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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Carbon music, Cretans and landsnails,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH


On a recent trip to the Berkshires I heard a concert by Luis Leguia (a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) on the carbon fiber cello which he invented. He has a factory which turns out 100 of these instruments each year (as well as carbon fiber violins and violas.

I found the sound of the instrument dull and monochromatic. The dynamic range seemed to be loud and louder. I asked a well known cellist and teacher about these instruments as toys. Leguia claims these instruments' low price tag (around $6,500.00) would be a boon to young music students who can not afford good instruments. At a chamber music concert a few days later by students at the Tanglewood Music Center, none of the gifted young string players were playing carbon instruments. If they are going to catch on, that is where it would happen.

Are you familiar with these instruments? Do you think they are good vehicle for students to learn and perform on?

US music lover

Dear music lover,

What a fascinating question!!!!! -- I'd only just recently heard about these cellos, so I went to the website (Luis and Clark) and heard Leguia playing Bach on one. Aside from the fact that he played it in a rather old-fashioned style (and completely unauthentic bowings, the ones we learned in the 70s!) one couldn't help but admire the effortless beauty of his bow-arm, and I intend to recommend this site to some pupils, for that reason alone.

As for the cello, well, I know what you mean. It's almost too perfectly adjusted, at least with that gorgeous bow-arm, and in the glorious acoustics of Boston's Symphony Hall. The creaminess is uncannily identical on all four strings (well, evenness is supposed to be a virtue, however!!!!) so it almost sounds as if it's from a machine. I also think that the design won't please (at least classical) musicians, as the purfling and the design -- though admittedly no longer needed to hold the bits of wood together -- is traditional, and musicians (even when they pretend to moan about it) are great traditionalists. Leguia says on his website that this enhances the sound, however.

I also agree that the dynamic range is not great. But you really have to hand it to him: a playable, creamy-sounding cello for around $7000 -- and in an age when any playable cello (and I know, having just accompanied an adult pupil on her UK-wide quest for a good cello of 10,000 pounds) is not just hard to come by, but quite simply impossible to find!!!!! Well done, Leguia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! -- and I would certainly recommend it to cash-strapped cello pupils, as an absolute godsend, until they have saved up enough for a quality wooden cello.

(As for the Tanglewood cellists you mention, they've already won scholarships / been given top instruments / convinced their rich grandparents that they're taking this cello thing seriously enough to have forked out their $25,000 and upwards. It's not really those kinds of young would-be professionals who'll be thanking Luis Leguia with tears in their eyes in the future. At the highest level, wood will always triumph.)


Ask Alice

Hi Alice,

Is that the hill at Drapanos behind you? Used to live in Kent now Edinburgh and can't get back to Crete often enough.

Best wishes ... Jim

Ask Alice

Dear Jim, presumably in Edinburgh,

No, that's Stavros. (But they're very alike, aren't they??)

We're all mad about Crete as well. I think I was a Cretan in a former existence (no jokes about cretans in this one, please ...)

But don't complain. Outside of the unholy horrors of its festival, Edinburgh is a brilliant place too -- historic and beautiful and full of character (WITH hills).

Yours, refusing to feel sorry for you,

Ask Alice

Alice --

I've been meaning to write to you for some time, to tell you how much I still enjoy your writing. My family was dislocated last year by Hurricane Rita.

Our home was totally destroyed, forcing all of us to live in, first, a FEMA hotel, and finally, in a place we bought in a suburb of Austin ( Texas ). Further complicating things was that I fell and broke a hip.

Other than raising a mother cat and her four kittens we anticipate returning to Louisiana and picking up the threads of our lives. Meanwhile --
keep writing and cheering us up!!!!!!!!!


Dear Anon,

Many thanks for this. Oddly enough we have added to our menagerie recently and it IS ALL DI'S FAULT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Di is a lovely friend of mine, who rescues badly-treated dogs by the ton, and she berated me for my treatment of Buster, my giant African landsnail, the last time she was over. (Di is the kind of British animal-lover who wears black for a week if she steps on a slug, and believes that ants have souls).

She pointed out that, although allowed his 'romps' in the garden (where he covers a stunning six inches per hour!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and often enjoying a 'run' up the kitchen walls (roughly similar in terms of speed, though he tends to get a better grip on grass), not to mention having a gourmet choice of cucumbers, apples, melons etc, he must be a sad and lonesome giant African landsnail, all on his own.

Now this may be true. However, G A landsnails, once closeted with other G A landsnails, lay eggs by the dozens (which require an eagle-eye to dispose of before you discover yourself the proud owner of 95 million G A landsnails). Not only that, but they're both egg-layers, being hermaphrodidic (is this a word, Keithie baby?), thus doubling the hassle.

However, I watched Buster this summer, mainly as he romped, and decided that he was getting on a bit (he's probably five, but he was a rescue snail, so we can't be sure). So I called Insectlore (great company) and said, I know you only sell G A landsnails as newborns, but could I get hold of a fully-grown one, as companion to Buster? Insectlore was full of the will to win, but unable to help me personally, so they gave me the number of their suppliers (something biologicals) who said, no problem, we're up to our ears in fully-grown Giant Africans, do you prefer Visa or Mastercard?

So the upshot was that I last week gave my almost-nine-year-old Rachel her very first giant African landsnail (got a big hug, also a funny look from the postman) and she took one look and named it Syrilla. (I fear for that kid's children. You should meet the dolls.)

And the next thing I knew Buster was waking up next to ... Syrilla. And boy was he pleased!!!!!!!!!

At first Syrilla, who is a very pretty, slightly smaller, Giant African, gave a very good impersonation of a G A landsnail with a headache, but before you knew it she had yielded, and they've been inseparable every since (he's shown her round the garden).

So now, all thanks to Di, I am on permanent egg-retrieval duty, but I'm sure that I've Done The Right Thing.

(If any of my readers fancies a Giant African Land Snail, they have only to ask. Rachel is already dying to let one hatch.)


Copyright © 1 September 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

Ask Alice




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