Irving Berlin

Tuning for The Mentalist TV Program – Chapter 19

Chapter 19 described a morning that I spent preparing a wreck of a piano for use during filming of a TV program.

At the end of the story, I told of how I wished I had memorized “There’s no Business like Show Business” so I could could play it with a lot of performers around who might like to join in singing it. I subsequently did memorize it, and it came in handy later. Here is one occasion:

I was driving between tunings one morning and the driver of a car behind me started honking to get my attention. When I stopped at the next stop sign, the driver yelled at me to bring her a business card. She had seen my advertising sign on the side of my car, but hadn’t had time to write down my phone number. She called me later and scheduled a tuning at her teaching studio. When I arrived, she introduced herself, but I did not recognize her name. I could not get her permission to use her real name for this article, so I will call her Gloria. Her studio had posters from Broadway and touring performances in which she had been the headliner. She had specialized in Ethel Merman roles. Gloria would take over the performances when a show had a restart or went on the road. She told me that she wore the same costumes that Merman had worn, and would talk to her on the phone for encouragement before performances. After I tuned the piano, I played the introduction for “There’s no Business like Show Business”, and she obliged me by singing the first verse to my accompaniment. It was the only time in my life that I accompanied a Broadway performer. And boy, did she have a big voice. I saw why they chose her for those roles.


Here is a link to a performance of the song by Ethel Merman:  LINK


The song was written by Irving Berlin, who is essentially personally responsible for the American Songbook. He also wrote White Christmas, Put on Your Easter Bonnet, Blue Skies, and numerous other songs. I knew nothing about his life until I went to a one-man performance in Pasadena by Hershey Felder. Felder dressed up like Berlin and told the story of his life as he plays his music. Berlin had the most interesting life I ever heard of. As a child in eastern Europe, his village was burned by Russians. His family wandered for years and somehow made it to New York, where his father, a cantor, died. Irving was then out on the street singing for pennies when he was 12. He eventually got a job as a singing waiter, then wrote songs. I won’t tell any more, so I don’t ruin the story for you.

Felder had to stop his performances during the pandemic, so he made two-hour films, acting out the lives of famous composers. You can subscribe to Hershey Felder’s performances and watch them all online. I haven’t watched them all, but the ones about Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, and Puccini are incredible. In the Tchaikovsky drama, he plays both the orchestra and piano parts of the First Piano Concerto at the same time. It’s one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Tchaikovsky had done that to audition the concerto for a mentor. I still have to watch Chopin, Mozart, and Beethoven, among others. Here is a link to Felder’s website: LINK.