Taking requests behind the piano is a series of calculated risks. We piano players either want a decent tip AND satisfy a customer OR we will choose to ignore their request in order to keep the energy of the room moving in the direction you want it to go.
I have that dilemma anytime I offer to play requests. So it is a delicate balance in a crowded room.
Requests serve a great function overall. In some situations it is necessary to take requests. It improves the bottom line. No matter if it’s a dueling pianos show or a solo piano bar gig, tips can be an additional extra coupla ducats in the buckets. They rarely add up to anything substantial. But everybody thinks that it is necessary in our society in America. Thank you. It is appreciated.
However the main reason to take requests is this: People want to feel like they are controlling the show; like they have some sort of say so in the goings on for the evening. That’s okay. We see it all the time in modern marketing; online polls, social proof, statistics supporting your buying decision.
Making requests is a microcosm of this same human instinct – a need to make a difference.
Even when making requests is not a part of an evening of piano music, say for example, when I am just performing at a cocktail party or a networking event, folks like to make a request in order to have something to talk to the musician about.
We love talking to people. As piano players, we crave the interaction. Okay, well at least I do. Come up and talk to me. Just don’t try and shake my hand.
Sometimes people don’t know what songs to ask for. I see them all the time on their phones “looking up songs to request’. Here’s a little secret … there is no right or wrong way to make a request.
Then there’s the guy or gal who want to stump the piano player. “Hey, do you know some Zappa?” Chances are we are already well prepared for this.
Then there are the requests for the latest wave of a current popular artist. Someone who is not well respected. “Can you play some Brittney Spears? Lady Gaga? Can you play Gangnam Style … but sing it with Korean lyrics?”
That last one was made by a young exchange student who had recently returned from the Asian country.
No matter what reason we find for everyone making requests during an evening of piano music, as professional piano players we are prepared for about 85-90% of your requests. Even ragtime. Yes we know how to play The Entertainer by Joplin. Doesn’t everybody?
People always ask, “How do you know so many songs?” The answer is, “This is my job. I spend a lot of time during the day looking up and learning and then memorizing new songs. It is part of my daily and weekly regimen.” Not only does it make me a better piano music entertainer, it keeps things interesting for me when you come up to me, try and shake my hand and ask “Can you play some ….?”