Beaverton pianist uses humor, fun to broaden appeal of misunderstood music
Dianne Davies is on a mission to eradicate at least two elements of classical music performance she feels inhibit the young and uninitiated from fully enjoying the art form: pomposity and passivity.
The seasoned pianist and performer aims to replace those with irreverent humor and involvement with the audience.
'My performance is very interactive,' she says. 'I fall off my bench a couple of times. I run around and do some crazy things. People can't just fall asleep. They don't have time.'
Davies will put her bubble-bursting experiment to the test in a fundraising concert called 'Dianne Davies Falls Off Her Bench,' at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, 5650 S.W. Hall Blvd., on Sunday at 5 p.m. Joined by guest pianists Minae Hayashi and Patti Duthie, Davies is asking for donations to alleviate recent reductions in teacher salaries at Pilgrim Lutheran School.
Influenced by such musician-humorists as Victor Borge, Tom Lehrer and Dudley Moore, Davies, 47, sees fun as a portal for young folks to learn to appreciate the often-daunting classical music canon.
'My goal is to make a classical concert more fun to go to,' she says. 'Young people are not often familiar with the standards of classical music we should all know. Kids in the public schools, generally, unless they're taking piano lessons, are not exposed to this music. And a lot of them think of it as boring. I hope to make it more accessible, interesting and more fun to come hear.'
While leaving some room for spontaneity, Davies choreographs much of the performance, from the classical pieces she plays to the off-the-wall, slapstick sketches she performs with Hayashi and Duthie.
'There are spontaneous things that happen, and that's fun,' she admits. 'But the basic routines are all practiced and choreographed. The wrong notes are choreographed. What's liberating is that it's fun to play and have the audience laughing and reacting to you.'
An 18-year resident of the Highland Hills area, Davies has played classical piano since she was a little girl. Taking a break from performing and teaching when her boys, Kaleb and Joshua, were born, she returned to the stage in 2008 for a performance of the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Hillsboro Symphony Orchestra.
Collaborating with her friend May Wong the next year for a performance of 'Carnival of the Animals' for two pianos and orchestra, Davies found a way to incorporate narration, humor and whimsy into her playing and onstage persona.
'We had so much fun,' she says of the experience. 'The audiences were very receptive. I realized I was totally hooked, and that this is what I want to do.'
Part of her current performance involves affectionate mimicry of professional classical musicians' onstage mannerisms and tics.
'They have really weird quirks,' she says, mentioning a musician who stares at the ceiling while playing and another who's constantly brushing her hair out of her face. 'We (exaggerate) any kind of stupid affect (musicians) have, just so we can make fun of it.'
As much as she emphasizes fun, the 1988 Lewis and Clark College graduate does have a line she tries not to cross.
'There are many things I won't do,' she says. 'I make it very clear this is a clean show. There's no swearing. It's not risqué.'
Humor, she observes, has always been part of classical music, even if it was hidden.
'Mozart would put musical jokes in his compositions, and when somebody else was conducting, he'd be in the crowd seeing if the crowd would get it.'
With the rise of jazz, rock 'n' roll and myriad styles of popular music, however, the lighthearted side of classical music has become buried. But Davies sees modern classical performers moving in a more accessible direction.
'A lot of artists are really warming up to the audiences by cracking jokes and trying to bring more life to the music,' she says. 'It's really coming around. I would like to see it come around more.'