Grand pianists

The 2008 Monster Piano Concert gets 60 little hands to tickle the ivories

READY, SET, PLAY<br>Conductor Glenna Battson keeps kids in sync at the Monster Piano Concert at Laxson.

Conductor Glenna Battson keeps kids in sync at the Monster Piano Concert at Laxson.

Photo By Brittni Zacher

The 2008 MTAC Monster Concert at Laxson Auditorium, Sat., Jan. 26.

Almost 30 children varying in age and size seated themselves at their keyboards. After helping two little pianists in the front row find the correct page in their music, conductor Glenna Battson guided the group through its performance. At one point the 20 smaller children cutely marched around the stage in their pretty dresses and crisp trousers and ties, in time to the music.

Last Saturday’s Monster Piano Concert at Laxson Auditorium showcased the talents of a multitude of local young piano students ranging in age from 6 to 18.

The yearly Monster Concert has its roots in Oroville, at the State Theatre, where Battson founded it in 1999. This year’s event was sponsored by the Butte County branch of the Music Teachers Association of California.

The sizable audience was heavy on proud parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins of the performers. Emcee Jim Moll informed the crowd that the real purpose of the concert was “to motivate students to continue formal piano lessons.”

Moll introduced each piece— in which anywhere from 14 to 29 pianists played at a time on the bank of 14 keyboards on stage. There were often two to an instrument splitting right and left hand duties—with a bit of educational information about the style of the piece to be played.

“Kansas City Rag,” which opened the show, was prefaced with a little history on the beginnings of ragtime music.

Fourteen eager pianists took their places before a backdrop of three arched rows of floating gold and white helium balloons. Battson, in her understated shimmery beige-blouse-and-long-skirt ensemble, led the group through an admirable in-sync version of the standard that sounded like one giant piano in a Virginia City saloon.

The 17-song-plus-finale program was an excellent opportunity for budding (and some already beyond budding) musicians to play different styles of music on a real stage (and Laxson is certainly one of the best around) before a real audience. They were also able to practice some of the graces of being a performing musician, like taking a bow and being careful not to accidentally play any notes before Battson’s baton started the piece (which happened a few times).

“What’s perfect pitch?” Moll asked the audience before introducing “Beethoven’s Boogie.” “When you throw an accordion in a dumpster and it hits a bagpipe.”

Moll’s joke elicited a good amount of laughter from the audience before the musicians launched into the entertaining boogie-woogie piece featuring snippets of Beethoven compositions, such as “Für Elise.”

“Toccatina” (“a short toccata”) was a fast, technically challenging piece that was pulled off nicely by the 28 pianists, mostly older. And a happy pairing of 1882 Mexican traditional song “Cielito Lindo” with cowboy song “Round Up,” played by 14 pianists, was well-received, as was the following two-song combination of “Royal Pavane” and “Fanfare Rondo.”

“Autumn Ballad” came fairly late in the hour-and-a-half-long show and featured 14 older piano students, playing a fairly sophisticated, somewhat melancholy piece using different effects settings, like harpsichord and a chime-like sound. The ballad was a refreshing change-up from the upbeat pieces preceding it.

Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” was a definite highlight of the show—the 14 pianists illustrated by the way they entered, played and left in rows the concept of a canon or “round.” Moll told the crowd that more students auditioned for this piece than any other.

“Big River Barn Dance” was a cheery, rollicking show-tune-like piece with a happy “pizza parlor” sound. Some of its complexities, like strategically placed musical “rests,” and sequential arpeggios rolling from piano to piano at the end, were pulled off nicely.

With two performances on Saturday, it was probably a long day for some of the younger participants. But the Monster Concert is a welcome event celebrating music and the dedication of kids, families, music teachers and other community members to the continuance of the performance and enjoyment of live music.