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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

'Get insured and move on'
is the advice this week from
Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,
I am feeling so upset I can't describe it.
I was playing in my school orchestra yesterday when a trombonist pushed me from behind and I dropped my violin bow. It landed on its tip and cracked, and it WASN'T insured, and my parents are furious at me.

Dear Alan,

Believe me, I'm very sorry to hear about your bow. I hope (and I mean this in the kindest poss sense) that it isn't a good one.

Your parents, however, are being unreasonable: first, in not having insured it, and secondly in blaming you. An unforeseen trombone player in the back is enough to make anyone's bow jerk to its tip, and we've all been there. It's imposs for anyone to play seriously, either as professional or amateur, without having some such story to tell.

My own husband (who has a doctorate from Oxford) once brilliantly leaned his violin case against one of our cars and then drove off. (We heard the BOING as it hit the pavement and came back.) I once was beavering away in my youth orchestra when a notably insensitive guy to whom I had loaned my second bow shoved it past my ear, in two pieces. I know a flute player who had her flute attached (ha) to her bicycle when it jarred itself loose and was run over by a lorry. I once excelled myself by losing my balance and falling with my ex-cello onto the conductor's podium, punching a neat little hole in its flank. While my own mother (and this has to be the worst known case) once ran over a cello of mine, my very FIRST cello, to which despite its crappy sound I was deeply attached. (She still maintains that I harried her, by phoning from school and telling her to rush my cello over, whereupon she grabbed it, positioned it cleverly against the back wheel of her car, and ran it over.)

In short, you've been let off comparatively lightly. If the bow was a decent one, you can have it 'pinned' and it will feel the same as ever, although its monetary value to anyone else will be nil. But let this be a lesson to you and your parents: insuring instruments is NOT an optional extra. The musical world is full of well-meaning, if fat, trombone players, awkward steps, and lethal lorries. Next time it may be your fiddle. So get insured now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am annoyed with my conductor who won't let me play a concerto with the orchestra even though I won the competition to, just because I won it last year. This is not fair! I worked the hardest and won, so why shouldn't I?

Dear no name,

Really sorry (again!!!!!) to hear your story. It must be very irritating to be denied your win just because you won before (they should have prevented you from entering if they didn't want to give the prize to the same player twice!!!!!) However, my advice is still to cheese it. If you blow your stack at your conductor this will poison the atmosphere between you (you don't mention your position in the orchestra, but I'm assuming it's a principal one, so you could even poison the atmosphere for the whole orchestra). I think you should forget about it. You were ripped off, but it will not be for the first or last time, so don't lose what you DO have (people's respect) by throwing tantrums about it. The conductor will know, believe me, that he owes you one (next season?), and this may not be his only orchestra either. Also, the world is full of rip-offs.

I once won a competition to play a concerto with the DC Youth Orchestra in Kennedy Center (where I was principal). However, the second-place winner (a black guy who played double-bass) was given that slot instead, and I only got to play a movement in a lesser concert. (This is because of race relations in Washington DC at the time; something I knew nothing about, and cared still less.) I made my feelings completely clear to the conductor, who was upset, and our relationship was never the same again, even though he wound up marrying a friend of mine. I still blame the conductor for not managing the situation better, but I also blame myself, for not being more philosophical. (But I bet I'm decades older than you are.)

Anyway, take my advice and move on.

Copyright © 20 October 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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