Ship-shape on a classical cruise

Playing classical piano on a cruise ship is like performing heart surgery with your patient on a hammock. My agent somehow forgot to mention the part about the constant but random pendulum-like ship motion when selling me on this ‘amazing opportunity’. Interestingly, the piano is anchored to the stage, while the piano bench doesn’t even come with a seatbelt. Seems to me like building a car with an airbag for the car instead of the driver.

That said, there are some clear advantages to playing on a cruise ship. Probably the main one is being able to tell your friends that you will be travelling from Spain to Costa Rica, for about 20 days, in what amounts to a five-star luxury hotel floating on the water, with pools, sauna, tennis courts, movies, theatres, and all-you-can-eat fine dining, “but it’s work!”

The fame factor

Another point I find very interesting is the ‘fame’ factor. I’ve always remarked on how after a concert, where for almost two hours a group of people has concentrated their attention on you, listened, applauded, even cheered if all went as planned, you suddenly have the feeling of being famous. It doesn’t last long, but while they are still with you backstage, buying CDs, talking with you, amongst this random group of strangers the faux impression of stardom briefly settles in. Of course the moment you leave the theatre, cross the street, and try to hail a cab, that wonderful feeling just as quickly evaporates. Nobody stops you. Congratulates you. Tells you how amazing you are. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Well, on a ship this is not the case. For the entire time of the cruise you are able to maintain your ‘celebrity’ status. You are literally living in a self-contained make-believe fantasy world. Quite an ego trip.

A price to pay

True, there is a price to pay. You can no longer hope to get from deck one to nine without being stopped countless times to speak with passengers. And people can be very peculiar. I had a lady ask me literally three minutes before I was to go on stage for the second time, “Do you take requests?” I politely asked what the request was, trying to make her understand it wasn’t likely, at which point she said, “I think it’s called ‘Spinning Ballerina Song’”, and upon seeing my face of consternation, went on to hum a couple of bars. This might have been an extreme case but normally people just want to tell you their story, or that of their children or grandchildren, regardless of what you may be trying to do.

All in all, playing on a cruise ship is an incredible experience, provided the constant swaying motion doesn’t bother you. Especially if they put you up on deck nine where I am. I guess I just lucked out as the only effect of the swaying visible is in my ability to walk a straight line. As I said during my last show, ‘while the drinks are not included the feeling of being drunk is.’

Julian Gargiulo is a pianist and composer who divides his time between wishing sabre-toothed tigers weren’t extinct and making paper pirate hats out of his old bios. In between his involvement as fundraiser for and friend of, he also finds time for touring with his new album mostlyjulian, working on his nonprofit, curating the Water Island Music Festival in the US Virgin Islands and Crossing Borders of Hunter College in NY, and endlessly walking the streets of New York in search of people to add as Facebook friends.

Contact the globetrotting pianist on [email protected] 

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