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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On depression in orchestras,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Hi Alice,

I am concerned about someone in my orchestra. This guy is in another section and (I think) very deeply depressed. He hardly ever speaks to anybody, seems to have no friends and disappears as soon as possible after rehearsals, concerts etc. He is very good-looking but maybe too thin. Could you advise me how I could help him (assuming he is depressed, as it seems?)
concerned violinist

Ask Alice

Alice Hi concerned,

Why do I have this feeling that your sorrow and sympathy for this fellow orchestra member would be less were he not 'very good-looking'?

Yet even the immortal Jane Austen, in one of her more wicked moments, wrote:

Mrs Musgrove was of a comfortable, substantial size, infinitely more fitted by nature to express good cheer and good humour, than tenderness and sentiment; and while the agitations of Anne's slender form, and pensive face, may be considered as very completely screened, Captain Wentworth should be allowed some credit for the self-command with which he attended to her large fat sighings over the destiny of a son, whom alive nobody had cared for.

Personal size and mental sorrow have certainly no necessary proportions. A large bulky figure has as good a right to be in deep affliction, as the most graceful set of limbs in the world. But, fair or not fair, there are unbecoming conjunctions, which reason will patronize in vain -- which taste cannot tolerate -- which ridicule will seize.

Anyway, you have given us a picture of a sensitive and delicate looking young man, in need of your (or someone's) love and care, and there is no reason why you shouldn't attempt to befriend him, if you haven't already, as long as you are willing to take no for an answer if one comes your way.

Depression, as you are probably all too aware, is rife in society and even rifer in orchestras. Some studies suggest that, at any given time, one in ten in the general population is clinically depressed -- and, if to the natural sadnesses of bereavement, divorce, ill-health etc is added the angst of being extremely good at music and being economically bludgeoned into becoming but a cog in some conductor's machine, that depression can be severe. Possibly your interesting young man had dreams of being famous on the violin or the bassoon -- or perhaps he loved his youth orchestra so much he couldn't imagine any other job -- and now disillusion has set in. (On the other hand, perhaps he is happy as a clam in the violas and only down because he is secretly in love with the principal violist's wife.)

In either case, you can but try. Don't go in with all guns blazing, though: tickets for Covent Garden are out of place here. Suggest he join you and your best friend for a pizza between the rehearsal and concert: something like that. Something specific but not overwhelming, giving him a chance to let you down gently if all he really wants is to write duff poetry or try to forget. If he refuses you are allowed to try again (not the same week). If he refuses again, let him buzz off and look Byronic in peace.


Copyright © 17 April 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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