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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Fair complaints and botox,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,
I feel a bit upset and would value some advice.
I play occasionally in a string quartet, that is, it's not my own quartet but I get asked when a regular there can't play. Anyway, I've heard (more or less accidentally) that I'd get asked more often except that I look 'too serious' when I'm playing. Now I like to think that I have a god deal of quiet animation, but when I concentrate I concentrate (and sometimes, without realizing it) I even furrow my brow. Is this a fair complaint or is Botox the answer?
Yours with furrowed brow,

Dear Anon,

My personal view is that it isn't (a fair complaint). I mean, it's not as if you're playing long notes while backing a pop star or some comedian where looking thrilled, young and divine is part of the deal. It seems to me that the (unspoken!) orchestral contract is to play as well as possible, to pay as much attention as poss. and to do as professional a job as possible (don't be late, don't annoy your principal, try not to ignore the conductor etc.) I used to work with one bass player who got in trouble because his concert shirts were always a complete disaster (unwashed, never ironed, bow tie slewed around backwards) and that in my opinion -- though he was an exceptional player -- IS a fair complaint, because people should look reasonable -- but I've also heard about an occasional orchestral cellist extra being objected to because he was quite strikingly ugly, and I thought that was awful. (I mean, was it his fault he was behind the door when the good looks got handed out?!)

I suppose there IS something you could do (no, not botox) in this case, which is look as cheerful as possible when NOT playing. You mention that, when you concentrate, you brow-furrow -- or, in other words, you frown. Could you attempt to transmit your concentration into a firm little half-smile, like my friend Barbara? If this is imposs then at least come on stage looking as if you retain the will to live and smiling at the audience while being applauded should be more than enough, in my opinion, towards resolving such unfair criticism. (You could also, of course, tell the quartet you mention to take a long walk on a short pier, but only you know to what degree this would be useful/intelligent/crazy.)

Cordially yours (smile shoved on at the factory)

Ask Alice

Alice's ten infallible Rules of Christmas:

  1. The people who sadistically send you Christmas cards you would never, in 10,000 years, expect to get, never do so before the 23rd of December
  2. The people who send you invitations to Christmas parties you would willingly pay money to avoid always do so before October (and quite often earlier)
  3. The part your child is assigned in the school Christmas play is never one for which you (or any of your neighbours) own the costume.
  4. As every Saturday in December approaches you are bound to be offered increasingly large amounts of money to play fewer and fewer notes -- assuming of course that you have already assured 95 people that you will appear at the job you were first asked for, some sunny day back in July.
  5. The only present (generally called something like Mario Magnifico Stunning Sapphire 3-D Secret Agent Pokeman, also available in double imbecile version) that will make your only child's Christmas complete may only be purchased (cash) in shady back steets from early August onwards.
  6. The amount you will be paid, in every orchestra, is in geometric opposition to the distance you will have been obliged to travel, in hundreds of miles, in order to get to the job.
  7. The number of people travelling on Southeastern Trains after six pm is inevitably exactly double the number that any single train was originally designed for. Of these, generally, one fifth will be too drunk to stay upright, and another fifth will be just tipsy enough to make such sensationally hilarious comments as: 'Give us a tune, love'. The remainder will be silently morose and/or carrying more unwrapped Christmas presents than they can afford, most of which stab you and/or your cello in passing.
  8. The number of cellists required for your annual Cello Christmas concert to raise money for your local charity is exactly two thirds of what you were promised back in June. Also, every tenor in the world is sick.
  9. The number of taxis available in London is in precisely inverse proportion to the number required, at a ratio of two to one. If it happens to be in December: three to one. If it happens to be December AND raining: one hundred and fifty to one. Even if the entire rest of the week is mild and bright, on the day you are trying to get a cab from the Tower of London to London Bridge, laden down with 139 lbs worth of music, stands, cello and other professional gear, it will inevitably monsoon.
  10. Roll on January!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Scrooge (aka Alice)

Copyright © 21 December 2007 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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