To the Editor

Former MET Orchestra violinist Les Dreyer has had dozens of letters to the editor published in the New York Times. Below are a few of our favorites, which range from tongue-in-cheek to profound.

Of the Lions of Music, the Best Mane of All

Les Dreyer (by Les Dreyer)

Les Dreyer (by Les Dreyer)

To the Editor:

Re ''Hair Rules on the Stage and Screen,'' by John Rockwell (Reverberations, Weekend section, Sept. 3):

In his musings about the flowing locks of classical musicians, Mr. Rockwell did not mention the greatest head of hair that ever graced a maestro's dome: the noble mane of Leopold Stokowski.

Truly, the baldies - Toscanini, Steinberg, Leinsdorf etc. - did radiate an aura of stern authority and musical maturity.

Yet whenever Stokie flashed his magnificent profile toward the audience and turned his head skyward, that immense puff of silver fluff seemed to float above the podium like a cloud in heaven.

When he appeared as guest conductor for the New Orleans Symphony in the 50's, I glanced down at the audience from my fiddler's desk. I hadn't seen so many women gasping and swooning since Eddie Fisher sang at Grossinger's. 

Les Dreyer 
September, 2004

Musical Glee

To the Editor:

Re ''This Is Your Brain on Schadenfreude. Do You Feel Bad About Feeling Good?'' (Jan. 24): Taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune is epitomized by orchestra musicians' reacting to a colleague's mistake.

Even Tania Singer, with her magnetic resonance imaging study of one's brain, cannot imagine the unmitigated glee of an orchestra player when someone makes a premature entrance (or biff, as we musicians affectionately refer to it). The shriek of a lone fiddle or the honk of a trombone shattering the silence of a rest evokes a smug and joyous feeling of ''there but for the grace of God go I.''

Moreover, on those rare (?) occasions when a pompous conductor on the podium (who was a nitpicking martinet at rehearsals) tosses a wrong cue or misses a tempo change, an entire orchestra experiences a euphoria unmeasurable by scientific studies. 

Les Dreyer
January, 2006

Eat the Document

To the Editor:

Inspired by Blake Eskin's essay on bibliophagy ("Books to Chew On," March 26), and hoping that music critics and composers of modern music will be welcome at the Edible Books Festival, I am submitting a selection of opera and concert reviews intended exclusively to be eaten by their authors. Some pages have been soaked in vinegar, while others have been coated with honey and flypaper glue.

Les Dreyer
April, 2006

Getting the Last Laugh

To the Editor:

Re ''Dogs May Laugh, but Only Cats Get the Joke'' (Side Effects, Sept. 5): My cat not only has a sense of humor, but he is also an inveterate practical joker. Instead of merely placing a dead rodent on top of the bedspread or pillow as a token of love, he conceals it under the covers and watches expectantly for my inevitable cry of horror.

Worse, he will lie on his back near the stereo speakers, eyes closed, blissfully enjoying classical music. Yet the moment I remove my violin from its case to practice, he lets out a loud meow and hides under the bed, covering his face with his paws. 

Les Dreyer 
September, 2006

Now, a CD Called 'Plagiarism in B Flat'

To the Editor:

Joyce Hatto, whose CDs made in her 60s and 70s have now been proved to be the work of younger virtuosos, will sadly not be remembered as a ''prodigy of old age,'' a term used by Denis Dutton.

Yet there is a legendary living pianist, Ruth Slenczynska, who was a world-famous child prodigy but is now in her 80s and still teaching, performing and recording with her own age-defying hands. Madame Slenczynska is a neighbor of mine, and I have the pleasure of hearing her practice daily.

She is a true ''prodigy of old age'' - not unlike her teacher and mentor, Sergei Rachmaninoff. 

Les Dreyer
February, 2007

The Halls Are Alive With the Sound of Rest

To the Editor:

It's a pity that Chris DeLaurenti, the Seattle-based ''sound artist'' and composer, wasn't around in the early 1960s to clandestinely tape the intermission sounds emanating from the old Metropolitan Opera pit.

Preserved for posterity would be the anecdotal banter in French, German and Italian of musicians born in the 19th century; an incredible rendition of Paganini's ''God Save the Queen'' by my Italian stand-partner (on a violin presented to him by Benito Mussolini); the croaking of a contrabassoon reed, whittled by a former president of the Vienna Philharmonic; and my own youthful attempts to master a difficult passage of Strauss or Wagner. 

Les Dreyer
May, 2007

'ELMER GANTRY': Is It an Opera?

To the Editor:

Re ''Behold! An Operatic Miracle'' by Jesse Green [Jan. 20]:

If the lexicographers of the Harvard, Grove and Webster dictionaries cannot fully agree on how an opera differs from a musical, then pity the general managers of major American opera companies confronted with composers claiming to have written the first great American opera.

It took the Metropolitan Opera 50 years finally to produce ''Porgy and Bess'' because many considered it more of a musical than an opera. Similarly, contemporary composers and librettists like Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein may have introduced a new American work that despite its merit musically and dramatically, will have some music critics reviewing it as a protracted musical rather than grand opera.

So we are faced with a paradox: Will the first great American opera, yet to be composed and so eagerly awaited for over half a century, turn out to be nothing more than a monumental Broadway musical?

Les Dreyer
January, 2008

In Search of That Lost Buzz Saw Concerto

To the Editor:

Re “Trying to Get to Lincoln Center? These Days, Practice Won’t Help” (front page, Sept. 3):

There is a silver lining to those choking clouds of concrete and plywood dust emitting from the huge renovation of Lincoln Center:

A generation of intrepid Juilliard students, who are now practicing amid the cacophony of jackhammers and buzz saws, will be well steeled for the noisy distractions of their future concert audiences.

Coughing and talking will be endured with equanimity, and not even an earthquake or tornado will be able to abort an instrumentalist’s performance of a Mozart concerto or a diva’s aria — if only these budding artists can survive the renovation until 2011 without losing their sense of hearing altogether!

Les Dreyer 
September, 2008

Close Encounters of the Ursus Kind

To the Editor:

Re ''Bigger and Bolder Population of Bears Incites Fear in Japan'' (news article, Nov. 7):

If those bears attacking humans in Japan were not fazed by noisemakers and rubber bullets, they will not be deterred by shouting at them, as posters advise.

My Catskill mountain acquaintances, farmers and hunters, offer our Japanese friends some country wisdom when encountering an aggressive bear:

  • If you're on a slope, run downhill, but never uphill. (Bears' powerful forelegs enable them to bound uphill like a hound dog, but they stumble clumsily going downhill.)
  • Never climb a tree. Bears can also climb, and if you're out on a branch, they'll shake you down like a rotten crabapple.
  • If you are trapped and cannot flee, make yourself appear bigger. Grab a poncho or blanket and flare your arms out like Dracula.
  • Scream at the top of your lungs. This won't scare the bear, but it might just attract a Samaritan hunter with a 12-gauge shotgun.
  • Finally, my idea: Japanese hikers and tourists could equip their backpacks with giant self-inflating Godzilla balloons. As one codger farmer put it, ''If that don't scare the critter, nothing will!'' 

Les Dreyer
November, 2004

Striking a Sour Note

To the Editor:

Re ''Zing Went the Strings of Whose Harp?'' (Vital Signs, Nov. 22): I must disagree with the findings presented at a Society of Neuroscience conference that conductors possess a particular ability for detecting which orchestra musician has played ''an offending note.''

First, the experiment, wherein conductors proved better than nonmusicians at locating sounds in a darkened room, sheds little light: any professional musician would fare better than a nonmusician in this test.

Second, a conductor can often identify an erring musician in an orchestra simply by seeing the culprit's colleagues turning toward him and smiling - perhaps sympathetically or with malicious glee, though this is considered highly unprofessional behavior in a musical ensemble.

Third, I wish I had a dollar for every time a maestro with a tin ear glared at an innocent fiddler for a neighbor's mistake, or blamed a bass player for a biff from a cellist. 

Les Dreyer 
November, 2005

The Sweetest Sound

To the Editor:

Re ''Philharmonic to Give Home a New Interior'' (front page, May 20):

I'm not an acoustical engineer, merely an old fiddler with nostalgic memories of the marvelous acoustics of the old Metropolitan Opera House on 39th Street. Perhaps the secret formula for superior acoustics is simply dry aged wood, plaster and dead air. Modern additions like plastic and metal panels and air-conditioning somehow obliterate the delicate overtones of the strings and human voice.

I recall practicing a Paganini Caprice (with a mute on!) during an intermission in the old Met orchestra pit. Suddenly, from the distant family circle came a flurry of applause from a small group of smiling patrons. Whether the applause was genuine or insincere, I'd no idea; yet it did prove that one could hear a pianissimo from the pit in the remotest parts of the opera house.

Les Dreyer
May, 2004

The Dignified Diva

To the Editor:

Marian Anderson may remain an enigma to Jennifer Baszile (as she concludes in her review of ''The Sound of Freedom,'' May 3), but not to me. She was simply the most modest and dignified diva to ever grace a stage. At the Metropolitan Opera Farewell Gala concert, on April 16, 1966, I spied Ms. Anderson sitting in the first row, several feet from my music stand in the pit. (I was then a violinist in the Met Opera Orchestra.) Why, I wondered, was she not seated onstage with the other opera stars, past and present?

At intermission, when the audience (and musicians) emptied the theater to celebrate the final event of the old Met with Champagne toasts, Anderson remained alone, gazing up at the proscenium. Unable to restrain my adoration, I stood on a chair and, encouraged by her smile, asked her why she hadn't appeared onstage. She lowered her eyes. I peered over the pit railing and beheld her slender hands folded over the crook of a cane. I reached over and extended my right hand, which she enclosed firmly with hers. For several silent minutes we held hands, while tears flowed on both sides of the pit railing. At last she said softly that she hoped to be remembered as Ulrica (in her 1955 Met debut in Verdi's ''Ballo in Maschera''), not hobbling about with a cane or being a ''nuisance'' onstage in a wheelchair.

Les Dreyer
May, 2009