Here in Canada, the flu bug has been rampant for the last month. There have been very few people that haven’t been affected by it. For most, it hits hard and lingers long. Recently the plight escalated when it reached our local nursing home. Last week the flu hit the residents, and I heard that seven have died. It has been tragic.
One man that passed away was a relative of some men in our church. We knew him a little bit, from our monthly services at the nursing home. He used to attend our church years ago, as he was able to. The funeral service was held at another church down the road, where he was a member for years.
Because of our connections with some of the family members, we were asked to provide some special music. A relative was supposed to sing, but was unable to at the last minute. So my parents and two of my siblings prepared two trio-style hymns, and I played the piano for them.
Why am I telling you all of this? To point out that sometimes, as pianists, we get unexpected and last-minute opportunities to play. We may or may not have a chance to practice adequately. In what ways can we be prepared for these situations?
1. Be mentally prepared. As a pianist seeking to honor the Lord, I know that I am not playing to “perform” or to impress people. I want to honor and glorify God, while doing the very best that I can. If I do my best, and keep in mind Who I am doing it for, it keeps everything in the right perspective, and keeps me from getting the jitters! :)
2. Practice regularly. If I am known locally as a pianist, chances are I am going to be asked to play for things like funerals when the need arises. For this reason, I should always have good practicing habits on a daily basis. Not just practicing the stuff that I “have to” (things for church, events coming up, etc.) but staying brushed up in every area so that I’m ready for anything at a moments notice. Some of what I include in daily practice are scales and technique, hymn playing, arrangements, classical, etc.
3. Compile notebooks. This could include a book of wedding songs, funeral songs, your “go-to” church offertories, a book of popular folk songs, the list could go on and on. From time to time review these notebooks and evaluate the songs. Make sure that the songs included are not extremely difficult, but easily manageable at your level of playing. Then when a need arises, you have songs at your fingertips.
4. Be flexible. You may start to play and find that half the keys don’t work on the 100-year-old electric keyboard you have to use. You may find that the damper pedal doesn’t work. You may find that you have to bang to get any sound out. You may find your book closing on you or pages fluttering to the ground. The vocalist you are accompanying may break down in tears...or laughter. The person leading the service may cut in on your arrangement, thinking you were through. (Hopefully you were on a tonic chord!) Whatever happens is part of life...and life happens! Learn to go with the flow, and make the best out of every situation. In a few years (even months!) no one is going to remember that your song was interrupted...unless you make a big deal about the situation and cause a scene. As the pianist, its not all about you...and people really aren’t paying as much attention to you as they are to the vocalist or song leader. 95% of the audience won’t ever know the difference! So learn to be as flexible as a slinky! (Yes, all of those scenarios have happened to me. And maybe that keyboard wasn’t 100 years old, but it seemed like it.)
Those are the things that I came up with while thinking about this opportunity. What did I leave out? Anyone else have any ideas? Or have you ever found yourself in a similar situation?