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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH
answers the question
'Is the name of a musician's college important?'

? ' Dear Alice,
My question is: does it matters if you get into a famous conservatory? Why can't you be an outstanding virtuoso majoring in some other subject?--or not going to any college at all?

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Alice Dear Anon,

You can. That is, you can be an outstanding virtuoso majoring in the domestic sciences, or film studies or Russian literature or whatever. It just reduces your chances somewhat, because 99% of virtuosi do bestir themselves sufficiently to go to a top music school. There are several good reasons for this:

  1. Reality check. I, for example, was the hottest young cellist in all of -- wait for it -- Virginia, a state in the US, when I was growing up, and constantly was put lead cello in the Virginia All-State orchestra. However, what I learned when I got to one of America's most famous music performance schools was the level of competition out there in the other 49 states ...
  2. Inspiration. What I got at Indiana was exposure to top teachers in singing, violin (Gingold and Gulli were the most famous of these) and piano (Pressler). You can paddle your own canoe as hard as you like, but a breath of genius can also fill your sails.
  3. A helping hand. Some schools open doors. 'I went to X, Y or Z' can be enough. If you don't -- or if you decide to read chemistry at Oxford instead -- you may be just as promising a violinist but you'll always have to prove it.

Hope this is helpful.

Ask Alice

And now, a funny joke from my father, sent to him by one of his friends:

Country Funeral Story

As a young minister in Kentucky, I was asked by a funeral director to hold a grave-side service for a homeless man, who had no family or friends. The funeral was to be held at a new cemetery way back in the country, and this man would be the first to be buried there.

I was not familiar with the backwoods area, and I soon became lost.
Being a typical man, I did not stop to ask for directions. I finally arrived an hour late.

I saw the backhoe and the open grave, but the hearse was nowhere in sight. The digging crew was eating lunch. I apologized to the workers for my tardiness, and I stepped to the side of the open grave. There I saw the vault lid already in place. I assured the workers I would not hold them up for long, as I told them that this was the proper thing to do.

The workers gathered around the grave and stood silently, as I began to pour out my heart and soul. As I preached about 'looking forward to a brighter tomorrow' and 'the glory that is to come', the workers began to say 'Amen', 'Praise the Lord', and 'Glory!' The fervor of these men truly inspired me. So, I preached and I preached like I had never preached before, all the way from Genesis to Revelations.

I finally closed the lengthy service with a prayer, thanked the men, and walked to my car. As I was opening the door and taking off my coat, I heard one of the workers say to another:
I ain't never seen nothin' like that before, and I've been puttin' in septic tanks for thirty years.

Copyright © 27 June 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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