David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Education

Education

• The young Leonard Bernstein studied how to be a conductor under Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Sam, gave him $40 a month to pay expenses — this was not enough money. Fortunately, conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos did the very good deed of sending Leonard a check for $225. Leonard did study hard, and Maestro Reiner respected him, but Leonard once made a mistake and called Maestro Reiner “Fritz” in class. Maestro Reiner responded — frostily — “Yes, Mr. Bernstein?” Maestro Reiner was known for having a temper. About him it was said, “Any day on which he failed to lose his temper was a day in which he was actually too sick to conduct.” By the way, Leonard often missed classes while he was a student at Harvard, where he went to school before attending Curtis. On the top of a page of class notes, he once wrote, “hollow empty stupid dull uninteresting.”

• One of opera singer Clara Doria’s teachers when she was young was Ignaz Moscheles, who had some definite ideas about playing the piano. Whenever a student had a finger improperly placed, he would catch the finger as if he were catching a fly. He also disliked the wearing of rings while playing the piano. Whenever a student wore a ring during a lesson, he would remove the ring and deliver a lecture on why piano players ought not to wear rings. The result, of course, was that his young students would borrow as many rings as they could so that they could wear them during lessons. Another very human trait he had was that he liked his own compositions. He once told his students, “Why do you spend your time in studying this meretricious modern stuff? You should confine yourselves to Bach, Haendel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Me.”

 • One of the things that David Amram learned from fellow musician Miles Davis is that jazz has no wrong notes. Mr. Ashram explains, “By that he did not mean to play anything — he had the most beautiful selection of notes imaginable. But he meant anything that you have can move to something else if you have a right path.” For example, early in Mr. Amram’s career he was playing French horn with Charlie Mingus, and the cash register went off while he was playing and it bothered him. Mr. Mingus said, “Next time that happens, play off the cash register. Use that as part of the music. If you’re playing, the piano player is going blockity-block, the drum is going buckita-bucka-ding. Put that into the music and answer it. Go bita-boo-boo-bum and answer the cash register. Make that part of the whole experience.”

• While still in school, Elvis Presley was occasionally bullied, although he did have friends. When he was in the 8th gradewhile living in Tupelo, Mississippi, some bullies cut the strings of his guitar. However, his friends pooled their money and bought him new guitar strings. He and his family moved to Tennessee, where he attended Humes High School. He wore his hair long, which was unusual for males at the time, and when he tried out for the football team, some conforming bullies ganged up on him in the locker room, held him down, and were going to cut his hair. He was rescued by football star Red West, who became a lifelong friend. (A few days later, the football coach kicked Elvis off the team because Elvis declined to cut his hair.)

• World-renowned concert pianist Byron Janis is also a teacher of music. He once had a gifted student, but she lacked artistry, and he needed to find a way to free her. By chance, one day he asked her if she always walked the same way when she went home after a lesson. She replied, “Yes.” Mr. Janis then advised her to try different routes when she walked home: “You’ll make new discoveries. It will be fun.” The results were excellent. Mr. Janis says, “Within a month, I heard signs of the artist emerging. That simple suggestion seemed to touch the right nerve and her playing started showing signs of freedom. I was amazed. Strange — teachers never can predict what works.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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250 Music Anecdotes (Kindle eBook: $1.99):

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