Some famous composers had interesting experiences as children: 1) As a boy, Johann Sebastian Bach loved music and wanted to study a book of difficult music that his brother, the organist Johann Christoph, owned. Unfortunately, his brother would not allow him to borrow the book because he felt that it was too difficult for his young brother. Therefore, Johann Sebastian “borrowed” the book each night without permission, took it to his bedroom, and copied it. 2) Before he was seven years old, George Frederic Handel smuggled a clavichord into the attic so he could play it for hours at a time. 3) As a boy, Franz Joseph Haydn marched in a band in a parade. His job was to play the drum, but he was too small to carry it. To solve the problem, his teacher strapped the drum on the back of another person, and young Joseph walked behind him and played the drum. As an adult, he composed the “Surprise Symphony,” which contains a loud, unexpected chord during a period of quiet music. Why did he do this? He explained, “To make the ladies jump.” 4) As a boy, Franz Peter Schubert made things difficult — in a good way — for his music teacher Michael Holzer, who told Franz’ father, “Whenever I want to teach him something new, I find he already knows it.” 5) What is it like to be the son of a famous father and the father of a famous son? The father of Abraham Mendelssohn was Moses Mendelssohn, a famous philosopher; the son of Abraham Mendelssohn was Felix Mendelssohn, a famous composer. People tended to refer to him in terms of his famous relatives. Abraham Mendelssohn once said, “Formerly I was the son of my father; now I am the father of my son.” The young Felix Mendelssohn was fortunate enough to be invited to spend two weeks at the home of the great poet Goethe. Fanny, Felix’ sister, was jealous and wrote him in a letter, “When you are with Goethe, open your eyes and ears wide; and after you come home, if you can’t repeat every word that fell from his mouth, I will have nothing more to do with you!” In a letter to Fanny, Felix wrote about Goethe, “The amount of sound in his voice is wonderful, and he can shout like ten thousand warriors.” 6) Before he was 15 years old, Richard Wagner wrote a tragedy that was influenced by Shakespeare. So many people died in the tragedy that in order to have a fifth act he had to bring the characters back as ghosts. 7) Edvard Grieg’s first teacher was his mother, who would listen to him play the piano as she cooked and would make comments as needed: “For shame, Edvard. F sharp, F sharp — not F.” People loved Edvard. As an adult composer, he had a studio — a cabin — built. Unfortunately, he discovered that it was too near the highway, and so he held a “moving bee.” Friends came over, picked up the cabin, and moved it deeper into the woods.
Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of “Where the Wild Things Are,” received interesting letters from children. One little girl wrote, “I like all of your books, why did you write this book, this is the first book I hate. I hate the babies in this book, why are they naked, I hope you die soon. Cordially. …” The girl’s mother added this note to the letter: “I wondered if I should even mail this to you — I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” Fortunately, Mr. Sendak loved the letter: “I was so elated. It was so natural and spontaneous. The mother said, ‘You should know I am pregnant and she has been fiercely opposed to it.’ Well, she didn’t want competition, and the whole book was about a girl who’s fighting against having to look after her baby sister.” Most children, Mr. Sendak added, “don’t dare tell the truth. Kids are the politest people in the world. A letter like that is wonderful: ‘I wish you would die.’ I should have written back, ‘Honey, I will; just hold your horses.’” Another child had written Mr. Sendak and had received in reply a postcard with a drawing of a Wild Thing on it. Mr. Sendak said, “I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
Gloria Estefan married Emilio Estefan, leader of the Miami Sound Machine. When their second child, Emily, was born, Emilio fainted in the delivery room, but he recovered quickly enough that he was able to cut the baby’s umbilical cord. Their first child, a son named Nayib, got in trouble after telephoning a fellow student’s parents, imitating the school principal, and telling the student’s mother that her son was going to be expelled. As a result, Nayib was asked to leave the school: Miami, Florida’s Gulliver Prep School. As an additional punishment, Emilio made Nayib work on the construction crew that was working on their house. For five weeks, Nayib rose at 5 a.m. and spent most of the day working in the hot Florida sun. By the way, after an accident in which a truck hit her tour bus and Gloria’s back was broken — she recovered — the Estefans sued and were awarded $8.3 million, which they donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Emilio and Nayib had stayed after the accident.
Even when she was a child and needed to be babysat, Lady Gaga enjoyed shocking people. She used to strip completely naked, hide, and then jump out of hiding and surprise her babysitter. Lady Gaga’s parents called her “Loopy.” Of course, Lady Gaga grew up and started performing in small venues in New York City. Audiences there can be hard to please. When one audience began to ignore her, Lady Gaga stripped down to her bra and panties and then sang. The audience stopped ignoring her.
© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved
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