Jack Bell’s Years with the Atlanta Symphony

Edited by Nate Lee

“I wish to thank Nick Jones from the Atlanta Symphony at the time for recording the interview and sending me the first transcription. I especially wish to thank Dr. Nate Lee for all of the meticulous hours of editing of this document.” –Jack Bell

On coming to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra:

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At the time of my appointment, I was finishing my fifth year at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, which was a master’s degree year. I could have stayed and finished the degree, but I got the offer from the Symphony. I also had an offer to go to Indiana University to study with George Gaber, and I was in the second round of auditions for the position of marimba soloist with the Marine Band in Washington.

I had sent all of my tapes and my audition materials through Cloyd Duff to Atlanta’s new principal conductor Robert Shaw, which included my entire senior recital, the recording of “Perpetual Motion,” and recommendation letters from Duff and many other people. That’s the way decisions were made at the time. We didn’t always have to go through the formal, behind-the-screen audition in 1967. That process evolved pretty soon after.

My audition for the ASO was playing timpani for a big choral program that Shaw was conducting at Oberlin. I met him in the basement of Finney Chapel, a great big circular room with concrete floor and a line of benches all the way around it. Shaw called out to his secretary, Eddie Burress: “Eddie, send Mr. Bell in.”  As I opened the door, I saw Shaw absolutely butt-naked—not a single piece of clothing on his entire body—and he was facing me, standing far on the other side of the building.  As soon as he saw me, he turned around and faced backward, so all I could focus on was his rear end. Standing there, he shouted out, “Duff says you’re a better Duff.  Is that true?”  As he pulled on a jockey strap, I said, “Yeah, I play pretty well,” as I ambled my way toward him. I can’t remember much else being said. We went upstairs, I did the very best job that I could possibly do for the audition, and ended up getting the job.

The First Concert

I came to Atlanta with Alan Balter, who had just been appointed Principal Clarinetist. We landed at the airport. Shaw saw us coming out of the hotel. He grabbed us both by the arm and started running across Peachtree Street. I didn’t even recognize him, but Alan did right away. He looked at his watch and said, “We still have 30 seconds to cross the street and be on time.”  We were being dragged across Peachtree Street at a full run.

The first piece we played during that first concert was Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. I just had the simple triangle part, but I got lost! You should have seen the look on his face when he knew his new principal percussionist was lost. I was so embarrassed, but I pulled myself back together and as the year went on, did some really good stuff. It was a whole new life compared to what I’d experienced at college.

The Orchestra’s Reaction to Robert Shaw

There were two different reactions from the orchestra to Shaw. Onstage, the musicians respected him for getting the job done, but backstage some people questioned his abilities and where we were going as an orchestra. The instrumental concerts were good, but those growing years for him were difficult. He would make a lot of mistakes, and the orchestra didn’t tolerate mistakes even at that time. He was very apologetic, very human.

The choral concerts were phenomenal, and that’s where it began to turn both for him and the orchestra. When he focused on his innate, polished, phenomenal ability as a choral director with orchestral accompaniment, the orchestra zoomed to the upper echelons of musical expression. When he deemphasized his identity as the orchestral conductor, the orchestra began to accept him. His weaknesses were balanced by his phenomenal choral conducting abilities. We put on some great choral concerts: the Christmas series, the Berlin Wall concert in East Berlin in June 1988, and our many Carnegie Hall performances. We were well-accepted chorally.

Still, there were some who complained. I would hear people saying, “He’s conducting the orchestra like he’s conducting a choir. We can’t respond to the cues that you can give choir.” People seemed to want more definite, exact gestures and cues. His stick technique wasn’t an issue for me. I was well aware of his elbows and other things that would be a little distracting, but it was still clear. He was good to follow, his interpretations were good, and certainly the recordings attest to that. A lot of us were in there for the first time; we were just excited to have jobs and trying to make it.

Touring

The hardest transition for everybody was establishing the orchestra’s reputation by going on the road. We were a really low-level, touring orchestra. We would tour from a month to six weeks. We were on the bus—not the plane—and we were staying in low-level motel rooms doing a concert a night for 30 nights in a row. Over the years, the union started to introduce restrictions, because it was killing people to try and do it, especially the older musicians. I guess that’s where the orchestra started separating. Older musicians started moving on and younger musicians starting coming in who could handle the touring.

Over a period of years the touring was reduced. From a budget standpoint, the orchestra was only breaking even on tour, losing money in the hall, and making money from pops concerts. We couldn’t keep forcing the orchestra out on the road, so I think we began concentrating on new programming ideas that could be local, featuring Louis Lane and other assistant conductors. I didn’t care who was on the podium. If I saw Shaw I was kind of relaxed, and if it was someone else I was also relaxed because I knew they probably wouldn’t be there again.

At the MARTA station:  A little fun with the Beatles’ Abbey Road theme…

Memories of Robert Shaw

On the first tours, he was very authoritative. I remember he had a makeshift room that he had to dress in, just a curtained room, and he called me in, and he said, “I see you missed that entrance on the second movement of the piece we were playing.”  I started to explain, but before I could, he said, “Don’t ever let it happen again.”  I said, “Yes sir,” and went out.  I was really scared.

They always used to kid me about my ‘office’ being at the head of the stairs, because I was always working on something when Shaw came up to the stage.  One day, Shaw came up and saw me working there as I often did. Instead of greeting me as he usually did, this time he pointed his long index finger as he was coming past me, and he said, [with mock seriousness] “Use your time wisely.”  I looked up at him and I nodded.  Then he walked up just a little bit further, then he looked back over his shoulder and said, “Use every minute of every hour.”  (OK.)  Then he went around the corner and he came back again, and he pointed his long finger and said, “Use every second of every minute of every hour wisely.”  He noticed I was smiling then, but he didn’t change expression as he went around the corner.  A couple more seconds pas, so I thought that was it, but then he came back around and said, “And if you do, your life will seem twice as long.”  I’ve used that quote forever.  It was great. It was some of the great  moments in my life.

Once we were rehearsing the slow movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. The orchestra was really loud at that moment. I was turning around trying to say something to one of the other section members, but it was in the middle of the xylophone solo. I heard above the sound of the entire orchestra, “Ja-a-ack!  Ja-ack!  Play!”  His voice was just booming out over the entire orchestra.  So I turned around and played. I could feel my face turn red.

The most touching moment happened when Shaw and I had worked together for maybe 10 years. We were sitting on a couch in his office. We were pretty relaxed, and I asked him a couple of things. After we settled them I said, “Mr. Shaw, I just want to let you know that these last few years have really, really been an honor to work under you.  I hardly ever get to see you, and so I just wanted to tell you that in person.”  I had sort of separated from him and everybody else in my last years, even after he came back after the death of his wife.  But at that moment, he looked over at me immediately and tears were running down his face.  He reached out and I reached over, and he said, “Come here.”  He took hold of me and gave me a big hug. We were sitting on the couch, holding each other, and he said, “Oh Jack, you just don’t know how much that means to me right now, to hear you say that.” That moment did something to me and solidified my relationship with him forever.

Another time, we were doing Don Juan.  There’s that famous orchestra bell solo, and I just missed it.  I was trying, but I just happened to miss it.  Shaw was conducting and when I didn’t play, he just stopped the whole orchestra—just stopped. Then he said, “Ack! I’m so used to you never making a mistake that I just couldn’t keep conducting.” That was a really nice compliment.  It got me in all kinds of trouble with the orchestra members, of course. They didn’t like that, because he and I had a special relationship. Mark Yancich used to tell me, “Listen, you’ve been Shaw’s chosen one ever since he came in.”  He said, “Things are going to change, really big time, when Levi comes in.  It’s over.  It’s over with this fairyland you’ve been living in.  It’s going to be gone from here on.  This is going to be a real orchestral experience for the first time in your life now.” I heard him.  It was.  It was gone.

The Early Years of the ASO Percussion Section

When I first came into the orchestra, the rest of the percussion section consisted of Russell and Dick. Dick mostly played cymbals, and Russell played nominal to pretty good percussion. He was a school teacher who played drum-set in the clubs at night. Gene Rehm was Principal Timpanist when Shaw came in. When he hired me to be Principal Percussionist/Assistant Timpanist, Shaw purchased new Dresden-style timpani from Walter Light. He had them secretly bored out underneath so they could have the pedals turned around German-style (big drum on the right) rather than the American-style that Gene played. He anticipated I would be taking over as the timpanist.

I knew from the time I started with Duff that I did not have the ear of a fine violinist. I had all the technique in the world. I could play the repertoire as well as anybody, but I just couldn’t hear the subtle differences in pitch as well as a fine violinist. Playing timpani requires perfect intonation on an instrument of sliding pitch—being able to tune against harmonies and rhythms that happen in the orchestra.

So when there was an agreement for Gene to step down, I wasn’t going to take the timpani position. I was too embarrassed to tell Shaw that it was because of my ear, so I said, “I can’t possibly handle the growing load of duties as Principal Percussionist and always be prepared to go over and play a major timpani work at the same time. I can’t be the Principal Percussionist and the Assistant Timpanist.”

Bill Wilder was very aggressively vying for that spot. He was even Principal Timpanist for a year, but it didn’t work out. So the orchestra hired Paul Yancich to be the timpanist and Bill became the assistant. Stylistically, Paul and Bill were not complementary, but still it worked. Gene moved over to the percussion section, because they had to do something with him.

Bill had joined the orchestra after Dick and Russell left. Shaw sent me around to Athens, Philadelphia, and Oberlin to listen to three applicants for the second percussion job. Bill was graduating from the University of Georgia as the featured drum-set player in the marching band. He was studying with Ken Krause, who was primarily a drum-set teacher. Bill played all the other percussion instruments, but he didn’t have a complete background in those instruments. Bill was my second pick, and he got the job after the first person turned it down. His strong points were his willingness to practice, his intellectual abilities, and his analytical abilities. He never ever stopped growing in those areas. It took me many years to appreciate that, but once I finally did, we became a good working section after approximately two decades. It took that long! My appreciation for Bill and his appreciation for me finally became very, very high.

The ASO Percussion Section

Like many percussionists, I spent a lot of my time sitting backstage with Gene Rehm and Bill Wilder. It took us about 20 years to resolve things among ourselves. The orchestra would be onstage playing, and Bill, Gene, and I would be offstage working on who was going to play what part—just short of fighting! Gene’s abilities were such that he could only really play cymbals and some accessory instruments. He played snare drum, mallets, and many other instruments; he just couldn’t do it at a symphonic level. He tried a couple times, but it was very embarrassing.

Bill and Gene struggled to maintain any friendship within the section. It got very difficult, because I was always the one person between the three of us that mediated; everything went through me. Sometimes they never said a word to each other, or if they did it would be neutral and bland. Over time, they didn’t really even come to me to complain anymore unless I brought up a statement. Then Gene would give me thirty sentences of gutter talk about Bill. Bill hardly ever said anything particularly bad about Gene; he just didn’t talk about it.

If I was not playing, I was probably sitting backstage marking music. I had to mark every entrance of every part of music that we played six to eight weeks ahead. So if you go back, you can look at any piece of music in the library over a thirty-two year period, and you’ll see the BW/GR/JB initials circled beside every old piece of music that we kept. I had to identity if it was a hard snare drum part or hard mallet part and take them, because it wasn’t Bill or Gene’s forte. Billy is one of the best big-band drum-set players in the country but he was not as controlled on concert snare drum, and he didn’t want to play xylophone as a 1st choice. So that was part of our dilemma.  Gene couldn’t play either mallets or snare drum at a professional level.  I didn’t want to necessarily always have to play mallets or snare drum, because I got tired of having that extra burden on me of always playing the hardest part. Other orchestras would often have one person on snare as a primary instrument.

Now, I was, without any ego statement, one of the strongest snare drummers in the country and I still am. It was my thing and still is. Even so, there were only a few times, maybe 3 or 4, that I was playing snare drum, and I when finished a performance said, “I know that’s what it’s supposed to feel like—that feeling that you have inside when you’re completely in control of your instrument, when you can’t make a mistake, and when you’re actually thinking during the performance. You’re actually thinking what you’re going to do.”

I could name a thousand performances [we’ve catalogued 7,000+] that I would sit behind the xylophone when an entrance was coming up, and I would sit there silently and play entrance over and over and over again. It didn’t matter what the orchestra was doing; I couldn’t even hear them—Porgy and Bess, American in Paris, Polka, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, etc. I was continually in motion, and I would stand up and play it like a little robot. I wasn’t in control of it…I wasn’t thinking. I was just holding my breath that I wouldn’t make a mistake. An absolute majority of the time I would make it, and I would sit back down again and kind of review what I did, if I’d missed a note, or what went wrong. If it was a bad moment, I’d feel horrible.

During those first couple of years, sometimes I’d get under the sheets at home and cry. I’d be crying under the sheets at night if I’d really messed up. Later years, I finally got to the point that I’d be really depressed if I had made a mistake, so I would pound the excerpt out on the steering wheel while driving back home. I’d be playing the thing over and over and over again, and I’d be playing it all week long mentally when I wasn’t teaching.

Some of those nights, Bill and Gene would talk to me when I was coming in, but I wouldn’t say hello to them. I wouldn’t talk to them or look at them, and they knew. We got to a point that we had that kind of understanding. If Gene was upset and didn’t say anything when he came in, then nobody talked to him. We came to a level of agreement that we could read each other totally.

Bill and I came to a level of agreement because of his extremely high intellectual ability, great musicianship, infallible rhythm, and his enormous ability to analyze. I came to depend on him for many pieces of advice and interpretation. But Bill and I started out by keeping track of each other’s mistakes. There was a time on a tour that I got so mad at him that I punched him in the arm. He turned around and punched me in the arm and almost knocked me off balance! I think my arm was sore for a week, and something inside said, “I’d better not get into a fight with Bill, because he will really maul me.” Bill and I finally reached the point that we really couldn’t be sit-down dinner partners. I was just too much of a loner, and he was just a different kind of personality.

Gene and I could go out and have relaxed meals, and we did that many times. I would often listen to Gene lay on the bench downstairs in the locker room and orate for an hour or so. When I was going through a terrible divorce, I had a moment where I became so emotionally distraught that I couldn’t drive home. I got hold of Gene from a phone booth by the International House of Pancakes on North Avenue. He got me going again, got me home, and got me thinking again. So he was at his best when people were at their worst. That was one of the capacities of Gene that few people knew about. He had that level of compassion somewhere deep down inside.

There many other examples of his being at his worst—when he would explode for no particular reason and frighten people to death. I was so used to that that I could be around him and see it happen. Then we’d just look at each other and he’d just laugh and I’d laugh, because he enjoyed it and we understood.

Gene was one of the most intellectual people that I ever knew in my life, as far as conversing verbally, helping me conceptualize my life, and understand how things worked. He may not have been able to live exactly what he could teach, but he could certainly give me insights as to how to understand people, concepts, and what you couldn’t see in yourself. I was enamored with Gene. He was my philosophical teacher for many years. We split off during the last five years, but over the first twenty, he had more influence on me than probably any other person I ever met. My ability to analyze and verbalize is part of Gene coming out. I took on a lot of his sarcasm, characteristics, and his ability to stand up to rough people who were crass, ‘cut-down’ musicians.

The Levi Years (1988-2000)

When Yoel Levi came in, there were many people excited about a change taking place. There was also a general acknowledgement on the part of the orchestra that we were really going to be suffering. We received a letter signed by the Cleveland Orchestra musicians saying, “We feel so sorry for you about what you’re about to inherit and what you’re about to go through.” He had been the assistant conductor there for six years under Lorin Maazel.

There were a few orchestra members that Levi really seemed to interact with, including Danny Laufer and concertmaster Cecylia Arzewski. Those of us who were Shaw admirers were treated as second-rate players, because we weren’t the ones he chose. We were the ones he inherited and the ones he was going to get rid of as soon as he could. Levi never seemed to be satisfied. Bill would say, “He has never complimented us as an orchestra. We played our hearts out last night, and we’ve never received a compliment for it.” On tour, there was a story that Levi had his hotel room changed in the middle of the night, because it wasn’t satisfactory.

His saving grace was his natural (or self-taught, he claimed) photographic memory and his ability to conduct a Mahler symphony without a score. He had meticulous stick technique and picked up every cue. You can’t help but to have a combined sense of inferiority and pride under that kind of dictatorship. His level of awareness and ability were so high that you couldn’t seem to produce anything that would be good enough to meet that level of expectation. His stylistic strengths were the really heavy-duty Shostakovich, Mahler, Prokofiev—anything that was post-romantic, intellectual, or challenging for the mind and ears. In Beethoven or Mozart, the music would somewhat take care of itself, but he wanted something where he would be mentally and technically challenged.

That’s where he did the best. Basically from day one, he expected it to be just the way he heard it, the way he wanted it, and he knew what he wanted. I don’t think he analyzed the scores to any degree like Shaw did. Shaw went through and meticulously analyzed every chord structure.  It was amazing.  He knew so much theoretically about the music that it was almost as though he should have stood half of that time in front of a mirror, just practicing the techniques of conducting it, not to know analytically what was going on in it, but just to see how he was looking and communicating when he was producing it.  Levi was the mirror image, opposite perfectly depicting the music. He may not have been able to identify every chord that was there, but he seemed to be able to hear almost any note that was missed.

Under Levi, I had to have more answers than even most principals did.  I had to have logistical answers, equipment answers, extra-player answers, and set-up answers. All of which were the kinds of things that would also wear me down and which directly contributed to my finally leaving the orchestra. Also, it was the negativity I received from Mr. Levi trying to accomplish the tasks that I had been doing with success for Mr. Shaw for so many years.  Examples that come to mind would be a particular Carnegie Hall performance. Shaw would always be at a Carnegie Hall performance really early to help with the stage set-up and let us know what to do.  Mr. Levi showed up 15 or 20 minutes before the start of the concert, and he said, “Everything on this side of the stage for the percussion has to go to that side of the stage,” and it was just impossible; we had to do the impossible!  The audience was coming in. I was shaking tired when the concert began.

There were also his endless statements such as: “I don’t know.  I’ll get back to you later on that.” But I had to have the answers then, because of the time schedule, getting the players, getting the equipment, etc.  So anyway, it was that whole series of things.  There was one time during a rehearsal that I didn’t run off the stage to get a slapstick, and he mimicked me like being an old man, on the podium, walking slowly. That was almost an anger-breaking point for me, and I almost said something. But what happened in my mind was to only say, “Job? or let it go?”

Then there was the pressure of the little written notes coming to me all the time, little notes coming from whoever he would send – it was mostly Russell Williamson, Orchestra Personnel Manager at that time – little vague notes about either something he wanted me to do or something he wanted somebody in my section to do.  It wasn’t face-to-face conversation like it was with Mr. Shaw, where we could talk over something and get it settled.  So I felt this level of uncertainty all the time.

Duties as Principal Percussionist

I had to make sure the ASO librarians, Bob O’Brien and Steve Sherrill, had the music that Shaw and Levi wanted to be marked six to eight weeks in advance. They generally couldn’t get music from rental sources so quickly, so they made a special shelf of music for me to keep me from bugging them about when the music had arrived. I’d just watch for the shelf to be filled and try not to talk to them. I’d mark the music as far in advance as I could, because ASO Stage Manager Robert Russell had to know when we needed to borrow chimes or big bells from another symphony. Otherwise, we would have to rent the equipment from Frank’s Drum Shop or Carroll Sound in New York. The conductors and personnel managers wanted to know how many extra players they would need weeks in advance. So all I did for those 32+ years was perform, sit and mark music, go get lunch, and then sit there and mark music until the evening concert. The library would help me by making photocopies of big pieces so that my markings were on all our copies of music. Finally, pieces began to repeat and I would be able to say, “Play all the parts that are marked JL,” for John Lawless if John wasn’t going to be there. I didn’t have to do it all again.

Interactions with the Rest of the Orchestra

When I first came to the orchestra, I was totally inhibited, very lonely, very shy, and introverted. There were a couple of wind players that really did me in. When I would come up the stairs to do a concert, the lead antagonist would be behind me with his nose near my rear end, sniffing. He’d do those kinds of things to annoy many people, but I didn’t know how to handle it. So I’d just try to get away from him, which delighted him all the more. The two of them would come back to me in my bus seat during those early years. They’d hover over me and say, “So, Jack, what’s going?” They’d come at me with more things than I could possibly handle at that time in my life. Of course they knew it, so they just laid it on until they were satisfied that they had totally melted me, and then they’d leave laughing. Over a 15- or 20-year period, I became educated, tough, self-contained—a profound individualist, and I was able to come back at them with both barrels.

As far as the symphony, I was basically a loner. Our percussion section didn’t hang out like the string players or the brass section. So basically, it might have been trombonist, Don Wells and cellist, Jere Flint that I would do some things with. Otherwise, I was alone. Going on tour was my greatest escape and relief from my lifestyle, so I would completely isolate. There was a time when we were coming back from a European trip, and I was a little later—behind Mark. April was waiting for me, and Mark said, “Oh, he’ll be along. He’s a loner.” It just hit me so dramatically—summarized me so perfectly. I was alone, and I was a loner, and I’d be along later.

Humorous Moments in the Orchestra

Once, we started playing a piece, and Gene’s timpani were tuned to C and F. Arthur Fiedler cut the orchestra off and told Gene his high drum was out of tune. After Gene retuned, Fiedler started back up again and then cut off again. “Now your other drum is out of tune,” he said. So Gene reached down and fixed it while Fiedler’s face began to turn red. After another few measures, he stopped again and said, “Now your drums are not inherently in tune with each other,” meaning they were not in tune around the heads. Gene knew he couldn’t really do anything about it, so he took his sticks and laid them up on the music stand. The whole orchestra was ready to burst, and Gene folded his arms. Fiedler was standing there bright red and tapping his baton on his arm and said, “Now what are you doing?” Gene answered, “I am just studying my navel, sir.” At that point the entire orchestra broke into laughter, Fiedler grabbed the baton and started conducting madly, and that was the end of it. Gene won that one.

The next story happened when Leopold Stokowski was conducting and he asked Bill Wilder a question. Bill was bending down tying his tennis shoe behind the xylophone, and it kind of embarrassed him. So he just raised his head up from his knees behind the xylophone and said, “Okey-dokey.” It caught Stokowski off guard, and trumpeter John Head turned around and said, “Okey-dokey?!” Everybody laughed about it, and “Okey-dokey, Stokie” was the phrase for a week.

Another time, Henry Mancini was conducting at the Chastain Amphitheater. I had a solo on chimes, but I just got lost. The chimes had a mic on them and I had the melody, but I got lost in the middle of the solo and just had to sit back down. Of course my face was burning red and I felt horrible, but the music just kept on going. Right at the end of the tune, Mancini turned around and motioned for various soloists to take their bows. He pointed to me for the chime bow, but I didn’t respond immediately; I was so mad and everything. Then he just started screaming at me and swearing, “Take the damn, bow!” He started coming through the orchestra and pointing at me. The whole orchestra was frozen in horror. So I stood up and smiled and took my bow, then I sat back down. It was really quite a moment.

We were doing a concert with Fred Scott, and two of the pieces on the program were Gershwin’s American in Paris and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I didn’t look at the program, and I played double C octaves on the xylophone, right on the downbeat of the Adagio and immediately sat down while the orchestra played the entire piece.  Fred turned around to conduct American in Paris and then, said loud enough for the entire audience to hear, to the back row of the second balcony: “Now, Jack.”

Another time, I had worked out a routine where we were making very, very fast changes; it might have been during a recording session.  Anyway, the only way I could figure out to get a particular motion of playing the multiple instruments right was to throw a stick under my left arm and then come back to it when I set something else down.  Well, I threw the stick under my left arm and then I reached up, and I knew the stick was falling.  I knew it was, and there was just nothing I could do, and so the stick went down and was heard in the silence, like thump-click-click-thump….  It’s the only time I ever did that in my 30-plus years, but I just knew, when I lifted my arm, that the stick was on its way down.  I could just see it going, but I was helpless.

Once, Paul Yancich was asleep in bed while the orchestra was rehearsing.  Gene went into the stage manager’s office, picked up the phone, dialed Paul’s number, and held the phone up out to the orchestra. He said, “Paul, what’s missing?” Paul could hear the orchestra playing.  And then Gene came back, and you hear Paul swearing and all this stuff crashing around in his room.  Just a few minutes later Paul showed up at the Symphony.

I was very close to being late for years, but I was basically never late past the second hand on the clock, which I lived my life by. One time, I was in the locker room, and I heard my piece being played, and so I just dashed upstairs, fast as I could.  I got onstage, on the side of the stage while the piece was being played, and my equipment was not completely set up, so I had to kind of play the piece while I was very gradually and slowly moving the instruments into place in front of the audience and making as though I was changing pages and looking like the instruments were kind of being carefully positioned.  Anyway, I didn’t get away with it.  I got reamed out by the personnel manager.

There was the time when Paul Yancich came in and was wearing white socks, at a Young Persons’ Concert.  And he was really proud of it, because he wanted to do it.  So all during the concert, Paul would look over at me and he’d put his foot back behind the right drum. He’d lift his leg, give me the high eyebrow, and show me the white socks. Then he’d put his pants leg down and put his feet on the timpani stool.

More fun: Mark Yancich frying me at my retirement party from ASO

Another time when I was selling real estate, I tried to go out and make a sale between the two rehearsals.  I came back, and I just barely made it.  I was running, and I even ran onto the stage.  I bumped into violinists and other things coming in.  Shaw was conducting, and I grabbed my sticks, which were still in place from the morning rehearsal, and just played something.  I didn’t even know where we were in the music.  Shaw looked over at me like, “What are you doing?” and then I found out where we were in the music.  I had actually made it from Douglasville back to the hall, parked, and made my entrance at the very moment it was supposed to be made.  It was just that I didn’t know where we were.  I just knew I was supposed to play then.

This is a terrible one, but I’ll tell the truth on it.  There were a couple of pops concerts that didn’t have anything on the entire second half for Gene and me other than an improvised tambourine part or two parts hand written on some show music. Gene and I would look at each other – we had a long relationship together – and would say, “I didn’t see that.  Do you see that?”  He’d say, “Uh-uh, I don’t see that.”  “I don’t think it exists.”  “I don’t either.”  We tore the part up, threw it away in the garbage can, and went on home.

Best Moments in the ASO

This trophy represents one of the many won by the orchestra under the baton of Robert Shaw doing his tenure in Atlanta. It’s an honor to be able to hold it for a personal photo.

We did Porgy and Bess at the gala concert on the eve of Jimmy Carter’s inauguration as  President, January 1977, and I was out on the leaf of the stage, so the audience was right there, and it was all being recorded.  Porgy and Bess is probably the single most difficult piece to play in the literature, but I made it through it.
However, the second I finished playing the whole room started going around.  I almost passed out on the front of the stage, and could have fallen into the audience.  I reeled back and caught myself on the stool.  There was that much built-up adrenaline pounding, my heart was pounding, all that kind of thing.

While we were on a private tour of the White House with Shaw, I was able to get a signed autograph from Jimmy Carter for my son.  The two armed guards that were by him stepped back–  He said he hardly ever would do this, but he stepped away from them, went behind a curtain – I had the letter all made out with a place for him to sign it – and then he signed his name.  It was a letter from him to my son for his birthday.

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