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When Life Gives You Two Pianos, You Make Musical Lemonade

The Quadratonics! From left to right, Traci Kanaan, Jan Holden, Jeannie Mac, and Chris Bankey. Photo credit: Stuart Holden

Earlier this year, I found myself with 2 pianos.  I tried selling one, but no one was interested after 6 months on the Facebook marketplace and another online dedicated piano listing service.  I decided to keep it and moved the second piano to my home.  What, exactly, does one do with two pianos when one can only play one piano at a time?  You make musical lemonade.

I found a musical friend in my community, and she and I began playing duets last year.   When I added the second piano, we played two piano duets.   I then got the idea to find two other musicians so we could do two pianos, four musicians, and eight-hand duets.  This means two people at each piano, playing a piece arranged for 8 parts, one part for each hand.   Our first practice was in March; since then, we've spent our Saturday mornings practicing for 90 minutes as a group, with additional individual practice time so we can learn our parts.  We decided several months ago to do a concert, and the culmination of our efforts was last night (September 24th, 2023).

Yesterday, three other musicians and I performed three concerts: Mozart & Mimosas at 2 p.m., Mozart and Margaritas at 5 p.m., and Mozart and Martinis at 8 p.m.  Since moving two pianos is tricky (especially since my pianos are on the second floor, with no elevator), we invited our friends and neighbors to our home for the concert.  Doug planned the food and drinks and narrated in between each piece.

As a comedian and a musician, I've done some exciting things musically.  I've composed music for two children's plays, done comedy parodies, and been in shows with some of the funniest comedians and comedic actors in the business.  But yesterday took things to a whole new, incredible level!   When I performed as a comedian, my entire show depended on me.  I had to make the fun happen no matter what performer was ahead or behind me.  Performing with three other incredible musicians comes with exciting, new challenges.

Performing the same piece with three other musicians is like building a moving jigsaw puzzle.  You must know your part and learn where it fits in.  If your dynamic says to play softly, you have to play softly because you could ruin someone else's chances to shine.   You have to listen to what others are doing.  If they make a mistake, you can't let it fluster you.  If you make a mistake, you can't let your error derail your performance.   When performing a piece, you must take it at a tempo everyone can play.  If it goes too fast, someone gets left behind; the composition you are playing was written so everyone finishes together.  When practicing a piece, it's okay to stop and start over.  That is not the case when you're performing live!  You have to keep going, no matter what happens.

All four of us played professionally at some time in our lives, and all four retired from playing professionally some years ago.  We are not young performers; we range in age from our mid-50s to early 70's.  While I'll never say we are "past our musical prime," each quartet member deals with aging-related issues.  Some of us don't have the finger mobility we once had.  Some of us don't have the hearing we once had.  Some of us don't have the voices we once had.  Some of us definitely don't have the patience we used to have!   Going into rehearsals takes an exceptional understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses.  That understanding grows as we continue to work together.

In our performances yesterday, with all our practice over the last 6 months, I found it weird that we made new mistakes.  I put my music on my iPad to turn pages with a foot pedal.  Evidently, I moved a switch on my foot pedal inadvertently.  When I went to turn a page, the music disappeared!  Mid-show, I had to use my left hand and swipe the screen to get my music back.  Unfortunately...the piece was three pages long, so I hit the foot pedal again to turn the page, and the music vanished again.  I finally figured out the switch issue and will never repeat THAT mistake!  Thankfully, the piece was written for me to play one hand at a time in several places.  I knew the work well enough to improvise until I got the music back, and the other performer and I had already choreographed some funny into the performance so not everyone knew what was happening.  Whew!

Overall, each show got better and better, and all three shows were great experiences.  Playing with other talented musicians was challenging and pushed me to improve my playing.  It allowed me to dust off my joy of playing piano for fun.  It allowed me to let my sense of humor shine through without having to carry an entire show.  It allowed me to bond with three other fabulous musicians.  I wouldn't trade this experience for the world!  I got a video of the shows, so I'll likely post a snippet or two in the coming weeks. 

I'm so glad life dumped two piano lemons on my lap, and I'm even happier our piano four-some was able to turn this into "musical lemonade" for our family, friends, and neighbors.  If you came to the show...THANK YOU!  If you tipped us...THANK YOU even more!!!   

We've already been asked about doing a Christmas Show!  So...if we were to do a Christmas would be Sunday, December 17th...stay tuned!

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