Written by John Butler
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Topics: Ireland, donkey

Saturday, 21 May 2005

Ireland - Dundalk farmer, Clive Mancini has failed to teach his donkey how to play the piano - not even chopsticks. The pitifully talentless donkey in question is Asses, a 7 year old mare.

A troubled looking, tired Mancini admitted, "I tried everything- sent him to lessons, tried teaching him myself- you might as well be talkin' to the wall... a very untalented wall... one that even Humpty Dumpty would have trouble falling off (that being a measure of wall talent of course). I don't know, maybe it has something to do with the fact his mother discharged him backwards".

"agricultural answer to Rachmaninov"

After seven months of laborious and, as it turns out, pointless practice, Mancini has conceded that Asses simply hasn't what it takes to succeed as a grandmaster pianist. What started as a heady dream to breed an agricultural answer to Rachmaninov has now ended with what surely must rank as the most musically incompetent donkey ever known by farmer or even mankind.

Sobbing profusely, Mancini acknowledged that, "at the end of the day, if a donkey hasn't what it takes, you got to just move on. As hard as it is to accept now, there will be other donkeys".

Mancini has a long history of attempting to teach farm animals how to play musical instruments to the extent that locals have dubbed him "Wolfgang Amadeus Doolittle" a nickname Mancini adores and thinks is "unbelievably funny" and "fully warranted".

Despite the inundation of plaudits from admiring locals though, so far his only success in a music tuition sense has been with his pig, Roberto (now deceased) whom he taught to play 'Greensleeves' on the oboe.

"gentle mist of tranquility"

Mancini recalled fondly, "Many's a night I would hear that melody- the Greensleeves melody- lilting rustically- imbuing the air above the pigpen with a gentle mist of tranquilty as the fella says. He would play long into the night sometimes - just Greensleeves over and over, the dogs 'd be howlin', the hens cluckin', the cows mooin'- t'was great days so it was to be sure to be sure as the fella says. It'd make no odds if the oboe were smothered in pigshite Roberto 'd play as long as the evergreens still had their leaves as the fella says.


When asked who this mysterious "fella" is who "says" things, Mancini replied, "he is a peculiarly Irish agglomeration of pastoral affability, esteem for the everyman, and intrinsic equivocacy born of a predisposition towards mischievous prevarication exemplified by the comic characters of John B. Keane... it's sort of hard to put into words... as the fella says".


Continuing to wax lyrical about his tuneful pig, Mancini added, "Roberto was a very bright pig unlike some donkeys I know, ahem ahem. He was outstandin'. He'd be clever enough to oink like a maniac if ever a heat wave set in to remind me to apply suntan lotion on him. He's the only pig I've come across- now I'm not sayin' he's the only pig in the world- but he's the only one I've seen who had sufficient self-awareness to know that pigs are the only animals who can get sunburnt apart from humans. An extraordinary talent. I buried him with the oboe"

Unfortuantely for Mancini, Asses the donkey plainly shares neither Roberto's musical flair or indeed knack for self-preservation. Mancini's efforts to teach him piano were sometimes painful to behold, the donkey simply ill-equipped to meet the demands piano playing places on both ones anatomical co-ordination and musical ear.

"failed to get across... fundamentals of piano playing"

Despite a generous donation of his time and patience, Mancini failed to get across to Asses even the fundamentals of piano playing.

Mancini explained, "I tried teaching him the scales first- a couple of simple octaves with both front hooves. Whether you're Mozart, Liszt, Shostakovich, Elton John, Robert Miles, a bleedin' hedgehog or whoever, you always, always start with the basics- something everybody can manage. I thought even a goldfish could pick up the scales, forgive the crap pun (goldfish have scales) - there's nothing simpler... or so I thought"

Despite the outrageous simplicity of the exercises put before him, Asses simply never looked a home when seated at the piano. Indeed, getting him to sit down on the stool was a task in itself. Asses appeared nervous from the very beginning sometimes even defecating in the area surrounding the piano.


Mancini revealed, "I had to have a shovel on hand at all times... he'd be shittin' everywhere... very nervous, very very nervous donkey, very stinky too. Eventually I had to lay newspapers down. I had to laugh when he shat on a picture of that EU Bastard, in the Farmer's Journal.

"I thought fine though, I've dealt with nervous animals before. When I tried to teach my hen, Tammy, how to play the theme tune to Dallas on the piccolo, she got so nervous, she laid an egg".

For the first 3 days of lessons, Asses simply refused to sit down before the piano. Mancini had clearly failed to reckon with the trembling legs of a distressed quadroped flailing about uncontainably as it tried to wrestle free of Mancini's taut, insistent grip. Eventually Mancini had to resort to using a tether to tie the terrified donkey down.

Mancini, a tad guiltily, admitted, "Ropes are normally a last resort. I don't like putting ropes around animals, seems a bit inhumane. But Asses just wasn't havin' any of it. He was stampin' n' snortin', pearldrops of mucus emanating from his flared up nostrils. You'd swear he'd never seen a piano before in his life the way he acted"

When finally Mancini managed to get him seated (hauter around his neck) in front of the piano- far from being a turning point- things merely went from bad to worse. Each time Asses tried to position his front hooves upon the keys, they would instantly slide apart in one violent movement, the smooth, slippery ivory providing inadequate traction for the smooth veneer of Asses's hooves. He also had trouble angling the rigid bone structure of his hind legs to reach the floor pedals.


Mancini confessed, "I didn't think about how smooth his hooves were. Call it an oversight on my part. Still, I've heard of cows playing Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier on the harpsichord before and their hooves are as smooth if not smoother than those of your average donkey".

Far from playing even chopsticks, the only sound Asses engendered upon placing his hooves on the keys was a transitory cacophany of pianistic discordance together with the terror-stricken braying of one petrified beast.

Mancini decided enough was enough and sent him off to Mrs. Cleopatra Welty, the local piano teacher for tutelage of a more professional leaning. Her credetials were impressive. She had taught a deaf, arthritic, geriatric man the old Mcdonald tune, and taught Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata to her new born baby of 1 week".

He said, "I figured if Cleopatra couldn't get Asses settled down and playing even chopsticks, nobody could".

"worst pupil I ever had"

Asses was having none of it. Cleopatra brooded, "he was the worst pupil I ever had the displeasure of teaching... heck teaching is not the word - I didn't teach him anything, I tried to, but that donkey is just so goddamn dumb".

Prominent musicologist and respected pianist, Austrian, Arthur Krapps offered this theory as to Asses's woeful playing.

"The problem I believe lies in the blocky shape and overall rigidity of a donkey's hooves. You see, the average piano key measures roughly 4cms in width. The average donkey hoof measures 14cms. This, I believe, would inhibit Asses's capacity to play even the simplest chord".

He elaborated, "The chord C for example is what's known as a "triad" - that is a group of three notes having a specific construction and relationship to one another so as to engender what we know as harmony. Okay so to play a C chord, one must hit the notes, C, E and G. Because Asses's hooves have all the flexibilty of a small, frozen stone, this would prove highly problematic. A donkey, therefore, could theoretically only play notes that lie next to each other. So, accordingly, if Asses tried to play a C chord, however hard he tried, he would still probably end up striking something like a C, a C sharp, a D, a D sharp, an E, and an F.

"this would lead to... disharmony"

He speculated that, "Far from achieving harmony, this would lead I believe to "disharmony" especially since the notes would all lie within the same octave. And remember this only relates to a simple major triad. One can only begin to imagine the difficulty Asses would have trying to play minor, augmented, diminished, sevenths, ninths etc. I perish the thought of Asses ever taking on a Rachmaninov concerto, Rach himself would roll about in his grave I'm sure".

Eminent animal psychologist, Harvey Trapatoni, disagreed, arguing that it is Asses's and indeed all animal's fundamental stupidity and not merely the ungainly shape of his hooves that prohibits good piano playing.

He explained, "Asses's motor neuron skills are pathetic. If you read for example a newspaper article, to a donkey, afterwards the donkey won't be able to tell you single thing about the story the article is about. Their memories are so bad, it's not even funny. For this reason, I believe Asses chances of learning to play the piano were doomed befor he even began".

Whatever the reason for Asses's utter musical ineptitude, it is majorly unlikely we'll see the likes of it ever again.

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The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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