On Elton John, Halloween, and Being a Pianist


So I just finished working on the Elton John’s Funeral For a Friend.

Every Halloween I try to have this polished up. I first played the piece soon after Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released.
Like every other piano-playing kid in those days I waited for the music books to be released after the albums.
After running through the sheet music a musician will begin to add their own flourishes and touches. Everything from additional chords in a segue, to changes in tempo and dynamics. Never underestimate the joy in adding an additional verse done strictly as an improvised solo either.
There are three taboos to fucking with another composer’s music:
1. Classical Music. You play it as written unless you’re screwing around and it’s expected by the audience.
2. Ragtime Music. Um, I occasionally break this rule and there is a lot of controversy about this between devotees of this rather obscure genre. Don’t tell.
3. Funeral For a Friend by Elton John. I have always played this as written by Elton. Maybe because it’s the best juxtaposition of classical and rock out there. Even all these years later I’ll pull out the raggedy-ass copy of the sheet music about 2 weeks before Halloween.
Other than these 3 exceptions I’ll do a read though of the piece as written and almost immediately begin inserting my own touches.

This year is different. I was not physically able to work on Funeral for Friend until two days ago. Believe it or not it is a demanding piece. The beginning is quite simple but by the change to Love Lies Bleeding I’m beating the hell out of the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. Or Ben Folds. Or Elton John.

There is NOTHING as satisfying as playing a difficult, kick-ass piano piece for an audience that appreciates it.
Not even good sex can rival the feeling.
I can’t believe I fucking wrote that either. Clearly being confined to the house for three weeks is destroying my brain.

Well, Funeral for a Friend now sounds great as ever on the upright here at the apartment. Am sure that the poor neighbors would agree. My hands are killing me too.
Ran through some other stuff I’m used to playing at Halloween shows. You know, Werewolves of London, Creep, and a few Chopin nocturnes that will inspire suicidal feelings in the most jaded of humans.
Unfortunately there is no one to listen except for myself and of course the neighbors.

I’m an egomaniac with low self-esteem. A paradox with a piano and no outlet for my musical expression.

Yes it is satisfying playing music for my own edification. It is far MORE satisfying to play for an audience.
Despite butterflies, fear, inevitable wrong chords and notes, I miss it. Even at Halloween. Maybe especially now.
Every band I’ve ever played in scheduled a Halloween gig. During the years I played solo I always made sure there were plenty of holiday tunes in the repertoire for that most wonderful of evenings. God I can remember throwing in the Addams Family a few times when playing piano bars in the LA area. I’ve a knack for picking up TV show themes and transforming them into rag versions of their former selves. Yet another useless yet bizarre talent to my credit.

I guess the point of this blog is to say I’m glad to have Funeral sounding great, but disconsolate being unable to share it.

This year Halloween in Reno is bittersweet. Memories…
Elaborate and fabulous parties I would throw in Long Beach, the parades in Greenwich Village while living in NYC, the many years playing riotous and always fun Halloween shows in various bands on both coasts, seeing Oingo Boingo play their annual Halloween show in LA.

If you’re driving though my neighborhood this week you’re not hearing things. You probably do hear Funeral for a Friend coming in through the car window. You might be surprised at the passion, sadness and strength in the notes.

~Miss R

2 thoughts on “On Elton John, Halloween, and Being a Pianist

  1. I’m currently wrestling with funeral for a friend,…seeing as i’m an accomplished guitarist but a scratch pianist,…it is proving to be challenging to decipher,…I wish i could make better sense of the chord changes,…then i could pick and peck it out as far as the melodic themes are concerned. any insight? still working at it on my Spinet in Delaware. Sam

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  2. omg you’ve surpassed me already. i am incapable of playing an instument with strings unless it is encased in a cabinet 😉

    you know how it is. we have to feel it to play it right? wish that i could offer more. it’s all about playing the piece until we smile or get that ‘oh yeah!’ feeling -grin-

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