Swing us a song, he's the piano man
PGA TOUR rookie Sebastian Cappelen getting plenty of practice time on his baby grand piano
April 01, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Sebastian Cappelen playing the piano
Like so many of us, Sebastian Cappelen has seen the videos of people singing “Imagine,” one of the late John Lennon’s signature melodies, shared repeatedly on social media in an attempt to lift our spirits in these tenuous and troubling times.
Celebrities such as Gal Gadot, Will Farrell and Maya Rudolph appear in one. A pianist wearing a surgical mask, disinfecting the keyboard before he sits down to play in an empty London train station, in another. The plaintive rendition of an orthopedic surgery resident, Dr. Elvis Francois, in the lobby of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in a third.
“Of course, I sat down and started playing that on the piano,” Cappelen says almost matter-of-factly. “It's not a hard song to play but it's probably a fairly relevant song to play for people right now.”
Cappelen has been sitting in front of the digital baby grand piano in his Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, home quite a bit these days now that the PGA TOUR has been shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic. He plays the piano daily, sometimes for hours on end, just like he might find himself putting in time on the practice range had those eight tournaments not been cancelled and three others postponed.
“When I get on and sit by the piano, I always lose track of time,” says Cappelen, who has one top-10 finish and eight made cuts in 13 starts as a TOUR rookie this season. “And, I think my wife can attest to that -- all of a sudden there's two hours gone, you're like, ‘Oh, time for dinner.’ ...
“I mean, when I'm there it's not really much else to think about because I'm usually very focused when I'm at the piano. So, it's nice to be able to do in these times, just sit down and relax and not think about much.”
Cappelen has been playing the piano since he was 11 years old. It wasn’t his first musical instrument, though. He was in third grade and attending an arts academy in his native Denmark when he learned the violin. Two years later, he began to concentrate on the flute.
But as he grew older, Cappelen really came to appreciate the complexity of the piano with its ability to make such a variety of robust and complete music in and of itself.
“I just think (it’s) the variety of genres that you can express and the full company of sounds that you can express at once,” he says. “It just seemed like an instrument that was very enjoyable and full-bodied without any other instruments alongside it. Where some instruments, you feel like you really require other musicians around you to create a full-bodied sound.
“So, I just think piano was the most interesting and the most complex, dynamic, most options, if you would say so.”
Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and Scott Joplin’s 1899 classic, “Maple Leaf Rag” – quite the mixed bag of compositions -- were among the first really complicated pieces that Cappelen remembers mastering as a youngster.
“I can still play some of all of them, but I couldn't remember them all, note for note now,” says the 29-year-old, who also is a talented guitar player.
Cappelen can sit down at his piano and play everything from classical compositions to the energetic riffs of Jerry Lee Lewis and Elton John, though. He loves classic rock – he went through an Eagles phase a couple of years ago, while Night Ranger (“Sister Christian” in particular) and Journey are other favorites. But he also likes the Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli, and his My Soundtrack station on Amazon reflects his eclectic tastes.
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Sebastian Cappelen playing the piano
“I'll come home and maybe I discovered a new song that I really liked that we started listening to a lot,” Cappelen says. “And, I'll be like, ‘Oh, I'm going to try to play this,’ if it's a good song to play on piano. So then, I spend some time looking at that song, trying to figure out how to play it.”
About the same time Cappelen started playing Beethoven and Bach, he gave up soccer – his father Ulrik was on the Danish national pro team – and began to focus on golf. He remembers making his first birdie when he was 10 years old, holing a 7-iron from 110 yards.
So, which was harder to learn? He doesn’t really know.
“It depends on how good you want to be,” Cappelen says. “How do you define playing golf and how do you define playing the piano? Because anyone who picks up a club and tries to swing at the ball on the golf course, are they playing golf? Or, anyone that sits at the piano and hits the keys, are they playing piano?
“I honestly couldn't answer that question because I feel like I've spent a lot of time doing both, so to me that baseline is going to be very high. But (if) I was honestly saying, for someone to enjoy, it would take less time for someone to start enjoying golf than it would to really get into piano and being able to put a piece together on a piano.”
Music, though, was always going to be a hobby for Cappelen, a sanctuary, if you will. He rates himself a low single-digit handicapper on the piano if the best musicians are a plus-5 or a plus-6. He’s not going to compete or be giving any concerts, but he enjoys playing for friends.
“Music was never my intent to pursue it hardcore, like I ended up doing with golf,” he says. “It was always my hobby on the side that kind of gave me relief if I was frustrated or just gave me something else to focus on while you recover from something or whatever it is.
“Because you can't spend 24 hours on a golf course, you're going to drive yourself crazy.”
Playing the piano, though, can help keep you sane. Especially in times like these.