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The “Tuneless Wonders” Attack Town Hall in New York


by Jerome Weeks 7 Apr 2009

Alexander McCall Smith — whom most people know as the author of the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels (which recently became an HBO series) — is known to Dallasites for his long relationship with our town, having taught at SMU for many years. In 1995 in Edinburgh, as a typically droll sideline, the […]

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Alexander McCall Smith — whom most people know as the author of the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels (which recently became an HBO series) — is known to Dallasites for his long relationship with our town, having taught at SMU for many years. In 1995 in Edinburgh, as a typically droll sideline, the highly energetic Smith assembled the R.T.O. (the Really Terrible Orchestra), made up of  “the cream of Edinburgh’s musically disadvantaged” — i.e., professional concert musicians playing instruments they don’t really know how to play.

Last week, the RTO played New York’s Town Hall in an act of comic Dadaism: “Perhaps best described as a combination of Monty Python, Tom Lehrer and “Prairie Home Companion,” the concert featured bagpipes, a march, a polka, a Gilbert and Sullivan sendup, new commissions and even a Musical Saw Concerto.”

Deborah Hoffman provides a hilarious report for the NYTimes’ Paper Cuts blog. (“An excerpt from Smith’s program notes captures the spirit of the endeavor: ‘At each rehearsal, the members of the R.T.O. arrive deliberately fresh and free from practice.'”) The entire evening (concluding with audience-participation paper-bag popping to accompany a performance of the 1812 Overture) sounds very PDQ Bach-like. Here’s hoping that like PDQ, the RTO might tour to Dallas someday.

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