-by Harry the Piano
I well recall the thrill of my very first music shop experience. The sign above the window said ‘Maurice Plaquet’ with the ‘M’ written as a triplet and the ‘P’ as a single down-stem quaver, and it was located on the Uxbridge Road in Shepherds Bush, London, just around the corner from my father’s church. Although only sporting a relatively modest frontage, it seemed to continue backwards forever once inside. Dad first took me in there aged about eight and I remember being simply agog at this Aladdin‘s cave of musical excitement. I wanted to try everything, particularly the drum kits but my father, probably wisely, counselled against it.
It is now sadly long-departed, but the feeling it imbued in me, of being in a place I belonged, where the staff were not surly or suspicious but friendly, knowledgeable and thrillingly able to coax a tune from almost anything on the floor or hanging from the walls, meaning they almost certainly shared similar musical passions has never quite left me. There was another whose name now escapes me about a hundred yards from my school gates in Hammersmith. The kindly owner would often let me sit at the piano and play: partly, I suppose, because it was refreshing for him to hear something other than Chopsticks and Für Elise but also because occasionally it would draw a small crowd of people whose curiosity was piqued by this rather unkempt schoolboy interspersing Beethoven sonatas with sports themes and sitcom signature tunes in medlies.
The habit of being unable to pass such a shop stayed with me throughout my Sheffield university days and beyond whilst I was living and often working abroad for periods. It taught me a couple of valuable lessons by osmosis – firstly that if one was touting for work in a hotel, club or bar, your best bet was simply to sit down and start playing. If you asked beforehand, the answer would inevitably be ‘no’, based on the generally sound principle that 95% of inquiries would be from unsuitable candidates. One still ran the gauntlet of being kicked off of course but if you had managed to garner some interest, a few spectators and even applause the management would generally be more kindly disposed to your request. The second and perhaps more important lesson was understanding the total individuality of every instrument even when two seemingly identical models, even of the same brand and size, were placed side-by-side in a shop. As a pianist, nothing can replicate the thrill of comparing a row of instruments, trying all the different registers, finding which responds best to particular dynamics and most excitingly of all eking out new colours from a quality of instrument one hasn’t experienced before or being won over by another that one is not sure about at first. It really is Tinder for one’s musical soul – swipe left hand, arpeggio right hand!
In short, being inside a music shop is an experience that simply cannot be replicated online and why indeed would one ever want it to be? The certainty of choosing the perfect instrument for oneself really is a no-brainer. To anybody reading this who has never experienced the joy of trying different instruments side-by-side then I urge you to give it a go as soon as you are able. There really is nothing to be shy about, almost everyone working in a music shop has two things in common – a love of music and the fact that they have without doubt heard pianists far worse than you no matter how modest you may be about your own level of playing!
About the author
Lauded by Jonathan Ross as ‘The best damn pianist in the civilised world’, Harry’s extraordinary talent has taken him worldwide with solo cabaret shows in the Albert Hall, Moulin Rouge and festival appearances from Barbados to Adelaide as well as headlining on the maiden voyage of QM2 alongside Dame Shirley Bassey and The Opera Babes. Resident pianist for five years on the Big Breakfast (Channel 4), he then musically directed BBC TV shows for several years and is now a regular on The Now Show (BBC Radio 4), Friday Night Is Music Night (BBC Radio 2) and the go-to improvisor for In Tune (BBC Radio 3) amongst other things where presenter Iain Burnside noted ‘You can’t be a pianist and not be a fan’. His ability to play any tune in any style on request has led to over 3 million hits on YouTube and appearances with everyone from Simply Red to David Bowie and Andrea Bocelli to Charlotte Church.
‘His phenomenal talent, charm and wit are a delight’ – Stephen Fry.
‘Spellbinding. Uncanny. Genius.’ – (Times. Independent. Guardian.)
For more about Harry the Piano, visit www.harrythepiano.com