-by Harry the Piano
In the 1930s the upright piano was once described as ‘an instrument generally found adhering to the walls of most lower middle class houses’. The quote was from a humorous compendium but was obviously meant to describe the ubiquity of the piano as a source of entertainment for millions of families in the way that the television subsequently became. Even that of course has now itself been replaced, in the sense of a single focal point around which the family gathers, as family members now all have their own screens and/or individual sources of entertainment. That being said, there is sometimes a counter-reaction to change on such a large scale (such as the unexpected return of vinyl records) and it’s one I have become personally increasingly aware of in the last few years.
In the way that in the UK at least, some peoples’ sole visit to a church is maybe for a traditional Christmas Carol concert, I have noticed a real desire amongst the public to attend interactive shows themed on Christmas music. In my home town of London for example, there are many such shows in upscale West End venues that are normally temples of the highest-end cabaret the UK has to offer, such as Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club and the Crazy Coqs supper club in Piccadilly Circus. Come December however, such venues are increasingly given over to Christmas themed shows for several nights where the audience engage in the timeless joy of singing along with melodies and lyrics known to participants of all ages. A great friend of mine who played the role of Frank Sinatra for three years in the West End smash hit ‘Rat-Pack’ show puts on a dozen such nights in the middle of London’s West End and invariably sells out.
This desire is also mirrored on a more anecdotal domestic level: being from two relatively large families, my wife and myself regularly find ourselves in Christmas gatherings of between fifteen and twenty. Ages range from early teens up to octogenarians but nothing espouses the universality of a family seasonal get-together as much as everybody singing along to a piano. It may be Christmas carols, traditional Christmas songs or more modern pop songs but the joy of such a shared experience contains something for everybody and is hard to match.
The attraction of this is not just my whimsy: it was picked up on by the nationwide John Lewis Christmas advertising campaign which chose the piano as the focal point for the slogan – ‘Some gifts last beyond Christmas‘ – taking the story of Elton John‘s first piano as its theme. The campaign was so successful and on such a large-scale that they replaced all of ITV’s theme tunes for 48 hours (with a reach of over 33 million viewers) with piano versions to draw attention to the outreach with yours truly providing all of the arrangements and recordings.
Later that year, British TV star Alexander Armstrong undertook a huge Christmas TV special for the same channel. The biggest hit of which was a specially commissioned Christmas medley that I was asked to contribute with 20 songs interlinked, sung as a duet by Alexander and the great Alfie Boe. A completely mixed audience rocked, clapped and sang along to the entire duration!
All of which goes to say that there is no better time of year to invest in a Kawai piano or keyboard and learn to share some of this seasonal joy for yourselves.
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