Bill Crow’s Band Room

Volume CVII, No. 7/8July, 2007

Bill Crow

This column originated in the February 1983 issue of Allegro and has been going strong ever since, thanks to the contributions of so many musicians who have passed along their stories for everyone’s enjoyment.

There have been some requests for reprints of favorite columns, so I will do that from time to time. Here’s one from March 1987. These are remarks made by Eugene Ormandy, while he was the maestro of the Philadelphia Orchestra. His musicians enjoyed his use of the English language so much that they began writing down his comments. I selected the ones I liked best, and arranged them as follows:

“Congratulations to each and every one of you for the concert last night in New York, and vice versa.”

“Who is sitting in that empty chair?”

“I’m conducting slowly because I don’t know the tempo.”

“I conduct faster so you can see my beat.”

“I cannot give it to you, so watch me.”

“I was trying to help you, so I was beating wrong.”

“I can conduct better than I count.”

“I guess you thought I was conducting, but I wasn’t.”

“I purposely didn’t do anything, and you were all behind.”

“Why do you always insist on playing while I’m trying to conduct?”

“Even when you are not playing, you are holding me back.”

“Don’t ever follow me, because I am difficult.”

“It is not as difficult as I thought it was, but it is harder than it is.”

“The notes are right, but if I listened, they would be wrong. ”

“I wrote it the right way, so it was copied the wrong way right. I mean the right way wrong.”

“At every concert I’ve sensed a certain insecurity about the tempo. It’s clearly marked 80… uh, 69.”

“It is not together, but the ensemble is perfect.”

“Watch me closely. Only one can spoil it.”

“Somebody came too sooner.”

“Start beforty-two.”

“Start three bars before something.”

“Start at B. No. Yes. No. Yes. No.”

“Did you play? It sounded very good.”

“Intonation is important, especially when it is cold.”

“Beauty is less important than quality.”

“If you don’t have it in your part, leave it out, because there is enough missing already.”

“Percussion a little louder.” (“We don’t have anything.”) “That’s right, play it louder.”

“More basses, because you are so far away.”

“I need one more bass less.”

“There are no woodwinds at number six.” (The woodwinds say they are at number 15.) “I know. That is why.”

(To the tubist) “Long note? Yes. Make it seem short.”

“Brass, stay down all summer.”

“Don’t play louder, just give more.”

“Accelerando means in tempo. Don’t rush.”

“I don’t want to repeat this a hundred times. When you see crescendo, it means p.”

“The tempo remains pp.”

“It’s difficult to remember when you haven’t played it before.”

“We can’t hear the balance yet, because the soloist is still on the airplane.”

“Please follow me, because I have to follow him, and he isn’t here.”

“Without him here, it is impossible to know how fast he will play it, approximately.”

“With us tonight is William Warfield, who is with us tonight.” “He is a wonderful man, and so is his wife.”

“Bizet was a very young man when he composed this symphony, so play it soft.”

“Mahler wrote it as the third movement of his Fourth Symphony. I mean the fourth movement of his First Symphony. We play it third. The trumpet solo will be played by our solo trumpet player. It’s named ‘Blumine,’ which has something to do with flowers.”

“That’s the way Stravinsky was—-bup, bup, bup. The poor guy’s dead now. Play it legato.”

“Serkin was so sick he almost died for three days.”

(On David Oistrach’s death): “I told him he’d have a heart attack a year ago, but unfortunately he lived a year longer.”

(On Willy Knappel’s death): “Death is a terrible thing. I don’t believe in it, myself.”

“This is a very democratic organization, so let’s take a vote. All those who disagree with me raise their hands.”

“It’s all very well to have principles, but when it comes to money, you have to be flexible.”

“Thank you for your cooperation, and vice versa.”

“I mean what I meant.”

“I never say what I mean, but I always manage to say something similar.”

“Let me explain what I do here. I don’t want to confuse you any more than absolutely necessary.”

“I don’t mean to make you nervous, but unfortunately I have to.”

“Relax. Don’t be nervous. My God, it’s the Philadelphia Orchestra!”