Furry Muses

Well, I was just sitting round the apartment on my same old butt, eating crappy Indian takeout, looking longingly at the box of wine my friend C sent me, etc. etc., when I decided to do some due diligence regarding my exciting assigment as vlogger for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. In case you don’t know, the YouTube Symphony will be performing at Carnegie Hall on April 15 and there will no end of excitement there and symphonic synergy smoothies and virtual musical orgasms and DJs and free naked snowboarding lessons and everything your heart can desire, so you should buy your ticket here. (Can I have my check now?)

Anyway, as you can imagine, I was very curious to see who got picked as the pianist winner. You can go look for yourself at this link. The pianist is by his own admission not primarily a “classical player,” whatever the heck that horrible phrase means, but there is something very likable about the playing.

For some reason I found his video very moving. Something about the Italian sunlight–or is it a spotlight?–streaming in from the undisclosed above; something about the beaten-up upright, cornered against the wall, guts exposed … But maybe most affecting is the dog in the corner, slumped expectantly. I admire how the video begins without people, with just piano and dog; who knows, perhaps only at this moment of being filmed they realize they are both beasts?

Notice: the dog begins its listening lying down, a counterintuitive or ironic approach to the electric opening of the “Waldstein.” But, at roughly 2:00, the dog raises its head into rapt attention. Now, this moment is the climax of the exposition of the Sonata, and is also the first moment when Beethoven marks fortissimo.


The dog remains observing, possibly panting with excitement, through the exposition reprise and a fair stretch of the development. He only agrees (reluctantly) to rest again at phase two of the development, a section which in laymen’s terms might be called “the really repetitive bit with all the arpeggios.” Hmm, I thought, could this animal possess a humane sensitivity to formal boundaries, or is this a bit of trenchant canine critique? And while the pianist is coyly sneaking up on the movement’s final cadence, this dog is nobody’s fool. He senses the end is coming, and stands up, eager to claim his reward as an attentive listener … one has to assume, some Italian version of snausage.

One deftly timed change of position might be a coincidence, but THREE???: no, there’s no doubt, this dog really KNOWS the “Waldstein” Sonata. If it could translate its brainwaves into what we would call language, it could probably write a more penetrating paper on this work than your average Curtis student.

And then I was creamed by a second wave of musings, more maudlin than the first. How solitary the pianist’s life is, for starters, how loveless and yet devoted; how much time is spent alone with your black instrument and your blacker insecurities! And the dog, in that void, as faithful friend, as confidante of so many joys and losses which non-musician humans can never absorb; the tenderness he feels for his owner, sitting patiently while he sets up the video camera, yes, always patient, always staring with facsimiles of love; my nostalgic clichĆ©s flowed freely towards my childhood dog, Socratesia, aka “Soc,” how she used to run around in the back room, where I was confined to my work, and sit for hours under the piano, only howling when I played the theme of the last movement of the “Emperor” Concerto–a fact which has probably influenced my interpretation to this day–and the way after a long practice session I would sit with Socratesia, caressing her burr-flecked fur and staring out the window with her while she watched the evening rompings of rabbits through the pink, dusky desert.

If that little prose indulgence made you want to hurl, good, please read on.

Thank you, Tino Balsamiello, for dredging up these sandy memories, and reminding me of the great importance to the pianist of a furry muse, whose reactions to your music-making are perhaps more inscrutable than those of your average person, and therefore all the more valuable. The furriness would seem incidental, and yet no, the fingers, after long hours chasing nuance on the impertinent, unfeeling ivory, need the rustle of hair–some tangible, textural sign of a sensory epidermis.

I rely very much upon a furry muse to keep my musicianship in check. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my now 32 years of music-making, it’s not to have too many tendencies. So I require a furry trusty friend, who lives on or around the piano, to inform me when I’m running off the rails. For instance, if my interpretation of the “Goldberg Variations” is starting to become manic rather than cheerful, my friend looks at me askance, thus:

But if, on the other hand, he feels that I have not yet captured the spirit of a given variation, and that my imagination needs a kick in the posterior, he looks differently askance, thus:

In his googly eyes I find a cosmos of artistic discernment.

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  1. Kyle M.
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    “A more penetrating paper on this work than your average Curtis student.” LOL

    Big fan of the blog, Mr. Denk, and of your brilliant piano musicianship. You really ought to consider writing a book, you know. šŸ™‚

    Also–your last survey subject REALLY searched for that answer. Gold star for him!

  2. Posted April 10, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Italian’s pride themselves on their doggie treats, and they have a number of grades in a number of prices. From the highest grade (and price) to lowest, look for these Italian dog treats:

    and, at the bottom of the list: Crapocolla

  3. Catalyst
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Today I will take a furry muse with me to the practice room.

  4. e
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Permalink


  5. Stephen Llewellyn
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Mr D! I see that you are coming to Portland Oregon. How about arranging a meet with wine and beer at some local hostelry so your many Think Denk fans can say ‘hi’? I am prepared to undertake the organisation of same provided you can commit to coming. So, how about it?

  6. Posted April 11, 2009 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    My husband is a “classical singer” whatever the h*ck that is (oh sorry I mean he’s a baritone). We once had a delicate little cat who hated his singing so much she would climb up his clothes and growl and attempt to bite his adam’s apple. He thought this was a great parlour trick and loved to show it to his friends when they came over, sitting down to make it easier for her to reach her prey. Sadly, she passed on before we got our flip camera.

  7. Janet
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    The Italian for Snausages is “Snausages” and I can prove it. According to the Distretto Agroalimentare del Tavoliere:

    Del Monte Foods Company eā€™ una delle piĆ¹ note e grandi aziende attiva nella produzione, distribuzione e commercializzazione di prodotti di qualitĆ , con marchi sia nellā€™alimentare che nel settore del cibo per animali domestici per il mercato al dettaglio americano. Nellā€™anno fiscale 2006 Del Monte Foods ha generato approssimativamente $3 miliardi di ricavi netti. Forte di un impressionante portafoglio di marchi tra cui Del MonteĀ®, StarKistĀ®, S&WĀ®, ContadinaĀ®, College InnĀ®, Meow MixĀ®,
    Kibbles ‘n BitsĀ®, 9LivesĀ®, Milk-BoneĀ®, Pup-PeroniĀ®, Meaty BoneĀ®, SnausagesĀ® e PounceĀ®. I prodotti Del Monte si trovano in nove case americane su dieci. La societĆ  produce, distribuisce e commercializza anche sotto marchi privati sia nellā€™alimentare che nei prodotti per animali domestici.

    But I prefer Proscnuitto.

  8. N.
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    As a “classical” guitarist I also lead a solitary practice life (complete with those profound insecurities). My cat used to keep me company, curled up in my guitar case. I like to think he enjoyed hearing me play at least as much as he liked napping in that soft, fuzzy interior. Now he has gone to kitty heaven, and I no longer have a furry muse since my dog stays in the other room when I practice (he does not seem to have good taste in music).

  9. Posted April 12, 2009 at 10:56 am | Permalink


    Would love to meet with Portland blog fans, but can we call it something preposterous like Northwest Conference of Think Denk Interface Imbibing?

  10. Stephen Llewellyn
    Posted April 12, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Well, naturally we need it to have a suitably impressive name and that sounds perfect. I think you have my email address; if you would care to send me a note letting me know when you will be available and for how long I will see what we can do about getting something going in downtown.

  11. Posted April 12, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I pretty much felt the same way when I blogged about him during the voting process…
    the dog and a Bosendorfer to replace that poor upright. šŸ˜‰

    I see you will be here in Michigan for the Great Lakes Chamber Music Society Festival in June – would love to chat with you on-air prior to the event?

    Could you contact me during this coming week?


  12. Jo Brand
    Posted April 14, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink


    I vote snausaggio! Hope all is well.


  13. Emily
    Posted April 14, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Why wasn’t your dog named Sappho?

  14. Jeff
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for your tribute to furry muses. Mine was a Lab-Chow mix named Cootie, after the trumpet player, not the bug. He would take up the entire space under my Steinway (it’s just an O so there isn’t much room anyway)and snore really loudly for hours. Given what comes out when I hit the keys, he did both of us a favor. For our long walks, I would make up Cootie-related nonsense lyrics for every piece of music in my memory bank, and sing them to him quietly. He’d pee or poop his approval on occasion. I now associate some music so strongly with Cootie that I have difficulty listening to it–the second movement of Schubert’s 5th Symphony is one such piece, for some reason. But I unfailingly turn to Schubert to pay tribute to Cootie, every Friday evening, while I’m cleaning the cages of our parakeets. I put on a recording of the posthumous sonata in A and start my work. There are, it goes without saying, extant Cootie nonsense lyrics for the last movement. By the time we get there, my work is done, and the parakeets and I take a seat and listen quietly. It’s a nice way to remember my old friend–and calm down after a crazy week.

    Sorry for the ramble: Blame it on the departed dog. My wife and I are really looking forward to seeing you play in Chicago on 5/2. What a great piano weekend it will be–you on Saturday night, Peter Serkin at Orchestra Hall on Sunday afternoon, and Benny Green at Jazz Showcase on Sunday night.
    A great gig trifecta!

  15. Posted April 16, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink


    Look forward to seeing you in Chicago. Schubertian dogs are the best.

  16. les
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    So, what happened to Tino the pianist? Were you able to interview the guy? By the way, your 2nd day vlog was funny.

  17. Emily M
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Snalsiccio. Ma certo!

    I just spent the last part of my day at the office watching the YTSO vlogs. I gotta say, while I didn’t make it to the concert, I love that all of it happened, from the un-union-fettered rehearsals to the pianist-vlogger armed with camera to the hilarious after-parties at Le Poisson Rouge. Hooray for YouTube/Google/Carnegie Hall, and congratulations to all those who performed!
    (And thanks to you for the snausage and other thoughts…)

  18. Marie M.
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Ah, the wonders of a furry muse.

    At my old house, there was a couch near the piano, and every time I would sit to practice my dog would diligently go to her dent in the cushion and listen intently to my entire performance. She’d sit there and watch me, ears perked attentively. Probably the best audience any musician could ever ask for.

  19. Posted April 21, 2009 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    Dear Jeremy,

    You have Portland blog fans…?



  20. Posted April 30, 2009 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Great performance in Toronto last night!

  21. sr
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Our Old English Sheepdog listened very carefully to the procedings of rehearsals, lessons and coachings. She loved the Bach Flute Sonatas so much, she tried to climb into my lap. However, if a singer was particularly bad, she would slowly get up from the far side of the room, let out a pitying sigh and leave the room. I wish I could take her to the opera.

    Thank you for your blog.

  22. Posted May 8, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Can I assume your furry, trusty friend was in the wings last night at Symphony Space? You’re a bold soul to play the Goldberg Variations under a full moon. I learned a great deal, both during and after the playing. But, then, I know nothing about music. I just keep listening to it. (When I say “nothing” I mean that I had to go home and call up a friend to ask what a “canon” was.)

    I was so interested to hear you speak of the Goldberg Variations as “a smile” and wanted you to know that as you started the first variation I began to smile–and continued to do so much of the time. I would take that to mean you were communicating it.

    Other passing thoughts were: 1.) “My God, this is the foundation for all of Western music!”

    2.) “Wait. He’s got to play this all the way through without a break. No resting while the orchestra carries on.”

    3.) “As often as I’ve listened to this piece, I never heard that before!”

    4.) “Bach was nuts.”

    I had a really, really good time last night. Thank you.

  23. Posted December 24, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    After years on a Yamaha electronic piano we bought a used piano along with our new house. A couple of months ago we were flush enough to have it tuned. It’s getting out of tune so quickly, I’m beginning to suspect that it’s a lemon.

    But interestingly, to me, the cat seems more interested in my playing, coming into the room to sit on her perch and look at me. Does she like it better with the overripe, unnatural sound of certain notes and intervals?

    I prefer to believe I’m imagining the whole thing. La la la.

  24. Roland
    Posted April 16, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Snalummo, s.
    Snalummi, p.

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