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FITS & BURSTS | The Brass Blat!

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St. Louis Symphony Brass Section (photo by. Scott Ferguson)
St. Louis Symphony Brass Section (photo by. Scott Ferguson)

[Update: August 18, 3:30 pm. The article incorrectly noted the Böhm piece as Haydn. It has been corrected.]

As the old joke goes, the horn is a divine instrument; man blows into it, but only God knows what comes out.

As music undergrads, we used to have a tradition of coming up with orchestra jokes. Of course most were ridiculous, but during our many ear-training exams, performance juries and recitals, they were a welcome distraction. Judging from the many websites that collect these things, we weren’t the only ones.

Violas seemed to take the brunt of them, but the brass also took their punches.

Juilliard professor and Performance Today commentator, Toby Appel took things a step further in his “Guide to the Orchestra”:


Trumpet players are the scum of the earth. I’ll admit, though, they do look good when they’re all cleaned up. They’ll promise you the world, but they lie like a cheap rug. Sure, they can play soft and pretty during rehearsal, but watch out come concert time! They’re worse than lawyers, feeding off the poor, defenceless, weaker members of the orchestra and loving every minute of it. Perhaps the conductor could intercede? Oh, I don’t think so.

Trombone players are generally the nicest brass players. They do tend to drink quite heavily, however, and perhaps don’t shine the brightest headlights on the highway, but they wouldn’t hurt you. They don’t count well but stay pretty much out of the way anyway. Probably because they know just how stupid they look when they play. It’s a little-known fact that trombone players are unusually good bowlers. This is true. They’re the folks to call with all your pharmaceutical questions.

Regarding the French horn, I have only two words of advice: stay away. Horn players are piranhas. They’ll steal your wallet, lunch, boyfriend, or wife given half a chance – or no chance at all. They have nothing to live for and aren’t afraid of ruining your life. The pressure is high for them. If they miss a note, they get fired. If they don’t miss a note, they rub your nose in it and it doesn’t smell so sweet.

The kind-hearted folks who play the tuba are good-looking and smart. They’d give you the shirt off their back. The tuba is one of the most interesting to take in the bath with you. It’s a crying shame that there’s only one per orchestra.

Brass aside, he also picks fun at everyone else in the orchestra as well. You can read them all here.

In the meantime, some videos:

Austrian conductor Karl Böhm (1894-1981), conducting the Wiener Philarmoniker in Tokyo in October 1980; Beethoven Symphony No. 7. His look says it all!

Man sneezes into his trombone:


Brass players, we love you.

Michael Vincent

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