It’s funny where a journalistic idea can sometimes take you. Or anyway me. The greatest stories are as much journeys of discovery for the writer as for the reader. But in this day and age of global exploration from your laptop, the possibilities for stumbling upon those unforgettables are legion.
So it was for me when, recently, I decided to create a new website for people or all ages and all (or no) playing abilities who love piano. It’s the single most popular instrument on the planet aside from the human voice and I was dismayed to find – with my eight-year-old finally getting excited about his piano lessons – that there really was no good, imaginative showcase for great piano videos.
And so The Piano Forum was born. Or let me put that another way. And so, after hours and hours of hard work and toing and froing with a rather brilliant computer developer on the other side of Europe and little sleep and lots of emails to leading pianists, The Piano Forum was born. I’m proud of the idea. My colleagues and I post piano-orientated news, we post favourite YouTube videos, we have the fabulous American concert pianist Jeffrey Biegel as piano–adviser-in-residence ready to answer emailed questions, and most exciting, every month one of the world’s finest pianists becomes our guest editor and lets us in on his or her desert island piano videos. That kind of thing.
But here’s my idiosyncratic little secret. I love Israeli pop music of a certain vintage. I’ve grown to love it. After an early and misconceived detour to the stylings of Sarit Hadad (I was set on the right path again by my vigilant wife), I discovered Arik Einstein, Gidi Gov, Yehudit Ravitz – and Matti Caspi. Above all, Matti Caspi.
I wasn’t the only one. Plenty of the Israeli classical musicians I know rate Caspi as a great harmonist, and I was immediately intoxicated by his blend of Israeli folk traditions – that trademark sense of determination, of something fated – of deceptively complex musical mazes, and the way in which he spins on a die between high romanticism and airy humour.
So I decided to find a great video of Caspi to embed at The Piano Forum, the better to spread the Gospel of Matti. Nothing prepared me for what I found. It is, put simply, one of the most charming, hilarious and yet frankly bizarre videos I have ever come across. For there is Mr.Caspi, Maestro Caspi, Commendatore or Kappelmeister Caspi, at his beautiful grand piano in white tie and tails. And wellington boots. In the middle of a muddy field. And he is surrounded by cows. That’s not a euphemism. I mean, actual, mooing cows.
As he breezily begins to play and sing, the cows moo along. Some decided to try to eat his suit. He’s very good-humoured about it all. “Taim?” he enquires amiably. It’s only when one of his bovine audience starts to repeatedly head-butt him in the back, causing his whole body to jolt over the keyboard, that he starts to plead, “Dai!”. Of course, being the consummate musician he is, he immediately turns that into part of the song – “Dai, dai, dai,” he warbles.
It’s that kind of video. Once seen, never forgotten. And my respect for Matti Caspi has increased tenfold. After all, it’s thanks to him that I know never to play a grand piano in a muddy field filled with cows. Nobody teaches you these things.