Mortifying things

August 31, 2020, 4:40 PM · Evening,

I was catching up with a fellow musician friend, and we got onto the topic of embarrassing or mortifying things that have happened to us as musicians.

For example:

- my E string snapped, and I didn’t have a spare... (someone came to my rescue). Just so so embarrassing.
- in my viola exam last year, my B piece required a mute for half of it, which I accidentally left on for the C piece (nerves made me forget). Still achieved 29/30 on the C piece, despite the mute.

Any embarrassing stories, where you’ve just wanted to be swallowed up by the ground?

Replies (14)

August 31, 2020, 5:01 PM · Accidentally threw my bow about five feet straight up in the air while trying to turn a page quickly -- during a concert, playing Tchaik 5.
August 31, 2020, 10:34 PM · Played for my class in elementary school and my bow was completely untightened, and I did not stop to tighten it. PTSD!
September 1, 2020, 12:44 AM · Was playing Vivaldi A minor in concert in sixth form and missed out 2 complete lines
September 1, 2020, 1:50 AM · I marched out onto the platform of the Royal Albert Hall and started tuning up for a performance of Mahler 8. The A-string promptly snapped and I had to march right back again for a replacement. I managed to make my solo re-entry before the actual soloists and conductor, but sadly didn't get a round of applause.

But there was another occasion (and a less illustrious venue) when I made the mistake of lingering in the pub during the interval with the brass section. "Didn't we ought to be getting back?" I said. "We're not in the next piece" they said. That time as I walked up the central aisle I found the soloists and conductor already on the platform, glaring at me.

September 1, 2020, 5:30 AM · The first time I attended the Aspen Music Festival as a kid, the orchestra placement excerpt was Don Juan. I had never played it before and I didn't know how it was supposed to sound, but I stayed up all night practicing it because I didn't want to sound terrible in my placement audition. The next morning I went to my audition and played it very carefully and far too slowly. Miss DeLay stopped me after a few bars and said "that isn't how it goes, dear" and she suggested that I play it "up to tempo". I was terrified and I don't remember what happened next. The orchestra I ended up in was wonderful and I had a great time, but to this day just thinking about that makes me feel a little sick that I made a fool of myself in front of Miss DeLay, even though that was many years ago.
Edited: September 1, 2020, 7:31 AM · This didn't happen to me, but to a colleague in the viola section of the community orchestra I played in around 30 years ago.

The colleague in question was, besides being a violist, the president of the orchestra society at the time. He was a very tall, distinguished-looking gentleman, probably in his early sixties at the time. He had an immaculately presented head of very white hair.

As I recall, we were playing Scherezade, and he and his stand partner were fully participating in the music. In one bar, there was a long up bow, and as this fellow was leaning forward, moved by the music, his stand partner's bow caught the top of his head - and carried his wig along with it.

Pandemonium ensued. Being British, the incident was never referred to publicly again, though there was some unseemly sniggering from certain sections of the orchestra.

September 1, 2020, 9:50 AM · In tenth grade, the music director had the nice idea to put me on lead guitar for a blues / funk / soul tune I can't remember the name of. Me, a kid who'd only been playing guitar for a couple months and hadn't an inkling about improvisation or scales coming from classical music. I tried my best to pull all the solos by ear before the concert, but it wasn't enough prep for me. We only had one real rehearsal to boot, and the music director was too busy to help me one-on-one. Come the performance, I fumble through the main solo so bad some kids didn't realize I was playing one, and then I missed the ending. Oh, and my crush was in the audience, of course :)

I wouldn't have had it any other way, though. That night was the first step towards getting over my stage fright altogether. How could it ever go worse than that? It's a pretty funny memory, too.

Edited: September 4, 2020, 7:21 AM · Decades ago, in the late 1950's, I was in the audience at a symphony concert at Orchestra Hall in Chicago. In those years long ago I went to lots of concerts, so after this long a time I don't remember the program or the conductor or the orchestra (it may well have been the Chicago Symphony), but I know the piece being played was a dramatic orchestral piece (a dramatic symphony - Tchaikovsky, I think).

At any rate, I shall never forget that one of the violinists in the first violin section lost control of his bow and it flew into the audience, into about the 2nd or 3rd row.

The music never stopped. And there was no reaction in the audience. But the violinist put down his violin, climbed down that rather tall stage, climbed over a couple rows of seats, and was handed his bow by a member of the audience. The violinist climbed back onstage and re-took his place and the rest of the program went on.

At the conclusion of the piece, I recall that the audience applause was mixed with some laughter.

And you think you've got troubles?

September 1, 2020, 2:39 PM · Went to play the National Anthem in front of a few thousand at a basketball arena. I borrowed my friend's wireless transmitter so I wouldn't have to dork with cables...and forgot to turn the mute switch off. I got a few notes in and realized that the amp was not making a sound. I just dug in and extracted as many decibels out of that fiddle I could.

Fortunately it was an very echoey older arena with concrete risers, aluminum benches, and a metal domed roof so I was able to make myself heard...at least that's what my friends in attendance told me, lol.

Edited: September 1, 2020, 4:06 PM · I was about 12, and it was my first real recital. I was playing Danny Boy on the viola, and the arrangement called for a mute in the first half so as to make a dramatic change in dynamics when taken off.

My teacher had told me when to put the mute on and when to take it off, but not what mute to get. So my naive parents and I went to the nearest music store and asked for a viola mute. We were given a choice: the little round orchestral guy that I ought to have gotten, or a thick rubber practice mute. The practice mute looked sturdier, so that's what we went home with.

So come Saturday afternoon, I walked up there with as much courage as a shy 12 year old can manage in front of several hundred people. I listened to the piano intro, and started playing, muted. I guess my teacher had been too stressed to notice before, but now she jumped up, ran over, and pulled the thing off while I was still playing.

Pretty sure I wanted to sink into the floor at that moment. I was trying to do what she told me, what the music called for! Fortunately, I didn't stop, the show went on, and everyone clapped and no one ever mentioned it again.

So for all the 12 years olds out there: If you're not sure, and there's a recital coming up, ASK. And even if things go terribly wrong? You now have a story.

September 2, 2020, 2:11 PM · @Andrew H, wow! Throwing your bow is quite exuberant! Did you catch it? When I played Tchaik 4, the conductor said that if bow hair wasn't coming off our bows for the last movement, we were not working hard enough. Several broken cello and bass bows that day...

@Christian, I think we have all been caught out by an untightened bow! Good for you to keep going...!

@Jake, oh that is a bit embarrassing. Did the audience notice?

@Cotton, I can imagine that making you blush rather a lot!

@Sander, I would have giggled too.

@Paul, LOL!

@Helen, good to know I am not alone in the mute mishaps. I still feel red and flushed from my mishap last November!

These have been entertaining to read.

September 2, 2020, 2:32 PM · It was totally and completely loose. I should have stopped and restarted, but I was a child and it never happened again!
September 2, 2020, 6:34 PM · I was playing front desk first in a performance of the B-Minor Mass at school, and I got so mesmerised in the Crucifixus that I missed playing the first three or four bars of the Et Resurrexit.
September 2, 2020, 7:28 PM · Not me, but someone else in the band, during a big theater show, went to the men's room during a piece he was not playing, and forgot to turn off his wireless microphone.
2) While I was conducting the junior high orchestra concert, I decided to raise the (Manhasset) music stand with my left hand. The top came off and I was holding it in the air while waving the white stick. I eventually just stopped, put the stand back together while the orchestra kept playing.
Jack Benny was known to enter the stage with his violin, then after just the right amount of silent pause, go back off stage to get his bow.


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