A Classical Piano Music Sit-Down Comedienne

Shirley Gruenhut takes her inspiration from Victor Borge, affectionately known as the Clown Prince of Denmark. Although a world-class pianist, Borge was famed for his comedic acts at the piano. Similarly Shirley, although a classical pianist and a harpsichordist, who has studied vocal and instrumental accompanying at the Manhattan School of Music, regards herself as a sit-down comedienne. She joined GRAND PIANO PASSION™ to reminisce about her musical career.

On her first chamber group Soiree Sisters:

In 1970s, I established a chamber ensemble called the Soiree Sisters. My friend played the flute, and I played the harpsichord. We were sponsored by a world renowned art connoisseur and collector who held the largest collection of Boucheron sculptures and paintings in the U.S.  He was a jet-setter. His house resembled a museum, and that’s where we used to perform to entertain his guests. Andy Warhol, Ultra Violet, and others were among frequent guests. The dining tables, that seemed to be 100 feet long, were laden with food fit for the gods and muses. We used to put on 19th century costumes and tell funny jokes. After the performance, we would pretend to fall off the piano bench and swoon like Victorian women.

On a substitute page turner with her second ensemble, The Urban Stress Trio:

Adventures continued with my second group, The Urban Stress Trio. I will never forget the occasion when we were giving a concert, and I needed a page turner. My regular page turner was ill, so we just pulled a friend of a friend who assured me that he knew how to turn pages. I said to him, “Whatever you do, don’t let the sheet music fall off the piano.”

As luck would have it, he didn’t turn the page when I nodded my head. I was frantic because we were doing the Bruch double concerto, and I couldn’t possibly mess up. Eventually, he turned the page, but he did it with such vehemence that not only did the music fall off the piano (as feared by me), but the piano keyboard cover slammed shut, and I thank my reflexes for pulling my hands out before they would have been smashed.

This is where Victor Borge came in. I picked up the sheet from the floor, opened up the piano and said, “Whoops! Sorry about that,” and the audience was hysterical. After we finished performing, I wanted to strangle the page turner, but my boyfriend held me back.

On her inspiration:

What inspires me in music is its soul, its passion, and the genius of its creator. I like to visualize the pieces I am playing. For example, when I play Mozart, I time-travel to the 18th century and create the images in my head from that time period. It’s all becoming a piece of cinema. It’s visceral, it’s tactile, you can touch it, you can taste it. I try to become a medium between the composer and the audience and perform a piece so that listeners feel the sensations that the composer wanted them to feel. It’s therapy for me, I tell you, and it’s cheaper than a shrink.

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