Symphonic Paradox:
Symphonic Paradox:
The Misadventures of a Wayward Musician
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When Sam Denov was engaged as a Percussionist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1954, he had no idea what he was getting into. Becoming a member of this orchestra was the realization of a life-long ambition. But now, he entered a world unlike any other he had ever known. Even though he had been a member of two other orchestras, being in the Chicago Symphony was certainly not what he expected. This true story lays bare the inner workings of a great orchestra ruled by a despot who had total control over his musicians and actually took sadistic pleasure in tormenting them. It was also a situation where there was nowhere to turn for help.

How Denov inspired the musicians to seize control of their own destinies and eventually reclaim their rights as artists is an inspiring story unlike any other you have ever read. Changing forever the profession of symphony musicians in the United States, this story is peopled with colorful characters such as Fritz Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, Jimmy Petrillo, Artur Rubenstein and many others. After reading this book, you may never listen to a great orchestral concert in quite the same way again.

Petrillo had also done some strategic planning. His operatives had appealed to every old timer they could find to attend this meeting. He even had all the members of the American Federation of Musicians’ International Executive Board there, posing as members of our Local. Of course, they were not members of our Local and were not entitled to vote at this meeting. But, they were there, regardless of the rules, to not only observe, but to vote.

Finally, at the appointed hour, with hundreds of members packed in the meeting room, Petrillo entered and all his supporters stood up and applauded. We made a point of neither rising nor applauding. Petrillo immediately saw that he was going to have a problem on his hands. He immediately announced a change in the order of business for this meeting so that the resolution on his pension would not be voted upon until the very end of the meeting. He knew that the members of the Chicago Symphony would have to leave at a certain time in order to get to their rehearsal.

One of our members immediately arose to object to the change in the order of business. He made a motion that the order of business that was printed in the notice of the meeting be adhered to. Another of our people seconded the motion. As the meeting’s chairman, Petrillo was obligated to put the motion to a vote. Our motion carried, to Petrillo’s surprise! He would have to use a different tactic to delay the business of the meeting as long as he could. He decided to make one of his classic speeches that could go on for what seemed like forever.

Petrillo began to recount the entire history of his time as President of the Local. Covering nearly forty years could take a very long time. He was a masterful speechmaker and could be mesmerizing when he chose to be. As he droned on and on, a few members actually arose and left the room. We soon realized that if his speech lasted too long, we would not have the opportunity to vote on the pension resolution at all.

Suddenly, Samuel Siegel, a CSO Violinist and one of the musicians who had been targeted for dismissal from the Orchestra, stood up and stopped Petrillo right in his tracks. In a very strong voice, he said, "Mr. President, I rise to a Point of Order" According to Roberts’ Rules of Order, raising a point of order could interrupt a speaker, and must be ruled upon as soon as the Point of Order is stated.

Petrillo was dumbfounded. No one had ever interrupted one of his speeches previously. As soon as he regained his composure, he asked, "What is your Point of Order?"

"Well," said Siegel, "you’ve been talking for more than an hour now, and you haven’t gotten past 1937 yet!" This bizarre move by Siegel startled and amused many of those in attendance. Petrillo was embarrassed and flustered! Of course, what Siegel stated was not really a Point of Order, but it served to break up the tempo of Petrillo’s speech. It ended five minutes later and the meeting moved to the subject of Petrillo’s pension.

A number of speakers were heard, both pro and con. As the debate continued on, it became apparent to Petrillo that he was not going to get his pension. Finally, Petrillo suggested that perhaps the money that would have been earmarked for his pension be devoted to some other worthy cause. Almost as though on cue, Lillian Poenisch, an elderly members of the Local arose and suggested that perhaps the money could be used to fund concerts by the retired members of the Local. This was readily acceptable to most of the members who were there.

A native Chicagoan, Sam Denov is a musician recognized throughout the world as one of America’s best known symphonic percussionists. He has been honored many times and his biographical sketch has been featured in Who’s Who In America and Who’s Who In Entertainment for three decades. Following service in the U.S. Navy during WWII, he was a member of the San Antonio and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, and most notably, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for thirty-one years.

He has been featured in educational film and on video, most recently on the video series, Concert Percussion, A Performer’s Guide, distributed by Warner Bros. Publications. He is also the author of many articles in trade publications and an educational text, The Art of Playing the Cymbals, also distributed by Warner Bros.

Denov has been heard on countless recordings, in concert throughout Europe, the Orient and South America, and on television and radio. He now performs, writes and lectures throughout the United States. He and his wife, Charlotte, reside in a suburb of Chicago.


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