Wednesday, May 29, 2013


If I had a marketing bone in my body, or paid much attention to what is going on in the entertainment world at the moment, I would have realized that there is a new movie about Liberace out there somewhere, and with it, naturally, there is going to be some interest in its star. So, naturally, my website has been getting quite a few hits from people who are wondering how good a pianist Liberace really was, and, luckily for my google-rankings challenged self, I happen to have addressed the question a few years ago on a page designed to answer the sorts of questions I frequently get asked at concerts.

If you're wondering, he was basically good enough to wow vast segments of the non-musically interested population, and not good enough to bore them with more than they wanted to hear. In other words, he "knew what [his] audience would stand for," as he put it.

He called it "classical music without the boring parts," which is a pretty important strategy to adopt if you want to be considered the world's greatest pianist by most of the population. Those boring parts might actually be some of the most sublime passages in the history of music, if you can handle them. If you can't, they are just boring. So you play the bits people recognize, and then you fill the rest in with your personality, which is a mirror for your audience's aspirations, namely being rich and famous. Part of Liberace's game was to celebrate being rich and famous. A large part of it.

I probably owe him something. It isn't because I saw him being a pianist and I thought he was really great at it and I thought I could do what he did some day. It's because, when I was growing up, he was really popular, and the kids at school knew who he was and he apparently made piano playing seem really cool. Then, when I played the piano in front of them at school assemblies and so forth, they thought I was really cool, too, just like him. I always wondered why I didn't get beat up instead, and I think it has something to do with him. So, much too late, thanks, Mr. L.

But as far as the rest of it, I obviously didn't go down the same path. Because I would rather play great music even if it is too demanding for most of us, and will never be popular as the watered down versions with a few spectacular sounding passages here and there to play on persons' natural desire to be impressed rather than enlightened or moved. I am not a showman. I do sometimes tell jokes in concert, and have even been told I should do standup. And I've been asked how my fingers can go so fast. But when it comes to the music, I don't shorten the pieces, ignore the musically demanding stuff, or play up the derring-do of the performer. I've chosen to be a musician instead. It's a tougher road, less travelled. Oh well.

This is music for specialists, for people who want to spend a lot of time at it, and naturally it will not have instant appeal to everyone. But one of the major experiments behind this blog is to see if people who haven't already been attracted to serious music might be able to love it if somebody who knows it can communicate  well enough what makes it so wonderful. Three days a week, for over five months, I've been trying. Maybe I'll start to get it right eventually.

It makes sense that a lot of people aren't going to be interested. And it's not just music. Take any field of human endeavor. Take, for example, cooking. If you want a cooking show to be popular, a show in which actual recipes are given out, and the viewers are encouraged to learn something about the subject, it's going to take somebody with a pretty big personality to get it to go down with a large audience, and then it is going to owe more to the personality than to the subject. If you want a bigger audience, create a reality show where chefs compete with each other to see who is going to get all the prize money. That way, the show isn't really about cooking; it's about our competitive nature, about the frequently nasty things people say about each other, about interpersonal conflict, about manufactured drama, and so on. If they created a reality show about pianists, it would be the same way.

Meanwhile, we will just have to be content with having occasional parts on police dramas and made for tv specials in which the main focus is on the artist's ego or their inability to get along (or possibly murder) a colleague. There might be a few bars of Chopin popping up here or there to make it seem like it has to do with playing the piano, but that is just for effect. The producers have to know what their audiences will stand for.

I don't have to know any better. I don't have a lot invested in this blog and I don't need to be famous. So I can go out on a limb and play some very difficult music and hope some of you will like it. Or be changed. But it's not like we can't entertain each other along the way. It doesn't all have to be deadly serious. Just some of the time.

This week I found the answer to a musical mystery that began last fall. I noticed that Pianonoise had been featured in "The Guardian." If you're wondering, that's a newspaper from the UK, whose featurette from last September, apparently a tie-in with something the BBC does every fall, had a link to one of my pages, a rather silly essay on page turning. That's become one of the most popular pages on the site, and I don't mind it that much. That essay manages not only to make goofy comments but also to actually tell a page turner what to do in the event of an actual page turning emergency. I figure it's a nice blend of entertainment and information and I stand behind it.

What's funny about it is they didn't tell me they were going to link to me (clicking on the "P is for Page turning link") so when someone sent me an email last fall telling me that "as a regular reader of the Guardian" they really enjoyed my article I said....what are they talking about? (I don't think I even knew what "The Guardian" was at that point.)

Just yesterday, about 24 hours after I discovered the link, as various vague memories were tossing about in my head, I remembered the email. Oh, that's what he was talking about!

Sometimes it takes me a little while to get something. Be patient.

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