Return of the House Concert

Whenever I go into any situation where anything is remotely out of my control (aka any situation) my brain automatically does this thing where it conjures up the worst possible thing that could happen, and then goes on to assume that the worst possible thing will actually happen. If I have a meeting with an authority figure, I always assume that I’ll either be verbally lambasted or stabbed with a fork. I’ll go days without tweeting because I’ll be convinced that my next tweet will be the one that ruins my life. Right before I left for Austria, I bought new shoes solely based on a recurring vision I had of myself tripping over my own feet and falling in front of an oncoming bus.

Usually the worst possible thing doesn’t happen. Except for that time a snail snuck into the house and crawled up a stack of my sheet music. That was the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone. But I digress.

So last year, when I set up a series of house concerts to scare my stage fright away (er, it made more sense in my head), I had no idea what to expect, and therefore expected the worst. Virtually all of the performances I’d ever given up to that point were formal affairs, in official performance spaces, with a safe divide between the audience and the stage. Performing in a more intimate space, with my audience members right within throwing distance was a rather scary prospect. Besides some rather fantastical fears, I had an endless parade of more mundane anxieties. What if I suffered strings of memory slips and flubbed everything? What if my audience was bored to tears? What if people hated my playing? What if nobody showed up? What if my hosts all regretted ever agreeing to this wretched experiment, and I had to live out the rest of my life in a cave as a hermit?

You don’t make the decision to put music at the center of your life unless you truly love and find meaning in performing, but when you get stage fright, it’s easy to forget what performing really means to you. So imagine my surprise and delight when all my concerts ended up being musical love-fests. My audience members enjoyed themselves. I enjoyed myself. It was just love and sunshine and happiness and pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows all around.


This, I suppose, is my convoluted way of saying that I had a jolly good time performing last year, and I want to make it happen again.

So, friends and friends-of-friends and friendly strangers (preferably in the Bay Area or general vicinity thereof), I am once again putting out a call: if you have a home, workplace, or other facility with a piano, I will come and give a full solo recital! The process is easy in that there is no process; email me at concerts [at] sharonsu.com and we’ll figure out dates, times, and all the logistical stuff.

FAQ*

*Most of these are actually frequently asked questions, and the last one I’m just making up.

Q: What time frame are you planning for?
A: I’m hoping to contain this all in April and May.

Q: I’m not in San Francisco/Silicon Valley/etc., will you come and give a concert where I am?
A: My preference is for Northern California since it’s easy for me to drive around here. If you’re in SoCal/anywhere outside of California, we’d have to talk transportation.

Q: How much do I need to pay to host a concert?
A: Absolutely nothing!

Q: How much will you charge for admission?
A: The concerts are all free, but I do put out a little donation box so people can pay what they want, and only if they want to.

Q: Can I invite my friends?
A: Of course.

Q: Why would I want to do something like this?
A: Maybe you finished House of Cards (no spoilers please!) and need something to fill that hole in your life before Orange is the New Black hits. Maybe your chief social rival keeps throwing lavish parties for herself and you need to up the ante. Maybe you’re a self-made man of wealth and you’ve dedicated your life to throwing elaborate parties so you can win back the girl of your dreams. Hey, I don’t judge. I just play the piano.

Interested? Confused? Have questions/comments/concerns? Leave a comment or email me (concerts [at] sharonsu.com).

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The Great Lotion Experiment, Part 2

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This post is a continuation of “The Great Lotion Experiment, Part 1.” If you haven’t already read the first post, in which I explain exactly what led me to this point, please start there!

The Experiment

Back in November, something inside of me snapped, and I decided that it would be well worth my time and energy to hunt down a satisfactory replacement for the Vaseline Total Moisture original formula, Queen of Lotions. So I turned to the Internet, spending way more time than I’d like to admit trawling through lotion reviews on Amazon and various blogs. I consulted this thread and researched every lotion mentioned. I narrowed it down to five finalists, ordered them all, and then for weeks whenever people came to visit they’d point to the small city of bottles, tubs, and tubes on my desk and go “Uh…what’s with all the lotion?”

If you were wondering what my general process of elimination was, it was this:

1. I mostly stuck to researching body lotions (as opposed to hand lotions) because in my experience hand lotions are, across the board, richer and more slippery than body lotions. That probably means they are more effective long-term, but I’m someone who washes her hands after she uses the thermostat, so long-term moisturizing is pretty much impossible for me.
2. I also refused to consider anything that had shea butter as one of its ingredients—I’ve never met a shea butter lotion that didn’t leave my hands super greasy-feeling afterwards.
3. I also immediately ruled out anything in which a reviewer noted any sort of greasiness, even if it was minimal.

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Back row, left to right: Vaseline Total Moisture [Discontinued], Vaseline Total Moisture [being phased out, still available], Vaseline Intensive Care, Nivea Extended Moisture, Gold Bond Men’s Everyday Essentials
Front row, left to right: Udderly Smooth Body Cream, Udderly Smooth Hand Cream, Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Fast Absorbing Hand Cream

I gave the new lotions as much of a chance as possible. I spent several weeks using each one exclusively, in order to account for other variables. These are my conclusions.

(For my take on the original Vaseline Total Moisture, the first reformulation, and the new Intensive Care, please see previous post.)

Contestant #1: Nivea

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This is Nivea’s Extended Moisture Body Lotion. I primarily got this because it boasted 1) a “non-greasy formula” and 2) Provitamin B5, which was a feature of The One True Lotion, which gave me hope that maybe this was a similar formula. The horde of Amazon reviewers also noted that it’s definitely not greasy and has a pleasant smell.

The verdict? NOPE. Not only did this leave my hands uncomfortably slippery right after application, it also manages to smell simultaneously of plastic and of something burned, (yet not like burnt plastic) which is an admirably useless olfactory achievement. Good job, human race! You did it!

Also, Amazon reviewers are lying liars.

NEXT.

Contestant #2: Gold Bond (for Men)

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Here we have Gold Bond’s Men’s Everyday Essentials Lotion. I was trying to figure out why I got this instead of, say, regular Gold Bond lotion, but looking at the overwhelming number of options for Gold Bond lotion, I think my thought process went something like this: As a demographic, men must be more averse to slipperiness in their products –> Lotion for men must be formulated to be as unslippery as possible –> Getting a lotion specifically targeted for men must be the secret, QED.

I noticed that reviewers mentioned the lotion having a distinctively “masculine” smell, but as someone who generally likes that sort of stuff, I didn’t think it would bother me.

The verdict: To be fair, this lotion actually did pretty well, though it was a tad inconsistent—most of the time it left my hands with a clean-and-dry feeling that was pretty similar to what I’d get with the original Vaseline lotion formula, though once in a while it would veer into slippery territory.

But the scent—NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. Like I said, I generally like “masculine” scents, but…how shall I describe the smell of this lotion? This lotion smells like an AXE body-spray-wearing douchebag fell into the vat at the Gold Bond factory. This lotion smells like it was extracted from the sweat of underpaid Abercrombie & Fitch employees. This lotion smells like it became extremely insecure watching those Old Spice commercials and decided to deal with its inferiority complex by overcompensating.

This lotion smells like what happens when decades of marketing and social norms have created a specific expectation for what men must smell like, and then chemistry gets involved, and something goes horribly wrong.

Don’t buy this lotion.

 

snl

 

Contestant #3: Neutrogena Norwegian Formula

 

 

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Next up is Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula in the “fast absorbing” variety. I actually used the original Norwegian Formula lotion growing up because it worked wonders for my hands, which then were dry to the point of flaking. I remember it having a noticeably greasy afterfeel, but I gave this a chance because the new “fast absorbing” formula promised to be a lot drier, and reviewers claimed that it wasn’t greasy at all.

The verdict: So close. It does indeed go on without much greasiness, but it still left my hands on the slippery side, with the slightest hint of a coating, even when I tried to use as little as possible. The smell, though, is great—gentle, neutrally floral, clean, and totally non-offensive. This lotion arrived weeks after the Nivea and Gold Bond did, and after suffering through their misguided fragrances, the Neutrogena just smelled wonderful.

I wouldn’t recommend this for use if you have to play an instrument of any sort, but it’s actually a really great hand lotion otherwise, so it’s become my go-to-lotion when I’m not playing piano.

Contestants #4 and #5: Udderly Smooth

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I totally bought this Udderly Smooth duo as an afterthought after stumbling across a quilting/sewing forum where people were claiming that Udderly Smooth lotion was dry enough for them to use and still be able to hold a needle. If it’s good enough for quilters, it’s good enough for pianists, right? I assumed that the tub (the body cream) and the tube (hand cream) were the same lotion just in different packaging, and just got the duo because 1) it was reasonably priced and 2) the tube would allow me to take it on the go.

The verdict: I was totally disappointed at first when I just used the stuff from the tub. Like the Neutrogena, the lotion has a fantastic smell—light, floral-creamy, oddly comforting—but it left my hands super-slippery, even more so than any of the other lotions. I felt like the quilters of the internet had totally let me down, and now I was stuck with a giant tub of useless lotion.

Then I tried the tube, and realized that they were actually different formulas.* The hand cream in the tube was an entirely different story: while it still had that great smell, it went on with a significantly drier consistency, enough that I could play immediately afterwards without my hands sliding off the black keys. I don’t have to surreptitiously wipe my hands on my pants after using it. It’s also not so dry that it leaves my hands feeling oddly sticky. It’s not as brilliant as the original Vaseline—you won’t find me writing sonnets about it (maybe a haiku or two, though)—but you know what? It works. And in the end, that’s all I really want out of a lotion. That, and cow-spotted packaging.
*Just to make sure it wasn’t all in my head, I checked the ingredient lists—they really are different.

The Winner

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So, after several months of thorough testing and practicing, the winner of my little lotion tournament is the punnily named Udderly Smooth hand cream. Get it. Love it.

Quilters, thank you. Pianists, you’re welcome. Vaseline, you’re fired.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on these links and buy anything from Amazon, I’ll get a tiny commission. Kindly use them so I can earn back a small fraction of the money I spent buying more lotion than any sane person should have.

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The Great Lotion Experiment, Part 1

I have many first world problems. Seamless always takes too long to deliver my food.[1] My hoard of hotel toiletries is getting out of control.[2] I keep coming up with perfectly timed Arrested Development Season 4 references but pretty much no one I know has actually finished that season so my gift for witty pop-culture references is lost on the masses.[3] It’s a hard life.

One of my totally-real first world problems is that I play the piano and I suffer from chronically dry hands. My hands are so dry, in fact, that I am 100% incapable of opening those little plastic vegetable bags at the grocery store because my fingers generate zero friction. The dry hand thing may be related to my obsessive hand-washing habits, but who knows? (It’s a chicken-or-egg situation—which came first, the problem or the neuroses?)

With my hands in their natural dry state, I basically can’t play at all, unless you are charitable enough to call it playing when my fingers slip all over the keys like a giraffe wearing socks on a roller rink.

The Catch-22 of living as a Pianist with Dry Hands is that while lotion is the obvious solution to solving the dry-slippery problem, most lotions out there just leave one’s hands wet-slippery and leave gunky residue on the keys, which definitely fixes the problem in that doesn’t, it just creates new ones.

Think I’m making this up? The dry-hands/slippery-hands conundrum is actually its own section on PianoFundamentals.com:

When the fingers are overly dry or wet, they may become slippery. Too much washing using strong detergents can cause the hands to become dry. Application of most quality moisturizing lotions such as Eucerin will solve this problem. In order to avoid smearing the piano keys with excess lotion, apply in small amounts and wait until the lotion is completely absorbed into the skin before applying more. Several small applications will last longer than a single large amount. Wipe off any excess before playing the piano. People who tend to perspire while playing must also be careful about slippery fingers. If you initially apply a lotion because the hands were dry, but you begin to perspire while playing, you can get into terrible problems with slipperiness if the fingers have excess lotion. Therefore, if you tend to perspire, be careful about using any kind of lotion. Even without any lotion, wet or dry fingers can be slippery. In that case, practice using thrust and pull motions so that you can control the finger positions more accurately. These motions require some slippage of the fingers over the keys and are therefore more compatible with slippery fingers.

Jesus tapdancing Christ, did you see how complicated the whole lotion thing was? Life when you’re a pianist is difficult enough, and we have this dry/sweaty slippery nonsense to worry about on top of everything.

The Solution

But in college, I made an accidental discovery for the ages—one whose brilliance was on par with, say, the discovery of penicillin, or the invention of the sticky note. I happened to buy a travel-sized tube of Vaseline’s Total Moisture lotion one day to replace a tube that had run out, and I discovered that this humble substance always left my hands with the perfect amount of grip to play the piano, without any stickiness, slipperiness, or residue whatsoever. No matter how dry or sweaty my hands were to begin with, this magical lotion would solve the problem.

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I soon became ultra-dependent on the stuff. I put my Vaseline lotion on every time I practiced, before every lesson, before every performance in a studio class or chamber class, before every concert, before every jury. I kept a tube in the green room during every recital. I discovered what it was like to live a life free of worry over whether or not my hands would slip right off the keys whenever I put my hands to the keyboard.

At one point, one of my friends, a fellow piano major, came up to me right before class. “Sharon,” she whispered conspiratorially, “I always see you using that lotion, so I got one myself, and oh my gosh!—it’s so perfect! It’s the perfect texture for playing the piano! I told [another piano major], and now she uses it too!”

It was official. I had created my own cult.

Now, if this were the life I’d been promised in movies and musicals, this would be the end of the story—I’d discovered the Lotion to End All Lotions, I could get on with my life playing the piano, etc. etc. etc. But this is real life, and we live in a world full of disappointment and betrayal.

The Downfall

A couple of years ago, having reached the bottom of the Costco-sized pump of Vaseline lotion I kept by my piano, I popped into a Target to pick up a replacement. I made a beeline for the Vaseline shelf of the lotion aisle, and saw, to my horror, that The One Lotion no longer existed.

Instead there was this impostor container, featuring nonsensical copy on its label like “pure oat extract!” and “multi-layer moisture.” I left with the intention of ordering the original stuff online, and indeed made an eBay order, but I just received a bottle of the new stuff.

I tried it out, but the results were grim. The evil Vaseline people had reformulated the Lotion Holy Grail. New Formulation had a slightly greasier feeling that left my hands noticeably more slippery—not so much that it was unusable, but enough that I, after years of using the original formula, could definitely notice. I made some halfhearted attempts to find a replacement lotion, but to no avail, so I just sucked it up and got used to playing the piano with slightly slippery fingers.

About a year and a half later, after I had miraculously used up almost all of New Formulation, I once again stopped by Target to reluctantly buy a replacement, and experienced the worst kind of deja vu. Once again, I stood helplessly at the shelf and found that Vaseline had reformulated once again and replaced New Formulation with yet another incarnation, this one boasting of “micro-droplets of Vaseline® jelly.”

I knew this was the end. I don’t know what made me buy it—desperation? blind optimism?—but I bought a bottle of Formulation #3, took it home, and discovered that it was the devil incarnate of lotions. It was ultra-greasy, ultra-slippery, and made my hands feel like they were coated in something. It also left gross residue on the keys, forcing me to introduce thorough key-cleaning into my practice routine.

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This, my friends, is devolution in its purest form. On the left we have the pinnacle of human innovation, in the middle we have what happens when you mess with perfection, and on the right we have the downfall of humankind.

FYI, I am not the only crazy lotion user on the internet. The Amazon reviews for the first reformulation feature similar complaints, so I am not alone! Whoohoo!

When I get to this part of the story (because yes, I am a terrible person who forces this story onto other people regardless of whether or not they actually care about lotion reformulation) my friends usually ask me, “Why didn’t/don’t you write a letter to the Vaseline company?”

The embarrassing answer is that I actually did. Deep in the throes of righteous lotion-related anger, I sat down and started writing a letter to the executives at Vaseline, but two single-spaced pages in, I thought about it and came to the depressing conclusion that no matter how heartfelt my story, nothing would come of it. No business-minded person, having taken the Most Perfect Lotion in All of History and perverted it so fundamentally, would undo rounds of cost-cutting measures just based on one long-winded letter. (DearVaselineExecutives.docx is still sitting somewhere in a folder on my computer.)

So there we have it: my problem. My massive, world-shattering, memoir-worthy first world problem. Tomorrow (yes, tomorrow!) I will weave you a tale of mystery and intrigue and my inability to be concise and how exactly I solved this problem. And there will be pictures!

Update: Part 2 is here!

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