My students and I had our fifth Big Fat Music Party the other evening. I came up with the name as I was trying to get away from the formal idea of a ‘concert’, a word bound to strike fear into many a sensitive heart. After all, it’s a bit of a shame if as a learner of piano you always play on your own until you then suddenly have to perform in the spotlight in front of a silent audience (or have to be judged by an examiner in a grade exam, but that’s another chapter!) The Big Fat Music Parties are held in the front rooms of the families of my students, and from the first one, they have had a relaxed atmosphere of camaraderie and fun.
I try to get people playing together as much as possible. In the first one all the smaller pianists made up different verses to ‘What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?’ and each of them played their verse while the ukulele and guitar students, my accordion student, random percussionists and me lower down on the piano held the rhythm.
Drunken Sailor is great as it only has two chords – in our case D minor and C. It’s well known and in the minor key which is always popular. Plus you can make up silly verses. ‘Hit him on the head with a great big haddock’ was one of my favourites.
At the second party the small players made up their own verses to London Bridge is Falling Down, another two chord wonder. One verse went, ‘Build it up with chocolate cake…’ to which the response was, ‘think of all the mess you’ll make’.
Jane Sebba’s book, ‘Piano Magic’ provided one party with an epic rendition of ‘Sweet Potatoes’ where the kids have to make up their own recipes, finding different rhythms from the different words. The accordionist came up with ‘Horrible avocados’ which we played in the minor key and sadly, instead of ending with ‘eat them all straight up,’ we sang, ‘throw them all straight up’. (Sorry avocados, not my opinion).
With ensemble numbers interspersed with piano solos and ukulele or guitar songs, there’s a good variety to create an entertaining show. After the music we eat and drink nice things provided by the audience and it’s lovely seeing my students and their families get to know each other. And loveliest of all for me; at this point the children invariably drift back to the piano and continue playing together!
Around Christmas last year we had a Big Fat Music Party where everyone had to play something from a movie, show, TV programme or video game. We divided the room into two teams and they had to guess which of these things each piece came from. I hadn’t expected it to get so competitive! We had Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Pink Panther, When I Grow Up from Mathilda, music from Plants Vs. Zombies to name a few.
I noticed how much more attentive the children in the audience were, listening to their fellow students play. Although having said that, some of the very competitive ones, when they thought they had the answer could barely restrain themselves until the end of the piece! The teams were most of the time neck and neck. The people on the beanbags at my feet were increasingly whipping themselves into a frenzy, writhing contortedly with their arms in the air and singing along ecstatically to the final song, Skyfall. At the end, a final count-up of the stars on the chart to my great relief revealed a tie, at which I announced that everyone had won and what they had won was the enormous pile of biscuits, cakes and sandwiches laid out for us on the table. Phew!
I think I will do this near Christmas every year, but since then I have thown in a few questions now and then when the pieces suit a quiz, and that really works well to add some interest and keep those concentration spans going.
For a taste of gorgeous raucousness, here’s a bit of our unholy jam of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ from our most recent Big Fat Music Party.