One thing that you probably don’t think about every day is this plight of the modern pianist: they often get hired to play the piano where there is no piano. These venues might include wedding halls, beaches, gazebos, catering halls, VFW’s and restaurants. So, to guarantee a piano at a venue you basically have to be like Vladimir Horowitz with a Vladimir Horowitz budget. The world renowned and eccentric pianist insisted that his team of piano moving professional groupies moved around on his tours his 9’ Steinway concert grand piano in a box that could also house an elephant. Barring that idea, you’d do well to have an excellent full-size keyboard that travels in a gig bag and has plenty of “buttons, bells and whistles” so you don’t sound cheesy when playing in different styles. Oh, and you’ll need to take a music tech class or educate yourself on how to program your keyboard for musical integrity.
Bergen County pianist/keyboardist/accompanist Dave Malyszko is such a musician. “My keyboard weighs around 80 pounds and that’s enough. I can’t even imagine having a concert grand hauled around to my gigs,” he says. A 30+ year High School music technology teacher, Dave teaches what he preaches, giving young aspiring musicians a head-start when it comes to being adaptable in the “piano gig” profession. You may not have known that there are such things as music technology departments in High Schools around New Jersey. But full music technology departments do exist, for instance, at Bergen Academy and Paramus High School right here in Bergen County.
“Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to play an acoustic piano at a cocktail hour. But most of the time, it’s you and your keyboard. You have to program the sound in such a way that’s authentic to the style you’re playing in, so you don’t sound corny…..I used to have an old Fender Rhodes electric piano when I played regularly with a band. Those were a lot heavier to carry around than my current keyboard. Plus, it was more difficult not to sound like elevator music when you played one of those great but old-fashioned electric pianos,” says Malyszko.
Lack of pianos at venues didn’t used to be an issue. Acoustic pianos used to be everywhere. In fact, in the 1920’s it would be unheard of to walk into a restaurant or catering hall and not see a piano. In American homes back then, a piano was a normal fixture like a couch or kitchen table. But, nowadays it’s hard to even give away an acoustic piano as is the common trend. According to one statistic, in 1909 there were over 364,500 pianos sold in the U.S. In 2015 there were only between 30,000 and 40,000. There are many possible reasons for the decline including:
Most pianists agree that it’s virtually impossible to play difficult classical music such as that written by Rachmaninoff, on an electric piano or keyboard. Nor is it possible to exactly match the sound of an acoustic. But, pianists like Malyszko, with college degrees in piano performance are embracing the current reality and making the best of it. In fact, Malyszko is excited about all the versatility a good keyboard can have and the portability of the instrument.
Still, Malyszko plays solo and accompanies on acoustic pianos everywhere he can. Many churches and other houses of worship are acquiring or “adopting” people’s very good acoustic pianos. A lot of people these days are donating their unused grands and baby grands to houses of worship and schools. Malyszko recently played a concert which included a Claude Bolling piece with distinguished colleague and Bergen County flute teacher Patricia Lazzara. And, Malyszko accompanied solo musicians, ensembles and choirs at the Assisi Performing Arts Festival for three weeks this past summer in Italy. Malyszko has also written music in multiple styles for both the acoustic and electric piano.
A good thing for the local classical music scene is that as houses of worship and schools are acquiring good acoustic pianos PLUS adding music tech classes is that concert music is alive, well and dare we say growing at many venues around Bergen County. Parlance Chamber Concerts, for example are going strong at West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood. Their first concert of the season is on Sunday, October 27th at 3pm. See www.parlancechamberconcerts.org. And, Malyszko himself along with Patricia Lazzara and other classical musicians will be performing live this Saturday night October 12 at 7pm at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Englewood. See www.lazzarkoff.com. Tickets may be purchased at the door.
With the adaption to playing on a keyboard whenever needed and continuing to keep up the acoustic piano chops, musicians like Malyszko remain gainfully employed and continue to make music around the region.