Last night The Hunter and I were invited by friends (The Deacon and The Artist) to what I would call a “Dueling Pianos Thing.” It’s not a concert. It’s not a straight performance. And it’s certainly not just a regular exhibition by skilled musicians. In this case, the audience is integral, and contributes dance moves and sometimes lyrics, both of which may be either skilled or unskilled, depending on the performers. I suppose one could call it a spectacle designed to provide food and beer money for the piano players and fun for the attendees.
And it was fun. This is the first time I have ever been to one of these things. The program appears to be that the piano players will play and sing a song – any song – on request and if the audience disapproves of that song, they can stop it by submitting a “stop request”, along with some green spending stuff in the proper amount. The proper amount is more than the request to sing the song in the first place. And then if someone disapproves of the disapproval, that someone can submit a “resume request” with more than the original stop greenery attached. And so it goes. The stop-resume is likely to go through several cycles on most songs and prove lucrative indeed for the pianists.
The most sensational stop-resume was when one of the pianists reminisced about last Sunday’s spectacular Super Bowl, and this being Patriots’ country, said he was going to honor the occasion and swung into “Sweet Caroline;” which for reasons I have never quite understood is the fight song of the Boston Red Sox; which as most people realize is a different entity altogether from the New England Patriots. The Hunter, in spite of being almost as rabid a Red Sox fan as a Patriots one, hates “Sweet Caroline.” He positively loathes it. This caused him to leap up and fling ten dollars at the piano player for him to stop. (This was a spectacularly high tariff as these auctions usually start at a dollar.)
There was a stunned silence as the pianist could not conceive of anyone hating that song and the misunderstood Hunter was accused of hating Boston sports instead. This is gross liable, but before this could be refuted, someone else came up with eleven dollars and the poor Hunter had to listen to not only the piano accompaniment, but most of the audience singing along. He solved this problem nicely by going back to the bar for another glass of something soothing.
When the audience just sits there like dumb bricks, which doesn’t happen all that often, the piano players have dealer’s choice. They take that opportunity to invite various groups up on the dance floor, where the idea is to have them learn some dance moves and edify the rest of us with their skill. The Hunter, The Artist, The Deacon and I all agreed that it wouldn’t be physically possible for us to drink enough (even with intervals of “Sweet Caroline,”) to take part in those exhibitions. We were quite happy, however, to watch those who did, to admire the skill (or lack thereof), the general level of bravery, and the capacity for alcohol.
I immediately began thinking how much fun it would be either to use this kind of a setup for a fundraiser – although there would have to be some sort of agreement with the piano players, as the only funds raised under the current model went straight to their bottom line – or even a private party. But here again, inviting guests and expecting them to further shell out for entertainment might not be the done thing. In any case, ever the control freak, I had enough fun to start considering how I might do this again under more controlled circumstances so as not to end up in a public conga line.
I think I read somewhere once that at the top of most people’s wishful regret list is the inability to play the piano. I mean, who wouldn’t like to be able to just sit down and play and entertain family and friends. It certainly is at the top of my how-lovely-but-pretty-sure-it-is-never-going-to-happen list.
That being the case, I was fascinated at watching the fingers of these pianists. They rarely looked at the keyboard and they played without any music. Yet their hands went up and down the line, coming down firmly and loudly on the correct multiples of notes every single time.
There is a line I associate with P.G. Wodehouse, but I could be completely mistaken. I can’t cite the story or remember the exact phrasing. I think it is spoken by Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, the Drones Club nitwit, who can barely cross the street without incident, and who after hearing someone’s rendition of something on the piano is thinking of taking that instrument up himself. He looks at his hands and works it out: “You mean that all you have to is get the right hand to do one thing, while the left hand does something completely different? That shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Not too difficult indeed! But in last night’s case, this was all further complicated by a third entity, the mouth, belting out the lyrics, on notes which may match or may be merely complimentary to the hands’ performance. All from memory.
Thankfully, there are people who can do this. And do it well. It makes for a huge change from shoveling out from blizzards and a very entertaining evening.