Oh No

“I was a percussion major at Juilliard. I mean this was back in the times of dynasties in music. I thought that I would love it. And all of that derailed for me, it just crashed and burned, when I heard my first Frank Zappa concert. I just suddenly realized, I don’t want to be a timpanist in an orchestra. And I don’t want to be a triangle player in an orchestra, to have to sit in the back row onstage to play my three triangle notes. That was not anything that appealed to me from the moment I heard Frank’s music. And it’s not that I was inexperienced as a listener with other popular music, or music theater or any of that. Frank embodied everything, everything that showed me in that one concert that I wanted to do that. I would sit in my orchestration classes at Juilliard, in my baroch history, these classes taught by the greatest people on Earth. One day, I was in one of the piano practice rooms, and I was absolutely not even allowed to be there because that’s ‘just for the pianists.’ And there I would be trying to recall the melody or the melodic shape of ‘Oh No.’ Nobody was there, and on this fabulous grand piano, I played that piece to the best of my recollection. And I can tell you, probably within 30 seconds, an officer of the school came in, ‘what are you doing?’ I’m just playing this beautiful music. ‘It doesn’t sound like any music you are supposed to be playing here.’ And I said, it’s 20th century music, what are you talking about? It’s by a living composer. ‘Get out.’ And, if you want to hear that piece on the piano, it could live in a concert hall, it was that type of music that he could produce that was a product of everything that was in him, but you couldn’t really categorize it. You couldn’t say oh yeah, that’s rock and roll, because it wasn’t. It’s jazz, no, it really wasn’t. It’s pop music, no, not at all. Well, what the hell is it?

It’s Zappa.

And I knew that it had changed my life. That’s the thing. I didn’t live my life and then look back on it and go yeah, that was the life-changing moment. I walked out of that theater and I was actually disoriented. My whole world had been shaken up.” (Ruth Underwood, in the beautiful documentary, Zappa)

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