SAZCB President Takes Piano Bar by Storm
by Lindsey McHugh
Reprinted from “Foresight,” Fall 2016.
I had the amazing opportunity to sing at several prominent venues in and around Paris. However, opera and classical music are not the only things I’m capable of performing. I also love to do comedic songs, Disney and Broadway show tunes, and I can play them on the piano as well. I am always looking for venues to perform these other genres, particularly my comedy numbers, especially because it is next to impossible to find a singing gig that doesn’t require acting and nonverbal communication with an audience. I think I might have found such a venue — the Dusty Monk Pub in Tucson.
On the evening of June 24, 2016, I had participated in a summer opera program sponsored by the University of Arizona’s voice department, which taught its students how to prepare for different aspects of an opera audition. The final performance took place on this night at the Dusty Monk Pub, also known as Downtown Tucson’s Piano Bar. I found it extremely odd that such a “hoity-toity” event would be held in a casual drinking establishment, but it turned out very well. After the performance, we were all invited to stay for the “musical theater free-for-all” that was about to ensue. The piano player had many books of sheet music from which people could select their favorite show tunes, and he would play it while they sang it (like live karaoke.) Since I am very familiar with this genre, I decided to have a few and sing a few. Little did I know that I was about to take the bar by storm.
“Hey Lindsey!” It was one of the guys from Sons of Orpheus, the choir with which I had recently traveled to Paris. “I have commissioned you for a performance.” “When?” I asked excitedly. “Now,” he said. “I didn’t get to hear the two pieces by Tom Lehrer that you sang at our last concert, and I would like to hear them. The piano player said that it was OK for you to sing them at the top of his show.” Tom Lehrer is a musician, comedian, and mathematician who has written many songs with dark and somewhat inappropriate humor, but are absolute classics. I devoured his music because the lyrics, not visuals, are what make it funny, allowing me to show off my voice while making people laugh. Being the ham that I am, I immediately went up to the piano and introduced myself to the piano player. After he played a rendition of the “20th Century Fox Fanfare,” the bar quieted down and he introduced me as a special guest. As I sang Tom Lehrer’s “In Old Mexico,” I ad libbed a little to make it funnier, which the entire bar thought was hysterical.
After I had performed the second song, I joined my family at their table for some eats and went up to the microphone occasionally to sing Broadway show tunes. I was having such a great time, and the rest of the crowd seemed to be as well. Some of my classmates from the opera program wanted to sing a song from “Phantom of the Opera,” and the piano player couldn’t play for them because he didn’t have the music. Since I knew those songs very well, I jumped right in and played for them.
At the end of the evening, the piano player came to my table and asked, “Would you be interested in doing your own night?” Wow! I just met the guy, and he’s asking me to do my own show? Unbelievable. “Heck yeah, I want to do my own night,” I said.
A few months later, I had the chance to play for the bar manager, who immediately scheduled me for Sept. 10th. Since June 24th I had collected a list of every single song that I at least knew how to play well, even if I didn’t know all the words. These lists would be passed around to each table, and people could select which songs they wanted to sing. I had listed songs in four different genres — opera, musical theater, Disney, and other. All guests were encouraged to order copious amounts of food and drink because I would get 10% of the bar or $15 an hour, whichever was more.
The bar manager, the piano player and I had promoted this event like crazy, so I was expecting more singers to be there than there were. People just wanted to hang out, but some came and sang next to me while I sang into the microphone. At one point, however, I did get the whole bar to sing along to “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music,” which later afforded me a compliment from the piano player.
I deliberately sang “Think of Me” from “Phantom of the Opera” because one of my friends hates that show. In between phrases, he interjected a spoken phrase that contradicted the one I had just sung, and I played it off as a scene of unrequited love. John McCann, our wonderful secretary/treasurer, gave us a lively rendition of Tom Jones’ “Delilah,” and Tom Lehrer’s “Irish Ballad” and “Elements Song.” An entire family of Disney addicts provided the best version of “Be Prepared” from “The Lion King” that I’d ever heard.
At the end of the night, I was told that I had earned a total of $133, which came from tips and from the proceeds of the bar. Although I was disappointed that there weren’t more people — and especially more singers — I thoroughly enjoyed myself, as did the many friends and acquaintances who patronized the place. I will definitely do it again in a few months. I don’t know how that piano player maintains a following there once a week. According to my “Phantom”-hating friend, who is also an accomplished concert pianist, it’s easier to maintain a following if you do it once every few months. So if ever you visit downtown Tucson and want a cross between high energy and high culture on a weekend, check out the Dusty Monk Pub. You just might find me there.