Tell me about your gig blunders, fiascos, mishaps, etc.!

September 7, 2015 at 11:24 PM · Hi, there!

In an effort to "learn through others' mistakes," I'd love to hear gig stories that didn't turn out so great. I'm sure there's a way to leave "anonymous" stories, eh? :)

I've heard of one member of a group (1st violinist) getting lost on their way to a wedding gig and the others had to make up music on the spot. Needless to say, the bride was in tears. (Poor thing!)

Since we do a lot of weddings, I'd really never forgive myself if something similar happened to us. I think I've done a pretty good job keeping the unexpected from happening (although sometimes the unexpected *does* happen, no matter how much effort is put forth). So, although my group has done plenty of gigs, I'm sure there's something new I can learn from others' experiences. :)

Replies (64)

September 8, 2015 at 12:21 AM · Most of the venues for our group have pianos/keyboards, good bad or indifferent. Keyboards are often in transpose modes and pianos frequently need to be tuned but we usually do alright. Our first time at one new venue we encountered a keyboard tuned very low even with transposing off. We couldn't reprogram it and had no time to detune everyone and had to omit the piano for all but piano solos.

Stay pawsitive,

Dave

September 8, 2015 at 12:26 AM · I was playing at a donor's reception once. It was outside, and I had paper music. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened next - despite the dozen or so clothespins I had all over the stand, my music kept running away! Numerous people had to help me out by scooping up my flyaway music and holding pages for me while I frantically finished pieces. I was just lucky none of the music actually made it over the side of the balcony.

The lesson I learned from this was to memorize! There have been lots of times in outdoor gigs when I've had to rely on my memory to get me through a piece. Use the music, but have it in your head as well.

Or just play inside.

September 8, 2015 at 01:07 AM · I arrived at a wedding gig as a last-minute backup called in 30 minutes before the start of the event. The contractor apparently had a very hard time getting people to agree to pay this gig...I discovered the reason too late.

There were about 800+ people packed into this huge church, about five video cameras going, lights, the whole dog and pony show. During the procession, the cello player got lost in Pachelbel's Canon, and threw everyone off to the extent that the piece never recovered. During a pop song requested by the bride, the cellist also failed to come in on the "hook"...you could have heard the crickets in the awkward silence. Apparently, we were given the songs out of order, which caused a train wreck in the procession as we had to repeat nearly everything over again in a different order. The excessive repeated music distracted the ring-bearer who broke down into tears after missing his (second) cue to walk. The second violinist played half-tempo in Queen of Sheba, slamming a loud forte note solo after we had already reached the end...all of this was captured on film for posterity.

I regret that I did not bring a mask that day, in order to conceal my identity.

September 8, 2015 at 06:38 AM · This is a fun thread... but I'll have to change names to protect the innocent.

I used to play wedding gigs too, and one day a friend called the organist and myself to play at a wedding in the countryside outside of Cremona. Now, there were two villages with similar names (think of Oberammergau and Unterammergau in Bavaria). Of course, we made very certain that we knew which one to go to.

In Italy it's easy to find these venues in the contryside, just locate the village and head for the church steeple. So we arrived (early) at "Oberammergau" but there was no one there. We waited, the hour came and went, and still no show (this was before cellphones). Did we come too early?

Finally the priest shows up, with a broom. Upon our asking, he said no wedding here, no, no, no, it's at "Unterammergau"!

The organist and I looked at each other in horror. We got into the car and drove to the other village, stopping at a safe distance, watching the bride, groom, and everyone else pouring out of the church, services concluded. Without music.

We beat a hasty retreat.

September 8, 2015 at 07:36 AM · Nothing so drastic.

In my tango days, in the (then) big dance hall under the well-known Coupole brasserie in Paris, the singer had a sore throat and wanted the first tango a tone lower: but no-one told me!

Panic stations! Sight-reading, with a microphone under my nose, (well, scroll) I tried the next tango, then the third, to no avail, before returning to the first, transposing at sight.

Which violinists are not used to doing....

Some very romantic shifting, though!

September 8, 2015 at 01:51 PM · Was playing a gig with a jazz singer and she gave me the nod to play a solo (piano) instrumental. I was caught a little off guard and didn't know what tune I should play. For some reason the tune "The End of a Love Affair" came first into my head. I hadn't played it for a very long time, but in my mind I was thinking of the beautiful version by Martial Solal on his album "Bluesine." So I pulled out a fake book, found the tune, and off I went. But when I got to the second page of the tune, it was not there! The page was missing and suddenly I was in some other nameless tune! I made it to the end of the starting tune all right anyway, but I decided not to press my luck for a second chorus, so it was a short solo number. Memory is a funny thing. Had the same thing happened in a stress-free environment (playing alone at home) probably I would never have been able to play out the tune.

September 8, 2015 at 03:16 PM · While in the US Army in Germany, I was asked to play solo violin for a 6:00 AM sunrise service. The organist was not in town for any rehearsal sessions so we decided just to read the J S Bach: Joy of Man's Desiring.

Bleary eyed, (at 5:45 AM) I came into the chapel and met the organist. I was astounded when he gave me the organ's "A" which was almost a full tone low.

Then he gave me the part, which I had to play from, and it was a D flat flute part from a band arrangement.

I did not tune to the organ "A" but tuned to the organ B flat. Then I told the organist to play me an organ G major chord before we started the piece.

I slid up to the organ version of the G major chord and we began playing. I don't know what notes I actually played but just relied on playing from memory and using intervals then looking at the D flat flute part for clues as to the various triplet patterns.

It was a very romantic version of J S Bach with many portamentos, expressive slides and an overabundance of vibrato. The organist later asked me if I had studied vocal technique.

September 8, 2015 at 03:21 PM · My first paid gig with a folk band was a St George's day celebration in England.

Two bars into our first dance set an elderly lady tripped over her husband's feet and knocked herself out on the floor.

She point-blank refused to go to hospital and spent the rest of the evening cheering us on from the sidelines with a huge icepack on her head.

Talk about starting your career with a bang...

September 8, 2015 at 10:28 PM · My youth orchestra was doing Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Everything was going along just fine in the first movement until it was time for the big recapitulation. Somehow, the brass and some of the woodwinds managed to miss the cue and came in a measure or two late! Instead of the famous "fate knocking at the door" motif, we ended up with an impromptu fugue. They found their way back soon enough, but I still remember the conductor's look of outraged bewilderment. At the end of the first movement, one person in the audience said quite loudly, "yes". We laughed and continued on.

September 9, 2015 at 12:02 AM · Wait a second, Gene, did I read that right? You just said the *cellist* got lost in the Canon? Nu uh...

September 9, 2015 at 05:18 AM · I'm usually so responsible and reliable you could set Big Ben to me. But over the course of 100's of gigs over the years the law of averages can catch up.

Once, though I gave myself plenty of time to get to a wedding, my road was blocked off due to damage from a severe storm the previous day. This was before GPS or cell phones - at least in my own use. I arrived in time to see the bridal party departing.

Once I arrived in plenty of time for a wedding and the organist said he was surprised to see me that day. I shrugged it off until early in the preluding, I got a call (by then I had a cell phone!) from the contractor's wife (who helps him) saying "Where the hell are you?" I told her. She said "You're in the wrong church! Where you are is NEXT Saturday!" Fortunately the right church was pretty close and I got to it in the middle of that preluding. It was up in the choir loft and not too bad a gaffe.

Another time I arrived early to a wedding. I opened my case to warm up. To my horror, I discovered that somehow I had NO bow with me!! Our grouping was organ, 2 violins and cello. The cellist arrived shortly after me and offered me one of his bows, warning me that (as if any cello bow wasn't much too heavy for me) he favored heavy bows. I said "I'll do what I can. It's better than playing pizz all day." Just as I was trying to get used to it, the other violinist arrived. She had one extra bow but said that it wasn't very good, needed re-hairing, etc. I said "I don't care. PLEASE let me borrow it!" Well, that mediocre bow felt like the best bow in the world!

Fortunately I'm good at winging it and picking things up by ear. This has stood me in good stead many times. I've often come to weddings where they didn't have all the violin parts and once, no violin parts at all. I managed. Many times I've been asked to play the Schubert Ave Maria along with the singer in various keys and with no music. I managed. Once I was asked to do so - again with no music - in Gb! Again, I managed. It's gotten to the point where if there is nothing to wing, I'm a little disappointed! But once this happened at at outdoor orchestra concert on the beach. I was playing principal 2nd and somehow, after earlier rehearsing out of order, we couldn't find our very first piece! Our conductor was very intolerant and I knew that we just had to fake it. We couldn't even let him see that we were scrambling to find it, even though that type of thing happened to him a few times and he would just laugh it off to the audience. I whispered to my stand partner "Just move your bow back and forth and I'll do the rest." Somehow, I did. Much of what I improvised was not what the composer wrote but it all worked - and the conductor was none the wiser. I'm not always that good at winging but thank God, I often am. This next incident wasn't a paid gig, but once at a chamber music party I was put on first for a reading of the Bach 6th Brandenburg. My host's part was somehow missing my final page. Somehow, I winged that, too! Anther day, another phase of the moon, maybe I wouldn't have been so successful!

One more. Once, to get from one gig to the next I had to travel about 100 miles. Even so, I had plenty of time - or so I thought. As luck would have it, I got stuck behind an accident. I was concertmaster and by the time I arrived they had started. I just entered from the wings already doing my own winging. I played as I was entering!

September 9, 2015 at 09:36 AM · Actually, Raphael, Big Ben is "having fits" these days - not so reliable after all :-)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11821810/Big-Ben-falls-out-of-time.html

September 9, 2015 at 12:12 PM · Ha! Maybe my stories are closer to today's Big Ben! I'm reminded of a few more:

This took place on the stage of Carnegie Hall, no less! This was an orchestra that combined some students and professionals. At the intermission of the rehearsal, one of the students approached me and asked if I had an extra white shirt he could borrow as he'd forgotten his. I said "No. Why would I carry an extra white shirt with me?" He asked me what he should do? I told him to look around the neighborhood after the rehearsal and try to find a store that sold them. (It was a same day rehearsal, dinner break, concert) "What a loser!", I thought. Minutes later I was shocked to discover that I had forgotten my tux jacket! Now who was the loser? It was my turn to scramble to find a nearby store. I didn't want to spend money on a new jacket, especially as it would be expensive in that area. I bought a black pullover sweater, and in the middle of the orchestra I blended in well enough.

Here is an instance where my usual punctuality worked against me. I was hired to be part of a group to play a run-out concert and stay over night, going from New York to Canada. I was the first one to arrive and checked my luggage, keeping only my violin with me. It was winter and it was snowing and foggy. Gradually the others from the group came - but we were told by our airline that they didn't want to fly in that weather. Another airline agreed to take us, but it was about to take off and we had to run to another part of the airport. But I - the only one who already checked his baggage with the previous airline - had to go and retrieve the baggage. I got to the 2nd plane just as they had closed their doors and they refused to open them for me! There was nothing for me to do but go home.

During a run of Christmas concerts, someone in the audience had a heart attack. The ambulance came but they couldn't save her. After some time it was decided that we should go on with the concert. Then someone else in the audience lost consciousness. Again the ambulance was called. At first they refused to come, saying that they already made that call. "No", they were told, "believe it or not, this is someone else!" The 2nd person survived. Shortly after that, at another concert, someone in the choir fainted during the performance. We developed a dangerous reputation that season!

With the same group there is a wonderful soprano who often sings with us. Before she went on once, I wished her the classic show business good wish "Break a leg". She sang brilliantly as usual, but going back into the wings she tripped and twisted her ankle. I later told her "I didn't mean for you to take me literally!" If someone asks me how they should wish me good luck, I say "tell me to break a bow hair; that's all I can afford!"

PS Love the story about the cellist who got lost in the Taco Bell Canon! 8 notes to play over and over. That, you would think, is so fool-proof that even a violist could play it! ;-D

September 9, 2015 at 12:31 PM · Ach, the Pachelbel... once we were performing it in a simple 3 violin + cello format.

When the third violin came into the 16th note passage, he took off like a rocket and rushed like there was no tomorrow, ending it at least a measure early and then fortunately stopping. The second violin got lost and I, who was playing first, ran out of notes to play.

When the dust settled I exchanged nods with the cellist, who had continued his basso ostinato unperturbed through the whole mishmash, and began the following part. The others followed and we lived happily ever after.

September 9, 2015 at 12:31 PM · (deleted double post)

September 9, 2015 at 09:55 PM · And nothing sounds as good as a Pack of bull duet arrangement, in d minor on 1st violin vs d maj on cello. What was my teacher thinking. But she has to be admired for sticking to the key right through the first section. Her cellist / daughter was not so impressed.

September 9, 2015 at 10:28 PM · I play viola professionally

September 10, 2015 at 10:54 PM · Raphael's third story reminds me - only too clearly - of a similar occasion many years ago when I was playing cello in a performance of Haydn's "Creation" in the Clifton R.C. Cathedral in Bristol.

The layout, which is important to my account, was that the conductor was in front of the Sanctuary and facing the audience, the orchestra was between the conductor and the audience, and the choir was a little to one side and facing the conductor. The occasion was an anniversary celebration of a long-established hospice for the terminally ill, and consequently there was a line of important people associated with the hospice seated between the altar and the conductor.

During the performance I noticed an elderly gentleman in the line of chairs get to his feet, stagger a few paces and collapsed unconscious in front of the Guest of Honour, the then Secretary of State for Health (who has since been elevated to the House of Lords). My desk partner, a hospital doctor, put down her cello and immediately went to the old gentleman's assistance as others carried him to the vestry. Quite a while later she returned, looked at me and shook her head slightly, then picked up her cello and continued playing. While all this was happening the performance continued, the conductor being quite unaware of what was going on behind him.

At the end of the concert someone announced that Dr ---, a founder member of the hospice, has been taken ill and was now recovering at home, "as well as could be expected". My desk partner whispered to me that just wasn't true - he was dead when she got to him and she and the paramedics couldn't revive him.

September 10, 2015 at 10:54 PM · Duplicate post

September 11, 2015 at 02:18 AM · Wow, all these stories of folks keeling over dead during your orchestra performances. Some little kid coughing a lot suddenly doesn't seem so bad.

September 11, 2015 at 11:43 AM · But once someone shuffles off this mortal coil, at least he doesn't make any more noise! OK, that was terrible!

Now this one isn't a gaffe, but now that we're getting morbid and speaking of "Guest of Honor", Jerry Seinfeld made this observation: "Polls have shown that people's number 1 fear is public speaking. Death comes in at number 2. This means that at a funeral you'd rather be the Guest of Honor than the one giving the eulogy!"

To which I add my own joke: When Paul Newman died, Seinfeld was asked to be one of the ones giving a eulogy. He had to back down though because he could think of only one word to say......NEWMAN!!!!

And yes, I'll take the blame for diverting the thread off course. OK, back on course. Once I was hired to play as Concertmaster for a production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni". The conductor wasn't good, had an arrogant attitude and over-dramatized his conducting, jumping around like he thought he was Leonard Bernstein, but minus the talent. He would jump around during tranquil passages, let alone agitato ones - and that was during rehearsals. Came the performance and he was so nervous that early into Act I he knocked his stand down. We just kept on playing like nothing had happened. But - professional wise guy here; do not try this on a gig - I leaned over to my stand partner and whispered "There IS a God!" She totally lost it and couldn't control her laughter!

Another time I was hired by a different group to play Concertmaster for a production of Puccini's "Madam Butterfly". If I say so myself, I did a very good job, except for my 1st solo at the 1st rehearsal. I said to the conductor "Would you mind if we tried that again? I was in the wrong clef" The conductor said "Sure", which was nice of him. But what worried me was that he didn't seem to realize that I was joking about the clef!

Finally(?) I have a really long story of a very difficult rehearsal that, fortunately, ended pretty darn well. Please go to my website - http://rkviolin.com Look for the "Blog" section and click on "The Day I played as Concertmaster for Regis Philbin"

September 11, 2015 at 06:09 PM · Yeah that Regis Philbin story is pretty funny. You seem to thrive in that high-stress environment, it's a mark of professionalism in my view.

September 11, 2015 at 08:01 PM · The cellist was so distracted trying to crane their head towards the procession to keep track of the timing they ended up skipping a note in the Pachelbel.

If they skip four notes, a recovery is possible. In this case, it displaced everything off by a quarter note (in the arrangement we had), and the other two players skipped around in a blind panic and did not recover. I just held an open D as long as possible once it was clear it was not going to right itself...ugh...

September 11, 2015 at 08:26 PM · Raphael, what EXACTLY was going on in Brandenburg 6? Were you playing viola that evening? Or putting passages up an octave when necessary when too low for the violin? Or was it an arrangement of the work up by a fifth? I'm all agog!

MY story is pretty boring, but while I was still at school we did the B minor mass, and I got so lethargic in the Crucifixus that I missed coming in for the Et Resurrexit.

September 11, 2015 at 09:03 PM · Paul, thanks!

John, I meant #3 - good catch!

September 11, 2015 at 10:53 PM · Not a disaster, but a fairly major panic.

At high school we had a brilliant and inspiring music teacher who used to revive neglected operas.

I found myself re-creating the role of Gallanthus in Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Poisoned Kiss, with lovely music and a truly dreadful libretto by Evelyn Sharp. It hadn't been performed or recorded in the 40 years since its premiere in '36.

To make it singable, we extensively rewrote the libretto, only to be told at a few hours notice that Evelyn Sharp would be attending, together with a couple of national critics.

After some desperate last-minute swotting I had a shaky mastery of the original words.

Cue the prelude and my good self alone on stage in a spotlight to open proceedings with the deathless lyric:

What's that?

A cat?

A rat?

A bat?

Or anything like that?

I was so nervous I had to hold onto a handle conveniently attached to the scenery, but I somehow made it through...

September 12, 2015 at 03:43 AM · I'm reminded that as Alice fell down the rabbit hole she found herself wondering at one point whether cats ate bats or bats ate cats!

September 14, 2015 at 12:57 PM · Raphael, I understand: It was either double or quits. Please stay on!

September 14, 2015 at 02:07 PM · The link below shows the very reverse of a gig blunder - a string quartet entertaining stranded fellow motorists al fresco with everybody's favorite Canon :) when motorway traffic near where I live ground to a halt due to an escaped horse.

The musicians are from the Bristol Ensemble, a crack professional chamber orchestra based in Bristol, and are accustomed to performing without sheet music.

http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/8203-Classical-musicians-ease-M5-traffic-woes/story-27793594-detail/story.html

September 14, 2015 at 07:29 PM · not my story to tell, but I do have a friend who added a 'pigeon poop' clause to his policy..... 'nuff said.

September 15, 2015 at 12:06 AM · I've heard of Santa Claus but I didn't know he had a son named Pigeon Poop. Maybe Frank Zappa is Santa Claus after all.

September 15, 2015 at 10:42 PM · No Paul, Pigeon Poop was the bird he MARRIED (and then murdered to take advantage of the clause in the policy).

September 16, 2015 at 04:42 AM · Here is somebody else's mishap that rather worked out in my favor:

This was back in 1975. (I already consider this an accomplishment since I wasn't born until 1976 - but I digress...) Isaac Stern gave a recital at Brooklyn College. Though his playing was often spotty by that period, he was truly in form that evening and played excellently.

Early into the second half, his E string snapped. He quickly walked off the stage without much evident concern. He returned rather quickly. "How could he have changed his string so fast?" I thought. He didn't! He announced to the audience that he had no extra E string, and that unless there were any violinists in the audience, he really couldn't continue. I immediately jumped up, ran to the nearest usher and told him that I was a violin student and didn't live far. The usher drove me home. I had no extras either, and so, brought back my whole - and at the time, only - violin. Backstage at the hall I had some trouble getting the string off. I asked the lady sitting next to me if she had a hairpin. She obliged. She turned out to be Mrs. Stern!

Shortly after that incident I received a package from Isaac Stern in the mail. It included an autographed record, and a letter thanking me for my willingness to help. "I immediately put a supply of E strings in my violin case when I returned home", continued the letter, "and am sending you one enclosed. [It was in an envelope, stapled to the letter.] You never know. it may come in handy at someone else's concert!"

Needless to say, I framed that letter, and never used that particular E-string!

September 16, 2015 at 09:10 AM · Raphael thanks for the nice story but I don't get what you write about you not being born until 1976?

September 16, 2015 at 10:38 AM · I think that's the age he admits to :-)

Yes - great story Raphael!

September 16, 2015 at 11:53 AM · Yes, the birth year was a little jest. After all, I don't like to readily admit that I'm so old that when I started music lessons I had to begin on the gamba, as the violin hadn't been invented yet! ;-D

BTW, if anybody is curious, the string he sent me was a Westminister.

September 16, 2015 at 12:27 PM · Wow ... hard to imagine a violinist of Stern's caliber without a full set of spare strings, or even a spare violin. Fun story though.

Perhaps going to a violin recital with a spare E string in your inside suit-jacket pocket should be kind of like going to a ball game with your glove.

September 16, 2015 at 01:02 PM · That's a story I can take to heart. Three or four years ago I was leading the band in a Christmas carol concert (with a few extra non-carol pieces) when my E broke on the peg just as the conductor brought down the baton for the first note. My spare strings were in my case in a locked green room two flights up, and therefore inaccessible until the interval.

The killer was that the concert was being broadcast live on community radio so I had no recourse but to spend the first half in exploring the upper reaches of the A.

Ever since, in concerts I've always carried a pack of strings in my jacket pocket; and always think twice about re-using an E - I had recently transferred the E that broke from my other violin.

September 16, 2015 at 01:02 PM · Yes, as he tended to be an E string breaker. I guessed he just assumed that he had extra E strings, which he didn't. In fact, to go into a little more detail, he told the audience that he actually had with him extras of all the strings EXCEPT the E! He said that he could tell jokes, take questions, but that unless there was a violinist in the house, he couldn't continue. That, of course, was my fateful cue. Going with the usher backstage, I saw him and said "Mr. Stern, I'm going to get my violin". He patted me on the shoulder and said "Good boy!" By the time I got back, they had found him an E string from the music department, and he had continued with the 2nd half. But Mrs. Stern asked me to keep working on getting my E string off my violin in case he preferred mine when he came off stage. He decided to keep going with what he had. It looked like someone else had also found a string to offer him. But they asked me to stay and give them my name and address. He even offered to privately play the excerpt we missed. But I felt funny to take him up on it and respectfully left after giving my name and address.

In my personal experience I've had a few problems with E's breaking or a peg being stuck - fortunately those incidents were only in rehearsals and always when I had only 1 violin with me. Whenever I'd brought 2 in a double case, the extra violin seemed to work as a talisman and nothing happened! I also don't like to re-use an old E, though I keep them at home as spares, while having fresh ones with me in my case. They get very scrunched up in the peg box area and are hard to work with - especially in a situation when you have to act fast.

September 16, 2015 at 10:13 PM · Now this is how to handle a broken e-string! Watch the player on the desk behind him struggling to keep a straight face :-)

(I assume it's the concert master who comes to the rescue?)

September 16, 2015 at 11:27 PM · At rehearsal tonight I saw something that could have had very interesting, not to say spectacular, consequences - our principal violist's instrument starting to fall apart.

Specifically, during the coffee break the principal (a retired symphony pro) noticed that the fingerboard was parting company from the neck. He showed it to me and I could see daylight between the fingerboard and the neck over about half the length of the neck. Not only that, but I could just see that the neck had started to bend, and that the string action had consequently risen.

He bravely continued playing after the break without catastrophe (his desk partner moved her chair away from him!), and at the end let the strings down and said he'd repair it when he got home. Apparently, he's got animal glue and the right sort of clamps, and knows what to do. I'll let you know the outcome after I've seen him next week.

September 17, 2015 at 02:37 AM · Geoff's post reminded me! I bought a new violin and then two weeks later I was to perform the third movement of the Franck Sonata in a group recital for adult students. I didn't put new strings on the violin, the ones on there were fine. Anyway the pianist played the lovely introductory bars, and the moment I put my bow on my violin, the E string snapped. Fortunately I had a spare and was able to mount it quickly -- but I had to re-tune discreetly a couple of times during the piece.

September 17, 2015 at 02:43 PM · All these horror stories remind me of the time that I got lost in the third movement of the Bach Double. Everything fell to pieces, and I remember the last note was played nowheres near the actual end by a cellist who was wondering what had happened.

I can't remember if I was playing 1st or 2nd violin, but if you go out of sinc in that piece, recovery is almost impossible, IMHO.

We had to start over. Ugh...

September 17, 2015 at 03:24 PM · I know what you mean about the Bach Double. But in my daughter's violin studio, the Bach Double is commonly part of the end-of-semester group performance. The teacher stands in front and starts the group off by playing along with the second violins who have the entrance. Thereafter, he continues to play as he watches the whole group. He knows who is playing first and second, if he sees that a student is lost, he catches their eye and plays what they should be playing at that point to get them back on track. As such, he can start anywhere in either part, even in the middle of a measure or phrase. It's a level of familiarity that goes way beyond what anyone would expect of him/herself for a performance, rather it comes from 25 years of teaching that piece.

Wow that kid picked right up with the concertmaster's violin. Incredible.

September 17, 2015 at 04:20 PM · I remember a performance of the Bach Double by a couple of local professionals who had three goes at the third movement before they got the start right! I was playing cello in the orchestra at the time, so of course it was all my fault ;)

September 17, 2015 at 05:22 PM · https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rkp8YSuePPM is of course the classic E string moment - Midori, at age 14, breaks one twice in two minutes (and, I think, that was the first time she'd played a full-size violin!).

September 18, 2015 at 08:22 AM · It's only been A or D or G with me, I think, and they've never broken during a solo performance (I think the number of these just about reached double figures) - but then, from the age of 18 until quite recently I only used gut for anything other than E, and unless I got myself a "Tertis" model viola, I'd never consider going back to steel.

September 18, 2015 at 02:21 PM · I think I know why professionals stumble with the third movement of the Bach Double. It's because they consider it an easy toss-away number ("I've got this"), so they don't rehearse it more than once with both violins (how else do you blow the entrance in the first bar?), and they assume that the entrances will be just as obvious as they are in the first movement. In the third movement there are maybe three entrances where you either need to know the other part very well (that is how I deal with it) or you actually have to count your damned rests. The other trick is that if you are performing with music, you play from a two-violin score rather than just a single part. I just have the single parts, but my daughter discovered that she could nail all the entrances by looking at the sections of her own part that were similar to what I was playing while she had rests.

September 20, 2015 at 04:21 PM · The only mishap I can recall with fond memories is once when our quartet was in the middle of particularly piece, which everybody seemed completely in the zone. Until, of course the 2nd Violin somehow poked the cellist in the head, causing him to fall over into the violist who then fell over herself. This was during one of our earliest performance some 25 years ago in school. Now the 2nd Violin and Cellist keep a fair distance from each other.

Another time I watched a soloist during the cadenza of the Mendelssohn whose violin fell apart. Fingerboard, and back of violin all came off. The concert stopped, somebody retrieved their backup from back stage and they continued. Found out later it was a new violin and the maker had given them one which wasn't quite set. Normally they'd take the CM violin however, that was a bit silly to try when the violin in question was in pieces.

September 22, 2015 at 08:58 PM · John A wrote:

The only mishap I can recall with fond memories is once when our quartet was in the middle of particularly piece, which everybody seemed completely in the zone. Until, of course the 2nd Violin somehow poked the cellist in the head, causing him to fall over into the violist who then fell over herself. This was during one of our earliest performance some 25 years ago in school. Now the 2nd Violin and Cellist keep a fair distance from each other.

That reminds me of the opening to a Saturday Night Live show. Don Pardo announced: "And now, the Dead String Quartet", and the lights came up on four of the SNL cast set up like a string quartet as if they were all dead in their seats. After a few seconds one of them slowly slumped over and hit the next one, and they all went down like a set of dominoes. The last one, Chevy Chase, did one of his famous falls right off the stage - cello and all - only to jump up and announce, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"

September 24, 2015 at 01:45 PM · As promised, the update to my post of September 16: my violist colleague had a closer look at the loose fingerboard and the neck that was starting to bend, decided that it needed rather more attention than the straightforward re-gluing he had been prepared to do, and took the viola to a luthier the next morning (Thursday). He collected the repaired instrument on the Saturday, in good time for a gig that evening.

October 11, 2015 at 01:33 AM · Here is a kind of "mishap" that I once caused as a practical joke. I was playing Concertmaster once for one of the Mozart operas. I wish I could recall chapter and verse of which opera and which act - and maybe someone can help me out.

Anyway, at one point there is an accompanying passage in the violins that amazingly anticipates the short orchestral violin intro to the Mendelssohn concerto! Same figuration, same tempo, same E minor! So at one of the rehearsals, when we got to that place, I launched into the Mendelssohn solo - right in the middle of everything else that was going on with the singers and orchestra! The conductor stopped and asked what the hell was going on. "Oh" I said, "I'm so sorry. Something came over me like a Pavlovian reaction. Please let's try it again and it will be fine". The conductor didn't even get what I did and why, but the rest of the orchestra cracked up!

October 11, 2015 at 02:34 AM · John A wrote:

"Another time I watched a soloist during the cadenza of the Mendelssohn whose violin fell apart. Fingerboard, and back of violin all came off. The concert stopped, somebody retrieved their backup from back stage and they continued. Found out later it was a new violin and the maker had given them one which wasn't quite set. Normally they'd take the CM violin however, that was a bit silly to try when the violin in question was in pieces."

That one absolutely has to take the cake. I can only imagine the look of horror on the soloist's face. It would be like driving down the freeway and the steering wheel comes off.

October 11, 2015 at 11:58 AM · Well, that "happened" to Ann Akiko Myers once!

https://youtu.be/CoPJrgF3FZw

October 11, 2015 at 01:04 PM · I'd like to know the name of the maker whose violins aren't glued together.

October 12, 2015 at 01:56 PM · Raphael, I had to snicker when Keith asked her whether she was going to get another one as a backup.

October 30, 2015 at 04:05 PM · Our group recently played at a venue that was doing maintenance and testing of their fire alarm system. We played on amid some whispered references to the Titanic.

Alarms never seem to be tuned to A 440.

October 31, 2015 at 12:52 AM · If Sir Malcolm Arnold were still around, he could write a piece in memory of that.

And so could Charles Ives!

October 31, 2015 at 01:19 AM · Concerto for fire alarm in the key of F maj? Requiem I C&E minus?

November 2, 2015 at 11:05 PM · Raphael, when you get a conductor who can't even recognise the Mendelssohn concerto, you see why some of us have a rather poor opinion of the majority of them!

November 3, 2015 at 04:29 AM · Exactly!

When I have a little more time, I'll write about a very recent gig that qualifies for this thread. Rock music, a useless conductor and a broken microphone - it has it all! Stay tuned...

November 3, 2015 at 05:43 PM · This discussion seems to be the best place for me to share this link about alternative names for orchestral instruments ("a normal person's guide to the orchestra"):

http://www.classicfm.com/discover/music/orchestra-guide/

November 14, 2015 at 04:48 AM · 1) Bow tip gets caught under E string on the first up bow of Symphonie Espagnole.

2) Cummerbund falls to ground after my concertmaster bow at my first international concert in Spain.

3) A wedding gig got moved up an hour and as I arrived the bride was going down the aisle.

November 15, 2015 at 06:19 AM · Played a chamber music gig with a violinist buddy of mine, and we were ending with Handel Halvorsen. Turns out he doesn't have hte music and doesn't have the piece memorized...

We basically skipped the variations that he didn't know by heart, but I now carry a spare part with me whenever I play the piece :)

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