Monday, September 2, 2013

Halfway There

On Sunday, 9-1-2013, I visited my fourth and fifth "Play Me, I'm Yours" Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area piano sites. And, fortunately for me, they were three minutes' drive time apart.

A day in which I made it to both the ConAgra Foods Plaza and the foot of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge (at Lewis and Clark Landing) had a good news/bad news feel to it.

Well, I'm just going to get the bad news over with:

I didn't get to play the Lewis and Clark Landing piano, a Schmoller & Mueller spinet from at least the late 1920s.

It rained profusely early that morning, and apparently somebody forgot to put the lid over the spinet's keys to protect them from the storm. And so, not one single key on the piano worked.

But I did get some good exercise from the Lewis and Clark experience. On top of that, it was great to see an Omaha-based piano company represented...even if Schmoller & Mueller actually sold pianos rather than building them. (The instruments that bore the S&M name were actually put together by Chicago's M. Schulz Co., if not by a Richmond, IN firm, The Starr Piano Co.)  

Another thing: Half (if not that, a great chunk) of the "Play Me" experience is the artwork...and I like what the Teen Alternative Art Camp at the Joslyn Art Museum did to enhance that S&M spinet. 

You've got to hand it to the camp: The members painted "KA-POW!" on the bottom cover of the piano at Lewis and Clark.

I made it to Lewis and Clark Landing at 4:00 PM...three minutes after I left ConAgra Plaza. And I arrived at the plaza at 1:30 PM, after fighting to get a parking space within a block of the plaza's 10th and Farnam address.

And the early-morning storm made most of the white keys on the Hallet & Davis upright (from the late 1920s) at ConAgra Plaza unplayable...but didn't affect most of the piano's black keys.

I was about to pack it in...except the very artist who painted the H&D upright, Creighton University's Bob Bosco, arrived at the plaza just before 2:00 PM.  

Bob told me that another pianist was going to come in to play that afternoon, and he liked the idea of me trading riffs with that other pianist. (And besides, a good-sized audience had started to assemble at the plaza...some of the audience members being into the thing that keeps Bob going, yoga.) 

He also came up with a great idea to get the piano playable again: Turn the piano around so that it got sunlight to help dry the keys.

So...Bob, two other people, and I moved the upright so that it no longer faced Farnam Street.

It worked.

Met quite a few people early that afternoon at ConAgra Plaza. Besides Bob (whose love for yoga showed up in the redesign of that Hallet & Davis upright), I met Ethan (he's into piano, too). 

Not long after the upright got turned around came the other featured expert Mary Kay Mueller. A few minutes later, a father-son duo who'd worked with Mary Kay before arrived...Evan and his son Pete.

Pete brought his alto sax and used it to team up with Evan, who tickled the still-trying-to-dry-out Hallet & Davis ivories. Then, after Pete took over on piano, Pete went back to sax, Evan returned to the 88s, and Mary Kay joined in to sing (with Evan doubling on backing vocals) Bill Withers' "Lean on Me."

After that, Mary Kay took a piano solo.

All the while, two more people I met up with- Frances and a fellow former Iowa State University student of mine, Alan (could be Allan or Allen instead; I hope I'm spelling your name right)- kept encouraging me to go up there.

And all this time, I kept wishing the battery-level indicator on my camcorder hadn't turned up red. I wanted to get more footage of the ConAgra Plaza goings-on, that was for darn sure.

Still had my digital camera...but even then, I was skating on thin ice, what with two fresh AA batteries left to my name at the moment. 

Finally, I took Alan's and Frances' advice and took to ol' H&D as part of the festivities.

The piano was still in less than razzmatazz shape, so I did some slow blues at first...then, eventually, sneaked in Scott Joplin's "Peacherine Rag."  

Speaking of blues...any time I ask people if there's anything special they'd like to hear, and they end up saying "I don't know," I tell them that there really is a song called "I Don't Know." (It was a Number One R&B smash in 1952 for the man who wrote and recorded it, singer-pianist Willie Mabon.) Before Bob, Evan, Mary Kay, Pete, and Co came to the plaza, I played "I Don't Know" for a family whose members made it to the spot after I got there.

Because so many white keys were out of kilter that I couldn't do it in G, I had to go to G flat to get "I Don't Know" over. And the song was written in A flat!

But the time I spent at ConAgra Foods Plaza went by quickly; had a great time shooting the breeze with Frances and Alan/Allan/ well as listening to Mary Kay, Pete, and Evan (when not playing).

Toward the end of it all, Bob did some yoga exercises to the tune of a song Mary Kay played. 

After the big audience left, a married couple- Braxton and Bailey (he and she, respectively)- came by, and Bailey took photos of Braxton tickling the still-trying-to-dry Hallet & Davis keys.

They left, then I gave Bob Bosco's "Yoga Piano" one more chance, closing out with "Tin Roof Blues."

And I left to go to the landing...only to find I'd have to wait until the next day to get some more piano jollies (not only as a musician, but also as a listener).

Wait 'til I tell you what happened that next day at the Tree of Life Sculpture!

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