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. This is the last for the time being, but if you want to read the previous posts, please click the links at the bottom of this post. Thanks to everyone who participated!
I left out names (to protect the super guilty).
-The “Reposado” is a tequila bar in the Toronto hipster area of Ossington, south of Dundas.
-Jim (James) Fankhauser is a legendary now-retired choral conductor residing in BC. He pursued excellence to no end, had occasional temper outbursts if the choir didn’t sing to its potential, and wanted UBC’s choral department to get some of the attention the opera department kept hogging – I mean – getting. A hilarious and inspiring guy.
From a French hornist:
A friend of mine got a jellybean stuck in his nose in between acts of a famous musical. He was frantic and couldn’t play. Eventually he blew his nose vigorously enough to dislodge it. No, it wasn’t me.
(*I asked for clarification, asking what jellybeans were doing on stage, and why snort them? Apparently, someone left jellybeans on everyone’s stand as an Easter treat. He was goofing around and then came the tuning note . This was the comment that set off my laughing fit.)
Another nasal incident from the same French hornist:
I was the one whose nose started bleeding profusely right before the downbeat of a different show. The conductor was horrified — it looked much worse than it felt. He thought I’d busted my embouchure. All that had happened as I’d just landed in the dry altitude of Calgary.
From a pianist renowned for her sense of humour and giggle fits:
Ok. Some of you from the University of British Columbia will remember this. Choral Union with Jim Fankhauser. The risers are set up on stage and row by row, enters the choir. As I am about to step on riser I slip and fall downstairs off the stage. Silence … audience gasps. I get up as gracefully as is possible under the circumstances … and as soon as everyone realizes I am OK. Giggles from choir and audience members.
From a mezzo soprano:
Half-slapstick, half-cautionary tale. I was singing for a service at a church, woke up with a scratchy throat, but felt well enough to sing. Through the readings before my solo, I had been sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend lozenge to keep my voice and sinuses clear. I got up to sing, but hadn’t gotten rid of it in time. So, I slid it into my cheek and hoped for the best. The pianist played the intro. As I took in a nice, deep breath to start my first phrase, the lozenge was suddenly dislodged and sucked down my wind pipe and I violently choked instead! As I barked and coughed, it FLEW out of my mouth and into the first row (fortunately empty). The very sweet congregation had such looks of earnest concern and horror on their faces, that I started cracking up. I straightened myself out and asked the pianist to begin again. At the end of the service, I had to go find the rogue lozenge and fess up to my stupidity. Never sing with anything in your mouth.
From another French hornist:
I stupidly put my horn on the floor in dress rehearsal in order to use two hands to adjust my music stand. Stood to complete the job, the riser wobbled, I stepped on the edge of my bell…and the whole bell collapsed into itself. I almost vomited.
From a harpist:
A few years ago, just before a Vancouver Symphony concert, I decided to go backstage for a sip of water. As I stepped off my harp platform, I managed to get my heel caught in the hem of my pant leg, and began flailing towards the audience, arms flapping hysterically as I tried to keep my balance. I nearly hopped right into the front row. Somehow, I was able to throw myself against a pillar on the side of the stage, and stop the otherwise inevitable trajectory. The look on the audience members’ faces was unforgettable.
From a violist:
Ate at Magic Noodle before playing Tafelmusik Concert a few weeks ago. You know the rest (wink emoji).
(Liz says she doesn’t know the rest.)
Oh, you don’t know? I had a beef fried noodle at Magic Noodle (“Beef Friar” is what they call it). Ended up running off the stage mid-concert at Koerner Hall. You can figure out the rest.
From a saxophonist:
Just the other night at Reposado, suffering from food poisoning, I had to run off stage during a song and managed to hurl on my suit lapel, in the hallway and thankfully, mostly in the toilet (can’t imagine if someone had been in there).
From a mezzo soprano and her fellow singer friend:
Carmen. COC. Richard Bradshaw conducting. Paired with my chorus mate, John. Cigarette scene. Chorus women were heavily made up with oil and dirt to resemble sweaty factory girls. Our costumes were extremely snug through the bust and very low cut. A few downstage couples, including John and me were asked to be very physical with each other. Lots of pawing, groping, sexual innuendo, etc. John and I agreed as to what was “permissible” and I told him to just go for it. Staging rehearsals? Fine. Tech and dress rehearsals? Fine. Opening night? At one crucial moment I take a huge breath to sing a rather long phrase at the same moment as John reaches into my cleavage. His hand is trapped there until I finish the phrase, pinned by my bustier, but he delicately keeps trying to unwedge it. Richard looks up, somewhat mesmerized by what is transpiring. I finally exhale and with all the applied oil as lubrication, John’s hand comes flying out in a huge, somewhat unseemly, manner. Richard is smiling widely in the pit, and John and I try to regain control. The inside of my mouth was bitten raw in order not to collapse in laughter.
Are you a musician that endured a crazy onstage mishap? Audience member who witnessed one? Write me at [email protected] This is the last installment of the series, but I’m likely to do it again!