Without fail, something goes wrong during a live performance. Usually it’s something minor, like the musicians didn’t quite come in together, or a light is quietly buzzing that no one noticed at rehearsal. Other times, it’s quite urgent, as you’ll read below. I put out the call to my musician friends on Facebook. When I first read the responses, at one point I was laughing so hard, I was crying and blowing my nose, and I had to step out for a short walk to regain my composure. I had such an overwhelming response that I had to group them into categories. I’ll feature them every week or so. Thanks to everyone who participated!
I left out names (to protect the super guilty).
-A “tuba mute” is this big thing, shaped sort of like a wine carafe but with a rounded bottom that you stuff into the bell of the tuba to make it sound softer, if that’s even possible.
From a flautist:
Had the sheet music blow off my stand as the conductor indicated for the downbeat of the opening solo for Smetana’s Die Moldau. Once, during Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”, when the finale started, the bell player lost grip of one of his mallets. It flew over, nearly beamed the oboist in the head, and knocked over my stand.
From a mezzo soprano:
There’s an egg and spoon race at the end of Act 1 of the “Anne of Green Gables” musical. Everyone has prop eggs except the Moody Spurgeon character, who is supposed to drop it centre stage … except Moody trips, the real egg falls, doesn’t break, but in slow motion, rolls towards the pit. Everyone could see it except the unsuspecting orchestra that played on. Picture a collective gasp when it falls squarely on a lovely young violinist.
From an oboist:
I remember in a concert once, conductor Glenn Mossop’s glasses went flying off his face and he caught them in mid-air and put them back on without missing a beat. Shortly after, they flew off again. He didn’t catch them that time.
Former violinist/violist/French hornist:
In my performing days, I had a muscle spasm in my right arm, and launched my bow from about fourth desk all the way up to the conductor. It was stellar.
(*Editor’s note: Obviously, this wasn’t when she played French horn. Do you think it was when she played violin or viola? You decide.)
Beware of flying liquids!
From a former radio producer:
So from my broadcast days… a celebrated Canadian tenor had a story about real horses onstage during Aida. His face had been painted to look Moorish and the horse relieved itself on him, causing major streaking and strong “eau de pee.”
From a tuba player/composer:
National Youth Orchestra of Canada on our cross-Canada tour. I am playing tuba in Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” which requires a tuba mute. Big unwieldy things and there’s a pretty quick change early in the piece, only a few seconds, requiring me to swivel my tuba onto my lap, reach for the mute, and jam it in. This means I have to construct a little platform before every show – usually I would find a stool backstage.
At this venue I hadn’t found a really good option and had a kind of unsteady box, and I was trying to re-position the mute right before the piece started, when it started to FALL. The entire setup was teetering. I could barely hold on to the mute with my left hand because I still had to hold on to my tuba in my lap. I could feel the hot eyes of the conductor staring at me as he waited to give the opening downbeat – the entire orchestra and audience in complete silence. My wrist bent at an unnatural angle trying to right the mute so it didn’t fall to the ground with a horrifying crash. It was about eight full seconds of eternity that it took me to get it under control, until I could give the conductor a nod to start the piece. Don’t know if anybody even noticed but I sure felt like they did. (Update: The conductor chimed in on Facebook to confirm that he didn’t notice.)
I was playing first desk cello in a youth symphony when our conductor got overly active during a Beethoven symphony and the contents of his suit jacket pocket (keys, coins, pill bottle etc.) came flying out with much fanfare and went spilling out around me. I had to do some fancy moving to avoid them hitting my cello and making even more of a racket.
Beware of flying humans!
From a trombonist rocking out:
Broke tons of cartilage in my knee from jumpin’ off a stack off amps in 4-inch platforms .
Next week: ‘When Our Bodies Betray Us” (I edited out graphic details.)
Are you a musician that endured a crazy onstage mishap? Audience member who witnessed one? Write me at [email protected]