David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Recordings, Rehearsals


• At the 2006 Mercury Music Prize (a British award) ceremony,Richard Hawley’s 4th soloalbum, titled Coles Corner, was nominated but did not win. Instead, an album by a group called Arctic Monkeys — his friends — won. While accepting the award, Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner said, “Call 999, Richard Hawley’s been robbed.” This remark was widely quoted, with the result that Mr. Hawley began to become famous. Mr. Hawley says, “It changed things for me. I started selling f**king records.” In 2007, he recorded another album, Lady’s Bridge, although his father died while he was recording it. Actually, his father gave him some advice that helped him finish recording the album. Mr. Hawley says, “One of the last things he said to me — apart from, ‘Don’t forget my f**king beer and fags [cigarettes] when you come tomorrow’ — was, ‘You’d better finish that bloody record. Don’t get crippled by grief.’”

• Live recordings were difficult to do in the days when recordings were made on wax cylinders because the microphones often picked up sounds that should not have been picked up. One live recording of a Cesar Franck symphony was ruined when near the end of the symphony, the wax cylinder recorded a woman saying quite loudly and clearly to another woman, “Tell me, dear, where do you buy your stockings?”

• The music of a jukebox in a bar can get annoying after a while. That’s why CBS in 1953 produced a record titled “Three Minutes of Silence,” which gave exactly that when a customer selected it from the records in a jukebox.


• Conductor Arturo Toscanini desired excellence from the singers and musicians he worked with, and sometimes he vented his displeasure during rehearsals. This occasionally had the unfortunate effect of making singers and musicians nervous, resulting in more mistakes. In Salzburg, Austria, Lotte Lehmann sang Eva in Die Meistersingerfor Maestro Toscanini, a conductor of genius. He was not satisfied during rehearsals, and at one rehearsal, Ms. Lehmann said that Maestro Toscanini “wrapped himself in an icy silence and just looked at us sadly and scornfully.” Finally, Ms. Lehmann said to him, “Maestro, won’t you please tell us what crime we have committed? We want to do everything you want, but won’t you please tell us whatyou want?” Maestro Toscanini replied, “There is no fire!” Hearing that, Ms. Lehmann, the other singers, and the musicians decided to focus on the fire and not on avoiding mistakes. Ms. Lehmann thought to herself, and so apparently everyone else did, “Let us forget that it is the much-feared maestro before whom we are singing. Let us forget that we must be exact to the finest detail. Let us forget that any and every mistake is a deadly sin. Let us just be normal human beings, who are not without faults, like this genius — then the fire will blaze which had been dampened through our fear.” The result was magical, and after the rehearsal, Ms. Lehmann went to Maestro Toscanini’s dressing room. He was only scantily dressed, but she hugged him, said, “Thank you, Maestro,” and left.

• Leonard Bernstein was rehearsing Falstaffwhen the trombone choir failed to hit a note in unison. This surprised Maestro Bernstein, as it wasn’t a hard note to hit in unison. Caricaturist Sam Norkin was watching rehearsal, and from his seat, he could tell what the problem was. The music stands of the trombonists did not contain the music of Falstaff; instead, they held such reading matter as the Racing Form, the National Enquirer, Reader’s Digest, and the sports page from the New York Daily News.

• Early in his career, Walter Midgley worked in a variety program. At the band rehearsal, he went to a lot of trouble to get some of the rough edges smoothed out among the musicians, but at the performance he noticed that the musicians seemed to have forgotten everything he had taught them earlier at the band rehearsal. Therefore, he spoke to the conductor, who told him, “Oh, that was a different band you were rehearsing with.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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