Cocktail Piano

The Scourge of Musicians

aka “Old pianists never die, they simply tinkle away”

I recently read Mary Schneider’s thought-provoking and witty article about trying to enjoy a nice dinner at a local Italian restaurant whilst being bombarded aurally by the howling of a band of minstrels.  Being a pianist myself, I totally sympathize and agree with her and so here begins my rant about musicians. Before I proceed please bear in mind that the following criteria applies to this post:

  • I’m talking about live music in a nice restaurant (not coffee shops or pubs).
  • If this post strikes a nerve in you, please forgive me. I’m not targeting anyone in particular. Honest.

I feel like I’ve been playing solo piano all my life. I actually started out my first gig at the Golden Sands Resort here in Penang, way back in 1982. I was out from the States for a Summer vacation and my father said he had secured a piano-playing job for me at the named resort. Seeing that he had paid for my air tickets, who was I to argue? So I did the gig, I loved it, and I learnt some useful stuff along the way. I’ve loved piano playing so much that since then until now (imitates a Clint Eastwood accent) “I work alone.” No singers, no violinists, no kazoo players, zilch.

I’ve stuck with these rules of etiquette when playing the piano in nice, posh restaurants.

  • You are only the pianist, you are not the main attraction. The food and company is.
  • Don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Blend in with the ambience of the establishment. Look at the customers. Are they talking softly? Then play softly. Don’t be an ignoramus and drown out their conversations.
  • If you aren’t sure whether you’re playing at an ideal level, get your ass off the seat and ask. Customers are usually direct and they will tell you. Also observe their body language (an outlandish example is if you see someone covering his/her ears. That is a strong signal for you to clam up!) If you’re too shy, ask one of the staff (I am assuming that you get on well with the staff. They’re always downright honest about music levels).
  • I’ve also learnt that it isn’t worth it to bang on the keys even when the restaurant is packed and the noise level has increased dramatically. Why? Because you won’t win. So why make a fool out of yourself?
  • It’s good to lose yourself in the music while playing but don’t get so carried away that you’ve forgotten about the level of sound you’re producing.

Ah, you ask. What’s your pet peeve? You really want to know? It’s this—I absolutely hate it when I walk into a fine restaurant and the pianist or musician insists on stuffing his/her music down my throat, together with my food. BLECH!! And also this—if you need someone to tell you that your music is too loud, you’re not a professional at all, you’re simply a show-off. So there!

Let me conclude by telling you one of my favorite pianist jokes.

A man and his neighbor are talking. The neighbor asks, “So now your missus has taken up the clarinet instead of the piano? Is that better or worse?”

“Better,” the man replies. The neighbor is intrigued. “Why?”

“Because she can’t sing and play at the same time.”