David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Illness, Instruments, Insults

Illness

• Gustave Charpentier, French composer of the opera Julien, was invited to attend a performance of the opera at the Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Charpentier wanted to go, so in preparation for the sea voyage, he sailed in a boat for 15 minutes on the Seine. This short boat ride made him ill, and he declined the invitation to go to New York, having resolved to spend the rest of his life on land.

• Gustav Holst wrote At the Boar’s Head (1925) while recuperating from a head injury. He was reading Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays and studying English folk music, when he noticed that the melody of one of the folk songs fit a passage from one of the Henry IV plays. Because of that happy accident, he wrote an opera using folk songs and passages from the Henry IV plays.

Instruments

• Should junior high and high school musicians regularly clean their instruments? Trey Reely, the band director of Paragould High School in Paragould, Arkansas, thinks so. To persuade his students to do this, he tells a story that a repair technician told about a student who brought him a trombone that would not produce a sound no matter how hard he blew into it. The technician disassembled the trombone and discovered, clogging the bottom of the slide, three mice.

• Mstislav Rostropovitch owns a Stradivari cello with a long scratch on a lower bout. Why hasn’t he had the scratch repaired? Because the scratch was made by a very important person. Napoleon Bonaparte had asked a previous owner for permission to play the cello, and as he was sitting down, one of his spurs made the scratch.

Insults

• Who drummer Keith Moon did not take criticism kindly. He once stayed at the Hyatt House on Sunset Strip in LA. Walking through the lobby, he loudly played a tape recording of a Who rehearsal. People complained to the manager, who told him, “Turn that noise off.” Mr. Moon went up to his room, where he had stashed away several detonator caps that were intended to be used at a Who concert. He affixed the detonator caps to the door of his room, and then he called the manager and said he needed to talk to him immediately. The manager came to his room, knocked on his door — and Mr. Moon set off the detonator caps, exploding the door into pieces. He pointed to the pieces of the door and told the manager, “That was noise.” Then he pointed to his tape recording of the Who rehearsal and said, “This is The Who.”

• When he was a very young man in Barcelona, cellist Pablo Casals performed in a production of Carmen. During intermission, a double bass player asked him what was the most beautiful part of Carmen. Mr. Casals mentioned both the prelude to the third act and the flower song, but the double bass player said that the most beautiful part occurred when the tenor sang, “Vous pouvez m’arrêter. C’est moi qui qui l’ai tuée.” Mr. Casals replied that yes, that was beautiful, but then the double bass player added, “Listen to me, Pau. That is beautiful, because when I hear that I know that I will be going home in a few minutes.” Mr. Casals said many decades later to Plácido Domingo, “Do you know, after more than eighty years, I cannot forgive that man for what he said that evening.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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