A pianist’s lament…
I love intimate performance spaces. As an audient, I love being close to the performers, to be up close and personal, to really see the effort of playing and to hear lots of the detail. As a performer, I love being able to see the faces of the people to whom I play. I like to see them smiling and relaxed and happy to be moved by some music. I don’t even mind if they’re enjoying a quiet beverage at the same time, though I do mind if they chat with their friends whilst I’m playing.
There was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about how great the intimate venue live music scene is these days in Sydney. The City of Sydney council has helped the scene a lot by making it much cheaper to get a liquor licence, so all these new groovy small bars have opened up, run by people who love live music. There’s a great deal happening, and it’s all a very happy story.
However there’s one group of musicians very much left on the edge. Pianists. Not one of the venues mentioned in the article have a piano. I don’t know if I’m the only one who’s upset about this, but given that there are a number of bigger pop stars who play the piano very well (Ben Folds, Tori Amos, Rufus Wainright, Regina Spektor) and even ones who play mainstream stuff that doesn’t interest me (Missy Higgins, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys… even Taylor feckin’ Swift!) you might think that it’d be a more popular instrument to have around again. But apparently not.
The expectation from venues seems to be that you’ll bring your own ‘piano’ i.e. keyboard. Newsflash, dear venue owners; a keyboard is not a piano. They are two different instruments. I prefer to play the piano, with occasional forays into keyboard when I am required to make sounds that cannot be made on a piano, actual electronic sounds, not something imitating a piano. The solidity of a real piano contrasted with the flexibility of it,. The dynamic range not only in terms of volume but more importantly in terms of colour. A good pianist uses the weight of their entire body to create a resonant sound. Some flimsy little keyboard stand is never going to cut it, even under the weight of someone as small as yours truly. The natural resonance of hammer on string setting sail in that enormous steel framed wooden ship… Lemme tell ya, there’s nothing that can imitate that!
The only venues outside of concert halls and opera houses that seem to genuinely value the piano as a worthy contributor to the music world are cabaret and jazz bars. Jazz world and classical world are reasonably comfortable bedfellows in this, with the quality of the instrument being utmost in our minds. Cabaret venues are less good with that but more often tend to have one because they like it as a piece of furniture. There’s at least one cabaret bar here in Sydney that insisted on the cheapest white piano they could find to match the light up disco floor on their stage. It’s a terrible instrument. Terrible, but kinda pretty. Ah well, at least they have one.
One really special Sydney venue got left out of the article and I’d like to give them a bit of a shout out. Foundry616 are pretty new kids on the block, but have a fantastic piano and book musicians who really, y’know, play it. Ok, disclosure time, I’m biased cos I’m gonna play a gig there in the not too distant future. But my colleagues and I chose the venue on the strength of the instrument available. If any of those other venues would like to book this multi ARIA Award winner, they can get an instrument for me first. Not just for me, but for all the fine piano playing musicians of the world. Truly, it will open more of the scene up to a whole lot more excellent music making. Truly.