The BU Scholars program (1957-58)

From Vic Washkevich

From on high

The Boston Symphony Orchestra was one of the highlights of WGBH programming back in 1957–58. Hey, anything was better than Words, the one-camera show on which I earned my credit as a director.

If you recall, symphony rehearsal performances were open to the public. We shot that show with three cameras, #1 on the left, #3 on the right, and #2 at high center — the nose-bleed portion of the balcony.

The orchestra played, shots were rehearsed, and finally, the music stopped. As the #2 cameraman was shutting down his camera, he encountered an elderly gent sitting up there in the higher regions of the theater.

Being friendly, our cameraman asked the old man, “How’d you like the performance?”

“It was great,” the man shot back, “but where’s your beam of light.”

We had a more demanding audience back then.

(This incident really did happen, in Sanders Theatre at Harvard; but does anyone remember who the mystery cameraman was?)

… When I’m finished

Speaking of anecdotes, remember this.

One of the break-in shows for the new WGBH scholars was to work the Louis Lyons news show. He sat behind a desk, reading his commentary to a tabletop mike in his glass enclosed soundproof room (the FM studio, actually). The camera, outside the room, shot through a glass partition, but there was a “stage manager,” lying on the floor, out of camera range next to Louie to tell him when he was on the air.

Being neophytes, we did everything we were told. And on this particular night, when the director told the state manager to give Louie the sign to wrap up his news report, Louie turned to the trembling scholar and, in a testy voice said, “Young man, don’t tell me to get off the air. I’ll get off when I’m finished and not before, understand?” That one got a howl from everyone — except the kid on the floor, who wished for nothing more than to be able to tunnel his way out of the building.

Jazz contamination

A story from yore. One night we were rehearsing a violin and piano duo who frequently played the high classics on Performance. Fuchs and Balsam were a somewhat self-impressed pair who had become known fondly around the studio as ‘Screws and Hemlock.’

Joseph Fuchs and Artur Balsam with recital series host Jules Wolffers

After rehearsing their pieces, they and the crew took a break, about 20 minutes before going live. During the break, one of the crew (who’s name we can’t recall) sat down at the piano and played a few contemporary songs.

When the concert musicians returned from their break, Fuchs, the violin virtuoso, ran some cat gut across the strings without incident. And Balsam, the pianist, danced his fingers across the ivories to limber up. After a few seconds, though, Balsam rose from his bench, aghast, and declared, ashen faced…. ‘Someone has been playing jazz on my piano!’

Uncanny!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.