David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Critics, Dance, Death

Critics

• While singing at the Metropolitan Opera, soprano Renata Tebaldi was surprised when the critics left before the end of the opera in order to write their reviews and meet their deadline. She asked, “Do they never stay to the end of the opera? How can they tell what has happened?”

• George Bernard Shaw could be quite caustic in his criticism. One day, he attended a recital by an Italian quartet. During a pause in the recital, a friend remarked, “These men have been playing together for 12 years.” Mr. Shaw replied, “Surely we have been here longer than that.”

• Blues singer Muddy Waters first heard his voice on a recording in the early 1940s. His impression of his voice was positive; afterward, he said, “I thought, man, this boy can sing the blues. And I was surprised because I didn’t know I sang like that.”

Dance

• Sir Thomas Beecham conducted the score by Frederick Delius for Romeo and Julietvery slowly — much more slowly than other conductors. During performances of Romeo and Julietby Ballet Theatre, two men at the close of a number held ballerina Alicia Markova in the air. After a short pause, the music was supposed to start again and the two men would lower Ms. Markova to the ground. However, during one performance, Sir Thomas held the pause a very long time. Because the men were getting tired holding her — their arms were trembling — Ms. Markova whispered that they should lower her to the ground before the music started again. After the performance, Sir Thomas explained why he had paused so long: He had thought that the pose of the two men holding Ms. Markova in the air was very pretty, and so he had paused a long time to let the audience enjoy it.

• While young ballerina Darci Kistler was taking classes at the School of American Ballet, Lyn Stanford was the pianist for the classes taught by Stanley Williams. At the end of class, when all the ballerinas were tired, Mr. Stanford played popular songs such as “A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down” — with a ballet beat.

Death

• Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, aka the father of modern Jewish music, once saved the life of a would-be suicide while on a musical tour in Copenhagen. He saw an emotionally distraught young woman who was being taunted by some teenagers on a beach suddenly walk into the water and swim out to sea. He swam out after her, calling to her and begging her to return to shore. Finally, he shouted out to her, “What about me? You’re not only going to kill yourself, but you’re going to kill me as well. Please, if you go any further, I’ll never make it back. I won’t have the strength to swim back.” The young woman heard him, turned around, and they swam back to shore together.

• Sir Thomas Beecham, the famed conductor, once desperately needed a set designer and asked David Webster, “How is Aubrey Hammond these days?” Mr. Webster, who knew that Mr. Hammond was now the lateMr. Hammond, said, “He is as well as can be expected.” When Sir Thomas ordered, “Well, ring him up,” Mr. Webster replied, “Sir Thomas, I don’t think he would like to be disturbed.”

• When Leonard Bernstein died, Rudolf Nureyev was seen leaving the funeral service. A reporter asked him, “What do you think of Leonard Bernstein’s death, Mr. Baryshnikov?” Mr. Nureyev was saddened by Mr. Bernstein’s death but later he got a kick out of the reporter’s mistake, saying, “Wrong again. They got it wrong again.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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