September 25, 2008 at 9:14 PMA friend from Lincoln, Nebraska, called to tell me that longtime Lincoln (Nebraska) Symphony conductor and violinist Robert "Bud" Emile had died Sept. 12 at the age of 80.
Musicians will hold a memorial concert for Bud Emile on Sunday in Lincoln.
All I can say is, what a character! I played in the Lincoln Symphony from 1992-1996, a time that overlapped with his very long tenure as conductor, from 1975 to 1993. That orchestra had its ups and its downs, but one thing could be relied upon: that Bud would always say something amusing or semi-outrageous from the podium. He brought the wit and wisdom of a rather colorful lifetime, which included quite a range of gigs: U.S. Army, Chemical Corps, 1951-55; Bandsman in the U.S. Military Academy; Director of West Point Chapel Choir and Women's Glee Club; many musical endeavors in San Diego, Calif., including Concertmaster, San Diego Opera, 1964-75; Founding Director, San Diego Symphonic Chorale, 1961-72. And of course, his activities in Lincoln: Professor of Violin and Theory and Conductor of University of Nebraska at Lincoln Orchestra, 1975-1998 and Music Director and Conductor, Lincoln Symphony Orchestra, 1975-1993. He had a B.A. In International Relations from Yale and an M.A. and D.M.A. from the Eastman School of Music, and he loved sailing.
I remember when we were playing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, and out of nowhere Bud crooned, "Full mooooon, and empty arms.... " I didn't know this song; it was rather before my time. But sure enough, every time I play that piece, Bud steps up from the back of my mind to make me giggle and think of a song from 1946.
The "Bud-isms" were so amusing and numerous that a few musicians decided to document these podium utterings, which they read back to Bud at his 80th birthday. I thought they would make for a light-hearted tribute to Bud, who had such a good sense of humor, as well as fun reading for everyone who has ever played in an orchestra. So here are some gems from the podium of Bud Emile, with thanks to fellow musicians Tracy Dunn, Randy Fischer, Frank Seligman and Kim Salistean for documenting them:
THE WIT & WISDOM OF BUD EMILE
"Violins—strong but silent—sort of the John Wayne approach to violin playing."
"Violins, your ppp sounds so washed out. It must sound like an exciting party is going on behind closed doors."
"Get ready quietly and carefully, like you're about to cut open someone's scalp…Surgically, of course."
"After all this crisis management, you have to get softer."
"Separate. Dusty. From a distance."
"Like lightning bolts, not marshmallows—pink ones, even. Sparks must fly off the anvil here!"
(Cymbal crash a beat late in Grand Pause) "Anybody hurt?" (pause)
"Will you get out your pencil?"
"Use the bow! Don't let it just sit in your hand waiting for your fingers to get intelligent."
"Completely equal notes. Like Army food: always the same, never changes."
"Trombones, take it easy on the long notes. They don't mean a thing. I'm sorry, but it's true."
"Violas, burn up your fingerboard there."
"Violins! What are you doing? It doesn't say 'take it', it says 'tacit.'"
"You end as if you're expectorating."
"It must sound like scales, cascades of notes, not like scrubbing dirty socks."
"Ewh! Not so hard on the accent in the cellos. Nothing can live after that."
"That was wonderful! That's plenty. One of you played, and that is enough."
(Looks up at rumbling in the basses) "Di-gel, anyone?"
"Flute entrance softer. Could you come in like fog? "
"Sounds like our ox cart has pneumatic tires. More archaic, pesante. It's under a crushing burden and no power steering."
"Like Kreisler, violins. Fritz. You've heard of him. Not Crisler who played fullback for Michigan. Kreisler. Violinist. Elegant."
"Free bowing, I said. Not like rowing on a crew, all pulling together."
"Sounds like you're grinding your molars. Get some sound! You're sweating but your bows aren't moving. What good is that? Who can hear sweat?"
"Much less, cellos. You're laughing at a funeral! What you're doing is marvelously accurate, but hopelessly happy."
"Cellos, out of 12 possible notes it's amazing what you come up with."
Cellist plays one extra note in the Grand Pause; Bud holds baton still a moment: "Bakers' dozen, eh?"
"Off quickly, as if you said something you shouldn't…and you probably will if you miss it."
"Pick an 8th, 16th, or 32nd, but don't play cream of nowhere."
"You're trying to make a melody out of this nonsense?"
"There is a B double flat there. Shake hands with it, and come out fighting."
"Basses, I don't see any double stops written….?"
"You must know their part better than they do. Play it communally."
"May I urge you to have less reality there. Just float on top of the surface. Like down; soft, but warm. Not so messy. Satin-y."
Pizzicato in "Swan of Tuanela" by Sibelius: "Cold, frigid, brittle, to the extreme. Like water dropping on ice so cold it freezes instantly. 48 below and no wind chill."
"Nimrod," from Elgar's Enigma Variations: "You're surrounded by greatness and you play it like McDonald's."
"Place everything gently—like a 'lady' sitting down."
(Drops his baton) "Forgot to rosin it."
"People will be wondering "what was that?" Please, a little stronger."
"Start vibrating when you take the fiddle out of the case, violins!"
To the second violins: "You're at the tip of your bow. All your money spent on the second day of your budget."
"Violas, it sounds like you're sliding sideways down the highway."
"Young and vital! Not old and tired—I know the feeling."
"Put a skull and crossbones at the subito p—your own, of course!"
"Sound immediately—like when you open a music box, it's there."
"It's like bad bortsch at this point. You can't tell what's in it."
"Like Fischer-Dieskau. He never sang an accent in his life."
"This is a happy piece. Right now, your marcato sounds like you're stabbing cockroaches."
"Don't pontificate on the half notes. How many times can you say ‘I love you' in eight measures?"
"Relax. It's not the Boy Scout oath."
"Violas—It sounds like you're chewing watermelon with the seeds still in it."
"Soloists, I feel sorry for your accompanists. Not sympathetic, just sorry."
"I'm afraid this is becoming a chewing gum match, strings."
Pizzicato: "…like a pot of hot boiling sauce popping."
"It's a new tempo! You can't rely on habit."
"Not so slow with the tremolo. That sounds like a '38 Chevy that needs a valve job."
"Don't pay any attention to me at all there. Really. I'm not being facetious at all. You're belief in me is wonderful, but it's entirely misplaced."
(A moment of silence, and slow grin) "I was going to say something…….but I guess I won't."
I wonder if that had anything to do with actually BURNING the violas :)
I still often tell the story of how during a rehearsal when the principal trumpet player, a graduate student, was having trouble with a particularly difficult part.
Maestro Emile invited him to stand up and, noting the trumpeter's Red Sox cap, said, "I see you are a baseball fan, who is playing center field for Boston these days?" After the trumpeter had answered correctly, professor Emile continued to quiz him about the entire Red Sox roster. Once the trumpeter had answered correctly he was asked, "Now, remind me who plays principal trumpet for the Boston Symphony."
He let the trumpeter stew in silence for a moment before saying, "I see, so the problem seems to be not with your part, but with your priorities, you may sit down now."
You can bet that after that I never came to a rehearsal unprepared.
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