Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

striking the wrong chord

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“Me myself personally, I do prefer the funky stuff…”

Jimmy G was the son of a local haulier, drawn to our house by the presence of four nubile teenage girls, but spotted by my dad and made to listen to his piano-playing. Once my dad started playing, it was always hard to stop him, but this time he made the mistake of asking Jimmy mid-piece what he thought of the music he was playing. When he heard Jimmy’s ripe and rustic response, “Me myself personally, I do prefer the funky stuff”, his hands briefly trembled in mid-air and then fell to the keyboard with a cacophonous clang.

With a few, well-chosen words, Jimmy had achieved what few others had done before him: stopped my father mid-performance.

Here’s some Grieg he used to play, part of a medley that included Chopin and Rachmaninoff, all seamlessly woven together (tho’ with the   flouncy bits missed out so he could focus on the more impressive, manly chords).

[Background to this story…

Dad was a bow-tie wearing eccentric with a passion for piano playing and performance. For him, every visitor was a captive audience, and we had a lot of visitors (particularly in the late 70s, when my three sisters and I were lively teenagers and my mum an attractive and hospitable middle-aged woman).

Over the years, Dad had perfected the technique of keeping them in their place through a combination of sheer force of will and his technique of seamlessly moving from piece to piece – from Rachmaninov to Chopin, Schubert to Mozart. When unwary visitors succumbed to his appeals for them to listen to him play, it was like watching a perverse version of musical statues: they were rooted to the spot for as long as he was playing: only if the music paused for a second would they spring to life, mumbling their excuses and sprinting for the door.

I once came home from school to find a traumatised dishwasher repairman swaying in front of the piano, clasping his spanner, his eyes wide. Dad had inveigled him out of the kitchen 40 minutes before, drowning out his stammering excuses about getting back to work with clanging chords and runs, and exhortations to “just listen to this”.]

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