Music and Vision homepage


Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Of perspiration, stringed instruments and teaching,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Hello Alice.

I am a cello teacher in Seattle WA, USA. I am getting a master's degree in performance/pedagogy. My thesis subject is adult string students. I came across your article, Never Too Old to Learn, in The Strad, and thought I would die laughing. It is so right on the money. Have you written anything else in regards to your teaching? Do you still teach? I hope so. Your students are blessed! Hope you can direct me to anything else you have written or that you feel is valuable for teachers of adult students.

Thanks you so much for your time and especially for that article!

' Marjorie Parkington

Ask Alice

Alice Hi Marjorie,

Glad you enjoyed it!! -- Yes, I still specialize in adult students, though I've accepted two v talented kiddies in the last year related by blood to professional musician friends and not regretted it for an instant!!!! The rest of my students are grown-up (or late teenage) and it makes for a very special bond, esp as all my students come to my house. I don't think I'll ever give up teaching adults, because it's such a pleasure -- not only for them but for me!!!

My friend Marion has a theory that everyone ought to take up a new skill in middle-age, that it helps keep one young, and I subscribe to this view. Certainly the cello pupils I've started aged between thirty and sixty-five all seem more youthful and gung-ho than most. I even took her advice myself, by going back to tennis, after a minor lapse of twenty-five years, though I'm not quite so sure that tennis is as life-enhancing as cello-playing (or as peaceful!!!!)

Still, as another buddy said, just think how much more neurotic I would be had I picked up golf (not to mention broker ...)

PS As I haven't had a fan letter for a while, a copy of my funny book is whizzing to you, free, gratis and for nothing!!!!

Ask Alice

All Risks Musical -- book coverYours for only £4.99!!! Hilarious cartoons by Private Eye's Noel Ford!!! Libby Purves described it as, 'Sharp, wise and perfectly in tune!' Acclaimed winner of the 2003 David St John Thomas award (non-fiction)! Buy, buy, buy!!!!!

Ask Alice

? 'Dear Alice,

I find it amazing how often you answer a reader's question and the topic is one that I've recently experienced, at least sort of. (Sorry, I got lost in that statement.) Anyway, last week's Cleveland Orchestra concert featured Nikolaj Znaider as soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto. At every break, he pulled out a large white hankie and mopped his forehead, etc, then carefully wiped down the strings and the violin. The point is, he did this three or four times during the performance, as I noted in my review:

Nikolaj Znaider was the soloist in the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op 77 by Johannes Brahms. One may hear this work performed with great regularity in the concert halls of the world, but will seldom hear a better performance than the one we heard on Thursday evening. Mr Znaider plays with all the confidence in the world not one note of this huge concerto gave him any trouble whatsoever. His violin a 1741 Guarneri del Gesù sounded sturdy and lush from one end of the scale to the other, and regardless of dynamics. I thought it particularly charming that Mr Znaider, after wiping his own face with his handkerchief during pauses in the music, would then carefully wipe the face of his violin. It's quite obvious that such loving treatment provides great rewards!

I admit to wondering during the concert if perhaps his perspiration or natural body oils might have anything to do with the lush sound of the violin. What do I know? I wasn't a string player, but some instruments have a much bigger sound than others. He's a good-sized guy, and made a good-sized sound!
Kelly Ferjutz

Ask Alice

Alice Hi Kelly,

Er, no.

I think the secret to N Znaider's consideration of his Guarneri probably lies in your last sentence.

Far from perspiration assisting string instruments, it is -- along with tears and any other liquid substance -- notably detrimental to the instrument's long-term survival. The varnish is protective -- and often delicate, while 'good-sized guys' are often good-looking, they can also be, er, sweaty. What Znaider was doing -- assuming he wasn't crazy enough to wipe his priceless fiddle with the same handkerchief he'd just used for his face -- was protecting his/his backer's investment.

Personally, I blame the people who keep concert halls too hot.


Copyright © 27 February 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

Ask Alice



 << M&V home              Alice's previous columns >>