Eddie Blitz, RIP

Edouard Marquis Blitz, a cellist with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
for 27 years (and one of its first members), died on April 15, 2008 at
the age of 85.

Eddie came out of a long family tradition of music. His grandfather, Edouard Emanual Blitz, was born in Belgium and was a violinist (as well as a dentist), and is credited by at least one source on the Internet with founding the Kansas City Symphony. His father, Julien Blitz, was also born in Belgium and was a cellist and conductor (Wikipedia credits him with both leading the San Antonio Symphony for a period and with founding the Houston Symphony.

Eddie was assistant principal cellist with the Dallas Symphony and a member of the Minneapolis Symphony for 15 years before crossing the river (at least professionally) to join the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

I had the good fortune to have Eddie as a colleague for eight years in St. Paul. Eddie was a consummate professional (it was his boast that he had never, ever called in sick). I remember him as having great facility on the cello and always being very well prepared.

But what made Eddie memorable to so many of us who knew him was that Eddie was a remarkable character – even by the standards of our business.

Eddie specialized in strategic outrageousness – which meant that the most memorable stories about Eddie were about Eddie on tour, as that’s when his outrageousness did his colleagues the most good (and Eddie was never so happy as when cheering people up). For example, Eddie invented the "zip du jour," which unfortunately required the kind of corrugated overhead luggage racks that most buses didn’t have by the time I joined the orchestra. But occasionally we’d be in one that did, in which case Eddie would call out "zip de jour!" and everyone would find a coin, reach up and rip it across the underside of the luggage rack, which made an amazing noise.

Another of Eddie’s morale boosters on tours was the routine with the bathroom door. This generally involved raising the toilet seat, grabbing the door, and singing the first four bars of the last movement of Tchaikowsky 4, with the last two notes (5 -1, you know the ones) being provided by the toilet seat falling and the door being slammed respectively. Eddie did a variation on this one gray day as we were driving from Salt Lake City airport to Provo, Utah at the end of a very hard two-week tour. This involved the toilet seat substituting for the timpani at the beginning of the Beethoven violin concerto (which we were touring with Pinky Zukerman that year). In Eddie’s version, the timpanist was having a very hard time indeed meeting the conductor’s exacting standards (we got both sides; the conductor’s demands for five even notes and the timpanist’s pathetic attempts to comply). Most of us could barely crawl off the bus once we got to Provo, we had laughed so hard.

Then there was the time we got stranded in Des Moines by our airline due to a blizzard, and had to return home in a chartered bus, crawling up the Interstate at 20 mph. Eddie borrowed all the cosmetics he could from the women in the orchestra, disrobed down to the essentials in the bathroom, and came out to cheer us all up. It worked, too. (The fact that Eddie was a life-long tennis fanatic and was always in tremendous shape made it a far more palatable sight than one might think at first blush.)

Skip James in St. Paul tells me that Eddie’s memorial service was wonderful, that many more stories were told, and that, at Eddie’s request, the recessional was Give my regards to Broadway. He also told me that, when someone called for a moment of silence in remembrance of Eddie at an orchestra meeting, someone else pointed out that silence was the last thing that Eddie would have wanted – so they had a moment of exuberance instead.

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