Humour Page 2

Musical Quotes

Music: a complex organization of sounds that is set down by the composer, incorrectly interpreted by the conductor, who is ignored by the musicians, followed by the audience.

'Music is a moral law- it gives wings to the mind, A soul to the universe, Flight to the imagination, A charm to sadness, A life to everything.' -- Plato

Never look at the trombones. You'll only encourage them. - Robert Strauss on conducting

"There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." - J. S. Bach

"Music is the science of manipulating emotion through sound." - Angus Gray

Anything too stupid to be said... is sung.

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." - Thelonius Monk

We're all pretty geeky people.... I think you'll find that your average rock star is a dork. - Adam Duritz of Counting Crows

Music is the art of thinking with sounds.

I'm a fermata - hold me.

Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny. - Frank Zappa

We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out. --Decca Recording Company, on rejecting the Beatles in 1962

"Somebody said to me, 'But the Beatles were anti-materialistic.' That's a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, 'Now, let's write a swimming pool.'" -Paul McCartney

If it's not baroque, don't fix it!

Classical music is the kind that you keep thinking will turn into a tune.

"Music washes from the soul the dust of everyday life." - Berthold Auerbach

Due to the confusion from too many genres of music, we have decided to put both country music and rap music into the genre of Crap music.

"New music is old music played twice as fast and half as well" - James Douglass Morrison

These are bagpipes. I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equalled the purity the sound achieved by the pig. - Alfred Hitchcock

'You have to stick with it. Sometimes you are going to be so frustrated you want to give up the guitar. But all of this is just part of learning, because if you stick with it, you are going to be rewarded.' Jimi Hendrix, October 1968

Disco is to music what Etch-A-Sketch is to art.

Band Players as Food Items

Conductor - A lump of cheddar = The big cheese.
Soprano -
Jar of coffee = Gets you a bit high.
Principal Cornet -
Jam = Everyone has some in their cupboard, it's generally considered as a good thing, but often over-used and too much makes you sick.
Solo Cornets -
Seasonings = Makes all the difference between a piece tasting good, bad, or indifferent.
Repiano Cornet -
A rabbit = Small and cute, likely to make grown men go "aaahhhh", doesn't make much noise (unless attacked by foxes).
Second & Third Cornets -
Various root vegetables = Occasionally having a strong taste at just the wrong time, it is often hard work to pull these out of the ground.
Flugel Horn -
A shot of Grouse Whiskey = Nice and mellow, yet useful in medical emergencies (although we accept that not every band has an ambulance-person on Flugel).
Tenor Horns -
Chickens = A nice flavour (if a little bland), but likely to make more noise when they're talking than when they are actually playing.
Baritones -
Lard = A rather misunderstood and maltreated food, these are actually rather important in any piece that involves frying.
Euphoniums -
Beef = The backbone of nearly every meal, they provide a good textured main meat, but very occasionally will be responsible for some unpleasant prion damage. *Euphoniums shortly to be available on-the-bone once again*
Trombones -
Curry = At the right strength, or with a good beer, no problem. However, if too strong, it's hard to miss that flavour.
Basses -
Goldfish = You don't want to eat them, but that three-second memory-span and the fact that their mouths are always glomping open and shut make you wish someone would.
Kit -
Cheap lager = After a few cans of this, you'll notice that everything is "swinging".
Percussion -
Rhubarb & Custard = One is plainly better, but you'll always find one following the other.

Q - Why do bass players have pea-sized brains?
A - Because alcohol has swelled them.
Q - How can you tell the trombonist's son in the park?
A - Because he can't swing and doesn't know how to use the slide.
Q - Why is playing a Flugel solo like wetting your pants?
A - Both give you a warm feeling, but no-one cares.

Alto's Lament

It's awful being an alto when you're singing in the choir,
Sopranos get the twiddly bits that people all admire,
The basses boom like big trombones, the tenors shout with glee,
The alto part is on two notes, or if you're lucky, three.

And when we sing an anthem and lift our hearts in praises,
The men get all the juicy bits and telling little phrases.
Of course, the trebles sing the tune - they always come off best -
While altos only get three notes and twenty-two bars rest.

It doesn't matter what we sing, from hymnbooks or from psalter,
The choirmaster looks at us - our voices start to falter;
Too high! Too low! Too fast! Too slow! You hold that note too long!
It doesn't matter what we do, it's certain to be wrong.

Oh! shed a tear for altos: they're the Marthas and they know
In ranks of choral singers they're considered very low.
They are so very humble that a lot of folk forget 'em:
They'd love to be sopranos, but their vocal chords won't let 'em.

And when the final trumpet sounds and we are wafted higher,
Sopranos, tenors, basses, all will form the heavenly choir.
When they sing Alleluias to celestial flats and sharps,
We altos in the corner will be polishing our harps.

The Ophicleide   

Written by Prof. Cabbage (of the horn mailing list)

The Ophicleide, like mortal sin
Was fostered by the serpent.
Its pitch was vague, its tone was din;
Its timbre rude and burpant.

Composers, in a secret vote,
Declared its sound non grata;
And that's why Wagner never wrote
An Ophicleide Sonata.

Thus spurned, it soon became defunct,
To gross neglect succumbing;
A few were pawned, but most were junked
Or used for indoor plumbing.

An so this ill wind, badly blown,
Has now completely vanished:
I nominated the saxophone
To be the next one banished.

Farewell, offensive Ophicleide,
Your epitaph is chiseled:
"I died of ophicleidicide:
I tried, alas, but fizzled!"

Instrument Colloquialisms

(provided by various members of the brass band mailing list from their own experiences)


Agony Bag


Dudelsack (German)


Highland Saxophone


Porridge Organ


1st or 2nd Wheelbarrows

Bass Trombone

Lead Balloon


F**ting Bedpost (apt and accurate!!)


Keyed Didgeridoo

Cracking part

Bugger of a Bit

Eb Tenor Horn

Dog Horn (because you can make it bark)


Iron Cello

French Horn

Tin Viola




Northern Hemisphere

Southern Hemisphere

Gala Concert

Galah Concert

Sheep in Oz!

Sheep in NZ!

(Where the men are men and the sheep are nervous)

Lottery Grant

Chook raffle

Baritone Case


2nd Baritone Case

Spare Esky

Baritone Player

Esky carrier


Battle rig

Cut back uniform dress jackets

Bum freezers

Concert jackets

Giggle jackets

Bass Drum

Spare podium


Sludge pump

Tuba Case

BIG Esky


Manic Depressive

Flugel Horn

Fugel Horn

Band Definitions

Courtesy of Dr. Wayne Dyess, Professor Of Trombone, Lamar University

Carmen - a translated synopsis

An "English" synopsis of the opera Carmen, as it appeared in the program for a recent performance in Genoa, Italy.

"Act 1. Carmen is a cigarmakeress from a tobago factory who loves with Don Jose (Duet: "Talk me of my mother"). There is a noise inside the tobago factory and the revolting cigar-makeresses burst into the stage. Carmen is arrested and Don Jose is ordered to mounting guard her but Carmen subduces him and lets her escape.

"Act 2. The Tavern. Carmen, Frasquito, Mercedes, Zuiniga, Morales. Carmen's aria ("The sistrums are tinkling"). Enter Escamillio, a balls-fighter. Enter two smuglers (Duet: "We have in mind a business") but Carmen refuses to penetrate because Don Jose has liberated her from prison. He just now arrives (Aria: "Slop, here who comes") but here are the bugles singing his retreat. Don Jose will leave and draws his sword. Called by Carmen's shrieks the two smuglers interfere with her but Don Jose is bound to dessert, he will follow into them (final chorus: "Opening sky wandering life").

"Act 3. A rocky landscape, the smugler's shelter. Carmen sees her death in cards and Don Jose makes a date with Carmen for the next balls fight.

"Act 4. A place in Seville. Procession of balls-fighters, the roaring of the balls is heared in the arena. Escamillio enters (Aria and chorus: "Toreador, toreador, All hail the balls of a Toreador"). Enter Don Jose (Aria: "I do not threaten, I besooch you") but Carmen repels him wants to join with Escamillio now chaired by the crowd. Don Jose stabbs her (Aria: "Oh rupture, rupture, you may arrest me. I did kill her") he sings "Oh my beautiful Carmen, my subductive Carmen."

A Choral Singer's Guide to Keeping the Conductor in Line

by Philip Cave - in "The Singer"

No Laughing Matter: The Viola Joke as Musician's Folklore

Presented by Carl Rahkonen at the National Meeting of the American Folklore Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology, October 21, 1994, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As with any other group, musicians tell stories and jokes to one another based upon their specialized knowledge and experience. In recent years there has been a joke cycle among musicians pertaining to the viola. For those of you not familiar with the viola, it is slightly larger than the violin, and plays the alto, or middle-range voice in the string section of an orchestra.

Being a violist myself, and also an ethnomusicologist trained folklore, I have paid particular attention to the telling of viola jokes, and over the past three years have personally collected fifty examples. From the number of different musicians who told me these jokes, I can conclude that they were being told in music departments, in major symphony orchestras, regional and community orchestras, and were even being told in orchestras abroad.

As further evidence of the pervasiveness of the viola joke cycle, I have heard several programs on WQED, the Pittsburgh classical music radio station that have featured viola jokes. I have seen viola jokes published in the Pittsburgh Musician, the newsletter of the American Federation of Musicians Local 60-471. The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday March 27th, 1994 featured an article on the viola section of the Cleveland Orchestra, which begins with the line "Hold the viola jokes." Also, cartoonists have featured the viola in some of their recent work. [examples were shown]

Going strictly by the number of jokes I personally heard, the viola joke cycle began in 1992, reached it peak in 1993, and at the present time has greatly diminished.

In order to organize these jokes, I have arranged them into six different categories, which are not necessary mutually exclusive:

  1. Jokes disparaging the viola itself.
  2. Jokes disparaging viola players.
  3. Jokes which offer a general disparagement, which can be easily understood outside musical circles.
  4. Jokes which usually can only be understood by among musicians.
  5. Reverse jokes which get revenge on musicians telling viola jokes.
    All the viola jokes in these first five categories are in the form of a question and answer, so I have added a sixth category which I call
  6. Narrative viola jokes

As you may have guessed by now the viola is considered somewhat a second-class citizen in the orchestra. There are several reasons for this. Orchestral viola parts are easier than violin parts and they tend to be the less important, non-melodic parts. If viola players do get difficult parts, as they do from time to time, they tend to struggle while trying to play them.

As an instrument, the viola does not have the same carrying power as a violin or cello, since it is pitched one-fifth lower than a violin, but is only about 10% larger. Its solo literature is very limited. Only string bassists tend to suffer the same stereotyping as violists, because of a lack of solo literature for the instrument and having mundane orchestral parts.

An additional handicap is the fact that most violists start out as violinists. Even the greatest violist of recent times, William Primrose, in his book Playing the Viola, includes a chapter about coming to viola playing by way of the violin. The Cleveland Plain Dealer article I mentioned earlier revealed that ten out of the eleven violists in Cleveland Orchestra started out on the violin! One of the first assumptions in junior high school orchestras is that the director will switch the poor violinists over to viola, where they will do less harm, and perhaps even contribute. Viola players are frequently considered inferior musicians since they are thought of as the ones who couldn't make it playing the violin.

An additional factor is the extremely hierarchical structure of a symphony orchestra with regards to musical authority. The conductor is the highest authority. The next highest is the concertmaster, who is the first chair, first violin. The brass, wind, and percussion players are typically all soloists playing one person to a part, so the real pecking order can be seen primarily in the string sections. Each of the string sections has a principal player, whose job it is to lead that section, giving specific directions with regards to bowings, fingers and phrasings. The principal players also gets to play the solo parts, if there are any. Each of the string sections are seated in hierarchical order, with the better players near the front. Superimposed of this hierarchy is an overall hierarchy in the strings. The first violins are the most important, almost always playing the chief melodies. The cellos are perhaps the next most important, followed by second violins, violas and string basses. The violas are always at, or near the bottom, of the hierarchy.

There is an historical reason for this. In the beginning of the era when symphonies began, comparatively few pieces had actual viola parts. As a rule the violas doubled the cellos, switching octaves whenever necessary. Early symphonies were published with three string parts, 1st violin, 2nd violin and bass. The poor violas dragged along with the basses, and were frequently played by individuals who couldn't handle the violin.

The attitude and stereotype about the viola and its players can be seen quotations about the viola from a standard reference work, The Dictionary of Musical Quotations (Ian Crofton and Donald Fraser, Schirmer Books, 1985, p.152):

"The viola is commonly (with rare exceptions) played by infirm violinists, or by decrepit players of wind instruments who happen to have been acquainted with a string instrument once upon a time."
Richard Wagner, in 1869, quoted in
Gattey Peacocks on the Podium (1982).

"If you'd heard the violas when I was young, you'd take a bismuth tablet."
Sir John Barbirolli, quoted in
Kennedy, Barbirolli Conductor Laureate (1971).

So why are viola jokes told? Certainly for fun and humor, but they also serve the functions of reinforcing the hierarchical structure of the orchestra and to voice unspoken but widely understood stereotypes. A joke will be funny only if it is unanticipated and if there is some basis to it in reality.

Irvin Kauffman, the Associate Principal Cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, was a significant informant for viola jokes. He assured me that the violists of the Pittsburgh Symphony are just as fine musicians as the rest of the orchestra, and that other musicians tell viola jokes because, "The violas get paid the same money for doing a dumb (i.e., easier) job!"