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How a Confrontational Piano Player Set Me Straight. So to Speak.

photo: KT King on flickr

photo: KT King on flickr

Is there anything more uncomfortable than confrontation?

How about wearing a pair of underpants three sizes too small?

While waiting in line at the DMV?

Or being tied to a chair and being forced to watch reruns of Gomer Pyle?

surprise, surprise!

(Yes, I know some of you actually like this show, but that’s an issue beyond the scope of this blog.)

I’m not a particularly big fan of tight underwear, Gomer Pyle or the Department of Motor Vehicles, but I’d much prefer any of these – alone or in combination – to the rigors of a real-life confrontation. 

Like my interaction with a confrontational piano player, for example.

Melissa and I were in Los Angeles. We were preparing for a gig at a spiritual center in the city, and I was chatting with the pianist.

This guy was an amazing player. Jazz, rock, gospel, classical. You name it, he could play it. Given that I grew up playing classical piano and am still building my skill-set as a contemporary player, I often chat up the professional musicians I meet, hoping to learn a few tricks.

This guy was different.

He wasn’t interested in leading me over to the keyboard and teaching me a few things. He wasn’t chomping at the bit to share his tricks of the trade.

This guy was a tough cookie. Like, concrete.

photo: Andreanna Moya on flickr

photo: Andreanna Moya on flickr

There would be no soft and fuzzy moments with this dude.

Still, I was hoping to get something.

We were talking about a particular piece I was playing, one in the key of B.

B, for those of you who know the piano, is not a fun key. It has 5 sharps. Any key with lots of flats and sharps is more difficult to play. It means you have to think harder about what you’re doing. It means it’s easier to make a mistake, easier to play a note that has nothing to do with the piece you’re playing.

I should have known better than to be complaining about anything to Mr. Concrete, but complain I did.

The key of B is so hard, I said. I hate playing in that key. It drives me crazy.

Mr. Concrete looked me in the eye. He took a breath. And he said,

Get over it.

That’s right. Get over it.

He didn’t say, Yes, I understand your discomfort with the key of B. I feel for you and I empathize with your pain.

photo: David Goehring on flickr

photo: David Goehring on flickr

Oh no. Why waste time with sentiments of tenderness and empathy when three little words will suffice?

Get over it.

I would have loved some tight underwear or Gomer Pyle reruns about then. But no. I had Mr. Concrete and his tough-love piano lesson.

I wasn’t sure what to say.

Thank you so much! I’ll get over it right away. Done!

I was hoping for sympathy, for collusion with my whining, and all I got was concrete confrontation.

I quickly ended our exchange and went back to my life. Back to my piano playing and the key of B.

photo: Will Bakx

photo: Will Bakx

And the funniest thing happened.

The more I kept playing, the more I got used to the sharps and flats. The more I made peace with the keys that used to scare me.

I began to realize that one of the beauties of the piano is its stability. Even though some keys are harder to play than others, they’re predictable. The piano doesn’t rearrange its keys when you walk away from the bench. Once you’ve mastered a harder key, you’ve mastered it. It’s not going to change on you.

Mr. Concrete was totally right.

Not only that, I realized his advice applied to other areas of my life as well:

Laundry. Paying bills. Doing dishes.

All in the key of B.

photo: Frank Douwes on flickr

photo: Frank Douwes on flickr

And then there are my personal traits:

My big feet. My sexual orientation. My gender identity. My goofballism.

All in the key of B.

Accepting the these aspects, like notes on the piano, makes me available to deal with them.

Sure, I can put my head in the sand and pretend my hamper isn’t full of dirty clothes. Or try to ignore my sexual orientation and force myself to be straight.

But that would just make me a miserable straight-acting person in smelly clothes.

photo: Carlos García Fiestas on flickr

photo: Carlos García Fiestas on flickr

Better to face those things in my life that are unchanging. Better yet, embrace them.

Get over it was perhaps a rough way to dispense this information, but it was effective.

I needed to hear it.

Now, I can not only play songs in the key of B, I can do so with clean-smelling clothes and an androgynous haircut.

And I have Mr. Concrete to thank.

photo: Irwin Scott on flickr

photo: Irwin Scott on flickr

When were you the recipient of tough-love advice? How did it change you?

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18 Responses to How a Confrontational Piano Player Set Me Straight. So to Speak.

  1. M January 29, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    O, Z

    A long time ago the advice to me was:

    Don’t B sharp
    Don’t B flat
    Just B Natural.

    That music teacher was not as tough…just a softer same thing.

    B good.
    And so B it !

    M O

    • Z Egloff January 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      OM,

      Good advice! You can never go wrong if you simply B Natural. Even – and especially – because it’s the key of B, B-ing Natural is definitely the way to go!

      I guess those music teachers really know how the world works, eh?

      XOZ

  2. GBE January 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    That’s harsh but kind of great. I hope I wasn’t Mr. Concrete. (?) Glad it became a positive thing.

    I was once halfway through a couple weeks of recording sessions for an artist’s record and she said to me “everyone loves your playing, but as a friend I must say: you are difficult to work with and the engineer said he wouldn’t hire you again.” “What do you mean?” I asked. She said: “you act like you don’t even want to be there”.

    From that day on, I acted like I wanted to be in every recording session, rehearsal, writing session, etc. There were times when I actually did NOT want to be there, but by rallying (and getting over myself,) everyone’s game was raised. Everyone played better and energized each other.

    I’m not sure my behavior would have changed so drastically if she hadn’t dropped the hard truth on me.

    More of that please!

    • Z Egloff January 29, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

      GBE!!!

      No, you are not Mr. Concrete. I sometimes change minor details of these posts to disguise the identity of those involved. This was one of those times, so any resemblance to you is purely coincidental!

      Your story is another great example of why the “hard” truth can sometimes be the best thing. Especially when it helps us get more in line with reality. Whatever that is. 😉

      XOZ

  3. Laura Feahr January 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Well, when my younger sister recently told me to put on my big girl pants and go back and live with my Mother in Texas, since I have no obligations to any project or person here. That was tough love, and I know she thinks she is prudent. I used my resentment at her tone to help me define my own boundary and needs. I think that level of honesty is a sign of respect that you can learn through your own response.

    • Z Egloff January 30, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      Hi Laura,

      This is a great example of the other side of confrontation. I have had this as well, where the confrontation helps me to define what is NOT true for me. Great that you could listen to your own being and discern the appropriate answer for yourself.

      XOZ

  4. michael frank January 29, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    To “B” or not to”B”………just let it “B”

    • Z Egloff January 30, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      Hello Michael,

      Let it B, indeed! :)

      XOZ

  5. Mary Kate January 30, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    Years ago in my twenties, I was losing it because I’d lost my car keys hundreds of miles from home. The guy I was with pointed out that I lost important things a lot. That I lost keys, wallets, plane tickets, boarding passes, phones, important documents all the time and had very stressful episodes as a result. He wasn’t very confrontational about it, he just mildly asserted it. Of course that made me lose it even more – “Why do you think that is a good thing to bring up right now?”

    Well I found my keys (I’d absent-mindedly put them in the bottom of my briefcase instead of my handbag) and calmed down and we continued on our travels. I then asked him if he had a theory about why I did that and he said, No – but that he had noticed several of my sisters (I have five) do the same. I could see that this was true.

    I quit being a “loser” that day. Just completely changed that pattern in my life. I think, but I don’t know, that the pattern was about not being fully grown-up, thinking someone else should be taking care of me, why have I got the keys, wallets, plane tickets, boarding passes, phones, important documents?

    But what I do know was that his confronting me with the maladaptive behaviour was the end of it. Freedom!

    PS My first time visiting your blog, I love it.

    • Z Egloff January 30, 2013 at 10:01 am #

      Hi Mary Kate,

      Welcome! Glad to have you here. :)

      I love this story. It’s so great that you were able to hear him. And that his comment changed your life. I have to say, I’m impressed that you were able to change your “losing” habit so quickly and thoroughly. I guess it was time. I love hearing about defining moments like these, moments where everything is different from that time forward. Well done.

      XOZ

  6. squirrel January 30, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    well, z. you can imagine that without you, choir would Bb. 😉

    i had a practitioner tell me to “get over it” once or twice. so i did. i took it in and processed it and realized that she was right. it was almost like i had been given permission to get over it and then it became easy.

    fantastic work on sunday, btw. well done.

    lovelove,
    xos

    • Z Egloff January 31, 2013 at 10:31 am #

      Hey Squirrel,

      When I wrote about the key of B, I neglected to note how many spiffy “B” sayings would emerge in the comment section. Thank you for yours. :)

      I like your take on the “Get over it” advice. “Permission” is a great word. For me, it was like a clear boundary had been set. And, like for you, things got easier after that. I could just B.

      XOZ

  7. Wy February 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    As Olivia says “Let Go, Let God”. I keep saying that over and over as I try to plunk out the sop part on my phone piano keyboard app. Is it a c#? I’m just going to assume they are all sharps and if it sounds funny drop it half a step. So if you hear someone who’s sharp it’s probably me! Sorry, I couldn’t resist being a choir peep and all.

    XO, Wy

    • Z Egloff February 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      Hi Wy!

      If I remember correctly, Let Go and Let God is in another one of those tricky keys. Perhaps even B! :)

      Better sharp than flat, I always say. Let Go and Let God is always a good mantra in any endeavor.

      XOZ

  8. Adam February 8, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    I teach college. I always spend time near the beginning of my courses emphasizing that you must spend time on the class/paper/homework/readings EVERY DAY, instead of putting it off, to get a decent grade in my course. One very smart student came to my office hours in the second-to-last week of classes to tell me she hadn’t started on her paper yet because “I work better under pressure.”

    I shook my head and said “What kind of grade do you usually get, when you turn in papers in that way?”

    She admitted she never got better than a B, but it was usually enough for her to pass the class.

    I looked at her for a moment, and then said, “Have you ever considered that you’re using ‘I work better under pressure’ as an excuse, so that when you get a not-so-great grade on the paper you can always comfort yourself with the idea that you *could* have got a better grade, but since you never do it slowly and steadily, you’ll never have to test that idea?”

    She stared at me for a few moments, and then said, “You have just totally changed my life. I’m going to go work on that paper right now.”

    I hope I did change her life.

    • Z Egloff February 10, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      This is a wonderful story. It got me thinking about my own preparation process. Whenever I do a talk, I start planning days – or even weeks – in advance. I’ve sometimes let myself be influenced by speakers who wait till the last minute, and/or who spontaneously change their entire talk right before they speak. I’ve not let myself actually DO what they do, but I’ve wondered if their methods are somehow more “real” or more “inspired.” After reading your comment, I’m sticking to my style with awareness of its value. Thank you for that.

      I also find it interesting, given the B theme, that your student was settling for a B. I hope you changed her life too! :)

      XOZ

  9. Claire February 8, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Yes indeed “Let go let god” is in the key of B. and it is not a bad idea to move it to Bb but then you would miss the exercise….it drives me nuts in that key of B too!

    • Z Egloff February 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

      Hi Claire!

      Yes, given the lesson behind the key of B, it seems PERFECT that a song called “Let Go Let God” would be in that pesky key. All the more learnin’ for us!

      XOZ

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