Politicians playing musical instruments, ranked from worst to best

25 July 2019, 21:51 | Updated: 25 July 2019, 21:52

Politicians playing musical instruments
Politicians playing musical instruments. Picture: Social media

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

From Boris Johnson to Putin, some of the world’s most prominent leaders have also dabbled in classical music...

  1. Jeremy Corbyn

    At No. 10 (lol, not that No. 10) it’s the Labour leader, who took time out from his party conference in 2016 to visit Faith Primary School in Liverpool, where he was invited to join a youth orchestra for practice.

    Technique: The most obvious problem here is the bow hold. We know this was an impromptu lesson, but come on – he’s holding it like a wooden spoon over a pan of soup. Then, there’s the left hand position. Corbyn’s opted for an awkward, pancake-flat position that will do him no favours if he intends to reach further up the neck and will nix any chances of decent vibrato.

    Expression: To be fair, this was the first time he’d ever played the violin. But we might have hoped for a bit more natural musicality on Corbyn’s part (...or is the Labour leader deliberately marking himself out as a rule-breaker, an innovator?).

  2. Boris Johnson

    A few years ago, the recently-elected Conservative leader was pictured at London Bridge station with an acoustic guitar in hand… but something was off (read: deeply, deeply wrong).

    Boris Johnson 'plays' guitar
    Boris Johnson 'plays' guitar. Picture: Robin Flavell/Twitter

    Technique: OK, the most obvious problem here is the capo placement. But we reckon this was a cunning move on Boris’ part, to distract from the fact that [realness alert] **he isn’t actually playing the guitar**. In fact, it seems to serve as more of a prop than anything. Observe:

    Expression: At first glance, the former London mayor’s performance screams of a jolly old knees-up: the open mouth, the strumming gesture, the slightly crumpled suit. But vocally, it’s not all there. His rendition of ‘Three Little Birds’, though melodically pretty accurate, lacks Bob Marley’s natural sense of rhythm and musicality.

  3. Sarah Palin

    Before Sarah Palin became the ninth governor of Alaska, she competed in the 1984 Miss Alaska Pageant. And her ‘talent’ for the contest was none other than the humble flute.

    Technique: Palin’s breath is a bit all over the place, her rhythm is slightly off, and nerves seem to get the better of her when it comes to her intonation. In fact, it’s all a bit of a car crash (sorry Sarah).

    Expression: Well, she’s no Lizzo – but her expression is decent. It could just do with a bit more texture.

  4. Vladimir Putin

    When the President of Russia decided to showcase his piano skills while waiting to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping, he probably couldn’t have guessed he’d turn into the Internet’s favourite meme (see: ‘Putin plays Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles’ for an instant injection of lols).

    Technique: First up, we have to praise Putin’s nice, relaxed hand placement. He keeps all his fingers nice and close together, there’s no awkward pinkie jutting out and his hands move pretty freely around the keys.

    But what’s with all the switching between left and right hand?! By sporadically changing hands, he creates random burps in the sound, which breaks up the melodic line.

    Expression: It’s a fairly unremarkable ditty (and to be fair, it’s not his fault he’s playing an outrageously out-of-tune piano) but this performance is in dire need of some phrasing.

  5. Condoleezza Rice

    A former Secretary of State whose first love was music, Condoleezza Rice once played Brahms for Queen Elizabeth II, with four members of the London Symphony Orchestra. Don’t believe us? Have a watch:

    But sadly, Rice gave up hope of a serious career as a pianist when she realised she was “going to end up playing piano bar or Nordstrom’s but not Carnegie Hall” (that’s a direct quote from Rice).

    Technique: There’s a bit of tension in Rice’s wrists, which can probably be put down to nerves at playing for lovely old Liz.

    Expression: Her playing has some feeling and movement, but the whole performance feels a bit dry.

  6. Emmanuel Macron

    (Disclaimer: there is no video evidence of Macron’s playing, so we were forced to abandon the usual scoring system for this one.)

    Alongside his apparent passion for karaoke, the French President is also an avid amateur pianist, having studied piano for 10 years at the Conservatoire in Amiens.

    In an interview with ClassiqueNews.com, Macron said that he’d like to play again “as soon as I have time”. He also expressed a particular love for the music of Robert Schumann (“it has images and feelings that I can’t find anywhere else”) and Liszt.

    French President Emmanuel Macron
    French President Emmanuel Macron. Picture: Getty
  7. Harry Truman

    Truman studied the piano as a young boy, and grew up playing Mozart, Haydn, Liszt and Chopin.

    And as the 33rd US president, he apparently always had a piano by his desk and a radio by his bed, and never walked by a piano without playing a tune.

    Technique: The intonation is pretty off, and the playing quite haphazard, but there’s a good amount of bounce in his wrists.

    Expression: A decent display of musicality, considering his duet partner isn’t quite on the money. It’s far from a perfect performance, but the lovely thing about this video is everyone’s reaction. The two politicians immediately get the audience on side with their stage presence, making their performance into quite a special moment.

  8. Pete Buttigieg

    The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is known for his dalliances as a jazz pianist. He also plays some jazz guitar, and is partial to a bit of boogie-woogie.

    So this guy can just do everyone's job, huh Piano: Pete Buttigieg Video: Lis Smith

    Posted by Spoon on Friday, 12 April 2019

    Technique: Nice relaxed posture, loose wrists and a good sense of rhythm: we see the makings of a decent pianist here.

    Expression: Again, it’s all pretty smooth. Should a person’s musicianship influence your vote? Probably not, and Pete must be fully aware what this does for his campaign... but you have to admit it’s cool to see your local mayor playing jazz.

  9. Bill Clinton

    Bill Clinton has inspired some not-so-flattering songs in his time (there’s a whole YouTube rabbit hole of them, ready for you to tumble straight into), but his main musical venture was the saxophone.

    Technique: The 42nd US president tends to stick to what he knows, rarely straying from certain chords. So harmonically, what he’s doing isn’t particularly groundbreaking – and the backing band add most of the interest.

    Expression: Clinton’s playing is all about the showmanship. He has a natural sense of musicality which allows him to play around with grace notes and scoops, making his performance sound off-the-cuff. Conclusion: a very decent amateur saxophonist.

  10. Richard Nixon

    Richard Nixon, the only US President to ever resign, started playing piano and violin in first grade. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar on 8 March 1963, where he performed his own composition: the Richard Nixon Piano Concerto No. 1.

    “Playing the piano is a way of expressing oneself that is perhaps even more fulfilling than writing or speaking,” he said in his memoirs. “I think that to create great music is one of the highest aspirations man can set for himself.”

    Technique: Great posture, nice relaxed shoulders and softness in the wrists. Lovely.

    Expression: Nixon wasn’t shy, and that’s clear in his playing. He plays with fluidity and a natural musicality, playing off the orchestra when he needs to.

    During his time in office, Nixon played the piano at a number of events, including Grand Ole Opry, where he played ‘God Bless America’ and a concert at the White House, for which he accompanied singer Pearl Bailey. He even played ‘Happy Birthday’ for Duke Ellington.

    Honourable mention: Barack Obama

    OK, he didn’t play a musical instrument – but Obama’s singing voice was enough to light up a room when he was President. That sweet vibrato...