Real Men Don’t Rehearse: Adventures in the Secret World of Professional Orchestras

Real Men Don’t Rehearse: Adventures in the Secret World of Professional Orchestras
By Justin Locke
Justin Locke Productions; 189 pages
A review by R.C. Speck

If you like reading about Classical music and you’re looking for something truly snortworthy, you cannot do better than Real Men Don’t Rehearse by Justin Locke. In the 18 seasons that Locke served as a double-bass player for the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pops, he not only built up a formidable repertoire of experience (musical and otherwise) but also honed his chops as a first-rate raconteur. It all comes to light, along with a unique sense of humor, to produce this wonderful memoir.

Of course, Locke regales us with the laugh-out-loud jokes and impossibly funny stories. He’s got lots of those. Like how he faked his way through The Star Spangled Banner, or how he fired real Howitzers for The Overture of 1812, or how he had been caught in his skivvies onstage, or how he had to dodge spitballs and M&Ms at a dreaded “kiddie concert,” or how it once actually rained in an orchestra pit. My favorite is how he once pranked a conductor by playing a Mozart symphony slower and slower and slowwwwer. The principal bass player controls the tempo of the orchestra, you see, and there was nothing the conductor could do about it besides sweat.

And did you know that Classical percussionists are really good at scamming the U.S. Postal Service? I will bet that you did not.

Real Men Don’t Rehearse provides more than just laughs. It also gives the uninitiated an unforgettable glimpse into the world of professional Classical music. Did you know that the Pops employs three full-time librarians, who are crucial to the organization? Do you know what a conductor does besides wave a stick in the air? Do you know the difference between the Symphony and the Pops? Do you know how it feels to stand alone onstage before 50,000 people? Did you know that bass players never need suitcases? They just pack their clothes with their basses. And what does it take to become a bass player, anyway? Apparently not much, according to Locke.

Locke also gets creative. His “5-syllable minimum” rule for conductor names (along with its various exceptions and corollaries) is worthy of PDQ Bach. He’s right, you know. Wouldn’t you rather see a performance conducted by Rafael Frübeck de Burgos than by someone named Ed Jones?

He also has the best definition of “atonal.” According to Locke, it’s “a fancy musical term that means if you play a wrong note, there is a good chance that no one will notice.”

You will find yourself laughing at that and other jokes, insights, and anecdotes as you breeze through Justin Locke’s hilarious Real Men Don’t Rehearse.

This book review appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Quarter Notes, the member magazine of WCPE Radio, The Classical Station. To receive a subscription, become a member today!

See all our book reviews.