Sunday September 12th 2021 marked the date of the second Piano Buiten Festival in Culemborg. Last year I played two sets of my arrangements of the music of Frank Zappa. This year, I had the honour and pleasure to be invited again to come and play. No Zappa this time, but something totally different. The Beatles. The Beatles? Yes, The Beatles. And this is what happened.
In 2015, Ellen Verhagen organised a Pianowandeling (freely translated: Piano Stroll), through the wonderful town of Culemborg. A day of piano music, on several locations in the centre of town. It was a big success and since that year, Ellen and her consortium of volunteers organised the festival each year.
In 2020, the festival was almost cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was not possible to hold concerts inside, so they came up with the idea to move the pianos outside and organize the festival. So, that year, they placed several grand pianos around the town center and people could come watch and listen – being able to keep safe distances. The Piano Buiten Festival (Piano Outside Festival) was born. And on September 13, I had the honour and pleasure to perform there; two sets of half an hour, playing my arrangements of the music of Frank Zappa.
Early this year, I got a phone call from Ellen Verhagen asking me if I would be up for the festival again, this September. And to speak with the words of Arthur Barrow, of course I said yes! Ellen, being a big fan of The Beatles asked me if I could/would comply playing The Beatles. Again, of course!
Having ample time to prepare for this year’s edition, I gave it a lot of thought. How was I going to give shape to two sets of Beatles music on piano? The first option, study and prepare an hour’s worth of solo piano arrangements of The Beatles; melody, chords and a little improvisation here and there? I started with preparing a couple of songs, but then realized that this must have been done many a time before and I decided against it. I wanted to give the audience a bit more than a couple of piano arrangements of songs everybody has heard many times and know so well.
But what then? Option two, re-harmonise the songs, transforming chords and play the music like that? Another no-go. Although that could’ve been an interesting project, I decided against it, for it would still contain the so well-know melodies. I felt like I wanted to do something really different. And this was not it.
Option three, to improvise over the chord progressions of the songs and make them into new compostions, based on the original structure of the songs. I toyed around with this for some time and thought that this would be the way to go. But then, option four popped into my head. Why not to improvise several pieces, not related to the music of The Beatles at all, and instead of quoting the known melodies, to quote the rhytym of those melodies?
And that’s what I decided to do. And, unlike I have ever done before, I started my two sets addressing the audience, giving a short explanation of what I just described here.
I cited many a Beatles melody, using just the rhythm – knowing that it might not be to obvious to recognize them, for I was improvising over different chord progressions. And judging by the many ‘thanks’ and compliments I received afterwards, I think option four worked out pretty well. So well, actually, that I am planning to do it more often.
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