Michelle Obama and Middle C

Michelle Obama was flummoxed.

It was her first public piano recital and she couldn’t find the first note of the piece.

She had practiced hard and knew it inside out, but had only ever previously played one piano, which had a conveniently chipped Middle C. And every piano player needs to find Middle C before they start playing. And since this piano was perfect, she couldn’t. And hence she couldn’t play.

In her defence she was only 4 or 5 perhaps – and once her teacher gently pointed out where Middle C was she was fine, but the same point applies to all of us – get familiar with your surroundings before performing.


It’s why the place kicker on a rugby team practices kicking into each set of goalposts in the stadium the day before a big game. It’s part of the reason why professional musicians make sure to soundcheck before each gig, and it’s why good lawyers bring themselves and sometimes their clients to the courtroom in which the case will be tried before it starts.

Each piano has its own nuances, just as each stadium and each courtroom does. Before showtime, it’s worth finding out what they are.


2 thoughts on “Michelle Obama and Middle C

  1. Great stuff Maire – thanks for your comment. I agree with all – esp the second paragraph. It is great learning for any musician to play in all sorts of situations and contexts – it’s not always possible to control the space but you learn lots by trying! What you can control however is the type of gigs you play – and sway the odds in your favour by choosing to play gigs you think will suit your music/choir.


  2. I have recently read Michelle Obama’s book and I can relate to the piano story. We were taught piano at home by mother Clare Hunt, and we always played our own piano. When we went to do our exams (Royal Irish Academy) we had to do them in the Ursuline Convent – in their piano rooms. It never occurred to anyone that we should get a “go” on the piano that we would have to do our exam on. Their pianos always felt very clunky and sticky compared to our one at home which had a wonderfully free action.

    As a choir leader coaches told me that I should always control the space where we were going to sing. It is not possible. Musicians have to learn to play the gig in whatever the space and whatever the conditions. If we perform to our best – even if no-body is listening or nobody can hear- we are doing our job.

    Liked by 1 person

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