Memories of John Oliver

Below are some anecdotes of John Oliver that I remember fondly. My formal tribute to John Oliver is published on the MIT web site, along with those of my colleagues.

* * *

Early in my TFC career, John approached me during a rehearsal break. “May I get your opinion on something?” he asked, pulling a carefully folded paper from his pocket. I panicked inside, assuming he was going to test his “newbie” with a musical question. Much to my relief and surprise, John showed me an advertisement for a 3-in-1 printer/scanner/copy machine. “That will be really useful to have in the office! And such a space saver,” I offered with far too much enthusiasm. “Good! I thought so,” John said, as he tucked the paper away back in his pocket.

* * *

One time in the Symphony Hall basement, I passed John on his way to the vending machines, and he asked if I had change for a two or a five. “A two?” I asked. “I always ask for two-dollar bills at the bank. That’s how they remember me,” he said.

* * *

Many years ago I had a coaching with John Oliver. At the end of the coaching, I asked how much I owed him for his time. He had already started walking from the piano back to his office and without turning around or pausing he said, “Nah, you’re family.”

* * *

(I guess technically this is an anecdote about me, but anyway.) Whenever people talk about how nobody reads print newspapers anymore, I always chime in, “Actually John Oliver buys four papers every morning!”

* * *

During a rehearsal of Bach’s Singet dem Herrn, John stopped the chorus, dissatisfied with the sound. “Don’t sing with your special Bach voices. Sing with the voice God gave you,” he said. These words of wisdom have become a personal motto for many of us.

* * *

July 26, 2017 was the last time I saw JO. I visited him with my friend and TFC “stand-mate” Jeni Cameron, and he was in such high spirits. In his living room, he had a framed “Missing Dog” flyer. He knew neither the owner nor whether they found the dog, but he thought the dog was cute! He told us about his friend Jim’s grandchildren and how kids were “the most astonishing thing,” a phrase he’d previously used only to describe great music and singers. He showed us pictures from the time Jim dressed him up in motorcycle gear and took him for a ride up and down the street. And, of course, he told stories about Leinsdorf, Lenny, Seiji, and Phyllis, all of which we’d heard before but were happy to hear again. Oh, what I would give to hear those stories again…I miss you, JO.


Related reading: Reflections on John Oliver and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus

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