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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On parents and prose style,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Hi Alice,

My niece passed her grade seven piano exam some years ago, but hardly played ever since. I even suspect she might have forgotten all her pieces. I privately think (though I hesitate to say directly to avoid any fuss from my family) that her parents had wasted, more or less, the investment into this. If kids don't really like playing musical instruments, why expect them to do so at an early age? And, how is your opinion?

Thanks in advance of your response,

Ask Alice

Alice Dear M,

I think you're probably right, in that hugely more pianists (and students of other instruments, very often strings) are studying only as far as, not they, but their parents want them to. This is even more likely to be the case, 'at an early age'.

I also feel that your niece might well have felt -- having passed that point -- 'Great! I've done it!' and let the whole piano idea slip, thereafter vaguely answering, 'Oh yes, I'm still playing ... just sort of working towards (shove in some suitably impressive exam or qualification here).'

And I applaud your decision not to say anything, so as to avoid 'any fuss from my family'. Much better to drop the whole subject, since the investment at this point appears to have been possibly wasted.

However, I have to stress, that it's only at this point: you never know with people. She might get untold pleasure from being able to accompany her own kid on the oboe, in years to come, or switch to the harpsiplonk and get really enthusiastic. There is also some evidence to suggest that simply studying musical instruments pays off tenfold in terms of exam results in academic subjects. So the 'investment' might even have paid off, in the end.

Let me know, should this happen, as we all need good news stories in the middle of recessions!!!


Ask Alice

? 'Dear Alice,

I know you loved Ballard's Empire of the Sun, but have you ever read his science fiction? Some of us think it's better than his 'famous' fiction!
John, Los Angeles

Ask Alice

Alice Hi John,

To be honest, I was seriously disappointed by (what is supposed to be) his sci-fi masterpiece: The Drowned World, and decided not to mess with his (many) other sci-fi thingies.

Though acknowledging a fantastic imagination and a fertile recreation of a London sinking into swampland, I found the characterization childish and the dialogue risible. The beginning is taut and promising, but by the time the reader has lasted -- against all odds -- to page 150, one is entitled to hope for stronger dialogue than:

'Beatrice,wait! Don't move yet!'
'Robert, be careful! What happened to you? Strangman wouldn't let me watch ... Darling, leave me here and get away.'
'Strangman's capable of anything, Beatrice. He's insane. They were playing a sort of mad game with me, very nearly killed me.'
'But Robert, even if we get out --'

In other words, life is short, far too short to read such drivel, prefaced by so many names as to make one doubt Ballard's opinion of his reader's sanity, let alone their intelligence. And this despite it's being leavened with such prose as:

'The endless banks of the inland sea stretched out in front of him, merging at their edges into the incandescent sky so that to Kerans he seemed to be walking across dunes of white-hot ash into the very mouth of the sun.'

In short, one is left thinking:

'Reader! We have a problem!'
'No! Reviewer, what is our problem?'
'The situation is grave. Reader: the author has a fantastic imagination and a lovely prose style combined with -- wait for it -- a tin ear for dialogue!'
'Reviewer, what can we do?!'

With the answer being, well, not a helluva lot, frankly.


Copyright © 16 October 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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