You Look Just Like Our Mannequin!

I was playing for a brunch one Easter Sunday at a prominent country club in a nearby city when this sweet older couple approached me between songs complimenting me on my playing and song choices.  They introduced themselves as James & Shirley and they were making comments about my music pad. At some point during our conversation, they whispered among themselves saying, “Should we tell her?” The other saying, “Oh…I don’t know, do you think we should?” And before anymore was said, the wife bluntly spoke, “You look exactly like our mannequin.” By this time, their grown son had approached, heard the conversation and said, “It’s true, you look just like her.”

My mind racing, I asked, “What do you mean?” Shirley went on to tell me that they have a beautiful grand player piano in their home, but that it sat there all by itself with no one to play it. She said that one day; she went to some kind of sale and found a bald, naked, female mannequin who was in the sitting position, with her hands extended as if she was playing the piano.  She immediately purchased it and lugged it home.

She continued on telling me she sat that naked, bald mannequin on her piano bench and left her there, just like that (bald and naked) for weeks as she pondered exactly what to name her, what to dress her in and what kind of hair style she should have. It had to be perfect.

She told me that eventually she chose a black flowing gown, named her Cynthia and chose a black wig with a Cleopatra hairstyle, which was exactly how I wore my hair.

Shirley arranged the room so that you cannot see the mannequin’s hands when you enter the room. James told me that when they throw parties, they turn on the player piano and their guests do not notice that Cynthia is a mannequin right away; at first glance they think the couple hired a piano player. Once it is realized, everyone has a big laugh. They say she’s a wonderful addition to their parties, a great conversation piece!

Now, at this point I was thinking all of this was funny, kind of strange and rather hard to believe, but their son assured me that it was all true. He said to prove it to me; he would take a photo of it and email it to me. I rather doubted that I would ever hear from them again, but gave him my business card anyway.

A couple of weeks passed and I kind of forgot about the incident until one day, there in my inbox, was an email from an address that I did not recognize. I opened it up and there was a picture of Cynthia, dressed up exactly as they said, sitting at their grand piano!

After studying the photo, I decided she really didn’t look much like me after all. She was way too tall and much too thin!

 

 


Spiders in the Piano?

I was playing at the Marriott one night in the spring a couple of years ago. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something scurrying on the white keys. When I looked down, there was nothing there, so I kept playing. (Little did I know, there was a spider hiding in the corner of one of the keys.) I continued to play. Soon, I felt something under my finger as it touched the keys, something small and soft, I glanced down again, but saw nothing. I was in the middle of a song and to stop and examine the keys wasn’t something I had time to do. Not until the song was finished.

After playing the last note of the song, I looked thoroughly at the keyboard and sure enough, there was a spider, hiding in the corner of the keys. My heart raced and I screeched aloud as I saw him. (I hate spiders!) I brushed him off and stomped on him.

Now, if you see a spider in a place like that, wouldn’t you think it was a freak incident and forget about it? Well, that’s what I did…until the next time.

So I continue playing. A few hours later, something catches my eye on the key cover, which was in the upright position (open position). Remembering the previous spider incident, my heart again raced and I immediately knew it was another spider! This time I screamed, stopped playing in the middle of a song and jumped up from the piano bench, everyone is staring now. Again I brushed it off and stomped on it. I hurried to the front desk and told them about the spiders and asked them if they would send over the maintenance man, Greg.

Greg came armed with a flashlight and bug spray. As he looked inside, I expected him to find a nest of them. He meticulously examined the piano, but couldn’t find a thing, not even a web. Weird!

So now, I’m completely freaked out, thinking another spider is going to appear at any moment. I continued to play for my shift and saw no more spiders that night.

Now, I don’t remember if it was one or two weeks later….maybe even three, but one Thursday or Friday night soon after that, I was again playing at the Marriott like I do every week. The piano is located in the middle of an atrium that is surrounded by seven stories of floors. On one end of this huge space is a three-story waterfall, with two lighted glass elevators on each side. The roof is a dome of glass, seven stories up.

So, I was in the middle of a song when all of a sudden I noticed a spider hanging right in front of my face between my music pad and me! I was horrified and screamed! No way could I continue with the song I was playing. I abruptly stopped the song, jumped up, backed away and that spider just hung there…I’m looking at it trying to figure out where he came from. There he is…hanging from a web. With my eye, I followed that web as far as I could see it, that spider spun that web from seven stories up. He was hanging from the ceiling! I couldn’t believe it! He almost landed on my head!

That entire summer I was pretty squeamish playing there, looking for more spiders, but saw no more that year. However, the following spring I did see one more spider on the keys, but none since that.

Hmmm…It’s spring again.


Red Nail Polish on White Piano Keys

Once when I was at the church piano practicing a song with a few friends, I got a little crazy and began doing glissandos up and down the piano keys to get a laugh. Of course this would not be appropriate in a church setting, but since it was just ‘us girls’ I thought I could get away with it.

Well, I’m sure you’ve heard “your sins will find you out” and they sure did because to my horror, I looked down and saw it. Red fingernail polish marks all over the formerly white keys on that beautiful grand piano! (Not that wearing red nail polish or doing glissandos in church is a sin, just a figure of speech) Oh no! All of us girls tried everything we could think of to remove the marks. We searched the church cleaning closet and tried everything. The marks wouldn’t budge. Someone said, “Let’s try nail polish remover!”  I said “NO! Back in the old days, piano keys were made from actual ivory, but now days they make them from some sort of plastic.” I just knew that polish remover would probably destroy the finish. Well, nothing we tried that day would work, so we had to leave the keys like that.

The following Sunday, of course the pastor asked me what had happened with the piano keys. I’m sure he thought some rotten kids did it, but I had to ‘fess’ up and tell him that it was me who caused it. He smirked and I told him that I wouldn’t rest until I found a remedy.

I tried everything. This was back in the day before the internet, so I couldn’t just Google it. I had a book entitled “Mary Ellen’s Helpful Household Hints”. That book had a solution to every cleaning issue, but nothing for my piano key problem.

Time passed and my best friend’s son Jeff, who must have been around eight years old at the time, came running up to me one Sunday after church, all excited saying, “Shannon, Shannon! Hey, guess what?! I fixed the piano keys!” (Of course by now, the entire congregation had heard all about the red polish on the piano keys.) I hurried to the piano and sure enough, the red marks were gone!  When I asked him what concoction he used to get those stubborn marks off with, he simply said, “I erased them.” When I asked him to show me, he took a pencil with an eraser on the top and simply rubbed the keys. I was amazed! All the marks were completely gone and the shiny finish was perfectly intact. I thanked Jeff and told him the next time I have a problem that I can’t find a solution to, I was coming to him for the answer. Yup, he felt pretty good about himself that day, kinda walking a little taller, knowing he saved the day!

So now, whenever I accidentally…or on purpose, leave a nail polish marks on white piano keys, I pull out an eraser and simply erase them! Kudos to Jeffrey!


Flying Choir Music

Our choir had been working on a difficult piece for weeks and weeks. It was finally time to perform it for the congregation. There were many parts and many pages to this difficult piece. Everyone was ready and everyone knew their parts. Since there were so many pages to this song, I copied as many as would fit on the ‘desk’ of the piano and laid them out singly so I could see each page. But there wasn’t enough room for all the pages, so I had to put the choir book to the right of all the single pages. I was still going to have to turn just one page of the book to complete the song and I was ready.

I played for the prelude, the congregation hymns, there was an offertory and a prayer, then it was time for the choir to come and sing. I made sure all of my music was properly laid out, I tried to calm myself down, (I get nervous) I looked at the choir director, he nodded at me and away we go! First the intro…..then the choir began so beautifully, I’m reading the music as we go and everything is just wonderful, I’m smiling, everyone is in tune, the piano is in tune, then comes time to turn that page….at the very end of the piano desk….way over to my right. I reach to turn the page, the page that has been turned so many times, the page that has become rather worn and brittle. Well, what happens next is a disaster. I turn the page, it completely rips out of the book and before I knew it, I had thrown that page into the front row of the congregation! Now, I don’t know what I played at that time since my music was gone, I just kept playing and the choir sang on. Luckily, someone in that front row grabbed the page, brought it up to me and placed it on the piano desk, but unknowingly she placed the page upside down! I quickly grabbed it with my right hand (my left hand continues playing something, to this day have no idea what) and turned that page right side up.

So we finished the song, the choir exited and the service began. Afterwards, I heard many comments about how well the choir sang and of course, talk of the flying choir music. (I’ll never live that one down!) I also learned that most of the choir members didn’t have a clue at what had happened. I’m so glad I now use a music pad and don’t have to worry about turning pages anymore! I use my foot to turn pages now. My hands are too busy! The one limb (left foot) that used to do nothing, now has an important job. It turns my pages with a foot pedal. I love technology!


Bubble Wrap Boa

One day when it was slow at the mall, I was sitting at the piano playing and happened to notice my friend, Kate in the gift department. I’ve always liked her, she has a great attitude, she always has a funny story to share and Kate loves music. I always knew she paid attention to my songs because I could hear her softly singing or humming to most everything I played and she really has a great voice. Anyway, I decided to play some of her favorite songs including “Hey Big Spender” and “The Stripper”.  So I’m sitting there playing my heart out when I look up and see her doing a not so innocent dance to “The Stripper” in center court, wearing and working a boa that she constructed out of the bubble wrap she was using to wrap gifts in!

Now, I think people purposely try to mess me up while I play, like asking me questions, expecting that I can answer and carry on a conversation with them while not missing a beat. Or trying to make me laugh, doing crazy things while wearing bubble wrap. Well, this lady has all the moves and is doing everything she can do to make me crack up and its working! She was absolutely hilarious, I really could not keep playing anymore, but just sat there on the bench while her and I had a good laugh. We still talk about that to this day! If you’re wondering if that incident drew a crowd, no…..it was a VERY slow day and no one but she and I knew what had happened.

Yes, Kate loves to dance. Another time I was playing a song called “Misirlou” which has an Arabic or Egyptian feel to it. Something colorful caught my eye and I looked up and there was Kate, who had taken a brightly colored scarf from accessories and was dancing around like an Egyptian or like the Queen of Sheba in center court! She makes me laugh on a regular basis doing little impromptu dances at unexpected times. Kate is definitely a bright spot at the Mall!


Crazy Christmas March

This reminds me of another incident where the music takes over and a person can’t help but get into the beat.  It was at the beginning of Christmas season and the store always uses a lot of empty boxes that were wrapped as Christmas presents for decking the halls. One of the associates was carrying a load of them in her arms….I would guess there were ten of them stacked on top of each other according to size, big on bottom and small on top. They were stacked so high that she couldn’t see over top of them. She had to hold them to the side so she could see. Luckily, they weren’t heavy because they were empty. So there I am playing the piano, I don’t remember what I was playing, only that it had a heavy March like beat. I can hear her heels clicking as she walked, coming up from behind me. Each click of her heel was with the beat of the music. (I knew by the sound of her heels who it was, Mary, a friend of mine.) Of course to be ornery, I decided to speed up the music. Her pace quickens to keep up with the beat. I go a little faster. She walks a little faster. By the time I can see her, her stomping is loud and fast, she’s lifting up her knees high, doing a March to the beat. She’s doing this to make me laugh and its working. I’m cracking up laughing at her and she’s looking at me laughing and marching, people are staring, just as I don’t think it could possibly get any more funny, all the boxes…yes all ten of them came crashing down! It was so funny and everyone who stopped to stare was cracking up too! Mary quickly regained her composure, picked up all the boxes, brushed herself off and went on her way.

Hmmm……I’m now reminded of another funny dance story from behind the grand piano that involves bubble wrap. I think I’ll save that for next time.


Mall Chicken Dance in Prom Attire

I was playing at the mall one evening in the spring when I looked up from the piano and noticed six young ladies approaching with gorgeous gowns on. I thought of course…it must be prom. Sure enough six dashing young men in tuxedos followed. I don’t remember at the time what song I was playing, but after some whispering back and forth, the girls came over and asked me if I knew the Chicken Dance. I said I did and began playing it for them, while these six couples decked out for prom began dancing to the beat of the Chicken Dance right there in Center Court. People began to gather around, of course clapping with them. It was hilarious to watch them acting so goofy, in their proper attire, in the middle of the store, I could hardly keep playing! After they were finished, the crowd clapped, the guys straightened their ties; the girls smoothed their dresses and went on their way!

More dance stories to follow!


Who is Rearranging My Furniture?!

Ah yes, the “Holding Pen”. What in the world goes on in that room? Little Ashley walks to her lesson every Wednesday right after school. (My home is only 2 blocks from the elementary school.) She is my first lesson of the day. Her mother works until 5:00, so Ashley stays in the “Holding Pen” after her lesson until her mother picks her up. Now, I have things for the kids to do while they wait, there is a TV to watch, there are colors and books, etc. They can also do their music theory or their homework, but Ashley gets bored.  

At first I notice only subtle changes in the room. There were 2 large bookcases filled with books and knick knacks, an accent table, an end table, a couch, a chair and a cabinet that held the TV. Oh yes, and there was a shelving unit that hang on the wall, full of knick knacks as well. As I mentioned before, this is a Victorian home and since I love decorating almost as much as I love piano, I had the room completely decked out in Victorian attire.

So, one evening I was closing the door after my last student left, when I noticed a cherub that I had sitting on a shelf was moved over to a bookcase. I picked it up to put it back when I noticed a candlestick that I had on the bookcase was missing. Looking around the room I found it sitting on the TV cabinet, so I moved everything back and didn’t give it another thought until the same day next week.

The following Wednesday arrives, little Ashley comes right after school, we have our half hour lesson and then she goes to the “holding pen” to wait for an hour or so until her mother gets off of work. I teach 6 or 7 other students after her and once the last lesson is finished, I again walk my student to the door. This time I noticed it right away. All the pillows on the couch and chair were stacked up in the corner and the afghan neatly folded on top of the pillows.  There were other knick knacks moved along with various books and candle sticks in unusual places.  I put everything back the way it was supposed to be and thought I would have a chat with my Wednesday piano students.

So the next week arrives and I begin to ask all my students one by one as they came to their lessons. Everyone denied moving my things around.  As it was in the two previous weeks, sure enough, my things were all moved around and this time furniture was moved too.

Usually, while I was teaching, I didn’t normally go into the family room, or the “holding pen” to fetch my next student. I would either call them in or tell the student that was leaving to send the next one in. The next week I would personally fetch each child to check the room for rearrangement. Sure enough, the following week little Ashley was caught in the act. When I asked her why she was moving my things around, she simply replied, I like your things Shannon and I think they look better the way that I arrange them. I told her I liked them the way they are and to please not touch them anymore and so she stopped. Ashley did not take lessons very long, maybe a year or more. This has been a few years ago and Ashley is a young woman now. I wonder if she chose decorating as her career.


What Happened to My Donkey Tail?!

I used to live in a beautiful old Victorian home that had a parlor. That room is where my piano sat and where I taught lessons. When my students arrived, they were to enter quietly and wait in a room named the family room, my husband called it the holding pen. At that time I was teaching 40 students every week and some of them would hang out in the “holding pen” for sometimes an hour or so before their lesson or stay after thier lesson until a parent could pick them up. The parlor was on the other side of the house from the “holding pen” and I could not see what was going on in that room while I was teaching a lesson. (I often wished I had a hidden camera!) I had this prized plant that takes forever to grow called a burro’s tail or a donkey’s tail (Sedum morganianum) and I began to notice that every Tuesday after lessons, that plant would have all the little cylindrical leaves stripped from one of the long stems of the plant and there would be a pile of them on the floor. I asked all of my students about this strange phenomenon and of course no one had a clue what was happening to my plant! Sure enough, this went on for weeks until my prized plant had no leaves left and eventually died.


Many Lessons and Many Hours of Practice.

People ask me…”So, if I started lessons now, just how long will it take for me to be good at it?” I tell them, it all depends on you. How determined you are, how much time you want to devote to practice, how serious you are. All of these factors determine if a person will be successful. Most people cannot fathom just how long it takes to master it. I am still trying to master it! You never stop learning and never stop improving unless you stop playing and practicing.

Some ask me if I think it’s easier or harder for an adult to learn to play piano. I think there are advantages to both. Adults have greater comprehension than children and they can learn faster. But, children have a greater finger dexterity than adults. Adult fingers are not as limber and that can be a problem. With adults, you know they want to be there (at their lesson), with kids, it might be the parent that is forcing them. I do however think that the parent plays a huge role in getting the kids to practice, they need that guidance. If a child has a choice, of course they would rather be playing video games or whatever fun things there are to do these days. But there is a fine line of forcing the child to practice and take lessons if they absolutely hate it.