My Piano Voice

I realized recently how my piano playing is my voice.

Let me give that thought some context. I was driving home the other day, after time aboard a great old sailboat with a long-time friend, and during the time alone droning along the interstate to return to the real world and work, my ipod was randomly spinning up songs from my rather eclectic list. As the time passed and my ears heard some great old Elton John, Dave Matthews, Al Steward, Beatles, Eric Carmen, and more, along came one of my performance versions of one of my piano ballads from a long-ago recording session. It was stripped down and mostly the piano with only a few trinkets sprinkled lightly on top. And having been so long unheard or played by me, it hit me rather with fresh ears to hear.

The sounds reaching me were just a tad unfamiliar and arriving to my ears after spending about 3 hours underway with an old friend aboard the 32-foot ketch we’ve intermittently sailed for over two decades. The morning had given us a good breeze that turned into a severe clear sunny midday, and the sailing was beyond compare. Now, slightly suntanned and arm weary in places only hauling on taught lines will bring, and sort of zoning out during the drive back home and to work, this piece of music of mine was hitting me as if it were someone else.

And I realized that my piano playing, and particularly the way I arrange a piano ballad carries with it everything I wanted to say. Having grown up mostly playing the thing for myself, and yearning for an orchestra I might hear in my head in accompaniment, I heard now how my chording and use of pedal, and variable digitation of line within a song all are fat with my internal voice. And here now was a song with my original piano composition without my voice trying to sing with it and the often known fact of how my singing is mostly a detriment to my songs (with a nod to my generally good lyrics) came boldly strutting to the forefront of my listening to myself.

But more than that, as I paid attention to the piano playing itself, on that particular song, it hit me how I play the piano like it is singing. It is me singing, in part because I can’t sing very well with my voice, in part because as a boy I could hide in it and avoid mean people, in part because years later if/when people interrupt a lyrical song attempt I have trouble forgiving them yet do so easily if they interrupt just my piano voice, and in part because I was playing the piano at such a young age that it came to me in concert with my learning how to speak, or sing, or do most anything.

It may seem self-indulgent to spend this time explaining something so rudimentary and at the same time unimportant to most anyone else but myself. And yet, as I listened to other great piano players (well at least famous ones), hearing my song with fresh ears in comparison I was … dare I say it … pleased and thankful.  Here is one of my simpler solo piano takes.