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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

An agony aunt writhes ...
by ALICE McVEIGH

? 'HEY ALICE

SOME GREAT HUMOR IN THAT SIDCUP STUFF THIS WEEK, GOT ANY MORE?
'
STEVE (in Baltimore)

Ask Alice

Alice HEY STEVE,

HIT THE CAPS LOCK KEY, OK?

Sure ... here's some more.

Alice




Hundreds of people know -- though millions and billions, of course, don't have a clue -- that I am the world's only agony aunt for classical music. I write a column in Music & Vision Magazine, every Friday, in which I attempt to respond to my reader's queries and traumas.

I'm sometimes asked how I attained my current lofty position as classical music's only agony aunt. Was I born an agony aunt, or have I been trained to advise love-lorn violinists, desperate singers, disturbed clarinettists, murderous concert managers etc?

Actually I believe that all agony aunts are born ready, willing and able to help, or, as my father prefers to describe me, 'Quick, courteous, and wrong.' Several instances of this God-given gift spring immediately to mind:

I was on Orpington train station one late afternoon when I saw a couple of teenage all-in wrestlers beating up on a weedy little guy with gelled hair, who was squealing for mercy. Despite the hair, which did give me pause, intervene I did, and very educational the whole business proved:

Lesson one: about fourteen hundred new adjectives added to one's (already pretty extensive) vocabulary

Lesson two: little weedy guys are (very) fast runners

Lesson three: Southeastern railwaymen are to a person either deaf or off on tea break (but you knew that already, didn't you?)

Lesson four: you can feel surprisingly shrimpy at five-foot-seven when surrounded by refugees from the World's Strongest Man competition, especially when you have just rashly advised them to pick on someone their own size.

Yet another sample of my ready tact occurred when I was 'on trial' for a job as cellist with the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet orchestra. I was chatting with the concertmaster one evening before the ballet when he casually asked me just how I thought British orchestras stacked up against their US rivals. Now, thousands of American cellists would have wasted no time in stating that the Brits leave us for dead as regards orchestra-playing, but only one born to a lifetime of agony would have so immediately replied (to the lead violinist, mind you) that, while in most particulars the orchestral standard was pretty similar, violinists in the UK were -- compared to their US counterparts -- tragically and fundamentally lousy.

Finally, then there was that famous bit of advice I gave the Ulster Orchestra, Northern Ireland's only professional symphony, with whom I regularly freelanced for around a decade, or until someone figured out where the noise was coming from. It so happened that I was performing with the Ulster Orchestra on Saturday, and with a London orchestra on Sunday, both led by the same conductor. Thus I was in the unique position to be able to advise the Ulster Orchestra committee that I heard said conductor tell the London players, 'Lovely to be working with a decent orchestra at last! That Ulster orchestra's rubbish!'

Now, thousands of cellists in my position would have thought, 'Not fair! Not true!', but only a true-born agony aunt in the making would have made the brilliant decision to advise the Ulster Orchestra of how they had been abused by their guest conductor, thus making it possible (a) for them to fire him and (b) for the conductor to discover that I was the guilty party and (c) for the conductor to get me fired from the London orchestra.

Copyright © 19 December 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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