phrasing Chopin in permanent waves

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Location: Taipei, Taiwan

Saturday, August 24, 2002


Rolf-Peter Wille

I am going to tell the story of a pianist colleague of mine, a certain Lee Chung-Hsuen from Tainan, who had studied piano in America and Europe. He lived in Tainan, the capital of coffee houses and hairdressing saloons. Besides playing salon pieces and teaching privately, he used to frequent about 80% of the local hairdressing saloons, including the shady ones. A halo of shampoo fragrances whirled around Lee’s head, and his poor wife had to shut her nose, when Lee happened to be at home by accident.

"You idiot!" she used to admonish her dear husband. "This shampoo will melt into your head. You are going to loose all your hair. Then you will be bald and I’ll get a divorce. You may die if you want!"

Interestingly the loving wife of Monsieur Lee was quite right. The shampoo was indeed eating into the head, though—strangely—it did not care very much about the hair. But gradually it seeped into Lee’s mind until his brain was floating in a real shampoo bath. It is quite a miracle that this pulp never slopped out of his ears.

Unfortunately it cannot be denied that Lee’s mind suffered from this penetration. His manners became perfumed and his piano performances reminded me of Helena Rubinstein. He phrased Chopin in permanent waves while his Debussy was drowned in an ocean of pedal. His favorite composers became Fauré and Jaques Champion de Chambonnieres.

This way Lee advanced to be the foremost salon pianist here, and it is quite natural that he succeeded in poisoning the artistic atmosphere of this country. Especially the female piano students were attracted by his new style and eventually he was able to accumulate quite a harem. All our conservatories began to reek of perfume. The students started to wear designer clothes and spoke a very flowery Mandarin. Our piano teachers looked more and more like hairdressers, and the hairdressing saloons hired pianists. The new motto was: "Frisieren ist Phrasieren (hairdressing is phrasing)!"

But what happened to Lee Chung-Hsuen? Having advanced to become the most successful piano pedagogue, he never had time to wash his hair again (though—strangely—his wife started to frequent the local saloons). But Lee was squatting in front of the piano and his oily hair became quite sticky. Thanks to Taiwan’s high humidity the shampoo soup below this hair managed to survive for quite a while, but eventually it dried out, because Lee had become rich and had acquired an air conditioner. His brain metamorphosed into a pasteboard like pulp, and when Lee shook his head (which happened rarely) you could hear a rustling noise not unlike wrinkled dollar bills. The cloud of perfume, having lost its center, dissipated into space, considerably improving our air pollution index.

The lack of perfume in our conservatories had quite a sobering effect, I must say. Rubato and pedal are strictly forbidden today and the metronome has become the most popular instrument. The pulp in Lee’s head eventually became a gray powder which slowly trickled out of his nose. Since he had no time to blow his nose, the powder trickled into the carpet and Madame Lee eventually sucked it up with her vacuum cleaner. In spite of this Lee did not loose his hair!

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