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A Piano Medley and the Story Behind It

Feb 10, 2021 | Musings, new

One sunny Friday morning many years ago, my phone rang. Caller ID wasn’t a thing at the time, so I answered. Silly me.

If caller ID had existed, I would have seen something like this and the medley would never have happened.

There was a meeting happening that evening with a well-known guest speaker, and the musical number had fallen through. Could I come up with something to play… that night? People sometimes have way more confidence in me than I deserve. 😛

I tried a few different things I had on hand — some modern arrangements (that I played badly) and some classics (that I played even worse-ly).  The inevitable conclusion was that it was going to be improv or nothing. Fortunately, improv is a thing I can do reasonably well without much practice. To be honest, it wasn’t going to get much better in a few hours anyway.

So I used two hymns–one was among my favorites, and the other… wasn’t. Why choose a hymn I didn’t much care for? Well, the messages begged to be combined, so I gave in.

The result was a medley of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” and “Have I Done Any Good?”  If you’re not familiar with the words of these hymns, you can listen from the song page and read along if you like.

It’s a bit long. And that’s after including only one (interrupted) verse of “Have I Done Any Good?” and letting the second iteration of the “Poor Wayfaring Man…” melody represent *all* the middle verses. I tried to abridge it, but it just didn’t say what I wanted soooo… it gets to be long. It’s not too difficult–about intermediate level.

Actually, it may have sounded something like this.

Now for the fun part of that evening.

I played… it was okay… not stellar, but okay. It wasn’t anything like what I had practiced during the day, but hey… it sounded like I knew what I was doing.

Then, midway through the speaker’s remarks, she looked straight at me and, to illustrate a point, she said, “Now take that beautiful medley you played for us. You didn’t just learn that in a single day, did you?”

(Um…  rhetorical question, right?)

She continued looking at me, waiting for an answer.

(Apparently not.)

I had no idea what to say, so I just smiled and said nothing. At 3 a.m. I thought of a witty reply. Of course.

I hope this medley is something you’ll enjoy playing, unmasked, in the physically-distanced comfort of your own home. If you ever have to play it publicly, I hope you get more than a few hours to practice. If you don’t, welcome to the club. Let’s do lunch. 😉

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