a few words on performing Beethoven’s 9th symphony

THE BOSTON SYMPHONY was performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony each Sunday during the month of December. Now bass players hate “the Ninth,” as there is a long segment in the middle where they don’t have a thing to do—page after page and not a single note! It makes them look and feel dumb sitting there like that.

So rather than sit on their stools idle for twenty minutes, the conductor had decided that during this performance, after the bass players had played their parts in the opening, they were to quietly lay down their instruments and leave the stage.

This being Boston, there was an Irish tavern nearby rather favored by local musicians when the temperatures headed north, as they often do that time of year. Well, of course, once the bassists got backstage, someone suggested that they head over to the tavern.


After tossing back more than a few shots of Tullamore Dew (this was an Irish pub, after all) in quick succession, one of the musicians looked at his watch and said, “Hey! We have to get back!”

“Nahhh. Don’t worry,” said another bassist. “I thought we might need some time, so I tied the last few pages of Maestro’s score together with string. It’ll take him a few minutes to get it untangled.”

Finally, they staggered back to the Symphony Hall and took their places in the orchestra. About this time, a member of the audience noticed the conductor seemed a bit edgy and preoccupied with something, and said as much to her companion.

“Well, of course,” said the gentleman. “Don’t you see? It’s the bottom of the 9th, the score is tied, and the bassists are loaded.”

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