David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — War, Work

War

• On December 30, 1862, during the Civil War, the Confederate and the Union forces camped near each other by Stone’s River, which is located close to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. That night, the military bands of the two armies competed against each other, with the Confederate band playing patriotic songs of the South and the Union band playing patriotic songs of the North. Eventually, however, the Union band started playing “Home Sweet Home,” and quickly the Confederate band joined in, so that both bands were playing the same song together.

• When the Germans and Italians occupied Athens, Greece, during World War II, one of their rules required the Athenians to remain silent — even in their own homes. The Greeks enjoyed breaking this rule. Maria Callas, and then a teenager, used to sing the lead role of Tosca with windows and doors wide open, and across the rooftops the voice of an unknown man responded, singing the role of Mario.

Work

• After Schuyler Chapin became general manager of the New York Metropolitan Opera, he acquired the problems that all opera managers acquire. On the very first Saturday morning of his very first season as general manager, he was faced with three problems. First, Mirella Freni let him know that she would not honor her contract because of “your Internal Revenue Service.” Second, Tito Gobbi cancelled as Iago because of illness. Third, conductor Erich Leinsdorf demanded another Die Walkure Wotan. Faced with all these problems within the space of 20 minutes, Mr. Chapin closed his door, walked over to his window, and asked himself, “You wantedthis job?”

• One of soprano Rita Hunter’s early voice teachers was Eva Turner. Unfortunately, when the two parted company, Ms. Turner told Ms. Hunter, “My dear, you will never make a singer — you will have to scrub floors for a living.” This turned out not to be true, although Ms. Hunter did continue to scrub her own floors. In fact, when a contract to sing for the Metropolitan Opera arrived in the mail, Ms. Hunter was scrubbing a floor. And after the Queen made her a Commander of the British Empire because of her singing, Ms. Hunter told a reporter that being made a CBE had made little difference in her life because “they still let me scrub the floors.”

• Puppeteer Shari Lewis of “Lamp Chop” fame declined to hire assistants unless they had been trained in music. Therefore, during interviews, she asked first, “Did you ever study a musical instrument?” Why? Through experience, she had learned that people with a solid music education know that they can accomplish whatever goal they have set even when they begin without knowing anything. Her assistants have included an opera singer, a jazz singer, and a guitarist.

• Gregor Piatigorsky, a virtuoso cellist, once asked conductor Pierre Monteux for permission to conduct “The Star-Bangled Banner,” which Maestro Monteux granted. After “The Star-Spangled Banner” had been played, Maestro Monteux asked Mr. Piatigorsky how the conducting had gone. “It was easy,” Mr. Piatigorsky said. Maestro Monteux replied, “Don’t tell anybody.”

• When the Archduke Rudolph was appointed Archbishop of Olmütz, Ludwig van Beethoven wanted to write some music for the celebration. He started to write his Mass in D, but he became so involved in the music, and the music grew so great in conception, that the celebration had been over for two years by the time Beethoven completed the work.

• Blind Lemon Jefferson, a blues singer and guitarist, was born blind. As a young man, he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he found it difficult to get work. However, because he was a big, strong man who weighed 250 pounds, he was able to get a job as a wrestler. Crowds of people were willing to pay to see him because a blind wrestler was unusual.

• Sometimes, people don’t realize how difficult making music can be. After hearing that Bill Worland was a professional musician, a woman told him, “Sitting playing the piano for three or hours, I don’t call that hard work — it’s easy.” Mr. Worland replied, “Yes, it’s easy. It only takes a lifetime to learn how to do it, and do it well.”

• On June 20, 1994, Aretha Franklin gave a memorable performance at the White House Rose Garden for then-President Bill Clinton and other guests. In fact, while singing “Brand New Me,” she performed so hard that while crossing the stage she lost a shoe.

• When George Gershwin was told that the woman he loved had married another man, he said, “I’d feel terrible about this if I weren’t so busy.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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