Posted by: balladofyoko | November 6, 2008

On My Mind Lately

A conversation between a conductor and a piano soloist, from Body & Soul by Frank Conroy:

“Many, many people… each one a separate people. Not like one piano, two pianos, everything precise, all the notes already made, all you do is press the key.”
“I’m sorry,” said Claude.
“No, no. Understandable. Absolutely,” Popkin said. “But this is good because you learn. You learn right away. Today. Now…. Is different, orchestra. Great slow beast, powerful beast. Patience is necessary. Very much patience to control such a big animal…. Difficult business. You do a little bit here, then a little bit there, then back to over there. Little by little, you understand? And it gets better. It doesn’t get perfect but it gets better, believe me….” He put his elbows on his knees and held his chin in his hands. “You know the octopus?”
“The octopus? Sure.”
“What do you call the long things? Long arms like snakes?”
“Okay, tentagles. Some tentagles playing fiddles, some tentagles playing different horns, different reeds, big drums, little drums. All those tentagles wiggling around, playing like crazy, trying not to bump in. You see? Is magic. Is a miracle they play music! So we go very easy with the octopus. Big dumb beast trying hard, he shouldn’t get confused, he shouldn’t get angry. We go easy. We say nice octopus. Sometimes we say beautiful octopus. Sometimes to the audience we say this is my dear, dear friend the octopus, please clap for the octopus. You see?”
Claude felt ashamed of himself. “Yes. I understand. It won’t happen again.”
“Is natural,” said Popkin, rising. “Back to work.”


  1. Clap for the octopus. Thank you, this is brilliant and beautiful and I sure needed the reminder.

  2. Thanks, Nicky. I needed the reminder, too.

  3. Now I really don’t like people who just *have* to sit close to the stage. They can’t appreciate all the tentagles working together.

  4. I’m not sure I’m taking this dialogue strictly in the spirit it was intended, but it sure made me laugh.

  5. Ace– it’s a funny quote, to be sure.


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