David Bruce: Music Anecdotes

• When he was a very young man who had just graduated from Harvard, future music critic Henry T. Finck decided to attend the first Beyreuth Festival, with Richard Wagner himself conducting. He arrived several weeks before the festival began, and he wanted to attend the rehearsals of the great works of opera written by Wagner. No one was supposed to be admitted to the rehearsals, but he found a convenient keyhole and put his ear up to it. Someone discovered him doing this and said, “Nobody allowed in here.” Henry pointed out that he had spent a great amount of money for tickets to all the public performances of the festival, but to no avail. The attendant said, “I am extremely sorry, sir, but I have strict orders to make no exceptions. Fortunately, Henry met Mr. Wagner himself. He took the opportunity to ask the great man to allow him to attend rehearsals. At first, Mr. Wagner declined, thinking that Henry was a critic. (Henry became a critic — as which he was a defender of Wagner — later.) Henry said, “But I am not a critic, only a young man of 22 who has come simply to describe the new works.” (True. Henry could write, and he had arranged to send articles about the festival to the New York Worldand Atlantic Monthly.) This pleased Mr. Wagner, who asked him, “Have you a Patronatsschein?” Henry replied, “Three!” Mr. Wagner then did a good deed. He said, “I had made up my mind to admit no one to the rehearsals, not even Liszt. But he has gone in and I have admitted a few others, so you might as well come, too.” Mr. Finck wrote in his autobiography that he “had the time of my life watching the great master superintending every detail of the performances.”

• For a while, Michael Moore, who now directs documentaries, published an investigative newspaper in Flint, Michigan: theFlint Voice. Some of the investigative stories, such as exposing racism in businesses, resulted in a major lack of advertising revenue, and so getting enough money for the newspaper was difficult. One person who helped start the newspaper and supported it until his death was folksinger Harry Chapin. After a Harry Chapin concert, Mr. Moore went backstage to see him. A security guard asked him what was doing, and Mr. Moore replied, “I’m just stopping by to see Harry.” The security guard replied, “The hell you are!” But Mr. Chapin appeared at his dressing room and decided to see Mr. Moore, who told him that he and some friends wanted to start an alternative newspaper and asked him to please do a benefit concert for them. Mr. Chapin listened to Mr. Moore’s plans for the newspaper and said, “Sounds like a worthy effort. Here’s my manager’s number. Give him a call and I’ll see what I can do.” A few months later, he did a sold-out benefit concert, and Mr. Moore and his friends started the newspaper. Mr. Chapin then did annual benefit concerts for the next five years until his death in an accident on the Long Island Expressway in July 1981. Mr. Moore kept the newspaper going until 1985, when he shut it down to become editor of Mother Jones, which turned out to be a bad idea. He has never forgotten Mr. Chapin’s generosity.

• Nickelback has its fans; Nickelback also has its non-fans, including Josh Gross, who writes for the Boise Weeklyin Idaho. When Nickelback came to the Idaho Center to play a concert, this is what Mr. Gross wrote: “You can spend $45 to go see Nickelback this week. Or you could buy 45 hammers from the dollar store, hang them from the ceiling at eye level and spend an evening banging the demons out of your dome. That $45 would also buy you a lot of pickles, which have more fans on Facebook than the band. It would also buy you an introduction to rock guitar video course that would allow you to surpass the band’s skill level in five hours or less.$45 is also enough to see Men in Black III five times, buy a dozen Big Macs, do 10 loads of laundry or so many other experiences as banal and meaningless as seeing Nickelback but that come without having to actually hear Nickelback. But if you must, the band is playing the Idaho Center on Wednesday, June 13, [2012,] at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $45.”

• David L. Ulin is a critic for the Los Angeles Times(California). When he was in high school, he was a fan of Neil Young — he still is. One day, he was playing one of Mr. Young’s albums — loudly — in his bedroom. His mother came to his bedroom and told him to turn down the volume. Mr. Ulin wrote much later, “When I protested that Young was a genius, my mother looked at me as if I were speaking a language she didn’t understand.‘If he was a genius,’ she told me, ‘he wouldn’t be playing electric guitar.’” By the way, Mr. Young undertakes what seems to be constant renovation, and he seemingly always eventually breaks up with whatever band he’s playing in. In the middle of a tour with Stephen Stills in 1976, he sent Mr. Stills this telegram: “Funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.”

• Ernestine Schumann-Heink was a kind woman as well as a great operatic contralto, and she imparted her musical wisdom to others. Music critic Henry T. Finck once introduced to her one of his female students at the Brooklyn Master School of Music. Ms. Schumann-Heink extended an invitation to the pupil: “Come to see me at my hotel tomorrow morning.” The student went, but Ms. Schumann-Heink had read a notice in a newspaper and was depressed, so she asked the student to instead stay with her all weekend at her place in New Jersey. Mr. Finck writes, “The girl did so and what she learned in those three days was worth more than a whole year’s course in the best conservatory.”

• “A German woman in a coma was taken to a Bryan Adams concert and woke up. She looked around and said, “The coma wasn’t that bad.” — Conan O’Brien

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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