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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 4:04AM   |  15 comments
pianohandsplaying

Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Nurnberb/Berlin, Germany

During my teenage years, I joined a theater group that specialized in children’s musicals.   I helped with the scenery, rehearsed the singers, and recorded all the background music. I also acted and sang in one of the plays: “Everything is Blue in the Blue Land” (http://www.livrariacultura.com.br/scripts/cultura/resenha/resenha.asp?isbn=8572722025&sid=89824519712210258011020111).  That meant wearing make-up so I would not look like a pale corpse onstage. Bold make-up.

In my native Brazil, I have recorded a couple of times for a TV program called “Metropolis” (http://www2.tvcultura.com.br/metropolis/). Metropolis was a hip late-night variety show that also featured the elite of classical music in Sao Paulo City. I was the pianist in the chamber music group Novo Horizonte, directed by the innovative British conductor Graham Griffths (http://www.pianoclass.com/sistema/revista.pl?i=1&cmd=entrgrahamg).

The group had had just one female, the violinist Tania Guarnieri (http://www.taniacamargoguarnieri.com.br/). Tania is the daughter of the composer Camargo Guarnieri and bigger than life in both her music and personality. Once, before an appearance on the show, we had applied make-up appropriate for studio lighting.  

We had to wait for a couple of minutes under fluorescent lighting, before our ‘live’ broadcast gig. Tania looked at herself in the mirror and exclaimed: “I cannot play Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” wearing the make-up of a prostitute!” Tania’s colorful remarks remind me of the strange means toward good ends embodied in make-up for television and film: ‘Prostitute’ make-up for the masses, natural make-up for the concert hall.

Last week  for the first time in my life, I wore  hand make-up. I was the ‘hand double’ for a production filmed in Berlin. The film is called Auf den zweiten Blick (On a second look). There is already a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Auf-den-zweiten-Blick/267826739499?ref=mf) . I will post further information about the film when it is released. 

My first contact was with the First Assistant Director, Xiana Yago, a young Spanish woman living in Berlin. The director, Sheri Hagen (http://www.kino.de/star/sheri-hagen/filmografie/131839.html) is a gorgeous young black woman. In this film, the protagonist, Pan, is a white piano tuner with existential problems. He falls in love with a black gallery owner, Till, who is married. I was thinking that this film and its production does not get any better:  a biracial gay relationship portrayed by a black woman. I wish the two men were Jewish and Palestinian! 

I lent my hands to three short scenes. The shooting took almost a whole day. First, I was dressed in identical clothing to Pan (the character who I was doubling). Then, I  spent some time with make-up. It was not easy to hide the inch-long scar on my left hand --but everything is possible with movie make-up… My first scene was to be the ‘playing hand’ for the piano tuner when he felt alone and disillusioned (musical translation: aggressive fast playing). This task was easy to accomplish with  C. P. E. Bach’s "Solfegietto".

In the second scene, while Pans plays, Till sits next to him and starts improvising. In this scene,  they acknowledge their differences and their attraction to each other through music. At one point, according to our director, their hands needed to touch each other. 

The hand double for Till was Reggie Moore (http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/index.php?en_programs_reggiemoore), an experienced New York jazz pianist now rooted in Germany. 

During the lunch break we planned the musical aspects of our ‘seduction’ scene. When should the jazz improvisation start? How should we show musically the connection and sparkle between the two? How each other’s music would be affected? When should the hands touch? The last question had an easy answer: the D Flat chord. After a two-page avalanche of sixteenth notes, time stops for a moment and life rests on a low D flat. 

Reggie Moore and I rehearsed the music and did a preview for Sheri Hagen, the director. Although she liked our musical portrait of the scene, she wanted a much longer contact time between the hands. 

We were glad to get to the D flat chord and let our hands touch each other for five seconds while we reviewed mentally the next chord progression in a jazzier style. 

I hope that this moment will not be left on the editing table. I look forward to seeing the two actors gazing  lovingly at each other while Reggie  and mine hands touch in a flawless sequence. I know I will laugh remembering us two not-so-glamorous musicians touching hands while thinking: F minor 7th, C major, G dominant 7th, and so on while hoping to meet at the final tonic! Here is a sample from that scene: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/video/video.php?v=1269755477164

In my third scene, I play slowly, pensively, sensually. I cannot reveal more to you; I do not want to give away the film plot. I want you to go see the movie and enjoy my two seconds of ‘hand stardom’.  

I must admit I was a bit nervous because I know everything recorded stays forever. I once played Prokofiev’s first Piano Concerto--coincidentally in D flat major—for 3,000 people in a Frank Lloyd Wright designed theater. Under the visual and aural scrutiny of so many people, I was nervous.  In last week’s film shoot, I recorded in front of an audience of only twenty crew members. But I will be heard by many more filmgoers and musicians in a situation beyond my comfort zone. 

Hence,  I raise my cup to the Seventh Art, where everything is possible,  with perfect and imperfect worlds colliding to convey a message of hope. And where life, even for a second, can hang on a D flat chord.

 


15 Comments

Hand-acting and garish make-up are apt indications of television and film's constructivism. There is so much work that goes behind each shot, sometimes it seems there is scant appreciation for the artistry in such tedious manipulation. Thanks for the links, the creative blog post title, and for giving due attention to portraying emotion through hands.

Hi Chng Bee Hwee,

Thank you for your post.
You are right, there is an enormous amount of work behind the scenes. The costume and make-up crew members work quite a bit and i was impressed about how organized they were. I had never seen Excel spreadsheets about clothing, timing, and other aspects of film making.
Special thanks should go to one of the light helpers that held an enormous light reflector, while all contorted on top of the piano for one of the shots, so that my hands would have proper light.
Good luck on your endeavors,

Jairo Geronymo

Thanks for such an insightful and thought-provoking article. Yes, sometimes it seems like everything depends on a minute moment, action or detail. While we strive for perfection during such situations, we forget that sometimes artistry comes from imperfection.

This was an interesting read. I liked reading about how you tried to think of ways to express the intended feelings of the actors should the music and should hand movements, never quite realised how every single shot, including hands carry particular meanings that the director intends to portray. So much work goes into artistic expression, yet audiences assess artists based on a one-off performance, or a one-off recording that stays forever. Make up, whether we like it or not is part of that few hour package, but we must not forget the process of making it to that very performance.

The image of so much makeup being put on your hands reminds me of how we use makeup and image and words to project a certain image of ourselves, over the internet, on the streets...as though we are not comfortable simply being ourselves.

And, I think sometimes life and pivotal moments, memories and decisions do hinge on a D chord, on a few seconds hanging in midair. It's admirable how film crews try to replicate these moments, but I don't know if that exhilaration can ever be felt as true as in real life.

Dear Kester Tay,

I do not know you, but in case you are young, that is one of the most important life lessons to be learned. To know how to see beauty into something imperfect is to understand how to see beauty and love the self in you.

Jairo Geronymo

Dear Emma Lim,

I find that the hands, together with the eyes, are one of the most expressive parts of our bodies. How we move or do not our hands speaks for how we feel and how we express ourselves. Try turning off the sound on TV and watching people's hands.
I am very thankful for all the makeup and wardrobe artists that help the actors become more believable people.

Jairo Geronymo

Dear L,

I agree with you that life can hang on a D flat chord or a single moment. And that moment can be a single look that can make you feel loved and empowered to go out there and live your dreams. It is wonderful to be able to recognize these moments as they happen. The small things in life are what really counts...

Jairo Geronymo

It is truly a beautifully amazing thing when the flawlessness of a film can hide all of the work, time, and preparation that was put into it. The illusory effects of continuity editing can hide the fact that an intimate piano scene between two people was actually shared by four people..and the all the people who make them look good for the camera. Films become even more beautiful when one is shown all of the effort put into it.

The scene you describe sounds incredibly moving. The power of movies does really make anything possible as you state near the end of your post. The diegetic sounds of the piano from your and your duet partner's playing, as well as your loving moment of touch was cut and pasted into a parallel reality, the film narration. This is an extremely powerful concept: emotion, not only as visual and auditory stimuli, can indeed be edited into a film. That an editor can bring perfect continuity to something which in reality is so disjointed is incredibly telling of the powers of film aesthetics.

The scene described here is very beautiful and very moving scene. Alas, i feel that this scene will be overlooked by most average movie goes. It's a very poetically beautiful scene, but i feel many movie goers, most of which to me aren't exactly in touch with music as this scene is has in it. The beauty of all the chaos from the two pages of 16th notes which then leads into this serene, peaceful 5 seconds of contact, as if the two hands were two beings floating about as if a mating ritual, and then to climax to this point of contact, is incredible. To me, for the editor to not use the scene in its entirety would be a mistake.

To me, this brings the craft of editing to the forefront of the conversation. As much as I love soviet montage, conflicting, juxtaposition as well as experiment editing I think it's hard to discount the skill and beauty of classic hollywood continuity editing, especially if done well like described here. The heightened sense of reality it can create is unbelievable and a indispensable tool to create narrative film, though not to make a generalization.

Even though you only had hand fame for a short period of time, I would consider that a big part in the film. So much time goes into making a single scene and the scene you described sounds beautiful. I was shocked to know how much time is takes to prepare for each scene. Thank you for this great blog!

This post reinforces the sort of sexual revolution thats taking place in our world today, especially in my generation. Reminiscent of the revolutionary era of the late 1960's and 1970's, today cultures across borders are pushing the sexual boundaries in order to emancipate what was once hidden. In almost every aspect we see this revolution. In the Middle East, feminist groups are coming together to get the rights they deserve. A way to display their radical behavior, they are pushing towards unveiling themselves. In the fashion industry, many designers embrace sexuality and incorporates it within the spirit of their designs. Here, we see musicians embracing sexuality and using it all the way to their fingertips. Every movement of the hand releases the sexual tensions of our past and reinforces the freedom of the future.

I love that you talk about imperfection. I always find that when I strive for perfection when I make music it comes off as forced or extremely one-dimensional. But when I focus more on the feeling of what I am doing; the actual enjoyment I get from playing an instrument, the forced aspect goes away. I appreciated this article a lot because I could relate very much to it.



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