Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Mulligan


I like our little music soirees. A bunch of us get together and play whatever we've been working on--mostly classical. I do have a problem with performing in public, but it's getting better, and I hardly ever have to change my underwear anymore. I'm not unmusical: in fact, I have my moments. Unfortunately they're well-marbled with all those other moments. But I have contributed something significant to our get-togethers: I have introduced The Mulligan.

Usually you hear about a mulligan in golf. You take a mulligan when your tee shot goes awry. Maybe it goes into the bushes, or into the water, or you don't know where the hell it is. But you give yourself a second chance, for free. It doesn't count against you. It's your mulligan.

More likely your initial tee shot didn't go into the bushes or the water. It just didn't go where you sincerely wanted it to, and didn't look good doing it, either. It was sucky, a lot suckier than you deserved. You take a mulligan because you know, deep down, that you're a much better golfer than your tee shot would seem to indicate, and also the one before that and the one before that. You're MUCH better than all those. And you can prove it with your mulligan. Sometimes it takes two or three to really drive the point home.

Professional golfers do not employ the mulligan.

Anyway, I discovered that mulligans are very helpful when playing piano in front of people. Because there's this weird thing that happens. You can sit down at someone else's piano and prepare to play the very piece you've been working on every day for six months, but something's wrong. The piano doesn't look right. The keys are a little closer together, or further apart, or something. In fact you can't really even recognize it for the same basic instrument you've been using.

It's as though you've come ready to play Chinese checkers and the host pulls out a Monopoly board. You try to adjust, but your marble keeps rolling off Marvin Gardens and onto Baltic Avenue.

Or you're going golfing after all but when you get to the course it turns out to be a rodeo. And there you are right in the middle of it with your putter, and it just pisses the horses off. It's disconcerting.

In fact, the starting chord of your piece isn't even on the keyboard. You think it starts over here, on this note, like it has every day for the last six months, but you can't be sure. At some point you realize you're nuts and everybody's waiting and you go ahead and vault right into your piece. And sure enough it goes straight into the bushes.

You take a good whack at the opening chord and totally top it and miss the runs altogether. You hook the whole first measure into the bass clef. Shank the opening theme into a completely different key. Then you have to hack at it to get it back on the fairway and you slice an arpeggio, completely overshooting the top note. It's time for a mulligan.

Professional musicians do not employ the mulligan.

But if they came to our soirees and played, we'd all feel like shit. That's why we pay them. We pay them to go play someplace else.

26 comments:

  1. Golly Gee you guys are certainly sophisticated, playing in museums and such.

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    1. That's a piano store. Imagine being able to pick from fifty pianos! That particular one is somewhere just south of $200,000. I would like to report that it practically plays itself, but it needs nudging.

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  2. Just tell everyone you're doing a modernistic version of the piece. If the stores can get away with the ghastlified dissonant versions of Christmas carols they've been blaring at us for weeks, you can get away with that.

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    1. The litany of excuses everyone comes up with as they march to the bench is one of my favorite parts.

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  3. Actually, don't take music advice from me. I'm impressed that you can play the piano at all. The only keyboard I can handle is the one I'm typing this on right now.

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    1. There ought to be a way to hook up that keyboard with associated notes.

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  4. Like the infidel there is only one keyboard I can (mostly) cope with. Even in private the letters sometimes swap places.
    I am in awe at this aspect of your life as well - and applaud the introduction of the mulligan. Community service AND self preservation in one economic move.

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    1. Well, the mulligan was going to happen. Might as well dignify it with a name, right?

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  5. I find that the qwerty keyboard is actually just as bad as a piano when the pressure is on. I used to have performance nerves back in the old days when I had to type a three page letter on with four carbon copies in an actual typewriter ... we weren't permitted to erase, white-out or photocopy a corrected version onto letterhead. Gah, what a useless waste of time I will never get back!

    Awesome that you have a group of like-minded musical buddies. You should tape some of this good stuff and spread the joy among your blog readers!

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    1. should be " three page letter with four carbon copies"

      I don't know where these random prepositions keep coming from!

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    2. I mentally edit them out anyway and wouldn't have noticed it if you didn't point it out. But how can you say that was wasted time? I got jobs out of that typing class, and truly benefit from being a terror on the keyboards. VERY useful skill.

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    3. This wasn't in class, it was on the job - and we had to type those letters until they were perfect. I wish my boss had known about mulligans :)

      Ironically, when computers replaced typewriters, my speed and accuracy increased. Hah.

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  6. well, music is for everyone, but listening is voluntary

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    1. You don't live in an urban neighborhood, huh?

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  7. My "piano" is really just some fancy wires and bits of solder in a box of MDF.It has keys, yes, proper black and white ones, and some buttons-with-numbers, but before they do anything musical I have to connect it to the mains socket.I have no idea how those buttons work, but my cat can walk across them and make them play...musicky sounds.My cat is much cleverer than I.Perhaps I should call her Mulligan...

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    1. That is an excellent name for a cat. And don't they get eight do-overs, anyway?

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  8. I am a professional musician, that is, if getting paid enough to buy the occasional pizza and six pack of beer counts. We do indeed do mulligans. But when we make a mistake, we just do it twice as if we meant to do it. And call it jazz.

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    1. Yes! Like my cooking: whatever happens, you can always re-name it! And I think "enough to buy the occasional pizza and six pack" pretty much defines professional musician. Congratulations.

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  9. Professional musicians do indeed do Mulligans, though I don't know if they call it that. I was at an Oregon Symphony concert featuring James Galway several years ago, and the ensemble had to stop in the middle of the piece and begin again. We in the audience appreciated it a great deal, because it made them seem more human.

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    1. I would have paid extra to see that. I have a recording of Rubinstein playing (he was very old at the time) in which he makes all sorts of mistakes but has so much living-on-the-edge verve that it is the most thrilling rendition of that piece I've ever heard. But he didn't start over...

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  10. I have heard a few musicians who could use at least a dozen mulligans.

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    1. Chamber musicians, by the way, hardly ever do mulligans. They have trained themselves to keep a-goin'.

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  11. First I learn you sing, now I learn you play piano as well??
    A woman of many talents indeed.
    I'm confused about piano keys; aren't they always the same size? Isn't there a standard?
    Or do they just seem off because you are nervous?

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    1. I don't play piano as well, I play it better than I sing. I sing like crap. As for the rest, you could put it down to nerves, but I've been tempted to bring a tape measure to other people's pianos.

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  12. That's a big difference between us. All I can think to call it is a second chance. I know about Mulligans, but can't come up with the clever use of a phrase. Guess I'm destined to just be a proofreader. Sigh. Musically, I need Mulligans all through the song.

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    1. Shall we call it Artful Random Syncopation?

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