Twitters of recognition rippled through the Charles H. Morris Center as audience members solved one Piano Puzzler after another Monday afternoon. The large crowd descended upon the downtown Savannah venue to see classical music radio host Fred Child and composer Bruce Adolphe, and to play the popular musical game the duo created.
For more than 12 years, Adolphe has been disguising popular tunes in the style of classical composers, while Child helps guide listeners to the answers. As part of the Savannah Music Festival, Adolphe and Child took their puzzlers from the radio booth to live audiences for an afternoon of challenging fun.
Each time Adolphe’s fingers whisked across the piano keys, a hush would fall over the room as audience members strained to separate the composer’s style from the hidden tune. Then whispers, giggles and other stifled sounds of triumph began as people figured out the puzzle.
Adolphe kicked off the show with “Streets of Laredo” woven into Bach’s Goldberg Aria. Then he played Gershwin’s “Summertime” in the style of Beethoven. Then the Beatles’ “And I Love Her,” in the style of Chopin. And on and on.
“This is the most puzzlers we’ve ever packed into this amount of time,” Bruce said. He and Child briefly discussed the song choices after each puzzle, but conversation was kept to a minimum.
“There's a lot of octave displacement, which is not something you need to see a chiropractor about,” Adolphe said of one tune as the audience laughed.
At one point, Child called a celebrity guest onstage. Sarah Zaslaw, a classical radio host for Georgia Public Radio, easily solved her puzzle, but admitted she was nervous beforehand.
“Now that I got the puzzle it’s fine,” she said. “They threw me a softball.”
Zaslaw listens to the Piano Puzzlers every week as part of her job, but even casual listeners were able to solve many of them.
“I did know most of them - I sort of shocked myself with how many of the composers I knew,” said Judy Kirby of Hilton Head Island.
Kirby said she listens to Child’s program semi-regularly and was glad she got to see it live.
“It was so much fun. (Bruce) is so clever...and his touch on the piano is just beautiful.”