Brian Haney, who initiated this column and remained the author for a number of years, is himself a fitting subject. Brian has a significant musical talent that has developed from years of practice. He was born into a musical family: his father played the guitar, his mother the violin. Of his seven siblings, one brother plays the guitar, all others played the piano. One sister is also a church organist.
The youngest in his family, Brian has been playing piano since he was ten years old. At 14 he also began to play the organ. Displaying his talent, at 15, Brian entered regional piano competitions. Twice he finished third—but that just missed qualifying for the next level. The last time he competed he played Chopin's Military Polonaise, which went very well until the last eight bars. Forgetting what he was playing, he improvised. It was probably a good ending, for the judges commended his unique rendition, although they suggested that he should have relied more on Chopin. Brian thinks that this was a subtle hint from the Fates that improv was his forte. Temporarily discouraged, he focused on the organ until he entered the University of Virginia.
While at college, Brian met a rhythm-and-blues player, who played with a well-known local R&B band. Fascinated, Brian took lessons from the musician. He moved on to writing his own R&B and jazz, and played keyboard at a restaurant bar in Charlottesville.
He also played at college events. One time he accompanied a sorority woman who sang a very moving piece for "prefs." This is the event before "bid night." Brian did not know in advance what "prefs" were (preferences?), but after having performed he considered it the best gig a musician could get—he was the only male among 100+ attractive women. He would have paid for the opportunity.
Another time he played a massive, beautiful pipe organ at a wedding. The organ was situated directly behind the altar. Twice during the ceremony notes came from the organ without his having touched the keyboard (so he insists). He looked around to find the minister, the bride and groom, and the entire congregation staring at him in something between horror and amusement.
Brian considers himself basically shy, and at a party or in a public place, such as a bar, he needs much cajoling to sit at the piano. But he finds it a lot of fun—"a blast"—once he gets going. It is also a great way to meet people. While traveling in Ireland several years ago he was at a sing-along piano bar called Durty Nelly's, possibly the oldest bar in Ireland, dating back to the early 1600s. After a few drinks his friends tried to coax him to play. At first he resisted, not wanting to infringe on the turf of the bar's own piano player, knowing how touchy musicians can be. Late in the evening they convinced the piano player and Brian to play together. They had an R&B duet improv session for about twenty minutes. The crowd loved it and his friends were pleased that they had convinced him to play. At the end, the bar's piano player was surprised to find out that Brian was not a professional piano player. Brian told him that he couldn't possibly give up the glamour and excitement that comes with being an actuary.
On another trip to Ireland, he was at Hamilton's Pub, one of only two pubs in the small town of Leenane that had an old piano. After the usual coaxing he played every night for about a week. The crowd especially loved Kenny Rogers's songs and Brian accommodated them.
Despite the demands from his position as corporate actuary for the Front Royal Group, studying to complete his Fellowship exams, and his recent marriage, Brian finds time to play in public from time to time. He has played piano at a Borders Book Store in a mall in suburban Washington, D.C. and occasionally at weddings, funerals, and wakes.
Playing the piano is a great stress reliever for Brian. He takes much pleasure in playing Bach, and in listening to the Brandenburg concertos. He also sings in the Gospel choir at his church, sometimes accompanying them on the piano.
It has been said that there is a distinct correlation between musical and mathematical ability. Brian provides one more piece of supporting evidence.