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Nerds and scientists in music,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? ' Hi Alice,

On behalf of nerds everywhere, I wish to set the record straight about Handel's sopranos. Many were women, the most famous of whom were Francesca Cuzzoni and her rival Faustina Bordoni. Others were Isabella Girardeau and Margherita Durastante (not well-liked by the critics, and nicknamed 'the Elephant').
Helen in MKE

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Alice Dear Helen,
Dead right; I sit corrected.

But you still haven't addressed the perceived problem from Puzzled in DC (or was it Maryland?) In other words, why do all the so-called 'trouser' roles now have to be played by women, when (in the period) some -- if admittedly not all -- were men?? Why does it seem to be verboten to have a male Julius Caesar in the 21st century? -- esp when one soprano aria followed by another and another can seem a bit tedious in terms of register, and when (some) otherwise sensational female singers impersonate men so feebly?

Ask Alice

? ' Hi Alice,

I'm currently a science major, and my parents have spent a lot of money my first year so that I could pursue pre-med. The thing is, I've been realizing more and more since high school that cello is my passion, and now I am convinced that dedicating my life to music would be truly fulfilling. However, my parents do not support my deciding to pursue music; I would feel guilty spending my parents' money they worked so hard to earn to send me to study pre-med, I certainly would not mind becoming a doctor, and finally I don't know if I could succeed as a musician or support myself financially. Here's what I picture: While I'd be content as a doctor, I would always wonder how my life would be different had I pursued music.

I want to pursue music, because personal growth has always been equated to growth as a cellist, and in order to grow to my full potential as a musician I would need to study with the best possible teachers, practice as much as possible and so on ... I am also happiest when I perform, and learning beautiful repertoire would be truly fulfilling for me. Thus, I would need to change to the music path (major-wise, school-wise) if I choose to do music.
(On medicine: I do very well in my classes, so I have no problem with studying hard in medical school. I love to help people, and I would feel truly 'needed' in society.)

I'm sorry this is such a long post, but how should I come to a decision? Why have some people left the music field? What would you do if you were me?

Ask Alice

Alice Dear Emily (wherever you are!)

It's pretty hard to say, firstly because I wasn't in your position -- nowhere near clever enough to go to med school -- and secondly because when I was your age (a ridiculously long time ago) things were so very much different (and, frankly, much more promising, as far as the music profession is concerned).

However, I will do my best for you.

I realize that this is likely to seriously disappoint you, but I have to say (even as the mother of a dead gifted ten-year-old French horn player) that I feel far more inclined towards the medical side than the musical. Even lousy doctors make a packet, compared to some of the most talented classical musos. In addition, some years ago I was asked to bail out a touring orch COMPLETELY CONSISTING OF TOP DOCTORS AND SCIENTISTS as principal cello. (I seem to recall that there was a mega cello solo, which freaked out an otherwise very accomplished cellist, which is why.) However, I was still amazed by the calibre of playing in this orchestra. The number of scientific people who are drawn (and excel) at classical music is absolutely extraordinary: medicine and music seem to be drawn together in an almost spiritual way.

I won't bore you with all the depressing facts and figures about orchestras, especially in the US, where the numbers hoping to join outnumber potential audience members by at least two to one. Instead, I hope to inspire you with the prospect of doing major good to humanity WHILE STILL being able to express yourself on your cello. What you want is one ace violin, one reasonable violin and a good viola -- and you'll have all the satisfaction (and none of the heart-burning) of all those Juilliard etc cello grads subsisting on parental handouts and a kindly landlord, in what basically amounts to squalor.

Although, frankly, had you been born in 1958 like me, my advice would almost certainly have been different. Things -- though we thought them tough at the time -- were easier for us with only 100 qualified cellists per full-time post. (They were easier still for those who came before. I know a cellist who auditioned in the 1970s for the Royal Opera House against -- get this -- four other cellists!!!!) These days, it's more like two hundred qualified cellists per full-time post: the kind of odds that are just silly.

Sometimes one can love music more when one's livelihood doesn't depend upon it.
Think about it.

Very cordially (whatever you choose),
your fellow cellist,

Copyright © 6 June 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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