David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes

Mishaps

• Gerald Moore, world-famous accompanist, used to wonder why some Patronesses of Music knew so little about music. Emerald, Lady Cunard once grabbed Ida Haendel’s very valuable Stradivarius by its strings and held it up in the air — Mr. Moore compared it to grabbing a parcel by the strings. Emerald, Lady Cunard then demanded to know why it was so valuable. Mr. Moore also stated that in the same drawing room, the hostess asked Sir Thomas Beecham, who with his orchestra were performing at a large party, “Sir Thomas, when are you going to play that lovely piece of Delius that you were rehearsing this afternoon?” Sir Thomas replied, “We have just this very moment played it, my dear.” Speaking of Sir Thomas, one of his friends visited him in his dressing room after a Covent Garden concert and complimented him on the playing of his orchestra but also said that the orchestra had drowned out the singing of the vocalists. Sir Thomas replied, “I know. I drowned them intentionally — in the public’s interest.”

• Cerys Matthews was the lead singer of Catatonia and now records solo albums. One of her best friends is fellow Welsh singer Tom Jones, who gave her the best advice she has ever received — and followed: “Tom Jones told me not to drink before going on stage. You grow up with all these myths about rock ’n’ roll behavior, even if the stars are on a rollercoaster to hell. His advice was so simple, but it really does work.” She had her most embarrassing moment on stage in the days before Mr. Jones gave her this advice, when she fell over a monitor during a concert in Germany. She remembers, “I might have got away with it if I hadn’t been mid-note.” Ms. Matthews has thought about death, as all of us have, and she would like to be remembered “with a good sentence on a gravestone. I’m still working out what it would say. Gravestones are like Twitter — you need something short that will amuse people.”

• Rumors spring up in odd ways. Opera singer Nellie Melba had a friend named Mrs. Hwfa Williams, who had a magpie that she named Melba. Ms. Melba sometimes stayed at the house of her friend. At a party, Mrs. Williams said to her guests, “Poor Melba has been terribly sick. I think it is because she had been eating so many mice.” Ms. Melba wrote in her autobiography, Melodies and Memories, “Quite seriously the tale was spread around London that owing to my ravenous appetite for mice, my health had been impaired and I had been forced to stop singing.”

• Country musician Kinky Friedman once saw Kris Kristofferson talking to a young groupie. Mr. Kristofferson looked up and asked, “Kinky?” Mr. Friedman and the young groupie replied at the same time, “Yes.”

• While singing in Aida, Robert Merrill felt the strap of his sandal break, so he kicked the sandal into the orchestra pit. Unfortunately, a too-helpful musician picked it up and threw it back to him.

Money

• Tenor Enrico Caruso made thousands of dollars each time he sang in an opera, and he was a talented caricaturist. One day, he and his wife, Dorothy, were walking along a street when he saw one of his caricatures — it depicted President Woodrow Wilson — in a store window. The price was not listed, so she asked his wife to go inside and inquire how much it cost. She did and found out that the price was $75, a good amount of money at the time. The price pleased Mr. Caruso, who joked, “Ah! Better we stop singing and draw!” Each week Mr. Caruso sent one of his caricatures to an illustrated Italian weekly titled La Folliathat was published in New York by Marziale Sisca, one of Mr. Caruso’s close friends. Mr. Sisca offered a lot of money to Mr. Caruso for these caricatures, but Mr. Caruso turned down the money, saying, “You are my friend. From friends I take no money. My work is singing. For that I accept payment. My caricatures are for my own pleasure, to give pleasure to others. Them I draw for nothing.” On a transatlantic liner, he once was busy drawing a caricature of himself when a fellow passenger — a stranger — asked what he was drawing. Mr. Caruso replied, “A caricature of Caruso.” The stranger exclaimed, “But that’s yourself!” Mr. Caruso joked, “No. You see, Caruso and I look almost exactly alike. All I have to do, when I want to draw Caruso, is to do a drawing of myself.”

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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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