Don’t you just love it when a dignified, serious person makes a blunder? Com’on. Admit it. I mean as long as it’s not your surgeon who is doing some local-anesthesia work on your person. “Oops,” is the last word – possibly literally – you’ll want to hear. But nothing so dramatic here. I’m talking about dignified, professional, serious musicians. I collect these anecdotes and imagine others, so allow me to open my treasure chest of oops moments.
First, there’s the trumpet player. He’s doing wonderful things, finding tones, hitting every note with clarity and verve and then – wait for it – his mute gets away from him and goes rolling gleefully across the stage for all the world to see. Yes, there’ll be a few titters and giggles from the audience, but the musician, like the true professional he is, simply walks over and picks the damn thing up and carries on. Now that’s class.
And there’s not a cellist alive who hasn’t had a string break in the middle of a concert. Of course, if it’s one of the bass strings and goes ka-blooey, it can remove his glasses, scratch his face and cause a really awful moment. He can’t just carry on. He’ll just have to sit there or try to play on three strings or just forget the whole thing and walk off to find a replacement string.
…there’s not a cellist alive who hasn’t had a string break in the middle of a concert.
But here’s my own recurring nightmare: I’m a timpanist in a big, important orchestra with a grand and renowned conductor. Not permitted to thump the kettle drums or even rat-a-tat the snare, I am given the lowly triangle and told, sternly, to follow the music very carefully. This I diligently do. So there I am, standing up with my triangle shining elegantly in my left hand and my little wand in my right, counting carefully for my big moment. And I’m off by one beat. I’m off by one beat. It can’t be. I’m off by ONE lousy beat. And everybody, I mean everybody knows. The grand and renowned conductor shoots me a look that would knock a pigeon off an electric line and the timpanist standing next to me gently removes the elegant triangle from my hand so that I can do no further damage and I sit down and try to make myself as small as possible. It could have been worse, I guess: I could have dropped the triangle right into the horn in front of me. It could have been worse. It could have happened, and I’m just the person it would have happened to.
Of course, I am not a timpanist and I’ve never even been close to a triangle, but I was sufficiently musically embarrassed in my misspent youth to convince myself that I should find a career other than music performance. I was a member of a folk group – remember those? I know I’m dating myself, but really, it was a lot of fun. I was also working at a local television station, writing what is called “continuity.” That’s all the stuff that’s thrown in so that there is no dreaded “dead air.” Anyway, the lady who was host of the daytime show invited me to sing on her show, demonstrating the desperation daytime hosts feel when trying to fill a time slot. So, with my trusty Nuevo Laredo guitar in hand, I sat before the camera and launched into a piece I had done a million times. You may remember it, if you’re old enough: “In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…” Well, the lyrics were pretty simple, the melody straightforward and I was on cruise control. Until I got to the end and the song (and Peter, Paul and Mary, if memory serves), launch into “Wee-mo-way, wee-mo-way.” So I launched into “Wee-mo-way,” but I couldn’t get un-launched. Panic set in. How am I going to end this? What comes next? So I tried to just kind of let my wobbly voice drift off into the void and bowed my head. It was a brief career, but brilliant.
I was sufficiently musically embarrassed in my misspent youth to convince myself that I should find a career other than music performance.
I have a friend who’s a clarinetist and had a reed break in the middle of Cole Porter. Of course, he had another reed, but there in front of the whole world had to extract it from his pocket, run it through his mouth a time or two and then install it in the clarinet. Maybe no one noticed, but I’ll bet they did.
I don’t think there’s a musician alive who hasn’t had an “oops” moment, and maybe they can laugh about them, but I’m certain that – just like my wee-mo-way moment – they’ve never forgotten them.
And speaking of forgetting things and oops moments, don’t forget to get your tickets for the stellar season of 2018-19. You don’t want to find yourself on October 7, when the Brentano String Quartet performs with world renowned soprano Dawn Upshaw, slapping yourself on the forehead and saying, “Oops!”
– E Doyle