The Buzz

Music marathons: artistic endurance tests for the fleet-fingered

Categories: Live Performance, Music

The 2009 piano marathon by Chilly Gonzales is notable among the recent musical endurance trend.

Music isn't usually associated with endurance, unless you live next door to someone learning to play the violin. It also isn't usually about setting records for duration, unless you're Jack White claiming to play the shortest concert ever. (One note, accompanied by cymbal crash, played in St. John's in 2007. The Guinness Book of World Records apparently turned him down.)

But there are exceptions. On Friday, Canadian pianist and composer Frank Horvat intends to play for at least 20 hours without stopping. It's not a self-serving attention-getter. Horvat's piano-thon (slogan: "tickling the keys...endlessly") is for a cause: he intends to raise $10,000 for Lakeshore Arts, a Toronto organization that runs arts programs for kids.

As it turns out, this isn't the first attempt by a Canadian pianist to play, and play, and play. Chilly Gonzales, best known for his work with Feist and for a relentless earworm of an iPad ad jingle, once played piano for 27 hours, three minutes and 44 seconds. According to The Guardian, Gonzales called his epic finger feat an "irresistible combination of the poetic and the useless."

Those who find the idea resistible may view Gonzales's 2009 concert as little more than a publicity stunt. But it may not have been altogether "useless." Since then the idea of music-marathon-as-fundraiser seems to have taken hold. Whether small-scale and personal (The Big Green House in Rockford, Ill. needs new paint and plumbing) or of a rather more grave nature (Music for Lungs, raising money for the British Lung Foundation and a patient awaiting a donor), the music marathon is a way of drawing attention to a cause, raising money, and — if you're a musician — building new audiences.

Of course, if the aim is to build new audiences, some musicians in Surrey, B.C. may have figured out a novel method. The Surrey International World Music Marathon takes place Sunday — only in this case, no one will be playing piano until tendinitis sets in. As participants strive for the beatific state of runner's high (or maybe just to make it across the finish line), they will be treated to 34 "performance stations," where culturally diverse performers will entertain. It's one way, perhaps, to make a marathon a little easier to endure.

— by Li Robbins

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