David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2 — Death, Education


• Duke Ellington died of lung cancer, and he knew he was dying. In the last days of his life, he sent his friends his final greeting. It was a card on which was a cross. In the middle of the cross was an O. Lettered vertically on the cross was the word LOVE. Lettered horizontally on the cross was the word GOD.


• Even early in her life, Joan Jett knew that she wanted to play rock and roll. She found a guitar teacher and told him what she wanted to learn, but it didn’t work out because she was so young and inexperienced that she didn’t realize that learning to play the guitar with a teacher involved a traditional educational process that she was unwilling to go through. The guitar teacher tried to teach her to play “On Top of Old Smokey,” but Joan’s response was, “Screw this.” Instead, she got herself a “Teach Yourself To Play Guitar” book, taught herself a few chords, and then started playing along with her records by Led Zeppelin and T.Rex.

• Thomas Beecham was a world-famous conductor, and he found it useful to know how to play various musical instruments. Occasionally, a musician would say that it was impossible to product an effect that Mr. Beecham wanted, so Mr. Beecham would take the musician’s instrument and demonstrate that such an effect was possible. Learning the instruments, of course, took effort. When Mr. Beecham started to learn the trombone, his neighbors protested, and so he ended up practicing in a small boat in the middle of a lake.

• When pop singer/actress Mandy Moore was a little girl, her mother got her a voice teacher, but her mother told the teacher, “If she doesn’t have any talent, tell me. I don’t want to waste your time.” In 1999, teenager Mandy got a hit with the single “Candy,” which propelled her album So Real into a million-copy seller in only 12 weeks. Of course, Mandy quickly became a star. She said back then, “There are people selling ‘What Mandy signed in my fifth grade yearbook’ on the Internet and that’s just scary.”

• Throughout his life, Arturo Toscanini studied music. When he was an old man, he was found in his bed studying the scores of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, although he had conducted the symphonies hundreds of times and had memorized the scores. When his son asked why he was studying scores that he so intimately knew, Toscanini replied, “Now that I am an old man, I want to come a little closer to the secrets of this music.”

• Conductor Pierre Monteux taught at a school for conductors, where a young student tried to impress him while conducting Franz Schubert’s Eighth Symphony. For 25 minutes, Mr. Monteux watched the young student wave his stick in all directions and show off with many expressions, then he told the student, “Now will you please play it again? And this time you will think of Franz Schubert — n’est-ce pas? — and not of yourself!”

• Famed conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once said to a young musician after tea, “I’m going to throw you out now.” When the young musician asked why, Sir Thomas said, “I’m going to have a look at my scores.” “But,” the young musician said, “you always conduct from memory.” Sir Thomas replied, “It is because I’m going to throw you out that I can look at my scores so that I can conduct from memory.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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