How to play the piano (in 88 notes)

Music by friend and fellow composer Richard Hoadley , words by me – written and recorded to use within an interactive work, Piano Glyphs, with pianist Philip Mead. Performed at De Montfort University  Cultural Exchanges festival, 26 February 2015.

More info on Richard’s piece here.

 How to play the piano (in 88 notes)

To start, hands still.
Content at first to pedal,
knees rising and falling,
feet pumping.
Making stationary journeys
in Aunt Win’s stuffy parlour
the pianola unfurls its pattern,
punching airy absences
into the middle class gloom.

The invisible other’s papery digits
are miraculously exhumed
and the keys move
to mark the time.

The touch, fingers down.
Fleshy pads leech secret heat
from darkened ebony
and ridged whorls rub
on slivered ivory tusk.
A tactile dissonance beneath this black and white
hints at a sprawling history of lust
(of animal desire)
concealed in those chaste meetings.
And yet
they felt so good.

But that rough purchase
has long since been usurped.
Now there’s the syrupy clasp
of skin on plastic.
Now there’s a new glossary,
a different trade.
The moral slip and slide
of polyurethane.

Keep it legato, if you can (An interlude)
Miss Norman will play some skipping music,
and fifteen infant ballerinas in pink attire will hop
left leg, then right,
across a cold church hall.
They jolt discretely,
too graceless yet to fake that blended join
from leap to leap.
It comes with practice — the piano is the same.
The phrases that we long to get just right.
The limpid, liquid, pearly grains that run and trill,
and peal and flow,
and try to skip along.

One sound follows another,
the action rises, then it falls — no true glissando here.
Think ahead and grasp
towards the next moment.
We dance freely without limits
only in our minds.

Reach inside, be brave.
This overstrung contraption
with its lid-skin lifted
to expose the innards — tendons, hammers, metal frame, and folded felt.
The instrument laid bare for examination.
A candlelit cadaver in a sitting room,
dragged home by night
from some disgusting charnel house.

The lights go down.
The audience waits to be amazed
at revelations from a bloodless corpse.
A hand plucks life from swaddled strings,
a movement etched in clouds of resonating wire.
The internal is entirely strange.
Suddenly, here is a new translation.

Don’t forget to get the piano tuned.
The process is quite arbitrary.
We make assumptions.
Check the 4ths and 5ths,
and choose a scale.
Doubling the frequency
from F to F,
from C to shining C.
But there’s no real independence,
just a wobbling indecision as to possible divisions
that have changed, from year to year.

At last, the piano tuner starts to play,
smiles, picks up a snatch of melody,
and plays again.
Gleefully we sit back down,
lift our fingers,
move them to and fro.

The range is fixed, you know.
Seven octaves,
and a minor third
to bring things to a close.

Katharine Norman, December 2014.