If you watched the 2016 Grammys, you might have noticed that Adele sounded less than stellar while performing her song “All I Ask.” She was visibly distraught and sang out-of-tune, which is rare for her.
What was going on?
Well, it turns out that the piano mic fell onto the piano strings and threw off the whole performance. When a singer is brave enough to perform in front of millions of listeners with just piano for accompaniment, the piano needs to sound good. And it didn’t. It was harsh, metallic and as Adele herself later pointed out on Twitter, sounded like a guitar (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
The incident reminded me of when I was in high school and a friend’s father went to see the classical guitarist Segovia at Carnegie Hall. When I asked the father how the concert was, he told me that Segovia’s footstool broke mid-concert. This same father also liked to go to rock concerts, and he ironically observed that “these groups perform with huge amounts of technology and rarely does anything go wrong. Segovia performs with a guitar, a chair, and a footstool… and the footstool breaks!”
This was what happened last night. There’s wasn’t much technology involved: only one piano and 2 mics. (Maybe the Grammys should have hired Intel, who designed Lady Gaga’s high-tech Bowie tribute, to put the mic inside the piano.)
But let’s put all that aside and talk about the bigger issue: why didn’t Adele simply stop singing and ask someone to adjust the mic? After all, it’s what a performer would do in a club, or even onstage at Carnegie Hall if it was interfering with the performance so much. (It’s different with a theatrical performance such as a Broadway show or Lady Gaga’s Grammy performance. In that case, yes, “the show must go on.” But with Adele, it was just a song sung by a singer with a pianist.)
We don’t know exactly what was going through her or her poor pianist’s minds; maybe it wasn’t so obvious what was happening until afterwards. Who knows? But I suspect that it’s “taboo” to make a scene and stop the Grammys. TV networks control the timing of these performances more than we might think, and who knows what the ramifications would be if a performer, even one as famous as Adele, embarrassed them by stopping the proceedings?
What in fact would have happened if she had simply, politely, asked the pianist to stop playing and then nicely asked a tech person to come up and adjust the mic? This may have become a truly epic moment, garnering lots of applause in the house and admiration for her from the TV audience. One thing’s for sure, it would have gone down in Grammy history and possibly been career-defining for her.
As a performer, it’s so hard to know what to do in these situations. It’s live, it’s in front of everybody, and you don’t want to come across like a “diva.” On the other hand, every performer needs to stick up for themselves and if things are going very wrong, you do have the ability (and responsibility) to get things back on track if you can.
What would you have done?
Here are some free piano improv lessons in a variety of styles, from pop and rock to classical and blues. Enjoy!