26. April 2008 · 15 comments · Categories: Ramble

Last night, near the middle of the first act of Magic Flute, between two numbers, someone yelled out, “Is there a doctor in the house?” I didn’t see any reaction from the conductor, but I wasn’t looking right at him when this was yelled. We kept playing.

But my heart went to the floor.

I’m not sure why something like that shakes me up so much, but it does. I did play Les Mis once after a 30 minute delay, when a man was being worked on by EMT folks. We later learned he died. Maybe it’s that memory. But I don’t think so.

Anyway, after the next number was finished I still saw no reaction from anyone, so I leaned over to the second oboist and said, “Did someone yell out “Is there a doctor in the house?” or did I imagine that?” She heard it too.

For a time I heard voices faintly in the background, so I’m assuming they were treating the guy. During intermission I heard that, indeed, someone had a medical issue and a couple of doctors were helping him. I was told he was fine. (I was told the man at Les Mis was fine too, though, and only learned he had died through a bizarre story that will remain untold.)

Back in San Jose Symphony (RIP) days a chorus member went crashing to the floor during a performance. Our conductor was quite proud of himself for not stopping. I believe the stage hands went onstage to drag the woman, who had fainted, off stage. (I wasn’t there, but that’s the story I was told.) The orchestra was very upset and I believe actually managed to get something written up that said we’d stop if something like this happened again.

I’m guessing that in most instances the show simply has to go on … that there is really nothing we all can do. But last night I felt cold and callous, knowing we didn’t even stop for a moment. I wonder what other performing groups do in instances like this.

If I keel over dead while performing, I do hope someone will at least stop to make me look presentable; if my underwear is showing just take a few minutes, please, to cover me up.

The performance last night went well, if a little on the slow side in places, but I’m really struggling; if I breathe, I cough. And I’m finding it very difficult to stop breathing. I’ve not mastered that yet. Of course if I DO keel over dead I’ll at least have mastered that.


  1. I played in the pit for our high school musical, and while, thankfully, we had no medical issues, on opening night we took about an hour in the middle of act one due to a curtain malfunction. I suppose we’ve had pretty good luck, other than that incident.

    Oh, no we didn’t.

    We broke a cello on the last day. Our conductor tripped over it. Luckily, it was after the show, but we can’t claim that we were lucky after that.

  2. That disgusts me. There are some things in life that are simply more important that Music. Call me crazy…

  3. Hmmm. But we don’t know, Cooper, if the conductor even heard anything. Some people in the pit didn’t. And some thought someone added a line on stage as a bit of a joke.

    Disgust is a pretty strong word for not knowing. 🙂

  4. Oh … but maybe you were talking about the Symphony?! Woops. Yes. THAT disgusted me. It disgusted all of us. Thus, we got something written up to take care of things like that.

  5. Sigh. First I misunderstand Cooper and then I mistakenly delete ST47.


    Oops. Now I’m yelling too. So sorry. I think I need to go back to bed and start the day over again.

  6. Today is a VERY strange day so far. But hey, I’ve finally registered.

    As much as our conductors say that no matter what, we should keep going, I really can’t imagine having a person in danger and still continuing to play.

  7. And, ST47, if you live anywhere near here, the day isn’t nearly over. Hmmm. Is more excitement in store.

    While I wasn’t at that performance, some players say they really didn’t even know if the woman was alive and that it was horrifying that the conductor not only didn’t stop but was really proud for not being flustered by it all. Seems so heartless to me. 🙁

  8. I’m on the east coast, but I woke up at 5 this morning for a plane flight.

    My pit conductor, who’s the chorus director, is like that, usually. He’ll just keep playing, regardless. We played through a fire drill once. He also has his strange moments where he’ll just stop conducting to say something completely unrelated to the music, though.

    My orchestra conductor, on the other hand, delays the beginning of rehearsal every time by yapping with the violinists about anything she can think of. It gets a little boring from back in the wind section, and they don’t let me bring a reed knife to class.

  9. Ah, where do you play back there? It sounds like you keep busy!

  10. I’m in high school, so I don’t play a whole lot of anywhere. I live in central jersey, and I’ve really only played oboe for about 6 months, though I’ve played clarinet since…erm…7 years ago.

  11. To answer your question, though, we did “the wiz”, which was quite fun, and we do all sorts of things for little kids. We like to think we’re ‘professionals’, so we say we went on ‘tour’ to a few of the local elementary schools.

  12. Well, since I was in both of the performances you mention, I’ll add my two cents.

    I wasn’t on stage last night for the “is there a doctor” in the house moment, but Monostatos and the three slaves were getting ready to go on and they definitely heard it. We were told later that somebody had fainted, but was fine. I don’t know if Bruce heard it or not (I didn’t ask him), but I have to imagine that the stage manager would have stopped the show if it had become necessary.

    I was also singing in the chorus in the SJS incident you describe. It was the Brahms Requiem, sixth movement, and I swear I am not making this up, we just finished singing the word “Tod” (“death”) for several beats. Fortunately, she was fine (and still is to this day). But yes, we kept going. And everybody knew what was going on (including the audience). If they didn’t see her fall (right into the trumpet section, if memory serves), they certainly noticed stage hands dragging her offstage. And yes, we were all very upset that the conductor kept going. If it had happened out of view of the audience, I could see continuing. But I can’t imagine that anyone in the audience was able to concentrate on the music while they were watching this poor woman in the alto section. We should’ve stopped and started the movement over again once she was offstage and it was determined that she was alright.

    Poor thing was embarrassed about that for years, by the way.

  13. Thanks, Mike. It’s good to get the “rest of the story!’

    I’m with you; SJS should have stopped … and that really should have been done by the conductor, but perhaps the orchestra should have just stopped playing. It’s funny, though — we are so trained to go on no matter what we honestly don’t know what to do! Sad, in a way. Poor woman. At least none of us out here know her name! 🙂

    As to last night, I think what happened was probably what should have happened. It just really shook me up, and it’s very likely because of the death that happened during the Les Mis run.

    Someone yelled something like that during AMT a long time ago and they did stop the show for a few minutes. Another AMT show stopped when there was an earthquake that was strong enough to cause gasps and a lot of scared “balcony people”.

    I do think it’s just really hard for us to know what to do!

  14. I met my wife while doing Oklahoma! in Saratoga – during one of the performances a dancer somersaulted right off the stage and through our music stands. Fortunately for him Saratoga doesn’t have a pit – we were just parked in front of the stage. Apparently he’d been using the oboist’s hair (it was white-blond) as a guide for when to stop, and usually she sat next to the stage. She wanted to get a better look at the show, though, so she moved one seat away from the stage. No one was hurt (my wife and I missed a few bars while we restored our stands to the upright position and the dancer scrambled back up on stage). He did learn to use the proper marks rather than a musician for a reference, though ;).

  15. This reminds me of an incident on the stage at Lincoln Center, when actor Richard Easton delivered his line, “That is my last word” and had a heart attack, collapsing onstage. Co-star Ethan Hawke was onstage at the time and thought that he died. (He’s ok by the way.)

    It’s my nightmare that someone is going to need a doctor in a public place like that, and a lowly medical student (me) is their only hope. Now THAT is scary.