In Defense of the Union Piano

Sophie McHugh-

We’ve all been there: It’s 8PM on a Thursday night and you’re grabbing a quick dinner at the Davis Café. Beef and Barley soup is on the menu–your favorite! Perfect for casually snacking on while you crank out a Moodle post about a book you didn’t read. Around you, the atmosphere is casual. People are chatting about their weekend plans, a fun bunch of kids you’ve never seen before are playing pool on the broken table, and that one guy is still in the corner watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother. Then suddenly, it happens. Breaking through the regular bustle of the crowd come the first few notes of Coldplay’s ‘Clocks’, albeit in a choppy, off-beat fashion. As if it was written into the music, a sharp crescendo of complaints soon follows:

“Ugh who’s playing this time. I’m trying to get some work done!”

“It’s not so much the piano. I hate the people who play it.”

“F*ck the Union piano!”

The Union Piano: It’s the 500-pound phenomenon we at Davidson all love to hate. But from whence did this animosity arise? And why do we as a campus only unite to direct our stress and anger towards an innocent musical instrument? Personally, I think it’s high time we take a one-beat-rest on the vitriol and have a good long look at ourselves.

Look, I get it. If there’s one thing that brings us together at Davidson, it’s finding a target and mindlessly ripping it to shreds without much critical thought. We saw it three years ago with the closing of Lula Bell; two years ago, it was Divest Davidson. First the hate speech was housed on Yik Yak, then the hate speech was about Yik Yak. Come springtime, it’s the inchworms; these days, it’s YAF. And that’s fine! Trends come and go, and haters find new things to moan about every day. Yet repeatedly throughout our Davidson careers, we’ve collectively sh*t on the Union Piano with reckless abandon. Such consistency begs the question: has it always been like this?

I remember one of my first experiences with the Union Piano. I was a spritely first-year student bouncing to waste a meal swipe on a salad (back when those still existed and first-years still had Union meal swipes). You know, the good old days. After paying Andrea 11 cents out-of-pocket because I’d gone too heavy on the croutons, I heard something beautiful.

“What song is that?” I asked the dude kerplunking away. “Take 5, David Brubeck Quartet,” answered a Union passerby whom I did not ask. 

Ambling home, I cued up the song on Spotify. I quickly realized how much better the melody was rendered in saxophone, but petty comparisons didn’t matter. What mattered was that I’d been exposed to new music not by my echo chamber of a Discover Weekly playlist, not by my friend who thinks he’s a DJ, not from a party at F, but from a brave Union Piano player spreading the good word.

Of course, that’s not to say the only thing the Union Piano’s good for is jazz standards. I, personally, would forget that Bruno Mars ever did anything worthwhile apart from ‘Uptown Funk’ if I didn’t hear ‘When I Was Your Man’ during Late Night every once in a while. At a school dominated by hookup culture and seemingly infinite pairs who are “exclusive, but not dating”, I think an innocent duet rendition of ‘Heart and Soul’ can be a refreshingly new type of PDA. And if there’s anything to b*tch at Train’s ‘Drops of Jupiter’ about, it’s the fact that a gaseous planet can’t turn into drops, not the gal who’s just trying her best and doesn’t have a practice room.

Despite these merits and rockin’ early-2000’s throwback covers, reservations still persist. “It’s kind of annoying to hear someone just f*ck up a piece of music when I’m trying to do work,” said Benson Klingler ‘18.

Let’s get real, Benson: the homework argument doesn’t hold up. The Union is not, was not, and never will be the place to crank out your most concentrated efforts, be they the finishing touches on your honors thesis or a writing Moodle post on a book you actually did read. As they say on tours, we save that real sh*t for Base Libs. The Union is a place of interruption, always in flux, and that’s what makes it so great. For what would it be without the occasional clump of reluctant prospective students sussing you out while they drag behind a tour guide? Is the Union really the Union without Mr. Ricky in the cafe loudly calling out a name over and over because Keegan’s being a jerk and forgot that he ordered a meatball sub? Truly, if someone doesn’t sit down to tickle the ivories with Adele’s “Someone Like You” at least once a week, then how do we know we are home?

Sophie McHugh’18 is a Communication Studies major from Tucker, Georgia.  Contact her at somchugh@davidson.edu.