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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On conversations within the orchestra,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,
I'm about to get hitched to a clarinet player and she tells me that clarinet players don't speak to string players who don't speak to brass players. Is this true or is it some kind of joke?
Unmusical in Nebraska

Dear unmusical,

Fascinating question. Even my own daughter (now nine, French and tenor horns) said to me (I think she was eight then, but still): 'I hate the time between the rehearsal and the concert in band.'

Me (the reasonable mother): 'Why, darling?'
Rachel: 'There's nobody to TALK to.'
Me (the idiotic mother): 'What do you mean? There's Judy in the flutes and Ellen in the clarinets and Joy in the oboes ...
Rachel (with scorn): That's the WOODWIND!!! I'm talking about the BRASS!!!!!

I pointed out to her that there is nothing in Union rules that prevents a horn player from hobnobbing with woodwinds (not even oboes, who, as is widely recognised, can be Very Strange Indeed). But she was adamant. She was perfectly willing to chat to Judy, Ellen and Joy at Tubbenden Junior School, but it would be extremely infra dig to be reduced to doing so at BAND.

(I suspect there is a gender thing here, too, with brass being populated mainly by boys and woodwinds almost entirely by girls. Rachel is rather proud of being A Bit Unusual, and One of the Boys.)

Anyway, having spent some extremely happy mealtimes with woodwind players (you might just want to watch the brass) I think that this is a stupid attitude. I'm all for breaking down walls, especially in Israel. What I'd like to launch this week is a Bust the Barrier cause. Let flute spake unto trumpet, and clarinet chat unto violin. For those orchestral players nonplussed by how this might be done, and still full of distrust and stereotypical ideas of how other bits of the orchestra behave, here is an easy, step-by-step guide to The Seemingly Impossible: speaking to a member of another orchestral type:

  1. Woodwind to brass: 'Do you think I caught the mood at letter (A)?
  2. Brass to woodwind: 'Fancy a pint down the pub?'
  3. Woodwind to strings: 'Do you think that my projection was there against the bassoon?'
  4. Brass to strings: 'Fancy a pint down the pub?'
  5. Strings to woodwind: 'Crap rehearsal, wasn't it?'
  6. Strings to Brass: 'Crap rehearsal, wasn't it?'
  7. Brass to percussion: 'Fancy a pint down the pub?'

And these are the stereotype-busting answers you can expect:

  1. 'Fancy a pint down the pub?'
  2. 'Oh, no, it might ruin my embrochure.'
  3. 'Crap rehearsal, wasn't it?'
  4. 'Yes, but only with a STRING PLAYER, not something SUB-HUMAN like YOU!!'
  5. 'Oh? And wasn't my solo at bar 54 worth getting out of bed for?'
  6. 'Fancy a pint down the pub?'
  7. (Silence. The percussion section already IS down the pub.)

Copyright © 8 December 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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