David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Fans, Fathers

Fans

• Enrico Caruso was so popular that audiences kept applauding him long after he wished to leave the opera house, thus forcing him to come up with hints for the members of the audience to go home. He sometimes appeared at the final curtain carrying his wig in his hand — or dressed in an overcoat, with his hat and his walking stick in one arm and a lit cigar in the other hand. He was so famous that whenever he went for a walk, he was forced to have a car follow him so that he could be driven away if mobs of admirers tried to surround him.

• Tom Jones, the male sex symbol and singing star, once was on tour in Mobile, Alabama. A limousine with a woman driver picked him up and drove away. They drove and drove, but the nightclub where he was to perform was still not in sight. Finally, Mr. Jones asked the driver, “Where are you taking me?” She replied, “I’m taking you to my house.” She wasn’t kidding. When they arrived at the driver’s house, 25 of her women friends were waiting to meet Mr. Jones.

• Susannah Cibber sang at the first performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiahon April 23, 1742, in Dublin. Her emotion as she sang was overwhelming, and after she finished singing “He was Despised,” the chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dr. Patrick Delany, shouted, “Woman, for this, be all thy sins forgiven.” (According to music historians, Ms. Cibber had quite a few sins to be forgiven for.)

• Herman’s Hermits was a very popular pop group in the 1960s, recording such hits as “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “Dandy,” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.” In 2000, they performed before nostalgic audiences often consisting of women in their 40s and 50s. According to lead singer Peter Noone, “Girls used to throw underwear at us. We still get some, but it’s bigger than it used to be.”

• There was so much screaming at the early Beatles concerts in the U.S. that the Beatles couldn’t hear themselves play. Once, the Beatles were discussing their performance after a concert. When the name of a certain song came up, Ringo said, “We didn’t play that song tonight.” The other Beatles looked at each other, and then said, “Wedid.”

• After singing the part of Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walküre, American soprano Olive Fremstad was cornered by a fan who told her, “I used to be so confused by Wagner, but tonight I really believe I understand it all!” Ms. Fremstad replied, “You are more fortunate than I, who have given my whole life to the study and still know so little.”

• At a party given by George Gershwin, the composer spent a lot of time talking about himself. During a pause in the Gershwin monologue, Oscar Levant asked, “Tell me, George, if you had to do it all over, would you fall in love with yourself again?”

Fathers

• Songwriter Sammy Cahn (“Love and Marriage,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” and “I’ll Walk Alone”) remembers attending Yom Kippur services with his father. Like the other Jews, his father was beating his breast and saying the Al Chet, a long list of sins that is recited on Yom Kippur. Suddenly, his father, who was not known to be a funny man, turned to him and whispered, “I don’t know why I’m beating my breast. I haven’t done anything.”

• Early in her career, Melissa Etheridge was given a lot of support by her father. She picked up early experience singing in bar bands, and her father would sit all night at whatever bar she was performing in because young Melissa was underage.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Education, Fans

Education

• As a young music student, Geraldine Farrar wrote Lilli Lehmann several times, asking to become one of her students, but she never received a reply from the great vocalist. Finally, Geraldine’s mother wrote Ms. Lehmann, and she received an immediate reply. Ms. Lehmann had received all of Geraldine’s letters, but the handwriting had been so bad that she was unable to read them.

• Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was a brilliant student at the Munich Conservatory. An exam asked the students to compose a fugue in four voices. Instead, Mr. Wolf-Ferrari composed a double-fugue in eight voices, for which he used an original first subject. As a second subject, he used the theme his teacher had given on the test.

• British actor Stanley Holloway once mentioned to Jascha Heifetz that he was looking for a school for his son, and he named one school that accepted pupils very early in their life — at two and a half years old. “Two and a half,” Mr. Heifetz said. “What’s he going to do till then? Just loaf around?”

• Charlie “Bird” Parker is one of the greatest jazz saxophone players of all time, but even he had to learn how to play well. When he was a teenager, he played some jam sessions with local musicians. At one jam session, he made numerous mistakes and the drummer threw his cymbals at him in disgust.

• As a child, rocker Bruce Springsteen hated school. While attending St. Rose of Lima Grade School, he was totally out of control. Finally, his teacher found a way to control him. She made him sit in a trashcan which she kept under her desk.

• Giacomo Puccini was taught music by his Uncle Fortunato, who used to kick him in the leg if he sang a note incorrectly. Due to this training, when the adult Puccini heard a wrong note, his leg would involuntarily jerk.

Fans

• Even celebrities can make fools of themselves when meeting other celebrities. Gay author Michael Thomas Ford grew up admiring Lisa and Wendy, two women musicians in pop star Prince’s band, and he watched for them each time a Prince video was shown on MTV and attended Prince concerts just so he could see them. When he discovered that a friend of his knew them, he asked that a dinner be held so he could meet them. At the dinner, the first thing he said to his idols after being introduced was, “I love you” — something he had wanted to tell them for a decade. Wendy laughed, and Lisa held his hand and replied, “We love you, too.” The evening was fun, and Wendy and Lisa were fabulous, even without the teased hair and makeup they wore in the MTV videos and during concerts.

• In 1982, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, aka the Singing Rabbi, was in Jerusalem, where he was seen by some boys from the international Jewish boys camp known as Camp Sdei Chemed. Because Rabbi Shlomo was a Jewish celebrity, their mouths fell open and they stared at him. Rabbi Shlomo noticed the boys and crossed the street to greet them. The boys asked their counselor to request that Rabbi Shlomo sing a few songs for them, but he pointed out that it was nearly midnight and that the good Rabbi was probably going home tired after giving a concert. However, since the boys were insistent, he requested the songs. Rabbi Shlomo replied, “Sure! With pleasure! — and he gave them a two-hour concert under the stars.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

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

Death

• Even after releasing the single “It’s Like That” in March of 1983, the members of the rap group Run-D.M.C. weren’t sure that their music career would continue, so they enrolled in college. Jay “Jam Master Jay” Mizell later explained, “Everyone said rap was a fad. I knew death wasn’t a fad, so I majored in mortuary science.”

• Ludwig van Beethoven died during a tremendous thunderstorm. A lightning bolt flashed across Vienna at 5:45 p.m. on March 26, 1827, and thunder rocked the air. Lying on his deathbed, Beethoven opened his eyes, clenched his fist, shook it at the heavens, and died.

Education

• At age 13, William F. Buckley was sent to an English boarding school, where his piano teacher offered to teach him the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” However, William’s old piano teacher had warned him that playing the “Moonlight Sonata” before one was ready was simply wrong; therefore, he wrote her for permission to learn to play its first movement. Quickly, he received a letter from her in reply, and she did not give him permission to learn the first movement. She explained that if one was unable to learn the difficult third movement, and then one should not learn the first movement. She also explained that the first movement required a “maturity” that William was too young to have acquired. Mr. Buckley writes that this letter helped teach him that “good music is a very serious business.”

• Trey Reely, the band director of Paragould High School in Paragould, Arkansas, follows a tradition of punishing students by telling them to get a pinecone when they do something wrong. Pine trees line the band practice field, and the naughty student runs to the side of the field, picks up a pinecone, and then brings it back. Once, Mr. Reely told the band that he would not keep them late one practice, but he did keep them late; therefore, after practice his students made him get a pinecone.

• A mother once asked George Bernard Shaw what musical instrument her son should learn to play, adding that she hoped that Shaw could specify an instrument which would save her the discomfort of the early learning stage during which her son would not have mastered the instrument. Shaw suggested that her son learn to play the bagpipes, saying they sound exactly the same whether or not the musician knows how to play them.

• As a student, comic singer Anna Russell was so bored with her history lessons that she transformed her notes into jingles, set them to music, and began singing them. When other students found out what she was doing, they also asked for copies of her jingles, and soon the jingles were being sung all over the school. That year’s graduating class was noisy, but it achieved the school’s all-time high scores in history.

• Woody Allen largely taught himself how to play jazz trumpet by listening to and imitating the records of jazz great George Lewis. After Mr. Allen recorded the soundtrack for his movie Sleeperwith the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Orchestra, trombonist Jim Robinson said to him, “Did anyone ever tell you that you sound like my friend George Lewis?”

• When she was young, Mariah Carey had an unsupportive teacher. Mariah told her teacher that she wanted to be a singer when she grew up, and the teacher snapped, “There are millions of people out there who can sing. What makes you any different? Don’t get your hopes up.” Fortunately, her mother told her to follow her dreams, and Ms. Carey recorded five Number One hits in a row.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

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.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Conductors, Critics

Conductors

• Spanish cellist Pablo Casals was one of the world’s greatest musicians. When he was a young, unknown musician, he performed privately for Charles Lamoureux, an important French conductor. Mr. Casals played the Lalo concerto from memory, and when he had finished playing, Mr. Lamoureux had tears in his eyes. He told Mr. Casals, “My dear boy, you are one of the elect.”

• Conductor Frederic Prausnitz enjoyed joking with his orchestra. After a dance rehearsal at which Mr. Prausnitz’ orchestra played, choreographer José Limón told him that he was pleased with how the musicians had played. Mr. Prausnitz called out, “Orchestra! Mr. Limón just paid you a compliment and you didn’t even hear him. He said you are doing very well. I say you talk too much!”

Critics

• Sometimes a person is acclaimed as “the greatest” because there is little basis for comparison. For example, violinist Jan Kubelik was acclaimed as “the greatest” during his first tour of the United States, but when impresario Sol Hurok brought him back to the United States in 1923, several people thought that he had slipped a little. However, Sol Elman, the father of violinist Mischa Elman, thought differently. He said, “My dear friends, Kubelik played the Paganini concerto tonight as splendidly as ever he did. Today you have a different standard. You have Elman, Heifetz, and the rest. All of you have developed and grown in artistry, technique, and, above all, in knowledge and appreciation. The point is: you know more; not that Kubelik plays less well.”

• In Batignano, Italy, Musica nel Chiostro (Music in the Cloisters) produced The Turn of the Screw. Singers in the opera often stopped by the kitchen to help with preparations of the meal, where they often sang as they worked. One day, with the right number and right kinds of voices present, they sang Act II of The Marriage of Figaro. As they sang, Adam Pollack was in a nearby room speaking with the most influential opera critic in Rome, attempting to get him to come to The Turn of the Screw. The critic heard the singing in the background and asked, “Is that rehearsals going on?” “No,” Mr. Pollack replied, “that’s just the kitchen staff.” The critic came, and he gave The Turn of the Screwa glowing review.

• The first time Frances Alda sang at the Metropolitan Opera, she received very bad reviews. Afterward, her throat was sore, so she sought the advice of a physician. Dr. Clarence Rice examined her throat, and then told her, “Here is my prescription. Forget about your throat. Go down to the Library in Astor Place, ask for the newspaper files, and read the reviews of Emma Eames’, of Farrar’s, of Jean de Reszké’s first performance. If your throat still bothers you tomorrow, come back and let me look at it.” She followed the physician’s advice and discovered that the same critics who had hated her, had also hated these other great opera singers. Her throat problem disappeared.

• When Mary Garden became director of the Chicago Grand Opera Company, she immediately began to receive anonymous threats, and sometimes people sent her knives or guns in the mail. Once, she even received a box of bullets, along with this note: “Remember that there should be twelve bullets in this box. Count them. There are only eleven. The twelfth is for you.” She laughed at such threats.

• After the opening of the musical Girl Crazy, in which Ethel Merman got her big break, she met George Gershwin for lunch. Ms. Merman hadn’t read the reviews yet, but Mr. Gershwin showed them to her — the critics raved about her performance and said that a star had been born. Ms. Merman, who never lacked self-confidence, said, “It figured.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Conductors,

Conductors

• When he was young, Clemens Kraus was asked to be a guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which the composer Johannes Brahms himself used to conduct. At the rehearsal of a Brahms symphony, the orchestra was perfect. The first three movements were over, and Mr. Kraus had thought of nothing to say to improve the orchestra’s performance. He kept thinking, “I’ve got to say something,” but he could think of nothing to say. Finally, he asked the first horn to stress a certain note. When the rehearsal was over, Mr. Kraus congratulated himself in his dressing room, but then a knock sounded on his door. It was the first horn, who said, “Maestro, you know that place you asked me to accent? When we used to do it for Dr. Brahms, he always made a point of telling us to play that bit as smoothly as possible.”

• World-famous conductors have advantages the rest of us don’t have. Arturo Toscanini was working on Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 2and wasn’t quite sure if the articulation of the strings was clear enough for the audience to hear. Fortunately, a world-famous composer was watching the rehearsal. Toscanini called out into the darkness of the rehearsal hall, “Rachmaninoff, can you hear?” The reply came back, “I can hear.” On another occasion, Toscanini had a conversation with composer Claude Debussy in which he pointed out to the composer that many things were not clear in the composition La Mer. Debussy replied that it was OK for Toscanini to make changes.

• Conductor Arturo Toscanini could be hard on the members of his orchestra — unless they gave him what he wanted. At a rehearsal, the Maestro was not pleased with a certain musician’s performance, so he asked the musician the year he was born, the month he was born, and the day of the week he was born. On hearing the answer to his final question, Toscanini said sarcastically, “Thatwas a black day for music!” The orchestra then played the piece from the beginning, and this time the musician did not offend. Toscanini beamed at the musician, and told him, “So you are not stupid. You can play well. Now I am happy. You are happy. Beethoven is happy.”

• Hans von Bülow once had some trouble with his kettle-drummer. At a rehearsal, he stopped and told the kettle-drummer, “Forte,” then started the piece again. The kettle-drummer played louder, but again von Bülow stopped and told the kettle-drummer, “Forte,” then started the piece again. The kettle-drummer again played louder, but for the third time Bülow stopped and told the kettle-drummer, “Forte.” This time the drummer replied that he couldn’t play any louder. Bülow replied, “I didn’t ask you to play louder. You play fortissimo— the score only calls for forte.”

• In the early days of radio, during a live radio broadcast, the lights in the studio went out, and the NBC Musical Director, Frank Black, had to quickly think what to do. He immediately announced that the orchestra would play “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” knowing that this was a piece of music which any orchestra should be able to play without looking at printed music. To fill the time left in the broadcast, the orchestra played the music over and over and over. At the end of the scheduled broadcast, the announcer told the radio audience, “Frank Black and the orchestra have played “The Stars and Stripes … Forever.”

• Although the horn is a brass instrument, it cannot sound as strong as the trombone. When Fritz Reiner was rehearsing the Philadelphia Orchestra, he kept demanding more and more volume from the horns. Finally, first horn Anton Horner went over to Maestro Reiner, grabbed his thumb, squeezed it until it turned purple, and then said, “This is what is happening to us — circulation is cut off, and lips become numb.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

 

David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music Comedians,

Comedians

• Will Rogers seldom hurt anyone with his jokes. However, in his vaudeville days, he once was preceded by a singing act called the Cherry Sisters. During his act, he said that they must have decided on their name before they learned about lemons. After making the joke, Will realized that it was hurtful, so he apologized to the Cherry Sisters.

• Jack Benny was not a virtuoso violinist, but neither was he as bad as he pretended to be to get laughs. After Mr. Benny played the violin well at a benefit, a friend said, “Jack, I didn’t know you played the violin so beautifully.” Mr. Benny replied, “When I was younger, they used to call me another Heifetz. Not Jascha — anotherHeifetz.”

Composers

• As a young boy, pianist Carl Czerny heard a family friend named Gelinek talk about how he was looking forward to meeting a pianist later that night at a party and how he and his friends were going to “thrash him” in a piano competition. The next day, however, Gelinek had to admit that he had been defeated: “That young man is possessed of the devil. Never have I heard such playing! He improvised on a theme I proposed like I never heard even Mozart improvise. Then he played compositions of his own, which are wonderful and grandiose to the highest degree.” Czerny’s father asked about the rival pianist’s name. “He is a short, ugly, swarthy, and obstinate-looking young man,” Gelinek replied, “and his name is Beethoven.”

• Composer Igor Stravinsky loved to have a good time with his friends. On his 80thbirthday, several people threw parties for him — one person invited him over for cocktails, another person invited him over for dinner, and so on. When all the little parties were over, he said, “Well, that was marvelous. Thank you very much. I’m going home.” The other people said, “Very well,” so he asked, “Isn’t anyone else going home?” They said no, for they were going out again to get drinks and perhaps do some dancing. Mr. Stravinsky then said, “What? You think that I’m going home to bed when all the rest of you are going out on the town?”

• George Frideric Handel composed the Messiah, well known for its “Hallelujah” chorus. During a rehearsal for its premiere in Dublin, he became angry at a man named Janson, who was one of the bassos. “I thought you told me that you could read music at sight,” complained Handel. “I can,” Janson replied, “but not at first sight.”

• Gioacchino Rossini was giving singing lessons to a girl whose sister asked him, “Why don’t you write any new music?” He replied, “A waste of time, my dear girl. It’s impossible for the singers to perform what I’ve already written.”

Conductors

• Meredith Willson, author of The Music Man, had a great respect for Arturo Toscanini, who was an invited guest at the symphony orchestra where Mr. Willson worked. While the orchestra was practicing a dissonant symphonic poem named “Feste Romane” by Ottorino Respighi, Maestro Toscanini stopped the orchestra and told Mr. Gerhardt, a clarinet player, “F sharp, F sharp, F sharp.” This happened five or six times, with Mr. Gerhardt protesting to Mr. Willson (no one protests to Maestro Toscanini!), “I amplaying F sharp. I’ve been playing it since the beginning.” At this time, the clarinet player unconsciously — clarinet players do this occasionally by habit — held his instrument horizontally and blew some water out from under some of the very small keys. Once again, the orchestra launched into the piece and at its end, Maestro Toscanini said, “At last F sharp — grazie a Dio!” According to Mr. Willson, the water under the key had caused the note to sound F natural — and Maestro Toscanini heard the incorrect note through all the dissonance of the musical composition although the man who had actually played the note could not hear that it was incorrect!

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

 

David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Children, Christmas, Clothing

Children

• As a concert pianist, Denis Matthews had to practice long and hard. Following breakfast one day, he went to his music room and began practicing the Brahms B flat Concerto. Several hours later, when it was his young daughter’s bedtime, he was still practicing. As she was saying good night to her father, she said, “If ever I do music when I grow up, I’m going to do it for FUN!”

• Elizabeth Soderstrom brought her children to see her in the opera The Mines of Sulphur. Her two oldest children loved it — especially the part when her character opened her cloak to show the spots that indicated that she had the plague. Unfortunately, her youngest child was terrified and for a few weeks kept looking at people to see if they had spots.

• When he was 11 years old, Leonard Bernstein started taking piano lessons. He immediately loved the piano, and sometimes early in the morning, he would get out of bed and play. His father once told him, “Lenny, don’t you know it’s two o’clock?” Young Leonard replied, “I know. But the sounds are in my head and I just have to get them out.”

• Fritz, the brother of lieder singer Lotte Lehmann, was a terror when he and she were young, although he became very supportive of her and her career when they grew up. As a young boy, he used to pretend to be an Indian, kidnap her dolls, scalp them, paint the roots of the dolls’ hair red, and hang them dripping from his belt.

• As a young girl, comedian Beatrice Lillie got one of her first laughs while in church. She was singing in a choir, when a woman beside her passed gas loudly during a pause in the music. Young Beatrice turned to the woman and said, “Well, really!”

• Entertainer Terri Balash, a star of Godspell, enjoyed performing even as a youngster. When she was six years old, she sometimes walked into her parents’ parties and announced, “Okay, I’m going to entertain now, so everybody listen.”

Christmas

• When in grade school, future lieder singer Lotte Lehmann was insulted when one of her compositions was returned to her marked, “Judging from the accomplishments hitherto displayed in school, I doubt the authenticity of this work.” In other words, her teacher thought young Lotte was plagiarizing because the quality of the composition was so good. Therefore, young Lotte demanded that she be allowed to write another composition as the teacher watched her to make sure she was not plagiarizing. Her teacher told her to write about Christmas, she did so as he watched her, and she proved that she was capable of writing good, original compositions.

• Near Christmas, the Music Department of Colorado College in Colorado Springs performed Handel’s Messiah, which was simulcast on the radio by station KKTV. The radio announcer was daydreaming when he suddenly realized that The Messiahwas coming to an end, and he needed to play a record — quickly. He grabbed the first record he came across and put it on a turntable. The radio audience heard the end of The Messiah, the announcer identifying the station, and then a record playing “Happy Birthday to You.”

Clothing

• When he was a child, singer James Brown’s family was impoverished, and he was frequently sent home from school because his clothing was in such poor shape. In fact, one reason he began stealing was so he could have decent clothing. Of course, the stealing eventually led to his arrest. After being found guilty of stealing a car battery, he was sentenced to 8 to 16 years in prison.

• Pop singer Madonna was an original even as a schoolgirl. Like the other students, Madonna wore a uniform at school, but she kept her school locker stocked with colorful hair bows and socks so she could be different from her classmates.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Chamber Music, Children

Chamber Music

• Not everyone likes chamber music. Arthur Catterall used to lead the BBC Symphony. One day, he was in a taxi when the driver looked at his violin and asked if he ever played on the radio. When Mr. Catterall replied that he did, the cabbie asked, “Do you ever take part in those Sunday afternoons of chamber music?” Mr. Catterall replied in the affirmative, so the cabbie stopped his taxi, opened the door, and said, “Well, you can jolly well walk!”

• Chamber music can be very expensive. Thomas Beecham spent much of his own money on music. Once, a gentleman from the United States who had been donating much money to an orchestra compared notes with him. After their talk, the American gentleman said, “Well, sir, I guess that every time some guy draws a bow across a fiddle, you or I sign a check for a thousand dollars.”

Children

• When he was an old man, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted a Sir Robert Mayer Children’s Concert. He slowly walked to the conductor’s chair, and then spoke to the audience of children, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, my slow progress to the conductor’s desk was due not to any reluctance on my part to conduct before so distinguished an audience. My slow progress was due entirely to the infirmity of old age. Our first piece is by Mozart. It was composed when he was at the age of …” — here Sir Thomas pointed to a small boy in the audience — “at your age, sir.”

• As a very young child, soprano Geraldine Farrar started taking piano lessons, but she played only the black keys. Asked why she didn’t play the white keys, she replied, “Because the white keys seem like angels and the black keys like devils, and I like devils best.” In an early autobiography, she wrote, “It was the soft half-tones of the black keys which fascinated me, and to this day I prefer their sensuous harmony to that of the more brilliant ‘angels.’”

• When English entertainer Joyce Grenfell was a young girl, her father took her to hear some Bach at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She tried to beat time with the music with her head, but was unable to — the boy in the seat behind her had fallen asleep and his knees had trapped her ponytail! Because she was polite, she waited until the music had ended and the applause had wakened the boy, thus freeing her ponytail.

• In 1909, when tenor Leo Slezak sang the part of Tamino in Mozart’s Magic Fluteat the Metropolitan Opera, Walter, his little son, was in the audience. Little Walter had been told the plot of the opera, and he knew that a snake would be chasing Tamino at his entrance. Out of excitement, when little Walter saw his father make his entrance, he shouted, “Watch out, Papa! There is a snake!”

• At age 13, Billie Holiday went to New York City to be rejoined with her mother, but she took a walk in Harlem and got lost. A social worker helped her out by finding her a place to stay until her mother could be located — a place that young Billie remembered as a beautiful hotel. After she grew up, Ms. Holiday went back to the “beautiful hotel” and discovered that it was a YWCA.

• One mother thought that her three-year-old daughter might be a musical genius because the little girl remembered where the middle C key was located on the piano keyboard after being shown it once. However, one day the mother cleaned the piano keys, and her little daughter couldn’t pick out middle C anymore — the middle C key had been the one with the egg stain.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF

David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Autographs, Awards, Bathrooms, Big Breaks

Autographs

• Irish tenor John McCormack adored Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, and early in his career he bought a photograph of Mr. Caruso and forged on it an inscription from Mr. Caruso to himself. Later, he met Mr. Caruso and told him about the forgery. Amused, Mr. Caruso produced another photograph of himself and wrote this real inscription on it: “To McCormack, very friendly, Enrico Caruso.”

Awards

• As a teenager, Ella Fitzgerald lived on the streets of Harlem. One day, although she was wearing ragged clothing and had gone without a bath for weeks, she entered a talent contest at the Apollo Theater. The audience loved her, and she won first place, but she never received her prize. The prize was the opportunity to sing at the Apollo Theater for a week, but theater management thought that Ella was too physically dirty to be an entertainer. Soon afterward, Ella became recognized as a great jazz vocalist.

• The theme song of the United States Navy is “Anchors Aweigh,” whose music was composed by Navy Academy bandmaster Charles A. Zimmerman. Every year, bandmaster Zimmerman was given a medal by the graduating class in recognition of the excellence of “Anchors Aweigh.” According to the official Annapolis history, because of his many medals bandmaster Zimmerman would have drowned instantly if he had ever fallen overboard.

Bathrooms

• Singing at outdoor concerts while wearing fabulous, elegant gowns does have a downside. In 1995, at Radley College, soprano Leslie Garrett discovered that her dress, because of its width, would not permit her to use a portaloo (in America, the term is “portapotty”). For the first half of the concert, she sang with her legs crossed. In the meantime, the concert organizers set up a tent, complete with a bucket, for her use during the interval (in the USA, the term is “intermission”).

• Famous violinist Szymon Goldberg had some unusual talents. Once, he was disturbed during a concert by some background noise, so he stopped playing and requested a wrench. He went backstage, fixed a continuously running toilet, and then resumed playing.

Big Breaks

• Movie clichés sometimes come to life. Opera singer Mary Garden started her career at the top. She was in Paris studying singing, and she attended an Opera-Comique rehearsal of Louiseand fell in love with it. She acquired a copy of the score, and began studying it intensively. She attended performances of the opera, and she took notes on where the singers stood on stage and all the details of acting she could jot down. On Friday, April 13, 1900, she received a note telling her to go to the Opéra-Comique, where she received the news that the woman who regularly sang the title role of Louisewas ill and might not be able to perform, and so she was given a ticket and asked to sit in the audience that night just in case she were needed. Act 1 passed well, as the title character sang little in it, but during the intermission the star singer rushed out of the opera house. Ms. Garden took her place, made a huge hit, and signed a well-paying contract at the Opéra-Comique.

• Buffy Sainte-Marie became a professional folk musician by accident. She had learned to play a second-hand guitar as a child, and in 1963, during a visit to New York City, she sang and played for fun at a coffeehouse in Greenwich Village. A music critic for The New York Timeshappened to be in the audience, and he gave her a glowing review. Soon she was performing concerts and making records. Despite her long-term success, Ms. Sainte-Marie says, “I never expected to last more than a year or two.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Music: Buy the Paperback

The Funniest People in Music: Kindle

The Funniest People in Music: Kobo

The Funniest People in Music: Buy in Other Formats, Including PDF