Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pianos for Peace in Palermo with Puccini


Woke up to begin the homeward journey with the news of another mass shooting in Munich, the very place we were flying to first before turning west to San Francisco. This the new world we have to learn to live with. Fear and disaster around every corner, no safe place and so much worse than earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis because it is our own human failings, both cultural and personal, that have created it. But still life must go on and as jazz pianist Kenny Barron said when he arrived in Munich, “If we don’t play, the terrorists win.” On with the show.

We were heading to the gate in Palermo Airport when I heard the sound of a kid fooling around on a piano. I’ve seen—and played pianos— in airports in Portland and Toronto and isn’t that a great idea? Ran over there and watched the 5-year old explore up and down the keyboard, following his interesting thinking (left hand goes down, right hand goes up), but secretly itching to play myself. Considered sitting down for a duet and probably should have, but selfishly just wanted him to finish so I could play. He did a few minutes later and I sat down to this Yamaha baby grand and played a version of Tea for Two. At the end, enthusiastic unexpected applause from the waiting passengers in the area and whether or no, I was in it for the 45 minutes I had until boarding. (And just for the record, continued applause at the end of each number. Palace Hotel patrons, take note!)

Between four decades of The San Francisco School daily singing time and eight years of playing at The Jewish Home, there was no lack of repertoire and I went from song to song, with attention to variety in style. From Ragtime to Swing tunes to be-bop to classical and even a little folk—Santa Lucia in honor of Italy and variations on The Itsy Bitsy Spider for a little boy dancing around nearby.

About halfway through it, an airport worker plopped down a ragged two pages of the aria with accompaniment Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot and gave me rapid-fire directions in Italian as to what to do. I jumped in and he started singing and mostly we landed together and wasn’t that a fine moment, two strangers with few words in common meeting serendipitously at an airport in Sicily and filling the air with such glorious sounds and stirring the hearts of the listening passerbys who otherwise would be reading about the Munich shooting on their i-Phone.

If living well is the best revenge, if increasing the available supply of love and beauty is one of the few ways to survive the holocaust of random and purposeful terrorism, why, let’s keep feeding it with pianos in every airport, in the parks (as they were in Golden Gate Park last year and again this month), in the shopping malls and for goodness sakes, in the schools. I vow to sit down and play at each and every one I see and if you want to do a duet, sing a song, dance or just snap your fingers along, you are most welcome.

Pianos for Peace. A fine idea whose time has come.

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