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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On full-size cellos and musicians' reputations,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Dear Alice,

I have a problem I'm sure you've encountered before: I'm a music student at University (and, though I say it myself, also got into the Royal College of Music, so not a bad player). Some of the stuff at uni is pretty high standard, but some of it is painful, and because I am known as a performer, I am constantly being asked for my opinion.

This would be OK if I was a good liar, but I'm not. I've been told that an enthusiastic 'You did it!' is now known as code for: 'You were crap'. But what else can I say without imperiling my reputation as an intelligent and thoughtful musician?

' Yours,
(name withheld)

Ask Alice

Alice Dear uni muso,

You can say, 'I really enjoyed that,' without specifying that you enjoyed (a) not having to work on Bach fugue paper for two hours or (b) closing out the sound of your friend's voice/cello/piano while recollecting what a great time you had the previous Saturday night. If pressed for details ('how was my phrasing in the Franck?') you can say that you were so carried away that the actual details didn't register. (If you're as dull as this, an added benefit might accrue: they might even stop asking!!!!!)

I also think -- call me old-fashioned -- that a reputation as a nice guy (why do I think you're a guy? How interesting ...) is at least as much worth having as a reputation as an intelligent musician. Maybe somebody who doesn't know your playing might secretly curl his/her lip and think you're somewhat lacking in discernment -- but what a surprise they'll get when they do clock your playing for the first time and realise, not only that you are dead hot on your instrument but modest with it ... (Note: if you are a guy, this will especially impress women.)

Never bad!!!!!!!


Ask Alice

? 'Hi Alice,

Im ten. I think I'm big enough for a full-size but my teacher keeps saying not yet. My mother thinks I am too. Why cant I just try one and see?

Ask Alice

Alice Hi Gillian,

Well, of course I'm going with the teacher on this one. We fellow cellos have to stick together, and have secret meetings where we wear our jeans rolled up on one side and do funny things with candles and call each other 'Chief Moose' or 'Great Head Master' etc, don't we??

Well no, we don't, actually, but we still stick together like glue. Also, it'd be a very rash cellist who could imagine that she could accurately guess the size of a ten-year-old. (Especially a ten-year-old. The ones at my daughter's school ranged from cute little munchkins who could have passed for five-and-a-half and great strapping girls practically bursting out of their own uniforms.)

But I'm going to take a wild guess here and assume you're not a huge ten, though not a munchkin either. The temptation to have a full-size is very great: the sound is better, the cases are generally cooler, and they're a lot funner to play. However, unless your hands are up to it, you could be giving yourself long-term pains in your hands, and this is where I surrender to your teacher, sight unseen, even if s/he's a little on the cautious side (Note: I'm not saying s/he is, mind you; I'm just saying it's possible.) For now, my advice is to make it your goal to make your smaller cello sound so great that the temptation of hearing what you could do with a full-size becomes irresistible to your teacher.

Good luck. (And good luck with those apostrophes!!!!!!)


Copyright © 6 November 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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