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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On heartbreak, parents and practice,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Dear Alice,

Im 15 this year. Three months ago I went for a combined school music camp and I fell in love with this guy. He's really cute and handsome: a timpanist. We know each other, but however he already has a girlfriend. I've been crying over him for 3 months, and each time I try to forget him, I always fail. I've confided in my friends, but all the replies they give me are the same. However I can't seem to forget him. Please give me some advice, thanks.
-Almost suicidal

Ask Alice

Alice Dear Almost,

I congratulate you. Fifteen is a brilliant age at which to first experience heartbreak, without which your life at university and beyond would surely not be complete. All too many youngsters rush into these things (probably including the guy -- so cute and handsome -- whom you've been so upset about.) In short, it's disasters like yours -- and I'm not minimizing it for an instant -- that make grown-ups so unshallow and so interesting.

Someday you'll be grateful to this unnamed person, for helping to form The Real You. (This will happen just about the same time as you meet the person who will make this teenager seem very dull indeed.) Just now, however, I'm with your friends. Forget him. Do Good Works. Read 19th-century fiction. Cultivate your expertise at basketball / watercolours / bowling/ medieval French. And if you are even halfway serious about being almost suicidal, for God's sake tell someone who really knows you.

PS Sorry about the additions, pretending that this was a letter from a musician, but this is meant to be a music column thingie ... It's silly, I admit, but there you go.

Ask Alice

? 'Dear Alice,

My situation is really difficult. I'm studying music at a university, but what I really want is to be a performer. The whole historical/performance practice/theoretical/you name it stuff just bores me, but (though I got into a music college) my parents wouldn't let me go. In fact, it was hard enough to persuade them for me to read music at a university, as I was pretty good at other subjects more likely to result in well-paying jobs.

My question is this: how far am I justified in spending hours practicing, if it adversely affects the class of my degree?

Or was I mad to give my parents an imput in the first place?
Name withheld

Ask Alice

Alice Hi Name,

This is not an uncommon problem, at least as far as my (professional muso) friends and their offspring are concerned. They seem to separate into two basic camps (the offspring, obviously): the ones who don't want to do classical music if it kills them and the ones who can't help doing it, at any cost.

I will probably annoy you no end by -- partly, at least -- siding with your parents. A conservatory degree is but a rickety support in these tough economic times, and one which -- without astonishing skill and contacts -- is by definition very much less useful in terms of repaying student loans than the halfway position in which you find yourself. As a music student at a 'real' university, you should come out with a degree worth much more in the eyes of the general public than that of your contemporaries at a music college. In short, you are that much less likely to find yourself busking at tube stations in order to pay the rent.

On the other hand, in my experience, the determination of musicians to be musicians will assert itself, in some form or other, regardless. So your parents may well have merely postponed the inevitable.

However, since you asked my advice, I would say that the class of your degree does matter, and that you will almost certainly have years to waste hours in practice afterwards. Therefore (and I can hear the cheers of your parents as I scribble) I suggest that you mix your hours of glorying in the soulful sound of your clarinet -- or whatever you play -- with hours of solid irritation coming to grips with twelve-tone rows.

Yours in sympathy,

Copyright © 11 September 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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