Union Piano Man
Familiar but unexepected tunes fill concourse
By Tom Kosiec
When most people think of great piano music they think of Mozart, Beethoven, and Super Mario Brothers. Wait! What was that last one again?
The Super Mario Brothers theme is instantly recognizable to video game lovers, and is one of the most memorable piano pieces in video game history.
Mario and other video game tunes can be heard in the UW- Milwaukee Union near the staircase to the Gasthaus during random times of the week.
The video game pianist is Marc Pilon, a graduate student studying atmospheric science and mathematics.
“The thing with the Mario music is it’s embedded in your head,” Pilon said. “You’ve been playing that for so long it’s something you remember.”
Pilon said that back in the old days, video game graphics were primitive so the composers had to be creative, and create memorable music that stayed with you. Pilon plays video game music because it evokes strong memories from his past.
He’s a big Spyro the Dragon fan, and his cousins were too. So, every time he would visit them, they would play that game. Now, anytime he hears the music from Spyro he remembers visiting his cousins.
Another reason Pilon plays music is to get out his emotions. He compares playing the piano to something like exercise when he can release his stress and aggression.
“The piano part came pretty easy to me,” Pilon said. “If you were to put sheet music in front of me I wouldn’t be able to play a lick of it for you. Everything I do is by sound. So anything I can hear I can play.”
For example, when Pilon plays video game music he listens to the songs for 15 minutes, and then practices it for 30 minutes. He usually can perfect a song in an hour, but depending on how modern the game is or how complex the melody is it may take him longer. If he hasn’t played a tune in a while he will quickly forget it.
Pilon’s real passion is music, and it was even a surprise to him that he majored in science and mathematics. He said his best asset is creativity, and that his weakness is that he’s not much of a risk taker.
“Whatever I’m doing I find a different way to do it,” Pilon said. “I’ll build something out of nothing. Make something that isn’t there.”
He grew up in Niagara in northern Wisconsin, and graduated with a class of only 35 people. Despite living in a small town, he said he’s grateful for growing up with people who supported his music. Pilon said that it was easy to find venues to play music since everyone knew him.
His other hobbies are writing, art, and anything creative. Pilon has played guitar, trumpet, chimes, and other instruments, but likes piano the best. He plays classical rock in addition to video game music. Pilon always hated playing classical music because there was a time in his life when he was forced to take lessons.
“I’m the kind of person whose stubborn if you tell me to play something I won’t do it,” Pilon said. “That’s always stuck with me.”
Pilon can be difficult to find in the Union since he plays sporadically.
He plays about two to three hours daily, but he only goes to the Union when the piano is open. If someone’s there he just goes home, and plays on his own digital piano.
The sign on the top of the piano that says, “don’t play after six p.m.” is directed at him Pilon said.
The people at B.O.S.S. (Be On The Safe Side) would come up and say, “You got to stop playing,” Pilon said. “Its good stuff, but my god please stop playing.”
Like other talented pianist, some people love Pilon's music while others hate it. Pilon said he’s been complimented on his work, and has been invited to play in shows. The idea of being in a band has always appealing to him, but for some reason things never came together he said.
A lot of people crack a smile when they hear him play the classic Mario theme while others like an old man who just sleeps in a chair is oblivious to what Pilon is doing.
“I think it’s really cool,” said Kelsie Pattillo a linguist teaching assistant at UWM. “You hear a tune that’s really familiar, and you think I know that and I like it. But you can’t figure out what that piece is and when you realize it, it brings a smile to one’s face.”