Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Piano Competition"

Sometimes, when I get tired of writing in paragraphs, I will compose a dramatic vignette in which my characters play out ideas I would otherwise convey paragraphically. 

I like writing dialogue.  It’s what I used to do for a living.  It also appears that when I communicate dialogically, the result is somehow rendered less preachy. 

At least somewhat.

I have written before about greatness, an issue that interests me probably more than is psychologically appropriate, though now that I am past my participatory prime, the investigation is purely theoretical in nature.

I have already covered, “Do you have to be crazy to be exceptional?”  My answer to that is, it helps.  (Check out the recent PBS documentary on Janis Joplin.  ‘Nuff said.) 

Today, I address a companioning concern:  

“Is it necessary to be fanatically driven?”


Int. upscale coffee emporium - Day

Two renowned concert pianist companions get together for coffee.  The companion who speaks first wears protective mittens on his hands.

Don’t you worry about burning your hands?

You mean, spilling coffee on them?

Unlikely, you say.  But why take unnecessary chances?

I’m more likely to spill coffee wearing the mittens.

But not on your hands.  Oh, well. If you don’t care about your “calling”…

Of course I care.

You don’t act like it.  “I’ve given my life to the piano, but oh well, now that my hands have been irreparably ravaged by a terrible coffee accident that could easily have been avoided by wearing protective mittens, I’ll just have to do something else.  I’ll be a garbage collector instead.”

Not without hands.

Hilarious.   Tell me.  How old were you when you began studying the piano?



That’s very young.

Younger than seven.  Poor boy, you had already missed four essential years of practicing.

The “three-to-seven” years.

They gave me a valuable foundation.  Did you know when I was four, I was rated among the Top Ten piano newcomers under six?

I believe you have mentioned that in the past.  

When I was seven, I announced that one day, I would be the greatest concert pianist of all time.

You said that to your parents?

I said it to everyone. 

You must have been very popular on the playground.

I never frequented the playground.  I was too busy practicing the piano.  By the way, how many hours do you practice?

I don’t know, seven or eight hours a day.

That’s great… if your “Career Track” is entertaining in saloons.  I practice at least eleven hours a day, seven days a week.

That much, huh?  Do you ever get tired of it?

Never!  When your goal to be the best there are no limits to your sacrifice.  I was born with a gift.  It would be sinful to fritter it away.     

I hardly consider practicing eight hours a day “frittering.”

Eight hours a day is wonderful… if your lifetime objective is “Honorable Mention.”
Be honest with me.  Have you never dreamed about being the greatest concert pianist of all time?

I don’t think about that.

“Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the Greatest Concert Pianist of All Time”, and you step onto the stage to tumultuous applause.  Be honest.  Tell me you have never flirted with that fantasy.


I knew it! 

Oka, I've thought about it.  But then I forget about it and I just try to be the best pianist I can possibly be.

You know what I call that?


“Settling.”  Listen to me.  Absolute greatness requires you to care intensely with every sinew of your body.  Being the best requires maximum effort.  Maximum commitment.

Maximum obsession?

You call it obsession.  I call it, “Whatever it takes.”

Hey, I want to excel.  But I also want a balanced life.

You know what I call that?



You know I’m pretty good.

I rest my case.

Ha.  I am actually really good.

But not the best.  You know why?  Because you hold yourself back in the name of, what did you call it? – “A balanced life”? – Like anyone will ever remember you for that!   (WITH FRIGHTENING INTENSITY)  Every day of my life I eat, breath, think and poop “piano.”  What’s the finest piano there is?  (BEFORE HIS COMPANION CAN ANSWER)  I’ve got one.  Who’s the best piano teacher in the world?  (BEFORE HIS COMPANION CAN ANSWER)  He comes to my house.  Everything I do services my “Ultimate Objective.”  My every thought – and I include dreaming – is devoted exclusively to making myself the most highly regarded concert pianist, if not of all time – there’s this unfortunate “halo effect” about dead concert pianists I can do nothing to dispel – but to be at least the acknowledged “Number One” concert pianist of my time.

I wish you luck on that.  But… I understand trying to get the most out of your abilities, but how can you surpass someone who, through talent or commitment or usually both, just happens to be better? 

Who’s the greatest concert pianist working today? (BEFORE HIS COMPANION CAN ANSWER)  Exactly! 

They call him the “Michael Jordan of the Keyboard.”  The guy’s a “natural.”  What are you going to do?

You can find out where he lives, befriend his neighbors on both sides, buy one of them a dog that won’t stop barking and the other one a Macaw.  You know what they call someone who didn’t think of that?

A mensch?

“Not trying.”

Listen, I spare no effort whatsoever in trying to upgrade my abilities and master my craft.  But there are practical limits…

You know who believes that? 


(SING-SONGY)  Lo-sers.”

Okay, that’s enough.

(HIS WATCH ALARM BUZZING, TURNING IT OFF)  You’re right.  (GETTING UP, POCKETING HIS MITTENS)  Enjoy your coffee.  I’ve got to get back to the piano. 

(EXTENDING HIS HAND)  Nice to see you, again.

(OFF PROFFERED HANDSHAKE)  You’re kidding, right?

A punctuating guffaw, and he’s out the door.  His companion sighs relievedly, grateful to be rid of this annoyance.  We then hear the sound of squealing brakes and outside confusion.  The coffee house habitués immediately rush to the window, where they see…

The “obsessed” concert pianist lying motionless in a crosswalk, apparently run over by a garbage truck.   The mood is somber as the coffee house habitués go back to their tables, the companion concert pianist remaining alone at the window.  He then turns to the readers, as a movie actor might look straight into the camera, and says…

“I guess Earlo wanted to teach us a lesson.”

The companion concert pianist then returns to his table, sits down, and casually relaxes with his coffee, as we wordlessly but thoughtfully


Tomorrow I shall attempt something unusual – an entire post explaining what was no good about this post.

1 comment:

Fred from Scarborough said...

"The Appointment in Samarra"
(as retold by W. Somerset Maugham [1933])
The speaker is Death

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.