Darke County Center for the Arts’ final Arts In Education presentation for this school year affirmed the power of music to not only entertain, but also to communicate and to inspire. In his shows for local kindergarten through third-grade students this past week, Jason Farnham assured the boys and girls that the piano is the king of instruments, and promised to show them why his instrument of choice is so cool.
Jason proved his point again and again during his delightful performances.
Almost immediately upon taking the stage, Jason captured youngsters’ attention and hearts; he began his concert playing the Peanuts theme song while bent over a toy piano and sitting on a tiny stool, then moving to the full-size piano to finish the piece. After revealing that he lives in Santa Rosa, California where Peanuts creator Charles Schulz also lived, the youthful 40-ish pianist confided that the Schoenhut on stage was almost identical to the toy piano he’d received from his parents at age 4 which had inspired his love for the instrument and led to his career as a composer and musician.
The artist said that although some people may believe the piano is boring, he would introduce his audience to exciting piano “outside the box,” then immediately launched into “Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fire.” Emulating the song’s composer Jerry Lee Lewis, Jason energetically played the piano while standing on the floor, climbing up on the piano bench, and ending with a chord hit by his right foot, while his audience eagerly looked on with amazement.
After announcing that his next number would be one that everyone recognized, Jason played a few stumbling measures, mumbled “That’s not right,” started again with notes higher up on the keyboard, said “That’s not right, either,” moved his hands into the lower end of the keyboard, and finally explained in apparent frustration that he was going to get under the keyboard and see if he could fix the problem.
The next thing everyone knew, the classically-trained musician was lying on his back over the piano bench, arms crossed over his head, nimbly playing Offenbach’s famous “Can-can” and “Hungarian Rhapsody” by Liszt. During all of this activity, kids and their teachers were grinning from ear to ear, some keeping time by moving their arms, pounding their thighs, or tapping their toes, and at the end erupting into uproarious applause.
Pointing out that the piano offers amazing range for a musician, Jason stated that if you have two hands and a piano, you are a band all by yourself. After explaining that usually the left hand plays bass notes that establish rhythm while the right hand plays the melody, Jason asked his audience the meaning of those two basic concepts. Rhythm was correctly defined as “keeping the beat” while melody was called “the sound of music” by astute students at one of the schools visited. The audience was then invited to keep the beat as Jason played the famous theme from Pink Panther while everyone else enthusiastically snapped their fingers or clapped their hands on the second and fourth beats of each measure.
Students giggled and followed instructions voiced in Woody Guthrie’s “Put Your Finger In the Air,” sang a couple of verses of the prolific folksinger’s classic “This Land Is Your Land,” joined in heartily to the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme, and danced in their seats to remix versions of “Let It Go” from Frozen and Beethoven’s beloved “Fur Elise.” In the meantime, they learned that the piano has 88 keys, was invented in Italy in 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, and that Italian is the official language of music.
For the final number, a blues tune, four students were enlisted to play rhythm instruments, and teachers were invited to join those on stage and dance. Everyone else delightedly bounced in their seats and clapped along, happily participating in the music emanating from the stage. When the song ended, the energized crowd exploded into raucous applause. No one had been bored by this “outside the box” piano concert; great fun was had by all.