AMBIENCE: what is it?
Environment, surroundings that we like
Whenever someone goes into a home, a hotel or on a vacation they like to have a suitable environment, surroundings and a pleasant ambience. At home you would like to have a living room where you can entertain friends and be a place to relax. You might like the TV to be in a particular place, and a couch, and of course your favourite resting chair, proper lighting.
Everything should be in its right place and then you can say it is a comfortable place to relax in. One would not make the living room a bedroom or an office and entertain friends in the kitchen; the surroundings and environment and therefore the ambience would just not be right. Similarly, hotels, bars, lobbies and lounges that we frequent have to have some kind of order, just like in our home.
EXAMPLE 1. Imagine you and your partner sitting at home by the fire with a bottle of wine and having a nice conversation. The lights are low, the fire is warm, your favourite CD is playing and the ambience is just perfect for a romantic evening. That’s how you would like to feel when you go to your favourite bar for a romantic evening. Another evening both of you are out on the town and decide to go to your favourite romantic bar, where you can sit by the fire and order a bottle of champagne. When you get there you find no fire, the lights are bright and it is not romantic anymore.
RESULT. What would you do? Go home where the ambience is good.
EXAMPLE 2. You are out with your friends and visit a loud party rock ‘n’ roll piano bar. It is so much fun, the piano player is great, you meet many new people and you go home having had a wonderful evening. Another evening you decide to go to the same bar but the piano player is playing light classical background music and it is so different you wonder what happened and you go home. The agency and management have hired the wrong pianist who doesn’t play the sort of music that is expected in that bar. I have heard managements and agents say, ‘It does not matter what music we have, we just need someone who looks good and sits behind the piano’.
RESULT. the venue NEVER establishes a special ambience of its own and eventually loses any guests it had to begin with, because they never know what to expect from one visit to the next.
Each country has its own unique style of what a piano music room is made for. In North America a piano bar is where one would go to be entertained by the musician, both musically and by his stage presence and personality. A few European countries follow the same idea and so do Asian bars and hotels. However, in a few countries, a locale has piano music for ambience. The musician is there to perform and people go there to meet friends and communicate with each other while the pianist sits in a corner providing background music. There are just a handful of bars where a pianist must be an entertainer, too.
In the last 10 years most establishments have younger managements and the music they want the musician to play is the type of music they like — loud party music: they think the louder the music is, the better the ambience! The reason for this is that the staff go to other party bars and want the same atmosphere in the places where they work, without considering that such music is completely inappropriate for the ambience of their work locale and the guests who frequent it and who in the end pay their salaries. Having had many conversations with musicians, I find time and again that in order to keep our jobs and get asked back again we have firstly to please the managements and staff, and then the guests.
The younger generation want music to be loud and punchy, but as they get older their tastes will probably change, but there will be no places left with quiet pleasant piano music. Younger musicians having less experience would immediately please the staff as it would seem to be a lot of fun for all. This is a very selfish way of thinking, but with the current trends in family upbringing and the education system younger people seem to have their way and experience gets thrown into the rubbish bin. It would be for a good thing if managements and staff were to visit other locations and observe the clientele, their age-group, what class of people are there and the ambience. Then they should analyse if what they see would match the clientele and the ambience of their locale.
Some of the best ambiences are found in hotels located in the eastern world.
I must admit when I was younger I was playing elegant piano lounges and quite often visited rock ‘n’ roll piano rooms (like staff do). I wanted to play, sound and be like that person behind the piano and try to do the same in the rooms I worked at. I would learn the songs and of course found that the music did not fit the ambience of the venues I was then playing in.
When I was first starting out I did not understand much about this, and about ambience, but as my experience grew so did my knowledge of what music to play and when to play it. Over the years I have spoken at length to many older musicians who have been in the business for many years and have learned a lot about ambience from them.
On many occasions the pianist is asked to play for dinner in a restaurant of a hotel. The piano is moved into a location that is hidden from the guests and asked to play. The reasoning seems to be that the guests are able to hear the music but do not need to see who is playing and the management are quite happy to tell the guests that the pianist is tucked away around the corner. Many guests have told me that the management has no idea of how to present live music and it shows a lack of respect to the musician. Besides, as a musician I would like to be able to choose my repertoire to suit the guests in the room and if I cannot see them, I do not know what to play. The managers in a restaurant always seem to place older guests and people with impaired hearing closest to the piano. Then the staff wants loud modern music from the pianist. This is really ridiculous as it will only drive away the guests.
Pianists having more experience have larger repertoires and are much better suited to play in lounges, lobbies, classy restaurants and piano bars where there are better-educated guests, such as business people and executives. These musicians know what to play and can please a wide range of guests.
Communication with the guests is extremely important and such musicians can hold a conversation on a wide variety of topics. Young musicians would not know what to talk about and just would not fit in with the ambience of the room. That is why I have seen so many young musicians get up from the piano when they take a break and leave the room entirely and return straight to the piano: they have absolutely no contact with the guests except for a hello or a smile.
A few hotels and bars in some cities are well-known as jazz piano bars. However, often when I have visited these bars to hear some jazz, there was a musician surrounded by electronic equipment that did most of the playing for him, or a pianist who played pop and rock ‘n’ roll music. I also noticed that when the pianist did take a break the CD music was also pop and not jazz as it should have been in a jazz bar. This is false representation and also shows a lack of understating by the management that they should hire pianists that can provide the ambience that suits the reputation of the bar.
A wellness spa hotel would normally cater to guests who go there to convalesce or relax from their busy work and life in the city. They would want peace and quiet and that is what such places should provide. When working at a few of these hotels I asked the guests what they would like me to play. They all said please keep it soft and refined. They had come especially to the wellness-hotel to relax and calm down after a busy period at home or work or to recuperate after an operation or illness. If they wanted to be in a disco, rock ‘n’ roll bar or electronic music bar, they would go to any of the fine places in the cities they come from, and not travel a long way and stay in a (usually) very expensive hotel.
A ship I worked on had a disco, a pub with a guitarist, a dancing room with a 6 – 10 piece band and a piano bar. The piano bar mainly attracted the middle-aged and piano music lovers. The ambience was romantic. But management wanted more out of the piano player; they wanted another pub, a sort of rock ‘n’ roll bar, which they already had. The customers who were piano music fans, older couples or people seeking a romantic environment had nowhere to go but to their cabin.
The people in charge of a hotel lobby, lounge, restaurant or piano bar must know what
ambience they should produce for the guests and keep it consistent.
The pianist must also know what and how to play for the ambience and agents and
managements must choose the right musician.
Sometimes managements require the pianist to play in 3 – 4 locations in an evening: possibly they would start in the lobby for cocktails, then to the lounge for cocktails, then to the restaurant for dinner and finally the bar to end the evening. There are VERY FEW pianists capable of playing all these venues well. Each pianist has his/her forte. So one might end up with a rock ‘n’ roll pianist trying to play a restaurant but who would be much more suitable for the bar.
As is always the case when a pianist is used to please too many locations in a hotel for many hours a day, the guests have too much of the same sound. Besides, once the guest has heard the musician in the lobby and restaurant they will probably not want to listen to the same musician for another hour in the bar. Here is where smart managements would have a second pianist rather than lose the guests to another hotel.
In this fashion, guests know the ambience of a room they want to go to in advance and what type of music they will hear before they get there. The musicians may change but the style and ambience will be the same.
The different types of bars for piano are described in these topics and can be a guide for you as a manager, staff member, agent, pianist or guest.
Compared to most other countries, almost all the managements of Swiss hotels,
lounges and bars having piano music have absolutely no idea of ambience and as
most of the hotel management schools are located in Switzerland, the hotels
should be setting a good example of ambience. The absence of ambience may not
seem a big thing, but the gradual decline of customers in places having piano music
will leave a big hole in the industry.
The following topics explain how the ambience in many places we frequent can be improved so
that every time we go there it will always be the same, unless there is a major renovation.