Playing an instrument and singing at the same time can be challenging, but how about playing and talking? In Failing: A Very Difficult Piece for Solo String Bass, Tom Johnson devised a wickedly fun challenge. The performer is supposed to play string bass and simultaneously read a passage of text.

From the publisher:

“Can you talk? Can you play a highly chromatic melody that doesn’t make much sense? Can you do them both at the same time? The composer, Tom Johnson, doesn’t think that you can. And, just in case you can do it, he wrote a piece to prove to you that you can’t. In Failing you have to read his very humorous text aloud to the audience at the same time you play the music on your bass; music that has absolutely no relationship to the words you are speaking. In fact, the text you are reading to the audience will describe just how hard this piece of music is and that you will probably not be able to play it correctly. That’s fine because, if you fail to play Failing correctly, you have succeeded in playing the piece as the composer thinks it should be played since the composer doesn’t think it can be played correctly.”

Our favorite part is when the piece requires the performer to improvise — you can feel the anxiety! See Susan Cahill perform it nearly seamlessly (or so it appears).



In this performance, seeing the sheet music gives us the player’s perspective, and if you’re a musician yourself, you’ll probably feel it in your gut when the text runs out!