David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Chamber Music, Children

Chamber Music

• Not everyone likes chamber music. Arthur Catterall used to lead the BBC Symphony. One day, he was in a taxi when the driver looked at his violin and asked if he ever played on the radio. When Mr. Catterall replied that he did, the cabbie asked, “Do you ever take part in those Sunday afternoons of chamber music?” Mr. Catterall replied in the affirmative, so the cabbie stopped his taxi, opened the door, and said, “Well, you can jolly well walk!”

• Chamber music can be very expensive. Thomas Beecham spent much of his own money on music. Once, a gentleman from the United States who had been donating much money to an orchestra compared notes with him. After their talk, the American gentleman said, “Well, sir, I guess that every time some guy draws a bow across a fiddle, you or I sign a check for a thousand dollars.”

Children

• When he was an old man, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted a Sir Robert Mayer Children’s Concert. He slowly walked to the conductor’s chair, and then spoke to the audience of children, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, my slow progress to the conductor’s desk was due not to any reluctance on my part to conduct before so distinguished an audience. My slow progress was due entirely to the infirmity of old age. Our first piece is by Mozart. It was composed when he was at the age of …” — here Sir Thomas pointed to a small boy in the audience — “at your age, sir.”

• As a very young child, soprano Geraldine Farrar started taking piano lessons, but she played only the black keys. Asked why she didn’t play the white keys, she replied, “Because the white keys seem like angels and the black keys like devils, and I like devils best.” In an early autobiography, she wrote, “It was the soft half-tones of the black keys which fascinated me, and to this day I prefer their sensuous harmony to that of the more brilliant ‘angels.’”

• When English entertainer Joyce Grenfell was a young girl, her father took her to hear some Bach at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She tried to beat time with the music with her head, but was unable to — the boy in the seat behind her had fallen asleep and his knees had trapped her ponytail! Because she was polite, she waited until the music had ended and the applause had wakened the boy, thus freeing her ponytail.

• In 1909, when tenor Leo Slezak sang the part of Tamino in Mozart’s Magic Fluteat the Metropolitan Opera, Walter, his little son, was in the audience. Little Walter had been told the plot of the opera, and he knew that a snake would be chasing Tamino at his entrance. Out of excitement, when little Walter saw his father make his entrance, he shouted, “Watch out, Papa! There is a snake!”

• At age 13, Billie Holiday went to New York City to be rejoined with her mother, but she took a walk in Harlem and got lost. A social worker helped her out by finding her a place to stay until her mother could be located — a place that young Billie remembered as a beautiful hotel. After she grew up, Ms. Holiday went back to the “beautiful hotel” and discovered that it was a YWCA.

• One mother thought that her three-year-old daughter might be a musical genius because the little girl remembered where the middle C key was located on the piano keyboard after being shown it once. However, one day the mother cleaned the piano keys, and her little daughter couldn’t pick out middle C anymore — the middle C key had been the one with the egg stain.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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