excerpt from 'A voice from the Pit: Reminiscences of an Orchestral Musician' pp. 30-32 (657 words)

excerpt from 'A voice from the Pit: Reminiscences of an Orchestral Musician' pp. 30-32 (657 words)

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A voice from the Pit: Reminiscences of an Orchestral Musician

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We opened the season with "Lohengrin" which was very eventful. We spent the early rehearsals littering the pit with paper as we tore out all the cuts, Beecham having decided to do the massive work complete. As the rehearsals progressed it became obvious that the principals Lotte Lehmann and Lauritz Melchoir, had never learned the cut sections and did not intend to do so now. On the opening night there were some noticeable silences from the stage and when we arrived back after the second interval we knew that Sir Thomas had admitted defeat - the parts had all been removed for the cuts to be restored. The trouble was that when he came briskly into the pit and gave the signal to start the Prelude to Act III we still had no music. We did our best until the middle section where the harmonies start to get more complicated and there were one or two curious approximations. I am glad to say that during the remainder of the Prelude the parts began to reappear and to be handed round - and everyone was relieved to find that the traditional large cut in Act III was back again. Sir Thomas's grand seigneurial habit of expecting his wishes to be complied with instantly, without the time necessary to effect this, gave rise to many a comic situation. During the rehearsals of this same production there was another unforgettable moment. Elsa and Lohengrin were entering the cathedral for their wedding at the end of Act II - and the organ failed to come in. The instrument, I must explain, was situated high up at the side of the stage and reached by a perilous ladder. "Who is playing the organ?" "Felix White, Sir Thomas." "Send him to me." A gentle little man finally appeared. "What seems to be the trouble, Mr. White?" "Well, it's rather a long way up he ladder, Sir Thomas, and I'm afraid I didn't allow myself enough time." "I see. Very well, we'll start again." But of course, Beecham didn't allow enough time either and once again the organ missed the entry. "What has happened this time?" "I'm afraid he's fallen off the ladder, Sir Thomas." And indeed the poor man had, it was a very hazardous climb and he had by now quite lost his nerve. "Oh dear - well" Beecham looked hopefully at us, "can anyone here play the organ?" The third trombone, Bill Coleman, rashly raised his hand. "All right, Mr. Coleman, off you go." Bill Coleman was considerable more agile a climber than Felix White and this time the organ came in, but Sir Thomas still looked bewildered and tapped his desk, so we ground to a halt once more. "Where on earth," he enquired plaintively," is the third trombone?" and was greeted with shouts of delighted laughter in which, after a moment's astonishment, he joined us. As a very new boy, "Lohengrin" was causing personal problems for me, as well; the second act I had to play a passage in octaves with the first oboe Leon Goossens, and found myself unable to get in tune - I was always flat. I confided my troubles to the second oboe, Horace Halstead, to whom I am eternally indebted. "It's like this, Dick," he said, wheezing and puffing his pipe, "When Lee gets a solo he pushes the reed well in to make himself sharp so he'll be sure to stick out from the rest." So off I went to see Mr. Quilter at Boosey and Hawkes and have a bit cut off the crook of the bass clarinet so I could play sharper too. "All those years playing second oboe has taught me a thing or two," said Horace with a chuckle. " Composers should never write for two oboes playing in octaves; it makes it almost impossible for the second to stay in tune with one of these prima donna first oboes."

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excerpt from 'A voice from the Pit: Reminiscences of an Orchestral Musician' pp. 30-32 (657 words)


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