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Music Humor


Conducting A Music Class

A band director named Ravelli was having a lot of trouble with one drummer.

He talked and talked and talked with the drummer, and performance simply didn't improve. Finally, before the whole orchestra, he said, "When a musician just can't handle his instrument and doesn't improve when given help, they take away the instrument, and give him two sticks, and make him a drummer."

A stage whisper was heard from the percussion section: "And if he can't handle even that, they take away one of his sticks and make him a conductor."


A young child says to his mother, "Mom, when I grow up I think I'd like to be a musician." She replies, "Well honey, you know you can't do both."


Michael Caine walks up to Milton Berle during a party and asks, "What kind of cigar are you smoking there?" "It's a Lawrence Welk." says Milton. "What's a Lawrence Welk?" Michael asks. Milton says "It's a piece of crap with a band wrapped around it."



Conductor Jokes

What's the difference between a bull and an orchestra?

The bull has the horns in the front and the asshole in the back.

Last summer, the local orchestra decided to play Beethoven's 9th symphony.

However, it being quite hot, the players were working up quite a sweat, until a neighbor let them use the ventilators in her house.

However, the wind from these ventilators was causing the pages to blow all over the place, so they had to tie them down to the stands.

The din from the ventilators was so bad that the bassists decided it didn't matter if they downed a few drinks and got royally drunk. Two of the bassists get so drunk, they passed out.

One of the violinists, in disgust, decided to go home but slipped and fell.
Thus, it was the bottom of the 9th, the bassists were loaded, the score was tied with two men out and the fans were roaring wild when one of the players slid home.


A conductor and a violist are standing in the middle of the road. which one do you run over first, and why?

The conductor. Business before pleasure.


Why are conductor's hearts so coveted for transplants?

They've had so little use.


What's the difference between a conductor and a sack of fertilizer?

The sack.


What do you have when a group of conductors are up to their necks in wet concrete?

Not enough concrete.


Did you hear about the planeload of conductors en route to the European Festival?

The good news: it crashed.

The bad news: there were three empty seats on board.


What's the difference between a pig and a symphony orchestra conductor?

There are some things a pig just isn't willing to do.


What is the ideal weight for a conductor?

About 2 1/2 lbs. including the urn.


What's the difference between God and a conductor?

God knows He's not a conductor.


What's the definition of an assistant conductor?

A mouse trying to become a rat.


What's the difference between alto clef and Greek?

Some conductors actually read Greek.


What do you do with a horn player that can't play?

Give him two sticks, put him in the back, and call him a percussionist.

What do you do if he can't do that?

Take away one of the sticks, put him up front, and call him a conductor.


A musician calls the symphony office to talk to the conductor. "I'm sorry, he's dead," comes the reply.

The musician calls back 25 times, always getting the same reply from the receptionist. At last she asks him why he keeps calling. "I just like to hear you say it."


A musician arrived at the pearly gates.

"What did you do when you were alive?" asked St. Peter.

"I was the principal trombone player of the London Symphony Orchestra"

"Excellent! We have a vacancy in our celestial symphony orchestra for a trombonist. Why don't you turn up at the next rehearsal."

So, when the time for the next rehearsal arrived our friend turned up with his heavenly trombone [sic]. As he took his seat God moved, in a mysterious way, to the podium and tapped his baton to bring the players to attention.

Our friend turned to the angelic second trombonist (!) and whispered, "So, what's God like as a conductor?"

"Oh, he's O.K. most of the time, but occasionally he thinks he's von Karajan."


It was the night of the big symphony concert, and all the town notables showed up to hear it. However, it was getting close to 8 o'clock and the conductor hadn't yet shown up. The theater's manager was getting desperate, knowing that he'd have to refund everyone's money if he cancelled the concert, so he went backstage and asked all the musicians if any could conduct.

None of them could, so he went around and asked the staff if any of them could conduct. He had no luck there either, so he started asking people in the lobby, in the hope that maybe one of them could conduct the night's concert.

He still hadn't found anyone, so he went outside and started asking everybody passing by if they could conduct. He had no luck whatsoever and by this time the concert was 15 minutes late in starting. The assistant manager came out to say that the crowd was getting restless and about ready to demand their money back.

The desperate manager looked around and spied a cat, a dog, and a horse standing in the street. "Oh, what the heck," he exclaimed, "let's ask them--what do we have to lose?"

So the manager and assistant manager went up to the cat, and the manager

asked "Mr. cat, do you know how to conduct?" The cat meowed "I don't know, I'll try," but though it tried really hard, it just couldn't stand upright on its hind legs. The manager sighed and thanked the cat, and then moved on to the dog.

"Mr. dog," he asked, "do you think you can conduct?" The dog woofed "Let me see," but although it was able to stand up on its hind legs and wave its front paws around, it just couldn't keep upright long enough to last through an entire movement.

"Well, nice try," the manager told the dog, and with a sigh of resignation turned to the horse. "Mr. horse," he asked, "how about you--can you conduct?" The horse looked at him for a second and then without a word turned around, presented its hind end, and started swishing its tail in perfect four-four time.

"That's it!" the manager exclaimed, "the concert can go on!" However, right then the horse dropped a load of plop onto the street. The assistant manager was horrified, and he told the manager "We can't have this horse conduct! What would the orchestra think?"

The manager looked first at the horse's rear end and then at the plop lying in the street and replied "trust me--from this angle, the orchestra won't even know they have a new conductor!"


Once upon a time, there was a blind rabbit and blind snake, both living in the same neighborhood. One beautiful day, the blind rabbit was hopping happily down the path toward his home, when he bumped into someone.

Apologizing profusely he explained, "I am blind, and didn't see you there."

"Perfectly all right," said the snake, "because I am blind, too, and did not see to step out of your way."

A conversation followed, gradually becoming more intimate, and finally the snake said, "This is the best conversation I have had with anyone for a long time. Would you mind if I felt you to see what you are like?"

"Why, no," said the rabbit. "Go right ahead."

So the snake wrapped himself around the rabbit and shuffled and snuggled his coils, and said, "MMMM! You're soft and warm and fuzzy and cuddly...and those ears! You must be a rabbit."

"Why, that's right!" said the rabbit. "May I feel you?"

"Go right ahead." said the snake, stretching himself out full length on the path.

The rabbit began to stroke the snake's body with his paws, then drew back in disgust. "Yuck!" he said. "You're cold...and slimy... you must be a conductor!"


A guy walks into a pet store wanting a parrot. The store clerk shows him two beautiful ones out on the floor. "This one's $5,000 and the other is $10,000." the clerk said.

"Wow! What does the $5,000 one do?"

"This parrot can sing every aria Mozart ever wrote."

"And the other?" said the customer.

"This one can sing Wagner's entire Ring cycle. There's another one in the back room for $30,000."

"Holy moley! What does that one do?"

"Nothing that I can tell, but the other two parrots call him 'Maestro'."


A new conductor was at his first rehearsal. It was not going well. He was wary of the musicians as they were of him. As he left the rehearsal room, the timpanist sounded a rude little "bong." The angry conductor turned and said, "All right! Who did that?"


A violinist was auditioning for the Halle orchestra in England. After his audition he was talking with the conductor. "What do you think about Brahms?" asked the conductor.

"Ah..." the violinist replied, "Brahms is a great guy! Real talented musician. In fact, he and I were just playing some duets together last week!"

The conductor was impressed. "And what do you think of Mozart?" he asked him.

"Oh, he's just swell! I just had dinner with him last week!" replied the violinist. Then the violinist looked at his watch and said he had to leave to catch the 1:30 train to London.

Afterwards, the conductor was discussing him with the board members. He said he felt very uneasy about hiring this violinist, because there seemed to be a serious credibility gap. The conductor knew for certain that there was no 1:30 train to London.


"Wagner's music has beautiful moments but some bad quarters of an hour."



"Richard Wagner's music is better than it sounds."

-- Mark Twain


"A critic is like a eunuch: he knows exactly how it ought to be done."


"A drummer is a musician's best friend."

from a Martin Mull album.


"The present day composer refuses to die."

-- Edgar Varese


"Beethoven had an ear for music."

-- anonymous


"The clarinet is a musical instrument the only thing worse than which is


-- The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce


Did you hear that Mr. Solfege had a dog?

His name was feedo.


What do you get when you put a diminished chord together with an augmented


A demented chord.


How many producers does it take to change a light bulb?

...hmm...I don't know...what do you think?


A first violinist, a second violinist, a virtuoso violist, and a bass

player are at the four corners of a football field. At the signal, someone

drops a 100 dollar bill in the middle of the field and they run to grab it.

Who gets it?

The second violinist, because:

1. No first violinist is going anywhere for only 100 dollars.

2. There's no such thing as a virtuoso violist.

3. The bass player hasn't figured out what it's all about.


Why did the Philharmonic disband?

Excessive sax and violins.


Borodin nothing to do!!


Gone Chopin. Bach in a minuet.


Haydn's Chopin Liszt at Vivaldi's:

* Rossini and cheese

* Schumann polish

* Bern-n-stein remover

* Satie mushrooms

* batteries (Purcell)

* BeethOVEN cleaner

* Hummel microwave meals

* orange Schubert

* TchaiCOUGHsky drops

* marshMahlers

* Honey-nut Berlioz

* Cui-tips

* Chef Boyardee Raveli

* sour cream and Ives

* Strauss (straws)

* chocolate Webers (wafers)

* Del Monteverdi corn

* Mozart-rella cheese

* I Can't Believe it's not Rutter

* Bach of serial (opera)

* chicken Balakirev

* new door Handel

* Golden Brahms

* Clemen-TEA

* Little Debussy snack cakes

* Oscar Meyerbeer bologna



* string quartet: a good violinist, a bad violinist, an ex-violinist, and someone who hates violinists, all getting together to complain about composers.

* detaché: an indication that the trombones are to play with their slides removed.

* glissando: a technique adopted by string players for difficult runs.

* subito piano: indicates an opportunity for some obscure orchestra player to become a soloist.

* risoluto: indicates to orchestras that they are to stubbornly maintain the correct tempo no matter what the conductor tries to do.

* senza sordino: a term used to remind the player that he forgot to put his mute on a few measures back.

* preparatory beat: a threat made to singers, i.e., sing, or else....

* crescendo: a reminder to the performer that he has been playing too loudly.

* conductor: a musician who is adept at following many people at the same time.

* clef: something to jump from before the viola solo.

* transposition: the act of moving the relative pitch of a piece of music that is too low for the basses to a point where it is too high for the sopranos.

* vibrato: used by singers to hide the fact that they are on the wrong pitch.

* half step: the pace used by a cellist when carrying his instrument.

* coloratura soprano: a singer who has great trouble finding the proper note, but who has a wild time hunting for it.

* chromatic scale: an instrument for weighing that indicates half-pounds.

* bar line: a gathering of people, usually among which may be found a musician or two.

* ad libitum: a premiere.

* beat: what music students do to each other with their instruments. The down beat is performed on top of the head, while the up beat is struck under the chin.

* cadence: when everybody hopes you're going to stop, but you don't.

* diatonic: low-calorie Schweppes.

* lamentoso: with handkerchiefs.

* virtuoso: a musician with very high morals. (I know one)

* music: a complex organization of sounds that is set down by the composer, incorrectly interpreted by the conductor, who is ignored by the musicians, the result of which is ignored by the audience.

* oboe: an ill wind that nobody blows good.

* diminished fifth: an empty bottle of Jack Daniels.

* perfect fifth: a full bottle of Jack Daniels.

* ritard: there's one in every family.

* relative major: an uncle in the Marine Corps.

* relative minor: a girlfriend.

* big band: when the bar pays enough to bring two banjo players.

* pianissimo: "refill this beer bottle".

* repeat: what you do until they just expel you.

* treble: women ain't nothin' but.

* bass: the things you run around in softball.

* portamento: a foreign country you've always wanted to see.

* conductor: the man who punches your ticket to Birmingham.

* arpeggio: "Ain't he that storybook kid with the big nose that grows?"

* tempo: good choice for a used car.

* A 440: the highway that runs around Nashville.

* transpositions:

1. men who wear dresses.

2. An advanced recorder technique where you change from alto to

soprano fingering (or vice-versa) in the middle of a piece

* cut time:

1. parole.

2. when everyone else is playing twice as fast as you are.

* order of sharps: what a wimp gets at the bar.

* passing tone: frequently heard near the baked beans at family barbecues.

* middle C: the only fruit drink you can afford when food stamps are low.

* perfect pitch: the smooth coating on a freshly paved road.

* tuba: a compound word: "Hey, woman! Fetch me another tuba Bryll Cream!"

* cadenza:

1. that ugly thing your wife always vacuums dog hair off of when company comes.

2. The heroine in Monteverdi's opera Frottola

* whole note: what's due after failing to pay the mortgage for a year.

* clef: what you try never to fall off of.

* bass clef: where you wind up if you do fall off.

* altos: not to be confused with "Tom's toes," "Bubba's toes" or "Dori-toes".

* minor third: your approximate age and grade at the completion of formal schooling.

* melodic minor: Loretta Lynn's singing dad.

* 12-tone scale: the thing the State Police weigh your tractor trailer truck with.

* quarter tone: what most standard pickups can haul.

* sonata: what you get from a bad cold or hay fever.

* clarinet: name given your second daughter if you've already used Betty Jo.

* cello: the proper way to answer the phone.

* bassoon:

1. typical response when asked what you hope to catch, and when.

2. a bedpost with a bad case of gas.

* French horn: your wife says you smell like a cheap one when you come in at 4 a.m.

* cymbal: what they use on deer-crossing signs so you know what to use to sight-in your pistol.

* bossa nova: the car your foreman drives.

* time signature: what you need from your boss if you forget to clock in.

* first inversion: grandpa's battle group at Normandy.

* staccato: how you did all the ceilings in your mobile home.

* major scale: what you say after chasing wild game up a mountain:
"Damn! That was a major scale!"

* Aeolian mode: how you like Mama's cherry pie.

* Bach chorale: the place behind the barn where you keep the horses.

* plague: a collective noun, as in "a plague of conductors."

* audition: the act of putting oneself under extreme duress to satisfy the sadistic intentions of someone who has already made up his mind.

* accidentals: wronng notes.

* augmented fifth: a 36-ounce bottle.

* broken consort: when someone in the ensemble has to leave to go to the bathroom.

* cantus firmus: the part you get when you can play only four notes.

* chansons de geste: dirty songs.

* clausula: Mrs. Santa Claus.

* crotchet:

1. a tritone with a bent prong.

2. like knitting, but faster.

* ducita: a lot of mallards.

* embouchure: the way you look when you've been playing the Krummhorn.

* estampie: what they put on letters in Quebec.

* garglefinklein: a tiny recorder played by neums.

* hocket: the thing that fits into a crochet to produce a rackett.

* interval: how long it takes to find the right note. There are three kinds:

1. Major interval: a long time.

2. Minor interval: a few bars.

3. Inverted interval: when you have to go back a bar and try again.

* intonation: singing through one's nose. Considered highly desirable in the Middle Ages.

* isorhythmic motet: when half of the ensemble got a different edition from the other half.

* minnesinger: a boy soprano.

* musica ficta: when you lose your place and have to bluff until you find it again.

* neums: renaissance midgets.

* neumatic melishma: a bronchial disorder caused by hockets.

* ordo: the hero in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

* rota: an early Italian method of teaching music without score or parts.

* trotto: an early Italian form of Montezuma's Revenge.

* lauda: the difference between shawms and krummhorns.

* sancta: Clausula's husband.

* lasso: the 6th and 5th steps of a descending scale.

* di lasso: popular with Italian cowboys.

* quaver: beginning viol class.

* rackett: capped reeds class

* ritornello: a Verdi opera.

* sine proprietate: cussing in church.

* supertonic: Schweppes.

* trope: a malevolent neum.

* tutti: a lot of sackbuts.

* stops: something Bach didn't have on his organ.

* agnus dei: a famous female church composer.

* metronome: a city-dwelling dwarf.

* allegro: leg fertilizer.

* recitative: a disease that Monteverdi had.

* transsectional: an alto who moves to the soprano section.


When asked by the Pope (I forget which one) what the Catholic Church could do for music, Igor Stravinsky is reputed to have answered without hesitation: "Give us back the castrati!"


Three violin manufactures have all done business for years on the same block in the small town of Cremona, Italy. After years of a peaceful co-existence, the Amati shop decided to put a sign in the window saying:

"We make the best violins in Italy." The Guarneri shop soon followed suit, and put a sign in their window proclaiming: "We make the best violins in the world." Finally, the Stradivarius family put a sign out at their shop saying: "We make the best violins on the block."


Once there was a violinist who got a gig to play a recital at a mental institution. He played the recital brilliantly, and backstage after the concert, he got a visit from one of the institutionalized patients.

"Oh, the concert you played was just lovely. The Paganini caprice was stunning, the counterpoint in the Bach came out so clearly, and the phrasing in your Debussy was just exquisite!", said the patient.

"Why, thank you," said the musician (thinking this person seemed pretty normal for a institutionalized person). "Are you by chance a musician?"

"Oh yes, I was concertmaster of an orchestra for many years, I've played all of the major concertos: Tchaikowsky, Brahms, Mozart, all the major ones." said the patient.

"Wow, that's impressive," said the violinist. "Did you do recitals as well?"

"Oh yes, I've done all the major sonatas, Bach, Kreisler, Vieuxtemps, all of the major ones," said the patient.

"Wow! Did you ever do chamber music?" asked the violinist.

"Oh yes. Duets, trios, quintets, sextets, all the major repertoire," said the patient.

Puzzled, the violinist asked "Did you ever play string quartets?"

All of the sudden the patient went berserk and shouted "String quartets!... String quartets!... String quartets!... "


Quite a number of years ago, the Seattle Symphony was doing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 under the baton of Milton Katims.

Now at this point, you must understand two things:

1. There's a quite long segment in this symphony where the basses don't have a thing to do. Not a single note for page after page.

2. There used to be a tavern called Dez's 400, right across the street from the Seattle Opera House, rather favored by local musicians.

It had been decided that during this performance, once the bass players had played their parts in the opening of the symphony, they were to quietly lay down their instruments and leave the stage, rather than sit on their stools looking and feeling dumb for twenty minutes. Once they got backstage, someone suggested that they trot across the street and quaff a few brews.

When they got there, a European nobleman recognized that they were musicians, and bought them several rounds of drinks. Two of the bassists passed out, and the rest of the section, not to mention the nobleman, were rather drunk. Finally, one of them looked at his watch and exclaimed, "Look at the time! We'll be late!"

The remaining bassists tried in vain to wake up their section mates, but finally those who were still conscious had to give up and run across the street to the Opera House.

While they were on their way in, the bassist who suggested this excursion in the first place said, "I think we'll still have enough time-I anticipated that something like this could happen, so I tied a string around the last pages of the score. When he gets down to there, Milton's going to have to slow the tempo way down while he waves the baton with one hand and fumbles with the string with the other."

Sure enough, when they got back to the stage they hadn't missed their entrance, but one look at their conductor's face told them they were still in serious trouble. Katims was furious! After all...

It was the bottom of the Ninth,

the basses were loaded,

the score was tied,

there were two men out,

and the Count was full.


The following program notes are from an unidentified piano recital.

Tonight's page turner, Ruth Spelke, studied under Ivan Schmertnick at the Boris Nitsky School of Page Turning in Philadelphia. She has been turning pages here and abroad for many years for some of the world's leading pianists.

In 1988, Ms. Spelke won the Wilson Page Turning Scholarship, which sent her to Israel to study page turning from left to right. She is winner of the 1984 Rimsky Korsakov Flight of the Bumblebee Prestissimo Medal, having turned 47 pages in an unprecedented 32 seconds. She was also a 1983 silver medalist at the Klutz Musical Page Pickup Competition: contestants retrieve and rearrange a musical score dropped from a Yamaha. Ms. Spelke excelled in "grace, swiftness, and especially poise."

For techniques, Ms. Spelke performs both the finger-licking and the bent-page corner methods. She works from a standard left bench position, and is the originator of the dipped-elbow page snatch, a style used to avoid obscuring the pianist's view of the music. She is page turner in residence in Fairfield Iowa, where she occupies the coveted Alfred Hitchcock Chair at the Fairfield Page Turning Institute. Ms. Spelke is married, and has a nice house on a lake.




Leaps tall buildings in a single bound.

Is more powerful than a locomotive.

Is faster than a speeding bullet.

Walks on water.

Gives policy to God.


Leaps short buildings in a single bound.

Is more powerful than a switch engine.

Is just as fast as a speeding bullet.

Walks on water if sea is calm.

Talks with God.


Leaps short buildings with a running start and favorable winds.

Is almost as powerful as a switch engine.

Is almost as fast as a speeding bullet.

Walks on water in an indoor swimming pool.

Talks with God if special request is approved.

trumpet player

Barely clears a Quonset hut.

Loses tug-of-war with locomotive.

Can fire a speeding bullet.

Swims well.

Is occasionally addressed by God.


Makes marks high on wall when trying to clear short buildings.

Is run over by locomotive.

Can sometimes handle a gun without inflicting self-injury.


Talks to animals.

second violinist

Runs into buildings.

Recognizes locomotives two times out of three.

Is not issued any ammunition.

Can stay afloat with a life jacket.

Talks to walls, argues with self.


Falls over doorstep when trying to enter buildings.

Says "Look at the choo-choo."

Wets self with water pistol.

Plays in mud puddles.

Loses arguments with self.

horn player

Lifts buildings and walks under them.

Kicks locomotives off the tracks.

Catches speeding bullets in teeth and eats them.

Freezes water with a single glance.

Is God.


Math/Logic Quiz

1. Wilson is tired of paying for clarinet reeds. If he adopts a policy of playing only on rejected reeds from his colleagues will he be able to retire on the money he has saved if he invests it in mutual bonds, yielding 8.7%, before he is fired from his job? If not, calculate the probability of him ever working in a professional symphony orchestra again!

2. Jethro has been playing the double bass in a symphony orchestra for 12 years, three months and seven days. Each day, his inclination to practice decreases by the equation: (total days in the orchestra) x 0.0076. Assuming he stopped practicing altogether four years, six months and three days ago, how long will it be before he is completely unable to play the double bass?

3. Wilma plays in the second violin section, but specializes in making disparaging remarks about conductors and other musicians. The probability of her making a negative comment about any given musician is 4 chances in 7, and for conductors is 16 chances out of 17. If there are 103 musicians in the orchestra and the orchestra sees 26 different conductors each year, how many negative remarks does Wilma make in a two-year period? How does this change if five of the musicians are also conductors? What if six of the conductors are also musicians?

4. Horace is the General Manager of an important symphony orchestra. He tries to hear at least four concerts a year. Assuming that at each concert the orchestra plays a minimum of three pieces per concert, what are the chances that Horace can avoid hearing a single work by Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms in the next ten years?

5. Betty plays in the viola section. Despite her best efforts she is unable to play with the rest of the orchestra and, on average, plays 0.3528 seconds behind the rest of the viola section, which is already 0.16485 seconds behind the rest of the orchestra. If the orchestra is moving into a new concert hall with a reverberation time of 2.7 seconds, will she be able to continue playing this way undetected?

6. Ralph loves to drink coffee. Each week he drinks three more cups of coffee than Harold, who drinks exactly one third the amount that the entire brass section consumes in beer. How much longer is Ralph going to live?

7. Rosemary is unable to play in keys with more than three sharps or flats without making an inordinate number of mistakes. Because her colleagues in the cello section are also struggling in these passages, she has so far been able to escape detection. What is the total number of hours they would all have to practice to play the complete works of

Richard Strauss?


From: EFFICIENCY & TICKET, LTD., Management Consultants

To: Chairman, The London Symphony Orchestra

Re: Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor.

After attending a rehearsal of this work we make the following observations and recommendations:

1. We note that the twelve first violins were playing identical notes, as were the second violins. Three violins in each section, suitably amplified, would seem to us to be adequate.

2. Much unnecessary labor is involved in the number of demisemiquavers in this work; we suggest that many of these could be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver thus saving practice time for the individual player and rehearsal time for the entire ensemble. The simplification would also permit more use of trainee and less-skilled players with only marginal loss of precision.

3. We could find no productivity value in string passages being repeated by the horns; all tutti repeats could also be eliminated without any reduction of efficiency.

4. In so labor-intensive an undertaking as a symphony, we regard the long oboe tacet passages to be extremely wasteful. What notes this instrument is called upon to play could, subject to a satisfactory demarcation conference with the Musician's Union, be shared out equitably amongst the other instruments.

Conclusion: if the above recommendations are implemented the piece under consideration could be played through in less than half an hour with concomitant savings in overtime, lighting and heating, wear and tear on the instruments and hall rental fees. Also, had the composer been aware of modern cost-effective procedures he might well have finished this work.


A Player's Guide for Keeping Conductors in Line

by Donn Laurence Mills

If there were a basic training manual for orchestra players, it might include ways to practice not only music, but one-upmanship. It seems as if many young players take pride in getting the conductor's goat. The following rules are intended as a guide to the development of habits that will irritate the conductor. (Variations and additional methods depend upon the imagination and skill of the player.)

1. Never be satisfied with the tuning note. Fussing about the pitch takes attention away from the podium and puts it on you, where it belongs.

2. When raising the music stand, be sure the top comes off and spills the music on the floor.

3. Complain about the temperature of the rehearsal room, the lighting, crowded space, or a draft. It's best to do this when the conductor is under pressure.

4. Look the other way just before cues.

5. Never have the proper mute, a spare set of strings, or extra reeds. Percussion players must never have all their equipment.

6. Ask for a re-audition or seating change. Ask often. Give the impression you're about to quit. Let the conductor know you're there as a personal favor.

7. Pluck the strings as if you are checking tuning at every opportunity, especially when the conductor is giving instructions. Brass players: drop mutes. Percussionists have a wide variety of dropable items, but cymbals are unquestionably the best because they roll around for several seconds.

8. Loudly blow water from the keys during pauses (Horn, oboe and clarinet players are trained to do this from birth).

9. Long after a passage has gone by, ask the conductor if your C# was in tune. This is especially effective if you had no C# or were not playing at the time. (If he catches you, pretend to be correcting a note in your part.)

10. At dramatic moments in the music (while the conductor is emoting) be busy marking your music so that the climaxes will sound empty and disappointing.

11. Wait until well into a rehearsal before letting the conductor know you don't have the music.

12. Look at your watch frequently. Shake it in disbelief occasionally.

13. Tell the conductor, "I can't find the beat." Conductors are always sensitive about their "stick technique", so challenge it frequently.

14. Ask the conductor if he has listened to the Bernstein recording of the piece. Imply that he could learn a thing or two from it. Also good: ask "Is this the first time you've conducted this piece?"

15. When rehearsing a difficult passage, screw up your face and shake your head indicating that you'll never be able to play it. Don't say anything: make him wonder.

16. If your articulation differs from that of others playing the same phrase, stick to your guns. Do not ask the conductor which is correct until backstage just before the concert.

17. Find an excuse to leave rehearsal about 15 minutes early so that others will become restless and start to pack up and fidget.

18. During applause, smile weakly or show no expression at all. Better yet, nonchalantly put away your instrument. Make the conductor feel he is keeping you from doing something really important.

It is time that players reminded their conductors of the facts of life: just who do conductors think they are, anyway?

[Donn Laurence Mills is the NSOA contributing editor. He holds music degrees from Northwestern University and Eastman School of Music. A conductor and music educator, he is also the American educational director for the Yamaha Foundation of Tokyo.]


Musician Jokes

What's the first thing a musician says at work?

"Would you like fries with that?"


What do you call a musician without a significant other?



Why do musicians have to be awake by six o'clock?

Because most shops close by six thirty.

What would a musician do if he won a million dollars?

Continue to play gigs until the money ran out.


What's the difference between a conductor and a stagecoach driver?

The stagecoach driver only has to look at four horses' asses.


There were two people walking down the street. One was a musician. The other didn't have any money either.


A community orchestra was plagued by attendance problems. Several musicians were absent at each rehearsal. As a matter of fact, every player in the orchestra had missed several rehearsals, except for one very faithful oboe player. Finally, as the dress rehearsal drew to a close, the conductor took a moment to thank the oboist for her faithful attendance. She, of course, humbly responded "It's the least I could do, since I won't be at the performance."


Saint Peter is checking ID's at the Pearly Gates, and first comes a Texan.

"Tell me, what have you done in life?" says St. Peter.

The Texan says, "Well, I struck oil, so I became rich, but I didn't sit on my laurels--I divided all my money among my entire family in my will, so our descendants are all set for about three generations."

St. Peter says, "That's quite something. Come on in. Next!"

The second guy in line has been listening, so he says, "I struck it big in the stock market, but I didn't selfishly just provide for my own like that Texan guy. I donated five million to Save the Children."

"Wonderful!" says Saint Peter. "Come in. Who's next?"

The third guy has been listening, and says timidly with a downcast look, "Well, I only made five thousand dollars in my entire lifetime."

"Heavens!" says St. Peter. "What instrument did you play?"


St. Peter's still checking ID's. He asks a man, "What did you do on Earth?"

The man says, "I was a doctor."

St. Peter says, "Ok, go right through those pearly gates. Next! What did you do on Earth?"

"I was a school teacher."

"Go right through those pearly gates. Next! And what did you do on Earth?"

"I was a musician."

"Go around the side, up the freight elevator, through the kitchen..."


A guy walks into the doctor's office and says, "Doc, I haven't had a bowel movement in a week!" The doctor gives him a prescription for a mild laxative and tells him, "If it doesn't work, let me know."

A week later the guy is back: "Doc, still no movement!"

The doctor says, "Hmm, guess you need something stronger," and prescribes a powerful laxative.

Still another week later the poor guy is back: "Doc, STILL nothing!"

The doctor, worried, says, "We'd better get some more information about you to try to figure out what's going on. What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a musician."

The doctor looks up and says, "Well, that's it! Here's $10.00. Go get something to eat!"


The Boston Symphony was performing Beethoven's Ninth. In the piece, there's a long passage about 20 minutes during which the bass violinists have nothing to do. Rather than sit around the whole time looking stupid, some bassists decided to sneak offstage and go to the tavern next door for a quick one.

After slamming several beers in quick succession, one of them looked at his watch. "Hey! We need to get back!"

"No need to panic," said a fellow bassist, "I thought we might need some extra time, so I tied the last few pages of the conductor's score together with string. It'll take him a few minutes to get it untangled."

A few moments later they staggered back to the concert hall and took their places in the orchestra. About this time, a member of the audience noticed the conductor seemed a bit edgy and said as much to her companion.

"Well, of course," said her companion, "Don't you see? It's the bottom of the Ninth, the score is tied, and the bassists are loaded."


America's Favorite Classical Music Bloopers
Bloopers in Student Reports of Concerts
Revised May 8, 2001
New Bloopers, from the spring of 2001!
* Once the band was ready to start they came out of the curtain in an orderly fashion to begin the concert.
* On occasion, the two would make eye contact, just to make sure they were still together. This showed me that they were completely concentrated...
Earlier Bloopers
* There was something good too about the dress that they were wearing. The trombone players in the back had their jackets off so their collard shirts were showing, and this seemed to add a lot of color to the stage.
* I also felt as though the last piece was an excellent way to end the concert. It left the audience with a sense of resolution and completeness because of its absolved finale.
* Fortunately, Handel came after the [contemporary piece], and in his stately manor he restored order with his Organ Concerto in G Minor, Op. 4 no. 3.
* The performance was formal. The conductor bowed before most of the time.
* The concert started with [the Coriolan Overture] by Beethoven. The music was slower and seemed dark. There were often spots where dissidence dominated the song.
* For the most part I enjoyed the more upbeat songs [Jazz Ens]. They gave a more "Beep Bop" flavor to the audience and livened the crowd. The best piece during the entire show...was a piece called "Channel One Suite" written by Bill Reddie and translated by Davis. [The program listed the composer as Bill Reddie/trans. Davis].
* I was truly able to understand the appreciate the hard work that the choral precipitants put into preparing for this concert.
* The...Auditorium was completely full...At one point I even heard one of the ushers ask a group of girls to leave because they were sitting in the aisle and were a fire hazard.
* The men's voices were deep and constant during part and the ladies' voices were coming through in brief exerts.
* The seats were packed on this night. [One ensemble] sounded out of practice sometimes when some performers would chime in too early, or chime out noticeably late.
* When I arrived the band was warming up. When they were warm a single oboe played walked out...
* [Beethoven] lived solely for writing music, and it seemed to everyone that Beethoven only cared about this, and only this.
* The Theatre is set up so that there are many seats on the floor, some that are very close to the stage and others that are farther away.
* To end the concert the [choir] came out and performed pieces of Messiah.
* My absolute favorite piece of music was Riverdance; I could not stop tapping my foot to the beat. I could almost see them clogging their feet up on stage.
* I preferred the piece by Mozart, although because of this class I have come to realize that I am a fan of his. His music touches nerve endings.
* The band played with the Hyatt Hotel behind them and a beer vender in front of them. This I found to be very interesting because it was giving you the best of both worlds...
* It was a first for both of us to experience live jazz music. It was a family atmosphere with an exception of one naked drunk, but that's expected anywhere, right?
* The audience varied from young families with toddlers running around to old couples. There were even some alternative people enjoying the show.
* [Regarding an outdoor pops concert]: There was, what I thought was a rather large audience, of mainly older people gathered with picnic baskets and lawn chairs. It was almost like tailgating for a football game with a little less beer.
* The band was working well together (due in part to their good chemistry).
* The energy of the performers carried me, along with the rest of the crowd, away.
* They were arranged with the percussion in the back, brass were in front of them, then the woodwinds, and then the string instrument were in the front of the stage. In the front center, was the pulpit for the conductor.
* The general musical impressions of the concert, was that there were a lot of groups who sang together in a large group where I could hear, especially, the varying degrees of musical tone. The altos were clearly distinguished; the sopranos had high pretty voices.
* This concert was definitely more than what I planned to expect. I laughed and awed.
* [The soloist] was dressed in black paints and a bright yellow shirt with flowers on it.
* The last two selections that were played were a good bit shorter, and were not on the program...This was his anchor.
* Between groups someone would come out and adjust the music stands to fit the musicians.
* [The soloist] was entertaining to watch on stage as the music absorbed him.
* I sat in the balcony so that I could look down on the performers...
* [Refering to the tuba in the orchestra] I had never seen an upright sousaphone before.
* I placed myself in front of the small audience so I could be the first to absorb the music.
* The second piece was the Trumpet Concerto in E-flat by Haydn...According to the program this piece was extremely new when it was first composed.
* The main section involved in the this piece was the brass section. The trumpets would play interchangeably with the muffling bell stuffers.
* In fact, it had to be my favorite song in the whole program, which left me leaving in a very positive mood and leaving them with a very long standing ovation.
* They kept the crowd involved in the concert by making them clap along with the music...
* The stage was set with the conductor's back to the audience, and the members of the orchestra curved around the edges...
* [The song by the Gospel Choir] was slightly different in that they swayed whatever way they wanted and added lib when they wanted to.
* This piece had an overally jazzy, jammy beat to it.
* The audience mainly consisted of older people who were casually wearing their shorts and tennis shoes.
* Dr. B played the piano and her husband Dr. B played both the saxophone and the soprano saxophone. Both instruments were of equal importance. One instrument could not survive without the other.
* Dr. B [saxophonist] explained to us the technique of multiphonics and key clicks. Multiphonics is the use of two notes to make a ruff sound.
* I also liked the surprise piece...I think the title was Burglar's Holiday.
* The third piece by Shubert was long and dramatic. It seemed to go on forever. Oddly though, this piece was unfinished. Therefore, it was ironic that it seemed to go on and on.
* Though I could not relate to the pieces that were being played I found myself actually bopping my head and tapping my feet to them.
* In the program it states that Marquez is a Mexican composer and in this work he decided to give it a Latin flavor. [Actually, the program states: "This work...has a decided Latin flavor to it]
* As the selection ended followed by a round of applause, I made my way up to the up to the balcony. I found that I had a fantastic aerial view of the orchestra.
* On November 24, 1998, I attended the Symphonic Orchestra fall concert at the Brooks Center. The Brooks Center Auditorium was packed with a delightful audience.
* The types of rhythms, strokes, dynamics, and usage of the symbols created that Latin dance style which would make some of the people around me pat their feet or swing their legs (if crossed).
* The men were doing flips and jumps, and the women were dancing in ways you would never expect from an Old Testament story [regarding a performance of Joseph and his Technocolor Dreamcoat]
* [Handel's Water Music] makes you want to dance a little jug.
* The B Sharps [small vocal ensemble] had a more laid back repertoire and were dressed in cacti paints and shirts and ties.
* Several of their songs required them to slide from one note to the next, which added flare.
* [Women's Glee] This sound was a bright, less mature sound. I think a good women's piece is hard to find.
* [The Concert Band] also played two contemporary pieces.. .I was full of dissonance.
* The one I liked the most was the Waltz: If You Would Ever Be Mine. I recognized the piece but couldn't put a name on it.
* I like [Hoedown] because it made me feel like rustling up some cattle and eating a big juicy steak.
* New music does not have the same timeless qualities as what we traditionally consider the classics. I do think it was good however, for the conductor to introduce us to new music like this, rather than just stinking to the same old things.
* The stage was set with a piano, guitar and the bass drum in the back center; the saxophones were on their right front; the trumpets and trombones were on the left fromt; and the conductor's stand was dead in the front center.
* My favorite piece was "Tango Solitaria." Claudio wrote this and it was odious that he loved every minute of playing this song.
* Another song I liked was the Suite from Water Music [arr. by Harty]. It was neat because it started off by using the instruments that the piece was originally composed for...This made the music actually sound like the musicians were playing underwater.
* The fifth [piece] was Suite from Water Music. The original composer was Handel and the next composer was Harty.
* I am officially turned on to Jazz.
* By closing with [the 1812 Overture] the ensemble lifted the audience, and gave them a great ending to a great concert.
* The musicians seemed very prepared and well-rehearsed. They were all wearing either tuxedos or a black dress, depending on their gender.
* The trumpets are blaring. The saxophones and trombones are whaling.
* [A male student writes]: The person I went to see the play with was Karen. She is just a friend, unfortunately, and she was delighted to go.
* [Regarding a musical] I also know the guy who did the sets and many other performers.
* [Regarding a string quartet] The stage was set up in a simple manner with four chairs in a semi-circle with four music stands in front of each chair.
* The auditorium was very nice and I was impressed with the lighting and atmosphere, maybe because my boyfriend is an electrician.
* The Haydn piece [string quartet] was nice, but not very moving or memorable. I understand that that is one characteristic of classical music . . .
* I found most of the audience into the works that the quartet played. You saw a lot of head bopping and so forth that expressed the audience's enjoyment of the music.
* The mood of the audience was also rather formal. Proper etiquette was expected from everyone. Many of those who attended wore their Sunday best. There was even a fur sitting in the row in front of me.
* Notes were not the only elements used to produce the right sound of the music, but body language also added a flare to the performance.
* [The string quartet]'s energy was overwhelming, so powerful in fact, that two of the four broke strings on their boughs.
* I took a good friend of mine to this concert, who was also a girl
* The acoustics [for the Choral Concert] were great. Everything that flowed from the singers' mouths was crystal clear.
* When the performance was over there was a reception with cookies and juice in which the audience could mingle with the performers.
* Overall, I found the concert wonderful. I have not seen many orchestras other than the [local professional] Orchestra so I was very impressive.
* The performers came out with smiles and bows in their white-tie tuxedos.
* Promptly at 8pm the [members of the piano trio] entered the stage. Three men dressed in penguins suits...oh wait, a lady? There are four of them? I later realized the lady was not the Trio's go-go girl, but there to help the piano player with the turning of his music.
* The audience was conservative and well-reserved.
* The musicians instilled a suffering to the work that made you feel as if you were suffering yourself.
* The audience seemed a little lacking. There were not many people there . . .
* The pianist was very dramatic. Everything he did had a flair to it. I enjoyed watching his hands sweep the keys.
* The performers could play each piece with very intense emotion, but the last piece did not seem to have very deep emotions. The contents of the last piece gave me the impression of music for musicºs sake and that was the only reason it was written.
* The soprano soloist wore a beautiful green velvet dress, the mezzo-soprano a black pant suit, and both the tenor and bass wore a tuxedo.
* The members of [the ensemble] were all very talented musicians, and they well-deserved every cheer and applaud that they received.
* It gave me a warm, rich feeling and played with my heart's strings.
* As the concert continued, the Concertino and Brandenburg Concert No. 4 pieces became long and winded to an inexperienced classical music listener.
* There were a number of students [in the audience], and I think most of them sat in the balcony. They were very well behaved, which surpised me, because I knew a few of them.
* [The piano duo] performed five different Hungarian Dances with lots of flair and flavor.
* The concert in my opinion was a great success for many of reason.
* I went to the Jazz Ensemble Concert Friday night...The place was full of people aging from very young to old.
* The piano part was full of "twills". This characteristic gave it a rich and prestigious quality; like it was being played for aristocrats.
* The conductor stood on a slightly elevated platform and wore a black tuxedo. The musicians wore black tuxedos or dresses depending on whether the person was male or female. (Males wore the tuxedos).
* I was extremely impressed by the musicians' appearances and their performances did nothing to expel my expectations.
* This was my first concert experience at this particular venue. Initially I was impressed by the full capacity of people who were in attendance.
* Observing from the audience I saw many things that the musicians did to keep on track of the music. One noticeable thing was the taping of the musicians feet to stay on beat.
* The stage was set up just like the rehearsal room with the conductor centered.
* The last work of the concert was very peppy, and kind of displayed a little Christmas spirit because jingle bells were used in it.
* I wasn't sure what to expect. I was surprised to hear a wide variety of music from all over the world, including different ethnics.
* The ensemble played their instruments after each main verse was completed. This took skill and had to take a lot out of their lungs.
* As I walked into the Brooks Center on November 28 to see the performance of the Clemson University Symphony Orchestra, the place seemed to be filled with electricity.
* The musicians are all on the stage circling around the conductor stand.
* The fifth piece, English Fold Song Suite, well, was defiantly English. The final piece, Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, was a great choice for a final piece. It had a huge finish which became the grand finally of the concert.
* [The piano soloist] played with such grace and style it was if she wwere gently pawing the keys.
* If [the string quartet] had been a larger group, they would have needed a conductor to be the leader and visual aid. However, with such a small group, they did not kneed one.
* The auditorium was decorated with three tapestries [acoustical banners] hanging from each side of the left and right walls. The mustered yellow tapestry caught my attention as it stuck out from the rest. As I was walking up to the Theater, I noticed a lot of elderly people. They were everywhere...I thought I had entered the Lawrence Welk Twilight Zone.
* She has an amazing voice and talent to offer. ..It made me feel incredibly warm and sensitive.
* Then it became polyphonic as the choir broke up into three parts and sang overlapping one another.
* Although the concert was long it didn't seem to be that long. I also liked the way the pieces were different. They were not all banging on the piano, or music that would put you to sleep, they were a good combination of the two.
* Right away I recognized Finlandia by Sibelius and thought it provided for a grand finnish.
* Overall, I really enjoyed this concert. Although this concert did not follow the regular concert pattern, I liked it very much. I felt that the conductor did a wonderful job keeping the audience interested and exploiting his peformers.
* The final piece [Gershwin's] Second Rhapsody was the only song that I had heard before the concert and I felt that it was entirely to repetitious. However, I did enjoy what she accomplished with the altercations of this piece.
* It was pretty amazing to see how low the bass soloist could actually get when he sung.
* One odd thing that struck me was that most of the orchestra was female... It did nothing to subtract from the quality of the concert, however.
* There were many works and each of them were their own length.
* The amount of lung power needed to play the flute is incredible but I think well worth it.
* One thing that I did find funny about the conductors [of the choirs] was that they acted like a host or hostist from The Price Is Right showing off a new car after each song was completed.
* ...and the Chamber Singers used several percussion instruments to add an African flare to one of the spirituals they performed.
* From the crowd of much older people, I had the impression that the concert was not for me. Once the concert began, I was more acceptable to the music than I thought I would be.
* The conductor stood front-center of the singers and alternated between a man and a woman.
* I enjoyed certain parts of this concert and had to bare the other parts.
* The crowd consisted mostly of faculty and older community citizens, but there was a decent amount of the student body represented.
* The trumpets were brilliant, deep, and warm. The trombones gave a nasal and raspy feeling to the listener.
* When I walked into the auditorium it was breath taking. I had a great sit too, row K sit 101...The room still had a new smell to it when I walked in, but that quickly changed after a couple of women sat down in front of me.
* The performance was much better than I expected and I'm actually glad that we are required to go to these performances because now I know what I am missing.
* The tone color varied with each solo. First a trumpet played with a muffler for a forced, heavy sound.
* The person next to me kept taping his foot to the beat of the music!
* I'm glad I chose to attend the viola concert of Wednesday night...I realize the more music I subject myself to, the more I may realize I like music.
* The audience was older and more appreciative of this style of music, giving standing ovations at times, which further enhanced the excitement in the air. Hence, my emotional drive fluctuated...
* A musician enters and transforms the stillness into something alive that has the ability to capture the imagination of every ear within hearing distance.
* Getting the concert off to a good start, the announcer said to be sure and enjoy some refreshments at halftime, of course he meant to say during the recession, this was too funny not to include.
* The first variation is virtuously the same except that the tempo picks up.
* As [the pianist] approached the climax of the piece, he became engrossed into the piano.
* As a student, it is easy to think of faculty members as nonhuman members of society.
* Once [the string quartet] started to play I was shocked at how much they moved around in the chairs. They were not just playing the music they were felling the music through their whole bodies.
* This was a lot harder for me than describing the music on the tests because I only heard things once. I was writing really fast in the dark so when I got home I couldn't read most of what I had written. Next time I'll take a flashlight.
* There was one particular incident that made the performance hard to concentrate on. The screaming child, whom I'm sure everyone was annoyed by, unfortunately happened to be sitting directly behind me. The child must have been bored and decided to explore. His head got caught underneath the seat next to me where my friend Christy was sitting. The little boy started screaming and that made everything worse. A man who apparently worked with the concert seemed to increase the noise. I'm sure he was trying to solve the situation but he really handled it all wrong. He dove on the floor in front of my seat, screamed at the scared boy, and literally dragged him out of the auditorium. All of this was going on in the middle of a performance, but the women on stage didn't seem to notice and went on with the piece as usual.

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