Janette McIntyre: Computerized Cruise Ship Cocktail Pianist

by airturn

If you’ve ever had a chance to relax to the sounds of a live piano played by a human pianist while dining at a nice restaurant, you know what a magical experience it can be compared to the canned piped-in music that literally sounds like broken records (er, broken CDs? MP3 players?) over the speaker system. A good cocktail pianist is the epitome of cool, a musical sommelier that serves up aural hors d’oeuvres tickled on ivories. For all my 40 years of experience playing the piano, I find the role of cocktail pianist to be far more intimidating than stepping out on stage at Carnegie Hall due to one deceptively portentous word: “request”. You’ll find the better-armed cocktail pianists loaded down with stacks of fake books and overstuffed binders bulging from under the piano or splayed haphazardly over the music rack. How they know where to even begin to look for that obscure tune is a marvel of real-time information management.

Janette McIntyre provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the life of a cocktail pianist on a cruise ship, and how she managed to evolve her work into a true “dream job” thanks to her use of technology.

Janette McIntyre, Cocktail Pianist

My passion is playing the piano. After a career as an administration and executive I decided that playing the piano on a cruise ship would be just the permanent vacation from life I’d been looking for! Play the piano a few hours a day, cruise and lay in the sun in the balmy Caribbean the rest of the time. So I joined the ranks of the entertainers on a whim for Carnival Cruise Line.
The first five years I struggled with literally pounds of sheet music that I rolled up like scrolls so I didn’t have to turn pages. They were even taped together. As one might imagine, the system was not good. Even when a song was requested that I knew I had in my “bag” it wasn’t easy to find it. There really was no system.
After one contract in 2011 I had enough of the lack of organization. I knew that there was a better way and had actually talked about “inventing” something that could turn the page on the computer. One of the musicians told me about a device that would turn the page and we actually looked it up on line while on the ship. I was sold.
I changed my computer from a PC to the Mac world with a MacBook Pro and bought myself an iPad. All of my music was scanned – thousands of sheets of my own sheet music and books – and then transferred to the iPad using the NextPage app. The purchase of the AirTurn BT-105 page turning pedal completed the hardware setup and I was ready to go.
The first day back on the ship was a little tense. No paper sheet music and blind faith (again) that all would work as planned. It did! I’ve never looked back. The only hair-raising day was when I forgot to recharge the iPad and it came up with a “low battery” indication half way through a set. Yikes! I hurried through the set, went downstairs to give it a quick 15 or maybe 20 minute battery charge and finished the night.
On the ship many people enjoy the relaxing piano music and often they are watching your fingers. Standing behind me and seeing just the iPad and no sheet music has fascinated many. They ask how it’s done and how I turn the pages. Sometimes I’d joke and tell them that I blow on it! They actually believed me and I’d laugh and tell them the truth. I received so many inquiries that I printed business cards praising not only the iPad but the AirTurn and Next Page app as well. Also included was my email address so they could ask questions if they needed to once they were home.
As a musician who doesn’t want to use up much needed brain cells to memorize ANYTHING, I always had a hard time just sitting down and playing a piano when asked without music. No one carries their music everywhere they go. Now it’s rare that I leave home without the iPad and AirTurn that fit right into my small briefcase-like carrier. I can play anywhere and with the NextPage app can pull up any requested song instantly.
Janette can be contacted via email at jkmcintyre26@yahoo.com