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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On freezing fingers and dreamers of dreams,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Dear Alice,

I have a question about the inauguration, where I saw trumpeters playing in below-freezing temperatures. At what temperature is this not possible?

' J M T,
Virginia

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Alice Dear J M T,

Dunno, but I bet somewhere out there is a trumpeter who does.

However, don't be too confident that the trumpeters you saw, apparently blowing away until their eyes bubbled, weren't miming, having recorded each note perfectly previously. This is no longer a phenomenon of the pop star world, and there were complaints when (also at the freezy inaugural) Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman were seen to be miming on their stringed instruments. Now -- God knows -- stringed instruments, esp those owned by world-class performers -- are sensitive creatures that ought not to be opened to a freshish breeze, let alone DC in January, but even trumpets are worth something (though not much in comparison) and unions are very strict on these matters. (For example, it is a little-known fact that the British Musicians Union will whimper softly and write a letter of seriously sorrowful regret to any orchestra making its performers play in temperatures below minus-five celsius and over one hundred degrees fahrenheit. Our humble heros!!!)

Cordially,
Alice

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? 'Dear Alice,

Is it just me, or is Elgar's Music Makers a load of rubbish?
'
Name Withheld

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Alice Dear Withheld,

Yes, I agree with you, absolutely. The only good bits are culled from other works of Elgar's true genius, including Enigma, Gerontius etc. It also always reminds me of the photo in Elgar's ex-home, where he has bits of paper with themes on them laid out like an undone puzzle on the floor. Organic it isn't. Inspired it isn't either. Whereas the Violin Concerto and the symphonies feel as if they've been written in a single sitting, somewhere in The Music Makers I keep having a vision of Elgar's notoriously bossy, tiny wife (Alice!!) needling him about getting down to work now.

And oddly enough, the poem by Arthur O'Shaunessey on which it was based is absolute tripe. (Proof of this is that, when I was a teenager, I adored it, murmuring soulfully to self: 'We are the music-makers, we are the dreamers of dreams' -- tragically overlooking the absolute truths that (a) everybody dreams, not only musicians and (b) that our dreams are presumably even crazier than most, since our sense of hearing is so much more highly developed than our sense of visualisation ...)

Never mind, Elgar. We can forgive you a lot for those symphonies (though NOT The Apostles ... Don't get me started).

Cordially,
Alice

Copyright © 6 March 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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