Something my sister-in-law posted on Facebook today reminded me that I hadn’t told everyone this story!
As a kid and then a teenager, I had this wonderfully eccentric piano teacher, Jacqueline Gallon. (No, you’re right, there indeed aren’t many names that are more French.) She’d move all of the furniture in her house around every few weeks, because she said it would help her relax. Wonderful woman. Anyway, amongst other things, she had cats: a siamese queen, and a persian tom. They had kittens, and the one that she kept was a gorgeous pure-white cat with blue eyes - and therefore deaf. (This is A Thing!. And yes, Deaf White Cat would be a pretty good band name.)
Athar, Attarre, or however you spelled his name, liked to sleep in the baby grand piano that you got to play on if you were good. (Less good students were relegated to uprights.) You know how a grand piano is curved, like a pregnant B if you’re viewing it from above? If you prop open the lid at the front, you’ll realise that on the left hand side the strings go a constant length and then stop, so there’s a semi-circular bit of space at the back between the end of the strings and the wooden wall of the piano casing. Well, the lid was always open, and Athar liked to sleep there. Presumably the vibrations from the hammers hitting the strings felt nice, like a convenient cat-massage.
Anyway, this one day I’m playing this particular Chopin piece for Mme Gallon, and Athar is asleep in his usual spot. And as I play on, I realise that Athar has woken up. It’s not hard to miss; I’m playing the piece from memory so the music stand is down. I’m staring right at him, in increasing dread, as he gets up, stretches, and starts walking along the strings towards me. And I realise that there’s nothing I can do.
There are two things that must happen, and they are in direct opposition. First of all, I have to play this Chopin piece, well, and not stop. Secondly, Athar has decided that being asleep inside the piano is no longer his Thing, so he’s going to walk along to a point where he can comfortably jump out of the piano. Which, given the geometry of the piano, inevitably means the front. You know, the bit with the keys that I’m currently doing things to.
Did I mention that this particular Chopin thing used plenty of pedal? So whenever Athar jumps out from inside the piano onto the keyboard, the keys he jumps onto aren’t just going to sound, they’re going to keep on sounding?
Well, I did the only thing I could. I kept on playing for as long as I could. Athar did indeed jump out of the piano onto the keyboard, produced the greatest cacophony you’ve heard since that time your two-year-old nephew got into a fight with a bagpipe factory, and I don’t remember what happened next because Mme Gallon and I creased up with laughter. (Presumably Athar buggered off as if nothing had happened, which from his perspective was entirely true.)
Mme Gallon did say well done for carrying on playing even though we all knew what was going to happen next, though, which was nice.