Today’s post is mostly about my thoughts on compliments, with a side order of the musical delights of pianist Eamonn Monahan.
I mentioned in my recent self-outing post that I spent the weekend of May 1st at the Berkeley D4 Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin. On Saturday night during my recovery from hiding shivering in that bucket, a man called Eamonn Monahan from Donegal played piano in the hotel restaurant where we ate, and later on in the bar where we drank.
If you want to hear some of the classiest lounge piano playing you’re ever likely to hear anywhere, go to the Berkeley D4 in Ballsbridge on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon and have a listen to Eamonn Monahan.
Just take note of this teensy weensy advisory, which is also related to the reason I’m writing this post.
- If you do go to hear Eamonn play (and I assure you he’s worth a visit), you may want to ensure that you enjoy the music at a distance.
If you want to compliment Eamonn or talk with him at all, my personal advice is - resist the impulse and stay right where you are.
This may seem like rather unexpected and counterintuitive advice. What could possibly be problematic about offering a compliment or two?
To find out why maintaining your distance might be a good idea (at least in the case of this particular pianist), and how this relates to the topic I’m about to get to, stay tuned and all shall be revealed! :)
Have you ever noticed that giving and receiving compliments can sometimes be fraught with emotional traps and pitfalls? I mean, how often have you experienced one of those endlessly circular arguments in which the complimentee insists their efforts are flawed and inadequate, and the complimenter tries to persuade them how good they are really? How often has somebody complimented you and your response has been mostly self-deprecating? How often have you tried to persuade somebody else to believe your compliments?
I don’t know about you but for me this kind of thing happens to at least some degree practically every time I’m around people. Actually, I started writing this post as something else but then when I was writing it I started noticing some stuff about compliments in general. And then the whole thing turned into more of a thing about compliments with only a bit of my original idea in it.
I think the post I ended up with turned out way better than my original idea. :)
And see how that works? Most people I’ve asked say they can compliment themselves just fine, but the minute somebody else does, prepare the fanfare for
and Wordy Traps
and featuring special guest star
So that’s what this post is about.
I know from experience that many people have difficulties with accepting compliments simply and graciously. I do myself. When giving a compliment, I’m far more likely to get something like “Ah no, it isn’t so good really.” than I am to hear a simple “thank you”.
Also in my experience, difficulties with accepting compliments can lead to a lot of unexpected (and in my opinion, pointless) conflict. I know that if somebody takes the time to offer me a compliment, then a simple and sincere smile and a “thank you” is usually enough to convey my appreciation and leave them feeling good about complimenting me.
Because I’m aware of my difficulty with accepting compliments, and because I’m especially aware that my own issue has nothing to do with anybody else, I also know how important it is when I’m feeling at all under par to say “thank you”, smile, and stop there. If I extend the interaction any further when I’m feeling less than my best, then I know I’m risking an argument with somebody who only wanted to be nice to me! So I avoid that by sticking with the “thank you” and smile, which I can deliver with all the sincerity and pleasure I genuinely feel. And then I stop whilst I’m ahead.
And that’s usually enough to leave everybody feeling good.
Normally when I compliment somebody, the least I expect is a wee bit of acknowledgement. I don’t even need a smile, just a simple “thank you” does me nicely and that is literally all I need. I know they’re on their own time and are not the performing monkey I’m normally expected to be on the job, so all I want is some indication that they understood that I appreciate their efforts. I don’t even need them to welcome my appreciation, just to know that they understood it is enough for me.
If I’m complimenting a professional performer, then I expect a bit more. Now I do know what it’s like to have to respond to uninformed drunken compliments all night, and to be asked to discuss things when maybe I don’t feel like it. I do know how very tiresome this part of the job can be sometimes. I also know that many people can sometimes respond to compliments as if they were navigating a tricky emotional minefield. But I expect professional performers to have developed at least a few skills to manage this.
Why? Because in my experience, most venue managers regard performers not as valued money-spinning customer attractions, but as an unwanted expense. If customers complain about rudeness from the hired help (as we musicians are so often regarded), then the venue management traditionally tend to favour the paying customer over the pricey musician.
So most musicians tend to develop at least some skills to respond graciously to even the rudest audience members, because otherwise they’ll tend to find themselves employed less and less often.
Being a professional myself I know that my compliments tend to be a bit more meaningful than the usual drunkenly slurred vague pleasantries, and I usually have some specific and relevant points of musicianship I’d like to discuss if they’re willing. But I understand that on some days these conversations can be harder to manage than others, so when I am audienting I do my best to make my compliments as pleasant and easy to hear as possible.
Also, I don’t know about you, but I find that people who have social skills tend to use them. I mean, why would a person disregard useful skills they have when they need them? So if a professional performer has been booked for a gig in the first place, I find that there’s a good chance they can and will respond graciously to compliments. And so regardless of any care I personally take, these are some of the reasons why in general I still expect most professional performers to be able to manage compliments more graciously than others might do.
If any performers I compliment do say unpleasant things to me, then I’m left feeling bad and sorry I bothered to compliment them in the first place. And then the next time I think a player is good, I probably won’t bother complimenting them at all.
These experiences all add up, y’know.
the Capitol showband, 1966. He hasn’t changed all that much.
© 2004-2010 GMS Productions Photo from Liam O’Reilly’s collection
John Baird’s ‘The Fiesta Letterkenny‘.
From far left, Eamonn Monahan, John Baird , Des Kelly and Paul Sweeney.
Photo from John Baird’s collection.
I’ve heard a quite a few lounge pianists and played with even more around the world, and Eamonn Monahan in my opinion is one of the classiest lounge players you’re ever likely to hear. He also (surprisingly, given his level of experience) has quite possibly the worst audience management skills I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across.
Eamonn has a spectacular range of balletic arrangements of traditional Irish songs, well-known classical selections such as from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and piano arrangements of all kinds of numbers from the popular repertoire. He makes excellent use of the silence in between numbers and the silence in between notes and phrases. His fingering is accurate and fluent (if a touch heavy at times for my taste), and his dynamics are beautifully expressive and appropriate to the venue. In the restaurant his playing was wonderfully unobtrusive and significantly contributed to our enjoyment of the meal, and in the bar he amped it up a bit with some vocals and created a jovial atmosphere.
In the restaurant, diners even paused their eating and conversation to applaud many of his numbers, and you may know yourselves from your own restaurant experiences how exceptionally rare that is.
Why am I mentioning all this? Because I went up after dinner to introduce myself and tell him how much I admired his work, and I also wanted to ask him about one of the arrangements of a traditional song he played.
- (can you tell what’s coming?)
(hint: two words - disagreeable chaos)
So as you may have guessed, the conversation rapidly deteriourated into disagreeable chaos, and pretty much ended when he banged out his assertion that “I’ve played in Carnegie Hall, you know!”. Surprised at this bit of irrelevance, I said “So have I.”, and he shot back “Good!”, and carried on playing. I waited a bit, kind of befuddled, and then walked away.
I mean, gee, I was trying to offer the man a compliment, so why smack me across the face with his credentials?
Anyhow, so much for my compliment effort.
Initially I thought it might just have been me and my big fat Jewish mouth. :) But as I mentioned in my previous post I spent the entire bank holiday weekend at that hotel from Friday evening to Monday afternoon, and after my experience on Saturday night I heard over and over again from many other people that he gave them a really hard time as well.
So it wasn’t just me then.
My biggest regret was that when he’d said he’d played in Carnegie Hall, I wish, oh how I wish I’d riposted:
- “Well *I* have a pencil. Hah! I win.”
That was just another one of those moments when you think of absolutely the most perfect thing to say, way too late. Oh well.
So that was the experience which sparked off this post. I think it’s really nifty how a post can start off one way and end up completely different. I love how the human mind can be so wonderfully spontaneous and unexpected.
Or at least, I love it when my mind does that. :p
When I rang up the hotel to find out Eamonn’s name so I could credit him properly, none of the staff at reception or in the restaurant or in the bar knew it. Fortunately Eamonn actually happened to be playing in the bar at the time so I ended up speaking on the phone with the man himself. Although I’d introduced myself by name and did give my name on the phone as well, to my enormous relief he seemed to have no memory at all of our previous encounter. Because I myself forget that kind stuff pretty much straight away after a gig, I kind of expected this possibility but I was super extra glad about it all the same. :)
Anyhow, I did want to point out that Eamonn was delightful on the phone, and I found his telephone manner entirely easier and much more pleasant than his in-person manner, so it’s possible he was just having a bad weekend or something.
Alternatively, he could possibly have so very many compliment-related incidents that he can’t possibly remember all of them, and maybe he was just as relieved as I was because I wasn’t an irate customer ringing up to shout at him. :)
Anyhow, the lessons I learnt from considering the stuff in this post are:
- Compliments can sometimes trigger emotional minefields
- Offer compliments with care
- Treat any heated responses with calm and gentle understanding
- Accept compliments graciously with short and sweet responses
- If in doubt, walk away early
- Enjoy Eamonn Monahan’s fabulous musicianship - from a distance
And my personal strategies for most compliment-related circumstances go something like this:
- Receiving - When complimented I limit myself to a smile and a “Thank you”, and stop there. Everybody feels good - win-win.
- Giving - When the recipient of my compliment insists how inferiour they are, I’ll nod and agree earnestly, and wonder aloud what I could have been thinking to lie so extravagantly. (this usually gets either a laugh or a huffy departure - either way, it resolves quickly)
For the record, I just want to reiterate that as long as you keep your distance, I heartily recommend Eamonn Monahan as really, really worth going to hear. At the moment, he’s on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons in the Berkeley D4 hotel, Ballsbridge.
- And now, an extra special bonus rant!
<bonusrant> The things I do for you people! I had to make a map myself because unfortunately, the Berkeley D4 hotel’s administrators appear to be interested in publicising everything about the hotel except its actual location. </bonusrant>
On the hippy-trippy-happy-la-la side of things, you’ll be glad to know that some buses (I’ve no idea which ones) run regularly and stop about 5 minutes walk away, Landsdowne Road DART station is about a 5 minute walk the other way, and most Dublin taxi drivers should be able to find it for you. The restaurant is pricey by my standards (maybe 30-ish euro per person) but I think the food and service are really good enough to be worth it for a one off.
So get your arses off to that scrumptious mealfest, slurpicious drinkfest and extra groovy pianofest, and since the hotel itself couldn’t be bothered (oh well, that’s Ireland for you), here’s the map I made to help get you there. :)
And here’s a photo I took in the hotel bar on the last day of IMAG.
And for the moment, that’s all I have to say. Thank you for reading. :)