Sunna Gunnlaugs

Why a Pianist Brings a Roll of Toilet Paper to a Gig

March 11, 2010 12:59 am | Filed under: Music | Comments (3)
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ToiletP

Photo via my iPhone

Last week I performed all original, unreleased music with my trio. It had been months since we'd played together. We were offered this gig with only a few days notice and I thought it would be a good opportunity to get us going again, especially since I want to record the trio this summer. We had two rehearsals that we used to shape our new material. I was shooting for a more open approach than before and since I was playing on a large Beckstein grand piano at the rehearsal it was easy to let large chords sing and let the music breathe. The rehearsals went well and we were all excited to play the gig.

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Photo by Sara Arnard.

Unfortunately Mr. Beckstein wasn't going to be at the gig but little upright Petrof was waiting to do it's best. It's not easy being heard on an upright piano when playing with drums even when you have the most sensitive, melodic and able-to-play-very-soft drummer in your band. Luckily the previous week (at the same venue) I learned a great trick from pianist Eythor Gunnarsson (my old piano teacher of Mezzoforte fame). With one microphone, a keyboard amp and a roll of toilet paper you can easily amplify the piano. No need for microphone stands or worrying about placement of microphones in the upper and lower register of the piano. You just let the microphone sit in the roll of toilet paper in the bottom of the piano and it picks up all the sound, high and low end, beautifully. (Thank you Eythor!).

I have been having shoulder issues for some time now and since there is no piano bench at the venue I meant to bring my drum stool so I could sit at the appropriate hight. Well, yesterday was a pretty full and busy day (like all days when you have small children) and I totally forgot. Then I remembered my piano teacher from the US, Pete Malinverni, telling me that pianist Erroll Garner used to sit on phone books. According to Wikipedia "Short in stature (5 foot 2 inches), Garner performed sitting on multiple telephone directories, except when playing in New York City, where a Manhattan phone book was sufficient". So I looked around for one but in this age of cell phones it's hard to find a public phone and even more difficult to find a phone book. Luckily for me there were a few novels at the club so I picked two to rest my cheeks on.

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Photo by Sara Arnard.

I had no problem being heard on little Petrof (with the assistant of my microphone, Barbetta amp and a roll of toilet paper) but while on a grand piano I could go from soft to loud, my dynamics ranged from medium to loud on the upright. So playing super soft seemed an unreachable challenge and letting chords ring out was not really an option since the tone of an upright piano doesn't live as long as on a large grand. All you can do in a situation like this is to go with the flow and not let your preconceptions (that you shouldn't have anyway) get in the way. Although I enjoyed the rehearsals more I think we had a pretty good gig and I look forward to shaping this music more over the next few months and recording at the end of summer.

Playing with me were Þorgrímur Jónsson on bass and Scott McLemore on drums.  We've uploaded a couple of tracks to bandcamp from where they can be downloaded free of charge.

Thanks to Sara Arnard for being there not only to listen but to take pictures also. Please visit her flickr page to see these and more in full size.

trio

3 Responses to “Why a Pianist Brings a Roll of Toilet Paper to a Gig”

  1. Hello Sunna:
    Good and sensitive musicians can beat odd circumstances, always…
    Best wishes, as always,

    Federico (aka euskir)

  2. sara arnard says:

    … and thank you, scott and þórgrímur for a fantastic gig :) i'm glad at least some part of it made it to bandcamp; those who haven't heard it should take the opportunity (hint, hint ;)

  3. [...] There was no grand piano at the venue, just an upright so I had to take the front top cover off the piano to hear it but then I needed a place to put the sheet music. The place was actually being renovated so I dug around in the debris and found a Bacardi Breezer poster that was the perfect size. It just barely held the sheet music but also rose above the microphones which we were using to record the piano. Then of course we had to joke about me becoming a Bacardi Breezer Performing Artist (as in Steinway Recording Artist). I also brought my roll of toilet paper and my amplifier to use as a monitor. You can see an explanation of that in a previous post Why a Pianist Brings a Roll of Toilet Paper to a Gig. [...]

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