Well I’ve already told you about my wind-fighting invention, the pianist’s windsock and paperclip. But the more I perform, the more distractions I seem to find. Here are some of the most common.
1. The Curious Child
At Viva’s choir rehearsals I sit at an upright directly facing the boys’ section. While generally well-behaved, they do enjoy talking amongst themselves, or even coming around the keyboard to try and “help” me out. I’m all for letting kids explore the piano. It’s a complicated instrument and there’s lots to see and do. But let’s do it after rehearsal!
2. Someone Saying “Hi”
This happens every week at the Magnolia Hotel, where my piano faces the elevators. I get to watch everybody coming down for breakfast. People walking by will acknowledge my existence with some eye contact and a nod. The glance and the nod (with a smile) are easy; anything beyond that and you’re asking for trouble. It’s tough to play certain pieces while having a conversation (this is where rubato comes in handy). If someone really gets involved I’ll stop, or play a holding pattern for a minute before taking off again.
3. Someone Leaving a Tip
The most positive interruption there is! Like the sound of Super Mario grabbing a coin. I always try and say thank-you no matter what the music is doing.
4. The Conductor
Okay, I’m kidding here. The fact is, most of the music I play is either as part of a group, or in front of one. Keeping track of what others are doing while performing is just something we musicians have to do. Playing to an empty box (practicing) isn’t as fun. When rehearsing a difficult piece with a choir, my tendency is to get “tunnel hearing”. I am so focused on pounding out the right chords, or in the case of last Christmas’ Rutter piece with VIVA, leaping to and fro over awkward organesque voice leading and flourishes.
In reality, I need to become more engaged with the people around me, whether they are a four-piece band, a lobby full of hotel guests, or 36 children and a conductor. That is the real challenge of ensemble playing and performance and something I enjoy tremendously.