David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2 — Problem-Solving, Rehearsals, Revenge, Tempi


• Publicity stunts can solve the problem of how to draw attention to a particular product. Marvel Comics maven Stan Lee once helped create a comic book starring the members of the rock group Kiss. As a publicity stunt, the members of Kiss pricked their fingers and dripped some drops of their blood into the red ink that would be used in the comic book.

• Politicians can be creative problem-solvers. In Australia, a politician got tired of the loudness of some rowdy roughnecks in his neighborhood, so he devised a means of driving them away. He simply played on loudspeakers the kind of music that he knew they would NOT like — for example, Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.”


• Sir Thomas Beecham once undertook an Australian tour during which he had the opportunity to rehearse a number of times the Australian orchestra he would conduct. He went through the program once, then excused the musicians. He did the same thing the next day and the following day — at which time he announced that there would be no further rehearsals. Because extra rehearsals had already been paid for — six in all — the orchestra manager asked why Sir Thomas would not use them. Sir Thomas replied, “My dear fellow, this orchestra was lousy at the first rehearsal, lousier at the second, and incredibly lousy the third. I can’t let this go on; think what it would be like at the performance!”

• Cellist Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich challenges himself and works hard at his art. Within a few weeks in London, he played 35 cello concertos, most of which he knew but a few of which were unfamiliar to him. One night, he discussed with conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky a concerto that they were to rehearse the following morning. After asking for information about tempi, he confessed that he did not know the concerto. As you would expect, Mr. Rozhdestvensky was concerned about the next morning’s rehearsal, but Mr. Rostropovich played the concerto perfectly — to learn it, he had stayed up all night.


• Early in his career, Italian baritone Titta Ruffo sang magnificently the role of Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Because of the huge audience response, Mr. Ruffo was scheduled to perform Rigoletto at a later performance, but after observing one dress rehearsal, Nellie Melba, who was supposed to star with Mr. Ruffo, reported that Mr. Ruffo was too young to sing with her. This rejection stung. Eight years later, Ms. Melba wanted Mr. Ruffo to sing with her in Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet. However, Mr. Ruffo declined, sending back this message to Ms. Melba: “Signor Ruffo considers that you are too old to sing with him.”

• Musicians can get revenge in unusual ways. The Violent Femmes once asked singer-songwriter Tom Waits to produce a song for them. He declined, so when the Violent Femmes performed Mr. Waits’ song “Step Right Up” on a tribute album titled New Coat of Paint: The Songs of Tom Waits, they mutilated it — as Violent Femmes member Brian Ritchie noted on the album liner notes.


• Pianist Artur Schnabel disliked the tempo that conductor Otto Klemperer was setting for a Beethoven concerto, so he signaled — behind the maestro’s back — the tempo he preferred to the other musicians. Mr. Klemperer noticed, and he pointed to the podium, then told Mr. Schnabel, “Klemperer is here!” Mr. Schnabel replied, “Klemperer is there, and I am here. But where is Beethoven?”

• Johannes Brahms once conducted the finale of one of his concertos much, much faster than he usually conducted it. Violinist Fritz Kreisler protested, but Mr. Brahms replied about playing a fast tempo, “Why not, my dear friend? My pulse is faster than usual today.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Music Recommendation: Woody Guthrie —”John Henry”


Music: “John Henry” from the album THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS

Artist: Woody Guthrie

Artist Location: California

Info: “Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) — known as Woody Guthrie — was an American singer-songwriter and musician whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children’s songs, ballads and improvised works. He frequently performed with the slogan ‘This machine kills fascists’ displayed on his guitar.”

Price: $1 (USA) for track; $10 (USA) for 14-track album

Genre: Folk, Americana


Woody Guthrie on Bandcamp