Football And Piano

Yesterday my friend Meg came over. It had been a hard day.

My 8-year-old daughter’s hamster died.

Evie found the hamster dead while I was watching football. Professional football. The NFL. Yup. Me. Concert pianist, writer of piano method books for children, recording artist, specialist in the music of Bach and Ravel; I was watching football. I wanted to be left alone because things were close in the third quarter. It was the playoff game between the Cowboys and the Giants and the lead kept changing. I didn’t care who won as long as it was a good game. I suggested she go check on her hamster and make sure it had food. Oops. I turned the game off immediately. I still don’t know who won. I’m not a bad mother.

Meg wanted to know why I like to watch football. I thought about it for a while. It’s because football is the complete antithesis of classical pianism. If I’m playing a concerto with an orchestra, we’re all on the same team: working together to create something beautiful. It’s about elegance and refinement and subtlety. There’s a conductor who lovingly keeps us together by making pretty patterns in the air with her hand. (Football has a coach yelling things from the sideline.) No one jumps on top of me. I’m never in physical danger. (Something my mother always rejoiced in – especially when I fell off the balance beam in junior high and knocked myself unconscious in my one and only gymnastics meet.)

Football? Football is ugly. If you have the ball, a guy can jump on top of you and hurl you to the ground. In fact, that sort of behavior is encouraged. If you get caught going beyond the realms of football decency, which most times you won’t, the worst thing that can happen is a 15 yard penalty: that’s for an extreme personal foul like “face mask”. Your team gets only a 15 yard penalty for you grabbing a guy’s face mask, spinning his head around and trying to make him resemble Nearly Headless Nick.

When I’m playing a concerto a lot of things can go wrong. I can miss an entrance or come in early. I can rush and get ahead of the orchestra. I can play too loud or too soft. (Technically called “Balance problems” as in, “There were balance problems in the second movement.) I can play too passionately and get lost. People may hate my performance. The audience can even get up and leave. But I’ve never one been thrown to the ground in my line of work.

Now that I think about it, that’s not exactly true. I did. About two years ago I was in New York City rehearsing with five singer and dancers. One was the fabulous Bebe Neuwirth;. We were in a small underground rehearsal space whose walls were covered with mirrors. There was a scene in the play we were rehearsing, Here Lies Jenny, that involved two guys boxing in a bar. One held a padded circle while the other guy hit it repeatedly. I was playing music with heavy beats that coincided with the punches. It was the first day of rehearsals and we were all a little excited. The first time the boxer boxed he got too excited. There was a chain reaction. He boxed. The guy with the padded disc backed up too far with each punch. The studly dancer landed on top of me, the piano bench leg cracked in half, and I fell off and landed on the floor with said studly dancer squarely on top of me. It could have been worse.

No referees gave out a penalty. My head was still attached. The leg on the piano bench was broken for good. We all picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and started all over again. Sometimes, piano playing can be just a teeny, tiny bit dangerous. But it doesn’t even come close to football.

I love to watch those guys playing rough. It’s the perfect antidote for classical piano playing.