Sunday, June 9, 2013

Women Under Pianos


In our summer Orff training courses and in the last two Miniconferences, I’ve created a new venue for piano solo performance— lights out and people lying on the floor while I play a jazz ballad. People seem to like it, often sharing with me the particular journey they went on in their mind. The only strange thing is the ambivalence about what to do after the last note. Like when there’s a moving piece of music in a church service, do you clap? Most people settle for a tentative, feeble applause and I don’t feel too insulted— loud clapping would be too jarring after some heart-opening moments. But when inventing a new venue, there's a lot to figure out—the end etiquette is a work-in-process.

Last night was the Orff Course show put on by the students, a hilarious affair with the guiding story of the Swedish Princess’s recent marriage at the center of the parody. (Really quite brilliant the way it held together, including a marriage ceremony in which vows were spoken as a clapping play!) At the end was a jubilant live Samba percussion jam that went on for well over an hour, climaxing in people coming down the line two-by-two dancing to the music, each time in a different style with different motions. Quite extraordinary the limitless possibilities when the human body and the human imagination meet on the Samba border.

As the drumming was winding down, I led the musicians over to the piano and segued into a bossa nova, the old standard, “The Girl From Ipanema.” From there, it was an effortless segue into “Besame Mucho” and then “Sway”, with saxophones, trumpets, flutes and accordions appearing and singers who knew all the words. A boisterous boogie blues to "Hound Dog" lyrics followed and then a thrilling conversation between me on piano and a tap-dancer as we “Stomped at the Savoy.” I brought the energy down again with various singers singing a slow, sultry “Summertime” and that’s when I noticed at the end that eight women were lying under the piano.

Several musician friends told me how they used to do the same as kids when their Mom or Dad was playing piano, feeling the vibrations above and below and absorbing the music with their whole body as a giant ear. I’d like to try it myself sometime! But meanwhile, it helped remind me to voice each chord fully, hear all the overtones and let them ring, lay down a sensual carpet of sound whose job was not to impress with flash and dazzle, but to soothe and comfort with the vibrations of intimacy and a mother’s love.

And so I played “Embraceable You” as the lights went down and the room grew silent and me imagining, as I often do now, my own Mom sitting to my right. Off we all went together, embraced by Gershwin’s invitation to let our hearts go tipsy and wrap our arms around each phrase. And it was the perfect jazz time— 2:00 in the morning, the sky actually somewhat dark—rare in these long-lit Finnish summer nights. It was a gym rather than a club and there was no smoke for miles around, but good music transcends place and time— or rather, can invoke it regardless where you are.

People listened in deep silence and when I released the last note, the women under the piano beckoned me to come lay down with them. And so I did. 

Well, in my dreams. J

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