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My Favorite Quotations

Here is a list of some of my favorite quotations. Most of them I’ve had to write out from memory, so the wording here and there may be a bit off, and in some cases I can’t even remember for sure who said the quotation. Still, I hope despite my occasionally foggy memory I will have managed here to convey the gist of the original words, the thought or turn of phrase that made me smile.

If you know the source of one of the unattributed quotations here, or have a wording correction to offer, feel free to write me.

To provide some order to an otherwise miscellaneous page, the quotations are grouped by subject matter. The categories are Deep Thoughts, Personal Conduct, Quotations About Music, Quotations About Food, Interacting With Others, Light Humor, and Three Word Gems. Got a good one? Let me know using the “contact” link in the header.



Deep Thoughts

“The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.”
     – Pascal
“Sometimes I just sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits.”
     – seen when I was a child on a poster with an image of an empty chair ... Author?
“You don’t have to like everybody, but you have to love everybody.”
     – Fannie Lou Hamer
“The faster you go the behinder you get.”
New York City is an experiment in prison reform where the inmates are the guards.
     – from the movie My Dinner With André, written by Wallace Shawn
“The minority is always right.”
     – Henrik Ibsen


Personal Conduct – General Advice

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
Be really careful not to “jump to conclusions.”
It is better to fail doing something the right way than to succeed doing something the wrong way.
     – Stewart Brand
“The fault lies not in our stars, but in our selves...&rdquo:
     – William Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar
“Any idiot can face a crisis it’s this day to day living that wears you out.”
     – Anton Chekhov
“When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
(I have trouble with this one personally, being a bit of a perfectionist – but it’s good advice for people who want to get things done.)
“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
     – Dorothy Day
“No problem is so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.”
     – Linus van Pelt (character in Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz)
When someone who had reached 100 years old was asked if he had his life to live over again, is there anything he would have done differently, he replied, “I sure would have cleaned a hell of a lot less.”


Quotations About Music

“At last, the divine comedy is over.”
     – Ludwig van Beethoven (reportedly said on his deathbed)
“Among the artistic hierarchy, birds are probably the greatest musicians to inhabit our planet.”
     – Olivier Messiaen
When playing Mozart, one should not have to sweat.
     – Rudolf Serkin
“Sound has no parents.”
     – Ornette Coleman
Dmitri Shostakovich said to the composer Sofia Gubaidulina after her final examination at the Moscow Conservatory in 1959: “Everybody thinks you are moving in the wrong direction. But I wish you to continue on your ‘mistaken’ path.”
The sound of the harpsichord is like the sound of “skeletons copulating on a tin roof.”
“As soon as you think you’re good, you’re not.”
     – David Soyer, cellist, Guarneri Quartet
Said of the music of John Cage: “With that sort of music, you don’t try to understand it, you just experience it.”
     – Susan Reid
“We should have a music of our own – if possible, without any Sauerkraut.”
     – Erik Satie
About the pipe organ, Igor Stravinsky said, “The monster doesn't breathe!”
“Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can listen to the B Minor Mass?”
     – Michael Torke
“Mistakes – mistakes – you yourself are a unique mistake!”
     – Ludwig van Beethoven, writing to his copyist
“Art always demands of us something new.”
     – Ludwig van Beethoven
“Prince, what you are, you are by the accident of birth; what I am, I am of myself.
There are and there will be thousands of princes. There is only one Beethoven.”
     – Ludwig van Beethoven, to his patron Prince Lichnowsky
Maurice Ravel, upon hearing someone practicing his Pavane pour une infante défunte, said: “Madame, c’est l’infante qui est défunte, pas vous!”
After a concert where a new piece of Arnold Schoenberg’s was premiered, a composer Schoenberg did not think highly of came up to him and congratulated him, saying how much he liked the new piece. Schoenberg replied, “oh, I’ll have to change it then.”
A composer sent Saint-Saens a copy of one of his compositions, saying he hoped Saint-Saens would like it as the composer fancied it contained something “beautiful and new.” Saint-Saens replied, “what in it that is beautiful is not new, and what is new is not beautiful.”
“Crescendo means piano, diminuendo means forte.”
     – Hans von Bülow
When you play Bach like Chopin, and Chopin like Bach, something good happens.
     – Pablo Casals
A compositional passage, orchestrational touch, or way of playing a passage can be “too much of a good thing,” that is, it might be great to hear the special moment once or maybe twice, but to do it too much suddenly turns it into something tiresome.
On conducting: If you can just barely hear the French horns on stage, the balance is perfect.
     – Richard Strauss

Quotations About Jazz

These days, you’re considered a genius just for being yourself.
     – Thelonius Monk
“It seems the activity of expressing sound to do with music has just started blooming – and because of that, the beginners feel like they’re professionals, and the professionals feel like they are beginners, which is very healthy.”
     – Ornette Coleman
John Coltrane, early in his career, asked Miles Davis – Miles, I really have trouble ending a solo ... I keep coming up with more and more ideas as I go along ... how do I end a solo? Miles’ reply: “Take the horn out of your mouth.”
Someone asked Miles how he came up with the idea for such and such a tune. His answer: “Well, we were really into Rachmaninoff that week.”


Quotations About Food

A refrigerator is composed of things that are too good to throw out and too bad to eat.
“The food was bad, and what’s more, there wasn’t enough of it.”
     – Mark Twain, about a restaurant meal
A Buddhist saying: if you think you’re full, you’ve already eaten too much.
“If music be the food of love, play on.”
     – Shakespeare, from Twelfth Night

Interacting With Others

On teaching: “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.”
     – Red Auerbach
The person who lives closest to the meeting site is always the last one to arrive.
If someone out there in the world is being negative to you all the time, just don’t talk with them.
     – Advice my friend N.E. learned from her mother
When helping someone with a visual disability, “be their eyes, not their brain.”
     – Fred Jones
“With friends like these, who needs enemies?”


Light Humor

“All the world’s a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”
     – Sean O’Casey
Don’t think, you’ll just confuse yourself.
“What’s hidden in an empty box?”
     – Chinese fortune cookie
The winner of a chess game is the player who makes the next to last mistake.
     – Savielly Tartakower
When asked his opinion of a new young chess talent, the grandmaster Art Bisguier humphed, “I’ve lost more games than he’s played.”
The bridge master Frank Hacker encouraged newer players not to be afraid when sitting down at a table to play cards against people with 25 years of experience. He said, “Most of them have only one year of experience they’ve repeated 25 times.”
“Water evaporates”
     – Arnowitt’s First Law, invoked after a spill
“You’re not really living in Vermont until you’ve risked your life to go to a party.”
     – Bob Messing
“Americans are hypocrites ... but – hypocrites get things done!”
     – Samuel Vriezen
“Are you quite sure of your facts?”
     – The Man Who Rules The Universe, to _____ (name I can’t remember), character in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
“The final exam? The final exam is continuous and self-administered.”
     – Raphael Atlas


Three Word Gems

Count your blessings.
Choose your battles.
“Don’t borrow trouble.”
Cherish the moment.
“What is truth?”
     – Pontius Pilate, gospel according to St. John
“Random = God”
     – Clarence Barlow
“Retirement = Death”
     – Richard Arnowitt
Happiness = Reality Expectations
(If your reality is good and your expectations are low, you will be happy. If reality is not good and your expectations are high, you will be the most unhappy, but if reality is not good and your expectations are also not high, you can still be relatively happy – as subtracting a negative number is the same as adding it as a positive number).