By MaryAnne Andersen
Cedar City Arts Council
Last week I talked about the numerous things there are for children to do artistically in this town. You may recall that the Utah PTA placed a request for a list of such opportunities and the resulting answer was two pages long, and included theater, dance, visual art, and music. This week I want to touch on an annual event that has become near and dear to my heart: the Piano Monster Concert.
In the first place, we get a lot of mileage out of the word “monster.” The logo is a friendly monster who appears to be sliding down a keyboard. And the term also applies to its definition of “large” or “huge.” This is a concert of large proportions; the participation numbers are now around 100. Think, then, of 100 piano players taking turns at 8 grand pianos on the stage of the Heritage Theater. Throw in families and teachers and you understand the scope of the concert—monstrous.
Pianists are a solitary crowd, as opposed to instrumentalists, who usually play in a band or orchestra, and singers, who usually sing in a choir. There are advantages to being solo: we can choose our own tempi, go back and repair any mistakes we may have made, and generally have our music our own way. Then there are disadvantages to being solo: we choose our own tempi, go back and repair any mistakes we may have made, and don’t have to consider the artistic opinions of anyone else. This piano ensemble, orchestra, if you will, teaches the lonely pianist some of the elemental aspects of making music.
First of all, rhythm is the most important element of music, and playing in an ensemble demands correct rhythm, which is the relationships among various values of note lengths, and tempo, the speed at which the rhythm is played. When you’re playing with others, your rhythm must be compatible with theirs, and all must play at the same speed. Students who manage this are infinitely better musicians than those who can make up rhythm and fluctuate on tempo.
And you have to have instant note reading recognition, read a little bit ahead to be prepared for what notes/keys come next, and overcome the strong impulse to interrupt the rhythm and go back and fix a mistake. That mistake doesn’t matter as much as keeping up with the ensemble.
So much for the technical advantages. The biggest reward for participation in the Monster Concert is that it is fun. Sharing a bench with a friend on a stage holding 8 or 9 pianos, meaning 16 or 18 pianists playing at once, is more fun than pianists knew could be had.
This year’s concert is Nov. 27. Information and music are available at bohnenstengel.us/monsterconcert2018.html. Kids, parents, ask your teachers about it. Teachers, give your students, or yourselves this fun opportunity. This year’s monster is wearing a Santa Claus hat. The students in my group will do a great jazz arrangement of “Deck the Halls.”