No Laughing Matter

Yesterday, Kevin and I shared a stand while recording the soundtrack for Ferdinand. It's been an incredibly fun week. John Powell is a terrific composer, and a hilarious guy. Plus, he can really let his hair down musically for this one -- an animated film with a Spanish flair.

We also have a special relationship with Ferdinand the Bull. (This is from our 2010 Debut.)

While rehearsing a cue for the first time, I had trouble processing a marking properly. It came by too fast for me to relay the message from my brain to my hands. (Let the jury note that the marking in question was both unusual and confusing.) What came out of my violin sounded like a feeble whimper -- or, more specifically, a small rodent losing its grip as it scurries up a telephone pole.

Kevin and I proceeded to devolve into a familiar state for us: contained laughter. Naturally, trying not to laugh only amplifies the urge. For the duration of the cue, silences in the music dared us not to ruin them with explosive laughter. Our shoulders shook, and tears streamed out of our eyes.

"That was cathartic," Kevin said, wiping his eyes once the take was over. He is so supportive.

Classical music carries a gravitas all its own. Dignity, profundity, and sincerity are par for the course. We performers are expected to maintain our composure while onstage. Sometimes, this is no small feat.

The Coffee Cantata and other deliberately light, humorous classical works are refreshing. But the funniest moments onstage are always the unintentional ones.

In the spirit of good humor, here are some favorite stories from our performance experiences.

Kevin: "When I was at USC, it was mandatory to play in the opera. I love Handel, but playing his operas can be so boring -- like sticking needles in your eyes. In the middle of a performance, the conductor started gesturing furiously to the violins. We were like, "what is he doing? Is that a musical gesture?" But it was one of rage. We were all looking at each other wondering what was going on. Finally, the conductor starts pointing to the back of the section. We turn around to look, and see that one of the violinists had fallen asleep -- with his bow on the string. He is as still as a statue. That is really not easy to do! His standpartner is nudging him, trying to wake him up. Eventually, he just pulled the sleeping violinist's bow off the string and shook him awake. We could all barely play after that. In his defense, he was traveling three hours a day by bus just to get to school."

Maia: "A few years ago, Meredith and I were playing Beethoven's Choral Fantasy. Every time the french horns landed on a certain cadence, they were wildly out of tune. Musically, it was obvious that Beethoven wanted the cadence to sound noble. But the way it was being played sounded goofily flatulent. After hearing it, other players would squirm uncomfortably in their seats, like they'd just smelled something unsavory. During a break, I asked Meredith if she was familiar with the urban legend of The Brown Note. She wasn't. I proceeded to enlighten her about the fabled sonic frequency that causes spontaneous lack of bowel control. My theory: the french horns had finally found it. (Hooray?) For the remainder of that week, we did everything we could to avoid eye contact as the horns drew close to The Brown Note. The anticipation alone was delicious. The fact that it never got better only made it funnier. The concerts were just as terrible. It's amazing neither of us had to leave the stage. We are, after all, professionals."

I'll set the stage for the funniest concert moment Kevin and I shared. It literally began with the stage itself. We arrived at a small community theater in Visalia. We were to perform the sublime Schubert Cello Quintet.

The last show in that space had been a community production of The Little Mermaid. For whatever reason, they hadn't taken the sets down. Aqua glitter, life preservers, and fishing nets (with fake fish on them) hung behind us. A picket fence with fake flowers framed the stage itself. I'm still not sure how that fit into the underwater theme. But there it was.

The whole thing had a decidedly Waiting for Guffman flavor. Consummate professionals, we had our chuckle during the dress rehearsal, and set our minds to giving a great performance. I'll let Kevin take it from here.

Kevin: "So yeah, we were playing this incredible and profound piece of music in this weird and cheesy space. We'd just played the first movement. It was a spiritual moment. Everyone looked at each other, like, "holy sh*&, did that just happen?" The second movement is the holiest of holies, though. It's the movement many composers request for their funeral. We get to this spot marked triple piano. Just as I'm about to pluck the string ever so delicately, there is this startling, horrifying noise from the audience. It sounded like someone sneezed and farted at the same time. I turned to look at the others in the group. Half of them were shaking their heads at me, as if to say: "do NOT look at us." I'm the worst person in that situation. I start laughing. Amy Barston is smiling, but her cheek was twitching. I look over at Maia, and she has this steely expression, as if to say, "b*&%h, don't look at my face." I don't know why I felt the urge to look at each person. We kind of recover and play for another thirty seconds or so. Once again, during an extremely delicate spot, the sneeze-fart returns. That's when all hell broke loose. This time, I turn away from the audience entirely. But that was a mistake. Maia was laughing, and Amy Barston's shoulders were going up and down. Karen Ouzounian was shaking her head as tears streamed down her face. She was holding onto her bow for dear life. Even the concert organizer, Bill, started laughing from the audience. I thought that was going to be the first time I'd have to leave the stage. Luckily, the dramatic section was coming up. I made my best effort to turn my hideous laughing face [Maia's note: it really was red, tear-soaked, and bloated] into one distorted by emotion. I don't even know how we made it to the end. The best part was that the violist was oblivious the whole time."

We all have so many stories like this. We’d love to hear yours! Tell us about the time you most struggled to contain your inopportune laughter in the comments below.