On Spoons: a Clarification

Welcome back.

Something needs to be said.

Or rather, needs to be said so that when people find out that I’m a pianist, and then rapidly proceed to comment about that Black Books episode where Manny (played by Bill Bailey) plays the piano (specifically with spoons whilst lying inside it) as though it’s highly relevant to the field of art music, instead of glaring and launching into a heated explanation as to why it’s not realistic “because it seems so feasible”, I’ll instead refer them to this blog, so that they can do it in their own time. That was a long sentence.

Usually I’ll say outright that it’s not actually possible, to which I get a patronising smile and nod “Oh yes I know … but it could be done.” Sigh. This is officially my rational response….

Let’s do this:

A) Firstly, if you hit a piano string with a spoon, you won’t get much of a sound at all, as most of the strings are dampened by felt until they are released through pressing the keys.

B) If you hit an undamped piano string with a spoon, you won’t get a piano sound, but more like a harpsichordy-metallic ding.

C) There is no room for a human under the strings and the piano’s soundboard. No. Not even close. Fine! I’ll go measure. Ok, I’m back. I get about 2.5 cm, which will required some pretty spectacular ribcage compression.

D) A human lying on a piano’s soundboard would most likely ruin any acoustic properties the piano has. (The soundboard is what projects the sound at a decent volume. For instance, get yourself an elastic band, go to the nearest concert hall (or wherever you happen to be), stretch the band, and pluck it to your heart’s content and see if it ‘fills the space.’)

E) To play the piano strings (in a darkened inclosed space at close range, mind you) with spoons, you would have a huge problem determining which notes belong to which strings. For much of the piano, most ‘notes’ are caused by the striking of three individual strings, all looking identical except for length, automatically increasing the 88 keys on the piano to around 240 strings. Also the ‘geography’ of the keyboard is non-existant as it all looks basically the same.

F) You would need to hit these ‘multiple’ strings of the same note evenly with the curved spoons. Good luck!

G) I don’t know how one can operate any of the pedals while holding spoons?

H) Spoons are akin to mallets. Ergo, you’d be severely limited to probably four spoons (two for each hands) at any given time. This means four notes, whereas piano music can demand 10 individual fingers (or more!) at any given time.

In summary, the best you can do (assuming you had a piano specially made so you could fit in there) is to pick randomly at strings, making an almost completely muted metallic clicking noise.

So no, I’ve never done this, or even attempted  it for the reasons outlined above. And neither can or should you. It’s not only impractical (“but it seems so feasible…”) but impractical to the precipice of  impossibility, and saturated in the acidic rains of futility.

Bill Bailey, you have given birth to an era of misconception, and condemned those after you to a life of defensive explanations.

7/6/2012 ***URGENT UPDATE***

It has come to my attention that someone just came on this site via the following search phrase:

“does bill bailey actually play piano with spoons in black books”

May I gently point out this as proof that THIS IS WHY this post must exist.

Marmots and Their Orchestral Rationale

What is a Marmot?

It is a type of ground-dwelling squirrel. See below.

What does ‘semantic’ mean?

Well semantics is a study of meanings, particularly to do with linguistics.

So a semantic marmot is a squirrel who studies meanings in languages.

Or semantically:

A semantic marmot is a large, ground-dwelling squirrel of the genus Marmota marmota who undergoes the act or process of applying the mind so as to acquire knowledge or understanding, as by reading, investigating, etc, something that is conveyed or signified with particular emphasis on the systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols.

With that out of the way, perhaps we can turn our attention to more pressing matters. Bear in mind it may be a little difficult to preserve the continuity with what has come before.

I have an issue with a certain orchestra. They play too much standard classical music.

I made a graph to prove it. In doing so I counted all 77 pieces and categorised them as European or not and then Popular Repertoire or not. The results are thus:

So what can we learn?

3.9% of the concert season is dedicated to European music that is not common repertoire. (Common in this context a major/significant and well-known work by a well-known composer (Beethoven, Mozart, etc) that a typical Classical concert-going audience could expect to hear every few years or so)

14.29% of the program features uncommon/new works from non common composers. (This may seem substantial, but these are concentrated in three concerts and are mainly Australian premieres, and half of these are by the same featured Australian composer. They are being performed in much smaller venues and are not being performed in the same concert series as the ‘real music.’)

A grand total of 0% of the popular (well-known) music is not European.

Orchestra, 81.82% of the pieces you play are standard  pieces from Europe that everybody knows. Bad orchestra. Bad.

*Smacks on nose with rolled-up newspaper*

Even worse, if we only consider the main concert series. This figure increases to 95.45%.

Alas. This is the state of classical music. Static. An auditory museum where people to congregate and gush only at pieces that they already know.

As Grainger said:

I firmly believe that music will someday become a “universal language.” But it will not become so as long as our musical vision is limited to the output of four European countries between 1700 and 1900. The first step in the right direction is to view the music of all peoples and periods without prejudice of any kind, and to strive to put the world’s known and available best music into circulation. Only then shall we be justified in calling music a “universal language.”

So in summary. This particular orchestra seems to be doing nothing more than gratifying a dwindling audience of old ladies (of both sexes as Charles Ives would say) who are looking to remark how ‘lovely’ and ‘nice’ the concert was. (As I’m sure is the case frequently with many orchestras.)

And they wonder why classical music is dying along with them. It’s being suffocated in the stale environs and mindless traditions of what classical music is ‘supposed’ to be, rather than an open-minded, living and breathing art form. Which ironically is what those Beethoven Symphonies were at the time they were written.

Alas, this is just a fraction of what I have to say on this topic. But it’s a start.

With thanks to the back of a loose sheet of an application form, who generously donated the space for the above research tally.