chosen few a go at the top places in the sections, just to see if they fall flat on their faces. Before doing that, I would in your position:

  1. start showing up almost offensively early in order to get the bowings in, or practice your part in public. This shows Keenness, and leaders adore Keenness (ignore this one if you're actually good enough to show the leader up.)
  2. join the orchestra's committee and complain loudly about people who don't pull their weight, implying that you are personally bent over double slogging away on your orchestra's behalf.
  3. make a point of congratulating your leader and/or his acolytes on his solos, making your admiration crystal clear.
  4. If you feel up to it (or feel your playing is up to it) ask the leader shyly whether he'd be willing to give you a lesson one of these days. Even if he doesn't give lessons, or sees right through this, it will warm the cockles of his heart.

If you try all of these and DON'T find yourself sneaking up the section, then frankly, kid, you're probably just not as good a player as you think you are ...


Ask Alice

Anon again. I still can't seem to see your columns much more often than every couple of weeks.

Please assure Mr Tattersall that D H Hill's Algebra book was published with those problems in 1857. Perhaps it was a subtle point in my previous note but Hill did take up arms against 'the Yankees' a few years later when the American Civil War broke out.

Your readers may take you to task for reprinting the problems but otherwise you may refer them to which will, at least, start them on the trail that would allow them to evaulate these problems in their historical context.

Dear Anon,

Thanks for this, which only goes to support my point that, not only do Americans currently boast more sense of the ridiculous than is often reckoned, but that we did in the mid-1800s as well ...


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I know you enjoy tennis, and watch a lot on Eurosport, as I do. I've noticed that they've started (presumably in order to save pounds) putting on matches without any commentary -- just as if you're there. Personally I think this adds a lot. What do you think?

P G T, Cardiff

Dear P,

I couldn't agree more. It's not that the commentators are BAD, it's just that you just KNOW what they're going to say.

  1. Someone hits a good backhand smash/volley. Someone always says:
    'That's the hardest shot in tennis!'
  2. There are new balls. Some bright spark in the commentator box ups and says, 'New balls, now.'
  3. Some tennis player is run from side-to-side. Bright spark: 'She was never in control of that rally.'
  4. Someone's serve is broken. Bright Spark: 'Right away is the best time to break back!'
  5. Someone serves a double fault: 'Ooh, bad time for a double fault!'
  6. Someone's serve is off. 'Not having a good day with that serve, is he?'

Oh, I grant you, every now and then they tell me something I didn't know, but it never has anything to do with playing tennis. They'll say, 'This is the girl who's fired four coaches in five months, remember', or, 'Of course the break-up with his girl-friend and his brush with the Black Death is still affecting his attitude'. But I'll bet, were I to subscribe to one of those tennis magazines, I'd soon get to know all that (and more, probably). On the other hand, the roars of the crowds DO tell me something, so I tend to leave the sound on. When they ooh and ah I look up from my work and take in the best rallies, only to be rewarded at their conclusion with Bright Spark's 'Best rally of the match!'

(As my 8-year-old would say, duh-uh!)
Yours, never in control of that column,

Copyright © 17 March 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

Ask Alice



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