Playing the piano like Tom Bopp

Tom Bopp played the piano for the retirement party last night, and getting to see him in action made me think a lot about playing the piano and the power of music. I’d love to be able to play like Tom.

I started learning to play classical piano when I was 5 or 6 years old, and took lessons all the way through high-school. But, I had stopped playing since then, until Tom put his foot down and bought a piano for me about 8 months ago.

I love playing the piano. Unlike the guitar, which can be stowed away under a bed or in a corner and forgotten, the piano commands a certain presence in the room, and is always calling me. I play whenever I get the chance. It’s easy for me to lose hours working through some piece or another, trying to get the notes or the phrasing or the dynamics just right. I discovered a love for Debussy, and have been working on playing some of the pieces that he wrote – Arabesque I, Clair de Lune, Reverie.

And then there is Tom Bopp. Tom is often featured, playing the piano, at Wawona Hotel, and will be showcasing his skills at the upcoming Heritage Holidays festival as well. At the retirement party, I’m not sure if he played an entire song through from beginning to end, but he accompanied the people who spoke at Jerry and Judy’s retirement, matching the moods and themes of whatever was going on on-stage, blending seamlessly from one song to the next. I had the impression that Tom was maybe not playing so much ‘songs’ per se, as feelings and moods, a pure musical expression that was just as eloquent as poetry.

I wish I could play like that.

I met a musician in Bishop, CA who could do that too. He could play his day out for you to hear, a weekend at the beach, or the fight he’d had with his boss. He’d sit down at the piano, give a quick little whimsical look up into the air to figure out where to begin, and then he’d just start in. Funny thing was, he didn’t even consider himself a piano player. You should have heard him on the guitar.

The jazz musicians do it all the time, of course, and I heard a young woman, performing at TED talks, improvise classical piano (it’s maybe 2/3 of the way through the talk. Wait. It’s worth it.) that was absolutely jaw-dropping.

Music theory. My poor patient piano teacher, Mrs. Whitehead, did her best to give me a decent education in it, but I didn’t understand what it was for back then, and almost none of it stuck. I’m sure I could figure it out again with some books, and if I practiced it, it would come out sounding OK after a while.

I guess I’ll put it on my list of things to do… after I get done with all the other things that I wish I could do…