David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Comedians, Conductors

Comedians

• Cheech and Chong do stoner comedy, and their fans really get into it. For example, as Cheech and Chong were performing in Eugene, Oregon, a fan threw a gift for the duo onto the stage. Mr. Chong says, “I thought it was just a joke at first when somebody threw a 3-foot joint onstage. But it was full of bud, the most I’ve ever seen in one joint. A guy could go to jail for a long time with that much in his house.” In 2010, Mr. Cheech was 65, and Mr. Chong was 71. Once in a while, they forget a line from a classic routine. No problem — their fans yell out the line to them. And sometimes they meet a fan who tells them about reciting one of the duo’s classic routines in the fan’s 3rd-grade classroom — and getting suspended from school.

• In the early 1980s, insult comedian Judy Tenuta and comedian Tommy Hack worked together. They were going to do a gig in the badlands of South Dakota. Mr. Hack was driving — it was his Ford Pinto — and about 100 miles from their destination he asked Ms. Tenuta, “Hey, Judy, you saw my act last night, so what do you think of it? Be honest, what do you really think?” She replied, “Ask me when we get within walking distance of the town.”

• Occasionally, we hear of celebrities demanding odd things in their dressing rooms. Sometimes, the celebrity has a good reason for odd requests. For example, comedian Totie Fields demanded in her contract that 12 cups of coffee be brought to her dressing room. Why? Because as a struggling young comedian, she had been unable to have even one cup of coffee brought to her dressing room.

Conductors

• Lieder singer Lotte Lehmann was frightened of Arturo Toscanini because of his reputation, and she found working with him a “fearful pleasure.” Still, shortly after singing for him for the first time, she was relieved to sing a few lieder for a Beethoven association. Before performing, she told a friend, “Oh, I feel so calm. An easy program, a nice appreciative audience, and no Toscanini there to be frightened of.” At that moment, she looked out at the audience — and saw Toscanini.

• Georges Enesco, a Romanian conductor, was beloved of orchestras. For one thing, he did not pretend to know everything. While guest-conducting the New York Philharmonic, he declined to have intensive rehearsals of Johannes Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, instead telling the musicians, “Gentlemen, you know the work better than I do.” Of course, this made the musicians eager to perform well to prove themselves worthy of Maestro Enesco’s praise.

• Sir Thomas Beecham disliked the music of Vaughan Williams. At one rehearsal, he conducted a Williams symphony, but he seemed to be paying very little attention to it. In fact, after the symphony was over, Sir Thomas continued to move his baton until a member of the orchestra told him, “It’s finished, Sir Thomas.” Sir Thomas looked at his score and said, “So it is — thank God!”

• All of the rehearsals of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Serge Koussevitzky were intense. Even very popular and often-played pieces were approached anew each time they were to be played. According to Maestro Koussevitzky, whatever the orchestra was playing was “the greatest of the greatest” — otherwise, they would be playing something else.

• Conductor Arturo Toscanini sometimes got very angry at his musicians. Often, he would break his baton in anger. Once, his baton would not break, so he took out his handkerchief and tried to tear it; however, it would not tear. Therefore, Mr. Toscanini took off his coat and tore it to shreds. Feeling much better, he continued the rehearsal.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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