Once upon a time, I was a pianist.
I wasn’t a terribly good one, honestly. I could play solo pieces really well once I had them memorized, great with musicality and so on, but I’m a pretty awful sight-reader on the piano. (Believe it or not, I’m actually a very good reader as a singer – it’s the whole “I can do one thing at a time” facet of my personality translated into music. Too many things to keep track of on a keyboard.)
Add to this the fact that I wanted to actually go to college and not spend every waking minute in a practice room, and you can understand why I made the switch from piano to voice as an undergrad. (And frankly, sitting at a piano bench for more than an hour makes me feel like somebody is trying to pull out my spine. Which hurts, by the way.)
But while I was a piano major, I hawked my services as an accompanist to fellow underclassmen who were taking voice lessons. My lack of sight-reading abilities honestly meant I was pretty lackluster, but we certainly had fun!
It was during this phase of my life that I met Dr. Bond.
Dr. Lawrence Bigalo Bond (as Dave Barry would say, I am NOT making that up) is one of my absolute favorite people in the world, ever. Relentlessly good-humored, endlessly patient, and blessed with a basso voice that made every word he uttered resound in your very bones, he was a favorite of all of his students.
The word on the street was that Dr. Bond had retired, but was then basically drafted into a second term of service when Belmont had a massive influx of pop-star wannabes. To be clear, this is why I have NEVER watched American Idol. I lived inside the TV show for four and a half years.
Somebody had to teach all of these Next Big Things some of the basics in order to keep the school’s accreditation, so Dr. B was recalled into service, drafted if you will, to serve as an adjunct with a basement closet for an office, furnished with a piano that was probably twice as old as the venerable doctor himself.
He took this in stride and with good grace, as he did everything, and in the process was responsible for a whole lot of wonderful moments during my time at Belmont.
There was the incident, much repeated and laughed over, when he struck a key on the piano asked one of my fraternity brothers to “sing this pitch” – but both his habit of separating his words considerably and somewhat dulling his consonants made it sound drastically different:
“Sing this, [expletive deleted that rhymes with pitch and starts with a b].”
My friend was staring at his music stand, trying with every fiber of his being not to laugh, and finally got himself under control. But then he looked up and saw his accompanist staring at him, wild-eyed, with his cheeks puffed out and lips chewed in a vain effort to contain the hilarity, and just exploded.
The walls shook with the cackles of my two friends, punctuated with the booming, Jabba-the-Hut-like chuckling of Dr. Bond himself… “Huh, huh, huh…”
Then there was the time a couple of years later, when I was actually part of his studio, when I completely forgot about a mandatory vocal music hour. I was hanging out on the patio at school, minding my own business, when I saw my not-just-yet-octogenarian teacher hustle out of the performance hall and make a beeline for me, booming as he strode toward me:
“Mmmmmmmmmichael! Did I miss you during vocal music hour, or did you miss me?”
I think I had to throw those pants away.
But my favorite story out of Dr. Bond’s studio was while I was still a pianist. It was my freshman year, and I was playing for a few friends of mine, one of whom was having some cashflow troubles.
This meant that I was having some cashflow troubles.
I kept asking, trying to be nice about it, and kept getting the same old “Oh, yeah, sorry, I’ll have it next week.” Now, I’m a pretty laid-back person, in general, so I let this slide for longer than I really should have. But after more than a month had passed, I was pretty fed up and told her outright that she had to pay me before her next seminar performance. That was her deadline.
“Oh, yeah, sorry, I’ll have it next week.”
Yeah, she didn’t.
At the seminar I asked her for my check, and she said, “Oh, Berg, I’m so sorry, I totally forgot, I’m so sorry, I’ll get it tomorrow, is that ok?”
Sure, I said, smiling. What are we singing today?
The name of the piece escapes me now, but it was a simple little lullaby in F-major. Not hard at all to play, even for one of my admittedly limited ability, and interestingly enough not hard at all to transpose on the fly.
It sounded dramatically different in the key of f-minor.
As I started the brief introduction, I saw her back stiffen slightly, felt the smile freeze on her face. She slowly turned toward me, her eyes the size of saucers, and gave out a little whimper – to which I responded by batting my eyes and smiling sweetly.
The room got really quiet after a brief twitter, as all present locked in on the awkwardness at hand and wondered what would happen next – then good old Dr. Bond broke the silence.
“And that, class, is why you always pay your accompanist.”