Many years ago, before air conditioning, the Seattle Symphony was doing Beethoven’s Ninth under the baton of Milton Katims.
At this point, you must understand two things:
- There’s a long segment in this symphony where the bass violins don’t have a thing to do. Not a single note for page after page.
- There used to be a tavern called Dez’s 400, right across the street from the Seattle Civic Auditorium, rather favored by local musicians.
It was the first performance of the season, and Seattle had one of its rare heat waves. The final rehearsal had been grueling, especially for the basses that were positioned on ledgers near the ceiling to make room for the choir. If it was this bad during the morning rehearsal, how bad would it be during the performance? So the basses decided that during the performance, after playing their parts in the opening of the Ninth, they were to quietly lay down their instruments and leave the stage rather than sit on their stools looking dumb and feeling uncomfortable for twenty minutes.
At the performance it was hot indeed, so the stage crew had brought in giant fans to blow the air around. The musicians scurried around for paper clips to tie down their music scores, and after a while the music could finally start.
At the appropriate time the basses listed backstage and quickly trot across the street to quaff a few brews. After they had downed the first couple rounds, one said, “Shouldn’t we be getting back? It’d be awfully embarrassing if we were late.”
Another, presumably the one who suggested this excursion in the first place, replied, “Oh, I anticipated we could use a little more time, so I tied a lot of paper clips around the last third of the conductor’s 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 untying page after page with the other.
So they had another round and finally returned to the Opera House, a little tipsy by now. However, as they came back on stage, one look at their conductor’s face told them they were in serious trouble. Katims was furious! And why not? After all…
It was the bottom of the Ninth, the basses were loaded, the fans were going wild, and the score was tied!