Wednesday, September 14, 2011


On October 9th (hey, isn't that John Lennon's birthday?) Stephen and I ( or Madeleine and Penny) will be performing in the Richard Foreman Festival. Which you can check out here. We won't get our prompt (which the theme of our performance will be based around) until ten days before, but as Madeleine and Penny don't come with an orchestra, we figured we'd better take a look at our music.

Stephen had an idea about what our musical accompaniment should be, but first we need a tape with the basic tunes on it. I figured maybe I could take the sheet music and work it out on piano (OK, what we have is an old electric keyboard) and then record that, and that would give us something to start with. Let me play around with it Tuesday night, I said, and I'll see if I can learn how to play the songs.

It's been a long time since I've played piano. I am not sure when the last time was that I played piano. I don't sight read very well--I know most of the notes inside the lines of the treble clef and about five of the ones inside the lines of the bass clef, and for the rest I have to stop and do math. But I have a good ear and figured if I studied the lines and notes and rests and knew the basic songs, I could piece it together and then memorize it.

I'm not great at memorization.

Tuesday after I left work, after I went to the grocery store and put away the food, I sat down on the couch with the keyboard in front of me balanced on a chair, and Nicholas curled next to me (when he wasn't trying to get on my lap), and I stayed there for probably four hours poking my fingers at the keys.

I'm not saying I expected to turn into Oscar Levant in four hours.

(I tried to find a clip of Levant playing Sabre Dance or something else from the movie we watched Monday night, which is The Barkleys of Broadway, but i can't find a thing, so I'll have to just say that when you watch him play, you understand how piano fingers dance. His fingers dance as much as Fred and Ginger do in that movie.)

I didn't expect to turn into Oscar Levant in four hours, but I worked pretty much straight, just getting through one song. So many black keys. Black keys mean you can't play it by ear and logic, you have to more or less memorize the song note for note. But it's strange what happened with my fingers on keys for the first time in years. When I didn't think too much about them, they mostly remembered where they were supposed to be - and stranger, they started dancing. Not something you could see by watching my clumsy work, but I could feel it - some sort of magic thing that moved my hands as much as I was moving them. There's a bit of dance in everyone. I used to feel it when I was clowning. And even at times when I had my hands on a light board. The impulse is in me even when I'm an everyday body in space, walking to work, going down steps, sliding books onto a shelf. If it were socially acceptable, I'd probably dance everywhere, in some small way.

My fingers on the keys was a dance I'd forgotten with all the years that have passed since I used to play. That dance kept me sitting there on the couch until ten o'clock through a thousand wrong notes. I don't know if I'll be able to pull off playing the song sufficiently in the time we have, but the evening was worth it for that tiny awakening.

[goodnight, oscar levant, wherever you are.]


  1. Beautiful. (And I've never seen Oscar looking so well...!)

  2. this is so cool, gigi....never heard of this event but i am going to try and come.