Anything Unusual Happen While Performing?

December 31, 2007 at 11:44 PM · I'll start. While playing in the Stamford Symphony years ago, Skitch Henderso was our resident conductor and we were playing the 1812.

Now Skitch being Skitch was not content to simply have a recording of canons or shotguns in a barrel for the canon noises, he brought in a bunch of starter's canons from his yacht club and got the officers at West Point to bring in a real Howitzer to shoot during the 1812. Skitch did not fire the canons during the dress rehearsal. Too bad.

When the time came for the guns to go off the yacht club canons were fired and sounded really

good. The hall started to get a little smoky though. Then the Cadets fired off the Howitzer.

I was sitting toward the middle of the seconds when that monster fired. I will admit it was positioned at the outside door aiming outside with police keeping the area clear of people.

The concussion from the canon physically lifted me off the seat. The noise was incredible.

But the smoke from the Howitzer, oh boy, the ever lovin' smoke filled the stage with so much caustic blinding smoke we couldn't see the music. It was a true white out. Couldn't see Skitch, couldn't see the music, couldn't hear a thing, but we kept playing. Oh yes, our coughing also added to the "din of battle."

My wife was the ticket chairman and was standing at the back of the hall. Two cops standing next to her heard the "gunfire" and yelled at her to "get down," drew their guns and ran towards the smoky stage where they thought a gun battle was going on. My wife was able to run after them and stop them before they accidentally

shot a tuba player or someone.

Who knows if we finished together, we couldn't hear. Actually who cares? The audience went nuts

and cheered for what seemed like hours. Skitch was a showman first and a conductor second, but what he did worked.

Replies (44)

January 1, 2008 at 01:40 AM · I played a concert in graduate school where the new voice teacher was singing arias from Boris Goudonov. It was the very last thing on the program. He just finished the last one where Boris dies. It was very somber. Right before the audience could start clapping, there was a tremendous thud-a freshman bass player got overheated and passed out. Fortunately, neither she or the bass was hurt much. It was a very strange ending to an otherwise ok performance.

January 1, 2008 at 03:37 PM · Ray, I love your story. I dare anyone ANYONE to top it!! Terry

January 1, 2008 at 04:00 PM · Cannot top the Henderson/cannon story, byt here goes anyway.

It was around 1954 and the Swarthmore College orchestra was playing a Beethoven piano concerto under its astronmer-conductor, Peter Van da Camp. At one point, the soloist stopped playing, raised his arms, and slowly stood from his stool to catch the fainting conductor before he collapsed all the way off his podium. He caught him. The conductor and concert resumed about 1/2 hour later.

January 1, 2008 at 04:58 PM · What a great story... never thought that you would have to get clearance from homeland security to play the 1812! hahah

The orchestra I play in played a concerto with a young piano player once and somewhere in the piece there were misteriously 14 measures dropped.. many of us were lost and it was a miracle that we got back on track!

January 2, 2008 at 04:39 PM · Actually my orchestra here in St. Louis now, The Town and Country Symphony, did the 1812 outside this past Summer and the police would not allow any "guns" whatsoever. The finali was a dud without the noise.

January 2, 2008 at 04:54 PM · Next time, invite a politican to do the blasting. That should get you an exemption. Go directly to the one with the best NRA voting record :) Just go to the NRA website and the info there will tell you who to ask.

January 2, 2008 at 10:39 PM · When I was in the pit orchestra for my high school's production of "Barnum", the guy who played Tom Thumb would do a flip on stage during his curtain calls. Only once he failed to land on the stage, and fell into the pit instead, nearly crushing one of the trumpet players.

January 3, 2008 at 01:24 AM · During a performance of Carmen I was singing Don Jose. During Act two there is a section where I have to sing with offstage trumpets. The trumpets could only see the conductor if she stood way back on the podium--unfortunately she became very excited and leaned forward so that the trumpets couldn't see her. I had a choice to make--sing with the trumpets who were now on their own or attempt to sing with the conductor who was off in a world of her own. I chose the trumpets--the conductor never spoke to me again.

January 3, 2008 at 12:44 PM · I was doing a solo recital once and this fly wouldn't leave me alone. It kept buzzing in my face and swarming around me and I kept stepping away, continuing to play.

Finally it landed between my eyes and I had had enough - I stopped playing briefly to swipe it away. I think it got the message.

January 3, 2008 at 06:16 PM · So many! Here are some highlights. . . .

The most memorable one was actually rather unfortunate. A young violinist had just learned that he would not be offered tenure in the orchestra. He became upset and began behaving strangely during rehearsals, so the personnel manager excused him from the remainder of that week's services. But at the concert that weekend, during the slow movement of Shostakovich 5, the young man burst into the hall and proceeded up the aisle, yelling. He climbed onto the stage and continued his tirade. The music stopped, obviously. Sadly, the guy was led away in handcuffs by police. When we resumed, we skipped the rest of the third movement and went directly to the fourth, which, due to heightened adrenaline, may have been the fastest Shosty 5 finale on record.

When I was doing Britten's opera The Rape of Lucretia in college, one of the singers, following an onstage suicide, dropped a dagger. The drama department, in their wisdom, had chosen to use a real dagger. Of course, it bounced into the pit, grazing the hand of a cellist friend of mine and cutting several of her bow hairs. Another inch and it could have been a real tragedy.

This one, at least, is funny: during a performance of The Nutcracker, we were finishing up the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. The keyboard player was using a synthesizer instead of a real celesta. For some reason, the last note "got stuck" and kept sounding, fortissimo. The conductor kept giving cutoffs, but the keyboard player just shrugged and held her hands in the air as if to say, "I'm not playing anything!" Some 20 or 30 seconds later (well into the next number), she found the plug and pulled it.

January 3, 2008 at 08:45 PM · Once, while playing back-up whole notes for a certain Rock Star Singing Standards With A Raspy Voice, I got beaned with a shoe that was lobbed onto the stage, by an "appreciative" drunken fan. The shoe was one of those wedge-type heels: quite a nasty missile. It hit my stand light first, then my bow hand (I was playing). The force knocked my fiddle into my lap. Besides a bruise on the top of my hand, and the initial surprise, everything was fine. It missed my violin! I was lucky.

The goofiest things happen at home though. It can be disheartening during practice time when one of the felines decides to part with a hairball right at my feet. Cats: The Harshest Critics.

January 3, 2008 at 09:18 PM · A few years ago, the celebrated Met Opera soprano Hei-Kyung Hong was one of the soloists for the Met Opera Orchestra's New Year's Eve Concerts. Ms. Hong's son was in the audience and when his mother came on stage, he started running up the stage and yelled "Mommy, Mommy, that's my mommy!" LOL

January 3, 2008 at 09:27 PM · In Tacoma, I invited the celebrated cellist James Kreger with the french pianist Jean-Philippe Collard to do a recital for Valentine's Day. At the time of their collaboration, it was 18 years since they have collaborated together and he was very nervous. When he was in the slow movement of the Brahms Cello Sonata and he did a page turn, the sheet music "flew across the stage". I've never seen such an artist look so nervous on stage before!

January 4, 2008 at 12:56 AM · A blooper from one of Scott St. John's (yes the brother of Laura) early performances.

January 4, 2008 at 01:11 AM · either need huge cojones or a really weird sense of humor to post a blooper like that for the whole world to hear...

January 4, 2008 at 01:41 AM · Bless his heart! I remember him at that age..sweet kid and great violinist. He has a great sense of humor-especially about himself. Seems to me this trait is of inestimible value!

January 4, 2008 at 01:44 AM · Ohhh,Maura !

January 4, 2008 at 03:08 AM · Seattle Junior Symphony concert, must have been 1979 or 1980. Apparently a viola player needed to release some gas. It came out during a "ppp" section (of course) high & squeaky, and lasted a long, long time.

January 4, 2008 at 03:53 AM · I was not in this performance but rather watching. I was in the front row in Kresge Hall at Interlochen and I was watching the High School Concert Orchestra perform (I was sitting up front because there was a cute guy). They were performing The Pines of Rome and were nearing the end of the third movement, right about the moment when the bird sounds begin... easily the quietest moment of the piece. Unfortunately, one of the percussionists was very moved by the wonderful playing... because he fell into the suspended cymbal stand. It came crashing down and echoed into obvlivion. I had to bite my lip to not laugh out loud!

January 4, 2008 at 06:58 AM · Greetings,

I can`t remmeber which interminably long Bach Oratorio/Passion it was from but I do recall an incredibly bizarre acoustic which distorted every word the poor soloist seme to utter.

Thus the chorus intoned `The people all shouted..` and the soloist finsihed it off `...bollocks.`

I have never fully recovered.



January 4, 2008 at 08:36 PM · OK Buri, that one *literally* made me laugh out loud.

Last time I was at the Cleveland Orchestra, I got really crappy standing-room tickets and ended up peering over the railing around the perimeter of the hall. The worst part was this bizarre echo that made it seem like the principal flute was three feet behind me--I kept instinctively turning around to look.

January 4, 2008 at 11:21 PM · At a Carter Brey masterclass, after the student cellist finished playing the Faure Elegie, Carter Brey asked, "What's the dynamic marking at the beginning of this piece?"

To which a prominent elderly Seattle cellist (known for her strong personality) in the front row stood up and said "It's forte!"

January 5, 2008 at 04:59 AM · The most extreme gig I can remember doing was some year's ago when playing for the launch of the Auckland rugby league team "the Warriors". A big show was put on in the local stadium in front of thousands. Our string quartet with an opera singer did a short bracket apparently to give class to this essentially sporting event. We did our stuff on a stage that had been set up at one end of the field maybe 20 or 25 metres behind the goal posts. We played (amplified) while a demonstration match was in progress; it was a rainy night and was a mission in itself to get out onto the stage and set up under the canvas cover without harm to our instruments. A significant portion of the spectators was clearly hostile to this rather incongruous element of the show. From the logistical point of view the one thing that had been clearly overlooked was what if a player took a shot at goal at the same time that we were playing. Well it happened, the ball came screaming towards us and missed our first violinist's head by no more than a few centimetres slamming into the canvas wall just behind us.....

January 5, 2008 at 04:58 AM · During a rehearsal of Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana the conductor who shall remain nameless [like the orchestra} said: I don't like this arrangement, I'll talk with the organist [playing on a shabby little electric organ} and work out something better. As I arrived way before the concert that evening I heard the familiar strains from the organ.....

As I recall halfway down the page the organ joins the soaring melody... well, at the concert it did, LOUD and ONE HALF TONE SHARP.... There was too much shock for anyone to react immediately, and there was some mental process time involved. So it went on for a while, then the player next to the organist started flipping switches trying to make it stop. The clash was dreadful and the conductor was making some kind of gestures, and finally it stopped. You cannot imagine the effect after the piece ended. The conductor turned to the audience, said nothing, looked conflicted, then took a deep bow and clicked his heels before striding offstage.

Early next morning someone tried to find the archival recording thinking it would be the mother of all party tapes but it was already gone.

The rather disappointing explanation for the above is that there was a transposition key, probably flicked by someone in the jam from the Chorus before the show.

January 5, 2008 at 07:39 AM · Greetings,

to anyone puzzled as to what should have been heard it is of course `Barrabus.`



January 5, 2008 at 11:15 AM · While in college, playing asst princ. 2nd vln with a community orchestra, 2nd vlns being set to the right of the conductor, the principal being a rotund local player, executed a vigorous up-bow sending his stick about 4 rows into the audience. He tried to take mine, but being a brash college punk, I refused....we staged a small skirmish during the last movt. of Sibelius 2, sort of ruining the peaceful redeeming quality of the piece, until a thoughtful person returned his. Ugly !

January 5, 2008 at 12:44 PM · I was playing the violin for the Brahms piano trio #1 at Caltech with two other scientist/musicians. During the 4th movement of our performance, which has a vigorous piano part, I heard a strange noise coming from the piano followed by a loud crash. The pedal had fallen completely off the piano, and we had to stop. The piano was repaired during intermission and we played the movement again afterwards, without incident.

Harder on the pianist than on me, for sure, but I was still proud of all of us that we didn't freak out.

January 5, 2008 at 01:15 PM · last year. we were playing tchaik serenade for strings and in the begining adagio for the 1st movt, theres like a repeating 2 bar phrase that repeats 3 times. the conductor had a little slipup and cued in for the allegro 2 bars early. luckily no one followed.. OOPS lol.

January 5, 2008 at 07:34 PM · I once was playing in an orchestra in Miami for a touring ballet company. We had a member of the second violin section who behaved erratically during rehearsals,talking loudly, being disruptive. After the prologue of the opening night's performance, I turned to this man's stand partner to ask how she was holding up. She looked pale, and almost in shock: she said "He's got a gun under his tux! He says he needs it to protect himself". With the understanding that the orchestra would not continue to perform with an armed man in the pit, the contractor successfully negotiated a "disarmament".

Ah, Miami............

January 7, 2008 at 04:51 AM · I was playing from the balcony of a large Catholic church and watching for the wedding coordinator to cue the bride's maids music from downstairs. I saw the priest and groomsmen enter so I paused and started playing the processional for the bridesmaids and they started down the isle. As I looked over the balcony the wedding coordinator motioned me to stop so I stopped. She said in a stage whisper "the processional". I whispered "I'm playing the processional". I started playing again but she stood there until she got my attention once more. So I stopped and she said "the processional" to which I answered again "I'm playing the processional". The third time she stopped me she said in full voice "the processional". I answered from the balcony in an equally loud voice "I'm playing the processional". By this time the bride's maids had just about made it down the isle. This particular church has the best acoustics in town - for violin - and, unfortunately, for voice also.

At an outside vineyard wedding the wind was so strong that I could hardly keep my bow on the strings. It was good that my pianist had brought his son to turn pages because, although we were both using multiple clothes pins, my music flew off my heavy stand. My friend's son had a simple but amusing remedy. Arms stretched to the limit he held one hand on his dad's music and one on mine. He watched his dad's music, of course, so I had to get his attention when I had a page turn. I know - memorize you music!

January 7, 2008 at 05:06 PM · First of all, my parents were at that Shosty concert...I know where. Second, the Tchaikovsky blooper was priceless. OK, here's mine: when I was playing "somewhere" a number of years ago, one of the percussionists had all his gear set up for optimal ergonomics and precision. He had just done one of those little "whooshes" with the cymbal and was carefully replacing them onto the ergonomically-placed, well-padded stand during a soft section. Well, the stand tipped over and the cymbal began to fall. He lunged for it (of course it was a soft section) and managed to KICK the cymbal instead, after which it hit the floor. Quite spectacularly. Not exactly a time when you can look accusingly at your stand partner... We had a hard time not peeing our pants on stage. :-D

January 7, 2008 at 05:11 PM · OK, one more. When I played in the Austin Symphony many years ago, a conductor who shall remain nameless had programmed Kodaly's Hary Janos Suite. After the 5th movement, with the cimbalom part, the audience began applauding. So, the conductor acknowledged the cembalom player. And then he LEFT THE STAGE. We all sat there for a bit, not knowing if he was coming back to conduct the last movement. After realizing what he'd done, he just had the stage manager raise the house lights and we went to intermission. No final movement that time! We all got a giggle out if it.

January 18, 2008 at 01:48 AM · Here are some more bloopers. (I wasn't actually performing during any of these. . . .)

At Meadowmount one of the hotshot younger kids was doing a de Beriot showpiece and was in the middle of some fancy pyrotechnics when his bow slipped out of his hand. Miraculously, he caught it in his fingertips about a third of the way up the stick and kept playing. There was nowhere to stop, so he did the rest of the piece—string crossings, chords, spiccato, and all—holding the bow slightly below the middle. He got the biggest ovation of the summer.

At music camp (Sewanee), the faculty string quartet was playing some very lively finale when a dog wandered onstage. He began sniffing the legs of the performers' chairs in turn, and (if memory serves) it was the violist's chair he chose to claim as his territory (you can't make these things up). One of the members shot him a rather severe glance, so he thought better of it and moved on.

OK—I probably wasn't even born when this one happened; I read about in a book, Gentlemen, More Dolce Please! by longtime Boston Symphony violinist Harry Ellis Dickson. But it's too good not to share. . . .

The BSO was doing the Leonore Overture No. 3. When it came time for the famous offstage trumpet call, the conductor gave the cue, and . . . nothing happened. He scowled but had no choice but to go on and finish the piece. At intermission, the conductor hunted down the principal trumpet player and was all set to give him a piece of his mind but relented when he heard the explanation: just as the player, standing in the wings, had raised the trumpet to his lips, a well-meaning security guard had spotted him and wrested it out of his hands, explaining: "You can't play that thing out here—there's a concert going on!"

January 18, 2008 at 03:45 AM · ^

Lovely--great post !

January 19, 2008 at 10:21 PM · My contribution deals with the Bell Choir during a performance. The gentleman playing the large bass bells was standing still awaiting his time to play (about 4 measures into the piece) when out of the corner of his eye, he watched in horror as his left bell slipped slowly between the tables riding on the cloth. Just as he reached for it, the bell completely disappeared. Trying to create as little attention as possible but wanting to stop the inevitable noise when the bell hit the floor, he kept disappearing under the table to intercept the bell. Finally, it came to rest (quietly) on of a bell case hidden under the table. When the player finally got himself together, he had no idea where in the music he was so he assumed a dignified stance and just smiled at the audience until the piece mercifully ended. I don't think anyone noticed what had happened but I'm sure the musician will never forget it.

January 25, 2008 at 05:09 AM · Renovations forced my university orchestra to hold concerts in a smaller, older hall on campus. We had no sooner begun the first note of Barber's Adagio when we noticed something flying around: the noise had apparently scared a bat that was living in the rafters. Once we figured out what it was, we had a good chuckle about the place being haunted and started the piece over.

January 25, 2008 at 05:53 AM ·

January 25, 2008 at 07:58 AM · One time I was playing in an orchestra at an outdoor concert in Italy in the middle of summer. We were in the middle of one of the cadenzas for Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F when all of a sudden a giant cockroach literally falls into my lap. I stifled a yelp as I jumped up. Thankfully, even the conductor didn't even notice.

January 25, 2008 at 09:19 AM · When I first left college I got some freelance work with a very 'low budget' touring opera company. They were using a very cheap electric keyboard for the recitatives and the sound quality was less than convincing.

In one particularly memorable performance of Cosi Fan Tutte, the pianist accidentally hit the 'bossa nova demo sample' button - filling the hall with chirpy, electronic latin beats. There was a mortifying 15 seconds of panic before he could find the 'off' button. The conductor pretended not to notice and carried on regardless but I think it was a bit of a highlight from the audiences point of view....

February 1, 2008 at 10:21 PM · Apropos Nicole's post, I am reminded of an orchestra rehearsal in a San Antonio theater some years ago during which a bat appeared over our heads (no, we weren't doing Fledermaus). After circling several times, it settled for a few moments on a trombonist's pate, then went on its way.

February 2, 2008 at 12:13 AM · I was listening to a solo violin recital in Oxford's Holywell Music Room, a fine lady violinist was playing the D Minor partita but there was a DJ just starting to get warmed up somewhere in the surrounding collegescape.

It clearly wasn't going to stop so I left the concert, hunted down the offender, told him to STFU and got back in time for the Chaconne.

February 2, 2008 at 07:08 AM · Some years back we were playing two Handel Chandos anthems and our conductor had begun to conduct the first one only to realize he had picked up the score to the second one. The meter was all wrong. He kept his baton held high in the air conducting away in a beat pattern that had no relevance to what we were playing as he bent down to pick up the correct score. Though he lost eye contact with us ( I'm not sure I would have wanted to see the look of terror and horror in his eyes), he valiantly tried to recall the correct meter and and get back on target. Insult was added to injury because he not only had to get the correct score in hand but remove the wrong score on the stand because the stand was too small and weak to support all the scores he had on its shelf and the bindings of the scores themselves were not broken in and resting flat enough. Miraculously, things held together until he could turn to the correct page in the correct anthem and catch up with us. I did not know whether to laugh, cry, or consider if this wasn't some bad dream and that this really wasn't happening but it was certainly one of the strangest performing experiences I've ever had. Amazingly, there was a standing ovation at the end. Perhaps the audience considered the conductor's maneuvers a virtuosic feat of derring-do or perhaps they were giving credit to the musicians for holding their own amidst the confusion. Then again, given what the king did when the Hallelujah Chorus was first performed and the unique show in the barge on the Thames for the Water Music, the audience might have been expecting something out of the ordinary.

February 3, 2008 at 06:32 AM · When I was in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, our sectional coach told us of a time that the SFS was on tour in Europe (I think, it's been 14 years since I heard this story) and was performing "Also Sprach Zarathustra" using the organ provided in the hall. I guess the organ wasn't checked often and needed some serious repairs, because the three opening notes of the piece were followed by a sound that I would describe (based on the sound effects made by our coach) as a the sound made by a VERY large cross between a donkey and a goose. Apparently the 2nd entrance of the organ came along with similar results...I can't remember if the problem fixed itself or they went ahead in spite of it.....If anyone knows the more detailed version of this story, do tell, please.

February 3, 2008 at 06:59 AM · I'm literally laughing out loud imagining what that sounded like...good one

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