Legislating From My Bench

Something leapt out at me in the President’s speech last night:

My American ingenuity was stirred and perhaps even plucked; well heck, goshdarnit!, why not craft my own healthcare bill? Everybody’s doing it. How hard can it really be? …

111th Congress
1st Session

HR _________,

To provide affordable mental health care for American pianists; to reduce the runaway costs of therapy; to mitigate post-concert food and cocktail consumption; and for other purposes.



Mr. DENK introduced the following bill, without the sponsorship of Mr. AX, Mr. BRONFMAN, Mr. GOODE, nor any other pianist of note; which was referred to the Committee on __________.



Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


(a) SHORT TITLE–This Act may be cited as the “America’s Pianists Affordable Sanity Choice Act of 2009,” or alternatively as “Freedom of Banging Act.”

(b) TABLE OF DIVISIONS, TITLES, and SUBTITLES.—This Act is divided into divisions, titles, and subtitles as follows:


1) The word ”pianist“ shall be construed broadly, i.e. to be any person playing the piano in public, or submitting their stylings to YouTube;

2) Despite all temptation and valid justification, there shall be no discrimination against pianists who have attended or are attending The Juilliard School, or pianists specializing in Medtner, or any other disadvantaged group;

3) A pianist may not be sued for playing too loudly; nor for arguing with cellists about tempos; nor for shaking their heads poetically, or looking up at the ceiling pretentiously; nor for any other common foible;

4) No pianist shall be required to read Lang Lang’s autobiography, now or at any other time. Should a pianist accidentally do so, in whole or in part, he shall be covered under Medicare Section 1103e for all injuries he will commit to his own person, for a period not to exceed 20 days or as mutually agreed upon by the restraining physician.

If a pianist is playing the ”Goldberg“ Variations, a whole series of provisions pertain, viz:

a) for each mention of Glenn Gould at the post-concert reception, or at any question-and-answer session, the pianist is permitted three (3) massage sessions, and such aroma- and gastro- therapy as he may require, in addition, to be covered under the Groupies for the Assistance of Pianists Agency;

b) for each time that the pianist is asked to compare the earlier and later Gould recordings of the ”Goldberg“ Variations, he is permitted one (1) rude outburst, as dictated in HR 131, the so-called ”Really? Can’t We Talk About Anything Else? Act“;

c) the pianist is entitled to take all or any repeats, with the stipulation that no matter how many or how few repeats he/she takes, someone will question his/her decision thereby; mental agitation from this is NOT covered under any government pianist sanity policy, and can only be resolved in civil court, or on the reality television show ”Real Pianists of New York City;“

d) for each occasion that the pianist is asked why he or she is playing said work on the piano rather than the harpsichord, the pianist may beat his or her head against the wall for up to ten (10) minutes;

e) performing this work may be considered a pre-existing condition under various state and federal laws; and only pianists demonstrating reasonable forbearance in situations a), b), c), and d) will be permitted to enroll for the Goldberg Subsidies Program, which provides low-cost ethanol to Goldberg-producing pianists.


1) If a pianist complains about a certain problem with a piano and a piano technician pretends to repair it but actually does nothing at all and then the pianist says it’s much better, the technician shall be prohibited from pointing out that he didn’t do anything, but shall instead smile and tell the pianist how perceptive he is, and if found in violation of this rule, shall be condemned to no less than ten (10) years of harpsichord maintenance.


1) Pianists, like all other citizens, should be insured against the possibility of bad outfit outcomes;

2) This bill distinguishes between bad outfits ”by accident“ and bad outfits ”by choice.“ A government panel, reporting to the Farm Bureau, shall determine in ambiguous cases whether the pianist merely suffered a lapse in judgment, or really should have known better, girlfriend;

3) If a ”pianist“ is known to perspire in any way excessively, either through his or her own recognizance, or by being alerted to odiferousness vis-a-vis interested parties, he or she may not wear any of the following: a) thin or see-through linen tops; b) anything known as mesh or mesh-like; c) any light colored button-down shirts without reasonably protective undergarments, as set forth in Sections 33.3332 and following. Each violation carries the penalty described in the Armpit Awareness Avoidance Act, and penalties shall be multiplied in the case of chamber music performances, dependent upon the proximity of colleagues.

4) To prevent such mishaps, this bill sets forth a public outfit exchange. A pianist may choose from a set of publicly approved ensembles, and for this purpose pays into a pool. Pianists with a history of violations who still insist on selecting their outfits privately shall pay a fine for each subsequent violation, up to five (5) violations; at which point they shall be sentenced to a year of performing all-Krenek recitals in polyester suits in South Dakota.


1) Pianists who request backstage meals and enter their dressing room to find a plate of carrots and celery with ranch dressing shall be permitted to make a nuisance of themselves; henceforth, hurling Ranch dressing shall not be considered a crime within the confines of Performing Arts Centers.

2) Pianists shall be insured against the possibility of bad hotel room service meals, particularly against Midwestern Alfredo Sauce; but also not-entirely-unfrozen Mozzarella Sticks; and any boneless chicken breast which has been grilled more than fifteen (15) minutes. For each incidence of the foregoing, the pianist will be permitted one preposterous head-toss during the course of the concert; or one inappropriate flirtation with a member of the orchestra with which he or she is appearing, whichever comes first.

3) Pianists who post results of the following quizzes on Facebook:

a) What Chopin Etude are you?
b) What Beethoven Sonata are you?
c) What Great Composer are you?

… and any other similarly constituted or equivalent quizzes, as deemed by a representative panel of musicologists and social networking experts, relinquish all rights to all insurance heretofore enumerated.


1) Modern piano technology has enabled a profusion of piano-related activities that have only grown in intensity as the demand for them increases. Coupled with steady growth of the Standing Ovation Curve, and encouraged by the Piano Competition Incentive, this spiraling crisis threatens to deafen us all;

2) Herein we set forth a goal of a 10% reduction in octave emissions by 2015, to be achieved thus:

a) For each Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2 or 3 which is performed, the pianist must offset his emissions by performing, or purchasing credits for, two (2) Bach Partitas, or three (3) Mozart Sonatas;

b) For each Prokofiev 7th Piano Sonata which is performed, the pianist must offset with no less than three (3) Fauré Nocturnes or Debussy Préludes.

In the case of recital programs with not one, but two or more Russian virtuoso classics, the pianist shall be required not only to offset but in addition to perform community service, such as stroking another pianist’s ego, or listening very carefully to the preconcert talk.

3) It is understood that this exchange might create an unnatural incentive, and spur an explosion of, say, all-Morton Feldman recitals. This problem will be addressed in future legislation, The Froo-Froo Programming Act of 2010.

4) In order to encourage the growth of green pianism, a $2500 tax credit will be given to all pianists who do not play any Russian Concertos during a given season. An additional $500 tax credit will be given for every work performed that ends quietly, except for the Strauss Burleske.

5) Pianists complaining about their life, or complaining about the number of concerts they have, or how busy they are, or in general taking for granted the incredible privilege of daily contact with the most extraordinary music of the last 3 centuries, should be punished in some way to be determined, such as being beaten over the head with an overcooked chicken breast.

I welcome any and all amendments. Serious proposals only.

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  1. Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Denk, Under Division E, I stand in solidarity with your proposal, and would like to add an amendment that should be included regarding the A) performer who should not be teaching. ever. really. May he leave his condescending tone in his own head, his insistence at every lesson to merely play the student’s piece as an example of how it could be better, and general scoffing behavior. It causes due harm, both to the health of said performer and student, which complies with the mental health of the government sanity program mentioned in 4C of the Basic Pianist’s Rights. B) Weddings and funerals should be covered under a separate division altogether.
    I also would filibuster that anyone caught making up quizzes on Facebook similar but not limited to the ones addressed in Division D, Section C be punished with a new age back-up pianist gig.

  2. Ted
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    OMG that was truly hilarious! And I am not even a professional…

    I’m waiting for your encore!

  3. Anne Marie
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Welcome back, Jeremy! When I saw you after your SF Symphony performance you apologized for being such a lax blogger, and I think you made up for any possible accusation of laxitude (which I most certainly was not making) with this absolutely hysterical post.

    And, I’m dying to hear you perform the Goldberg variations, and I promise not to mention the GG word to you, no matter how much I like him, because I’m sure your version would completely wipe him out of my mind. So, when are you coming to SF to perform them in recital? Perhaps paired with the Ives Concord Sonata for my ultimate musical wet dream? Or at least, when will your recordings of them be released?

    I’m signing off to go call Nancy Pelosi asking her to co-sponsor this bill.

  4. leni
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy, you’re as smart as the guys up in the hill. It’s contagiously hilarious!
    The Denk Bill offers conscience protection to all concert pianists. It will inspire debate w/ the left/right wing as this proposal will make big headlines to the art’s world. Musical bloggers and readers will be digging into each line items trying to understand your proposed plan as we find potential red flags.
    Thanks for asking the Denk fans for any amendments or other suggestion proposals. We on think Denk will have a dialogue on the ideological implication on each individual section or item you proposed.

    I hope the final Denk Bill will get pass through the Committee so the Arts Czar will have a serious job to do.

  5. leizl
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Very smart, Jeremy and funny always! Love your health care bill. I vote!

  6. Posted September 15, 2009 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    OMG – i laughed so hard. particularly loved offsetting emissions – especially #4 on Russian concertos.

  7. Posted September 17, 2009 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Love the rant with ranch dressing. Deliciously forthright.
    Fight the good fight piano dude!

  8. Miloark
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Denk,

    Congratulations on crafting a bill of such obvious scope and magnitude. With all my heart I truly believe it is the first intelligent piece of legislation we’ve seen this year. However, for all of it’s brilliance you have failed to include a Song and Dance provision! Sir, how can you possibly expect this to make it through congress without affording congressmen that time honored activity? Please, consider what I am saying. For without such a provision, I fear for the Republic.

    Further, despite that short-coming, I feel so strongly that this should be enacted into law, that, should the unspeakable happen, I say a protest is in order. Most effective should be that when you and Mr. Bell perform, play every note one half-step lower than what is written. This should clearly communicate your dissatisfaction.

    Well…unless they’ve had too much to drink, in which case, just throw water balloons. Red, white, and blue water balloons, of course.

    Keep up the good work!

  9. A_Cellist
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Dear Sir,

    I take particular offense at Divsion A Part 3. You must protect the right of cellists to sue pianists. We have no other recourse against pianists following their “artistic vision” and taking their preferred tempi, ever since jamming them in the ribs with a cello bow was prohibited.

    (Oh, what’s the point. This bill will die in committee anyway, no doubt.)

  10. Bill Brice
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I propose the following amendment:

    “The establishment of any classical-music death panels shall be expressiy forbidden, whether by any government agency or any US-based Web commentators.”

    Greg Sandow — you better NOT pull the plug on Brahms!

  11. Bill Brice
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    OK Jeremy. Now you got my legislative juices flowing. What I’m proposing here is a new “cash for clunkers” stimulus program to goose up the classical composition industry. Let’s say you have a few old war-horses in your classical stable that are growing a bit, shall we say, long in the tooth. I’m thinking pieces like, oh, the Katchaturian piano concerto, or Pictures at an Exhibition, or anything by Howard Hanson. You bring them in and get an instant cash credit toward a new, energy-efficient, low-maintenance piece by somebody like Arvo Paart.

    Of course, we’d need special provisions for items like Goldberg Variations.

  12. Posted October 27, 2009 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    An even better “Cash for Clunkers” program would rid University practice rooms of piano shaped objects and replace with Steinways. Or at least something where more than 55 keys play the correct pitch.

  13. NateBH
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    Proposed Addenda:

    Addendum the First: Concerning post-concert shmoozing etiquette.

    If, at any time, a pianist is subjected to the question “How do you move your fingers so fast?” by a well-meaning audience member, he/she shall henceforth be required to stare uncomprehendingly at said audience member for no less than two (2) but no more than five (5) seconds before replying, “Well, lots of practice!” Failure to respond in this way shall be punished by twenty (20) minutes of guilt-driven inquiry into the audience member’s own musical interests, which response shall, by necessity, include at least three (3) minutes of orgasmic noises intended to convey the rapturous beauty of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies.

    Addendum the Second: Concerning the rights of the listeners.

    If, for any reason, the volume of a pianist’s breathing exceeds the volume of the music, likewise, if he/she emits exceedingly loud extra-musical noises such as gasps or cries, and/or physical/visible particles such as tears, flecks of spittle, or vomit induced by the conductor’s choice of tie, audience members in the first ten (10) rows are permitted to turn to each other, raise their eyebrows to the midpoint of their foreheads, and turn the corners of their lips downwards for a duration of two (2) seconds. However, they shall be required to describe the pianist’s performance as “passionate” to at least one (1) friend in the within the next seven (7) days.

    Addendum the Third: To Division A.

    It is the inalienable right of every pianist, whether playing in a concert hall, on YouTube, or for friends, to miss, neglect, or otherwise fudge as many notes as he/she deems appropriate, including but not limited to revelatory high notes, quiet intimate notes, solitary notes, and notes in parallel octave passages.

    Well, Jeremy, thank you. This was the highlight of my day, I lol’d. It seems there is a considerable dearth of piano humor outside this blog.

    I hope you are doing well, and I hope you will consider my addenda with “very serious seriousness” (see Heinrich Heine on Mendelssohn)


  14. NateBH
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I just realized that my addenda don’t really apply to a Healthcare Bill. (I was too busy laughing to pay attention– I’m “Adumdum”). But, as an American, and a pianist, I reserve the right to publish any and all comments, no matter how irrelevant (There’s another addendum for ya)

    Ok, All the best,


  15. Posted December 3, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I love this post. Hilarious! Especially the bit about reading Lang Lang’s biography. Great wit.

  16. stringph
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Harpsichord ‘jokes’ are about 50 years out of date by now. Or more like 70. Grow up a bit, Hammerhead.

  17. Martha Aarons
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    At the risk of committing pork-barrel politics, I’d like to attach an amendment requiring anyone who asks me “is it flutist or flautist?”, or even simply refers to a flute player as a flautist, to remunerate me the sum of five cents, retroactively. This guarantees that I will upon passage become independently wealthy.

    Martha Aarons, a flaut…uh, I mean a flutist

  18. Posted July 21, 2010 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to propose amnesty for any pianists who play the WTC preludes and fugues in the style of Luther Henderson. As far as I’m concerned, they should stay (up all night).

    Thank you for allowing me to participate in legislative process. I assume that once you are in a pianist government – it’s pretty hard to get you out unless you sell your soul (or your bench) to someone else for hard cash, or someone finds out you own a player piano.

    Oh, i almost forgot about the ‘going green’ jobs. I also would like to propose that pianos begin to be built with trex (the new decking material). Not sure of the soundboard strength – but if the frame was slightly smaller – we could save money. Basically, making a woman’s piano finally. The smaller keyboard would make Chopin acessable and all those large chords which Rachmaninov never really thought the ladies would have to jump around for.

  19. Posted December 28, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    “I also would filibuster that anyone caught making up quizzes on Facebook similar but not limited to the ones addressed in Division D, Section C be punished with a new age back-up pianist gig.”

    I’ll stand up for this also!

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