As I looked out through the window – a window in dire need of some cleaning or at least a good strong rain – just staring somewhat blankly into the distance seemed to muffle the din of room. Observing the buildings in the distance, the brightly clouded sky, the water towers on the rooftops across the street provided a pleasant distraction. At least momentarily. At least for me. Shuffle-hop-step… Reverse Cramp Roll… Push… Pull-back… STOMP! Over and over. Again and again. The roomful of Hopefuls – at this moment all men – were learning or, at least, attempting to learn a tap dance combination. Not easy stuff today. Very aggressive, very athletic. Very loud. Thankfully, I always keep a set of ear plugs – two sets, in fact – in my bag, so those helped to protect my ears from any possible auditory damage. Alas, there’s only so much noise they can keep out, and since I still had to hear the "sounds" in conjunction with my own playing, I could not totally isolate myself from the twenty pairs of tap shoes making contact with the studio floor.
I noticed the small length of pink ribbon sitting at the top end of the keyboard, just resting quietly on the highest B-flat. Previously, it was used to tie up a small bag of macarons that I had bought at lunch. I just happened to come across a recently opened café on 36th Street: a sliver of a place which consisted of a counter, a display case, a set of chairs and a small couch. More of a café in spirit, if not in execution or square footage. Besides the macarons – one violette and matcha green tea (which always seems somewhat redundant labeling to me) – my petit déjeuner included a baguette layered with a few slices of jambon and gruyère, sliced cornichons, moutarde and beurre. A Ham and Cheese Sandwich which the café’s management called a "Paris". Alas, when the order was called back to the kitchen, it was a "pair-riss", and not a "pah-ree". Ce ne fait rien. At least the proprietor was a true Monsieur.
As I played the brief excerpt of music, the piece of pink ribbon proceeded to do its own dance. Not only was it rocking along to the shuffling boogie that I was playing, but it was also succumbing to the room-quake caused by the 20 men dancing just a few feet away – the literal repercussions of each footfall. Between repetitions, it would settle back into place, although, if a breeze would come through the window, I would watch to see if it would get blown further down the keyboard or onto the floor, but it managed to stay put.
After the teaching phase was done, it was time for the Hopefuls to dance for the judges: the assistant choreographer and the casting director. The assistant choreographer’s assistant, the "dance demonstrator", for today went through the combination one more time before each Hopeful went up for their final exam as it were. He counted off the tempo, "5… 6… 5, 6, 7, 8…". I started playing. As he danced/demonstrated, he called out the names of each step – a vocabulary still somewhat embarrassingly foreign to me after many years of playing dance auditions. Some of the Hopefuls just watched and listened, others moved their feet along with the demonstration checking to see if their movements were in sync. Still others just closed their eyes, running the steps in their head, hoping (and praying) for the best.
Three names were called out. The first three Hopefuls were lined up left to right. This time, after receiving a nod from the people behind the table, I started the count-off… 5… 6… My left hand hit the first octave of the descending bass line… 5, 6… My right hand started playing the offbeats… 7, 8… And we were off. The three Hopefuls picked up their left foot for the first step, then three taps made contact with the floor a fraction of a second later, while three pairs of eyes and ears watched and listened and evaluated. Two hands, ten fingers played along, emphasizing the rhythms, accenting the downbeats to help keep everyone from rushing. Eight short measures of music, 12 seconds later, it was over. Well, at least for a few seconds, just enough time for the three Hopefuls to catch their breath before running the combination one more time. And then it was over. Another three names were called out, the next three Hopefuls lined up, the nod from the table… Line Up. Dance. Repeat.
By this time in the day, this whole routine had already been completed three times. The day started off with a group of women and a group of men before lunch, and another group of women after lunch. We were dancing the final group of men for the day before moving onto the singing portion of the process. Due to the number of people that were called back, that needed to be heard, the singing part of the day was a flurry of 16-bar cuts of pop/rock songs, or at least something resembling a pop/rock song for some of the Hopefuls. Lots of Billy Joel and Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, Janis Joplin, etc. Towards the end of the session, I found myself just playing what was put in front of me, not really recognizing the titles, the melodies. It had all become a visual and aural blur.
After the last singer had come back to the piano to reclaim his "book", the three-ring binder filled with the copies of his music, I began to put the piano back in order. As I lowered the fallboard, I noticed the length of pink ribbon still sitting quietly on the upper keys. After the countless repetitions of the dance music, it was still there. After all the dance-induced rumbling, it’s shiny finish still reflected the dull, yellow-gray output of the fluorescent ceiling lights. It reminded me of the café I had discovered on my lunch break, and of the two dainty, delicate and delicious pastries that were placed in a small cellophane bag that was then tied and sealed with that piece of pink ribbon. I continued to close the fallboard, leaving the ribbon undisturbed, content in its stillness. I wondered if it was afraid of the dark, of being closed off from the rest of room. And I wondered – No! – I Hoped that the next person to open the piano, after catching a glimpse of that piece of pink ribbon out of the corner of their eye, would suddenly think to themselves, "Ah, macarons."