Friday, April 30, 2010

From Here to Eternity

Here's what's very cool: the study of the piano is infinite. There is no end to it. Now for some things, never seeing an end would be horrendous--Hell, for instance. Or a tedious task, like listening to your wife relate the excruciating minutiae of the last meeting with her friends. Or Sisyphus, forever pushing his rock up that ramp in Hades. But with music, there's always the next highest level, or genre, to which you can aspire.

I was listening to NPR today and the program included Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Number 2. This, of course, is one of the world's masterpieces. The narrator informed us that when Rachmaninoff composed the Concerto Number One, it wasn't well received by critics, One critic, in fact, commented the Concerto would only be well-received in Hell. Rachmaninoff was so devastated by this rejection he couldn't compose for three years. Only after extensive psychotherapy could he turn to composition again, and when he did, he knocked it out of the ballpark. The Piano Concerto Number Two is almost supernatural in its beauty.

But that thoughtless comment by that one coarse critic almost deprived the world of one of our most precious talents. I hate critics; these no-talent, frustrated nobodies are quick to cast stones at the people who actually contribute something meaningful to the world, who have the courage to put themselves on the line. I hope when they die they wind up alongside of Sisyphus performing something as meaningless in the afterlife as they performed in life

But back to my point: I was reminded that no matter how proficient I became in the time allotted to me, I will never consume the available piano lore of the word. If I ever get to the point where I can play Rachmaninoff, that would be something, but even then, there are so many even higher vistas to aspire.

So here in two parts is the second movement of Rachmanninoff's Second Piano Concerto. Enjoy it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

On The Star Part

Today I took a break from my lesson pieces and worked on the last third of Over the Rainbow, the part which the unfortunate concert pianist of my friend's joke couldn't remember, the part that sounds like an ambulance. I speak, of course, of the part which begins, "One day I'll wish upon a star..."

It isn't a very difficult phrase, except the left hand part is played at a different speed than the right hand, and this takes some practice. Also, this particular arrangement sends you ll over the keyboard very quickly. You have to travel across four octaves with rapid precision,and hit specific sequences of keys, without stopping to think about it.

So I ambled over to Amazon and ordered a MIDI cable so I can record my efforts onto my computer. You see, I really don't know what I sound like. It's not really possible to play and listen to yourself objectively. So I think this will help. Plus, I can post a link to it and have a record of my progress, which may help my morale.

Some Musings

Got off the phone with AT&T who called me wanting to know why my bill payment was late. I informed them they haven't sent me a bill in months (actually I'd been waiting for their call, and have been making payments via my bank's electronic bill-pay feature, but this month's must have slipped my mind due to being on the road a lot). As it turned out, they had been sending my bill to an address I lived at six years ago.

At this point, the prey became the tiger. I gave them the business. After all, aren't phone numbers and addresses their profession? You see, the guy who works with me is like having Snoop Dog as a rep. Every time I've spoken with him it's as if he'd just experienced some killer weed. I was at their office--which, by the way, the guy gave me wrong directions and even the wrong street when he told me how to get there. Yes, he told me 3rd street when the office is on 2nd street. This is hilarious; I mean, in an office stacked floor to ceiling with telephone books, they can't even get their own address right, much less that of a customer of six year's standing. It would be hilarious except you would have to really try hard to get my address wrong; I filled out a form with the wording of my advertisement, plus my name address and telephone number and checked it on the contract proof. So somewhere along the line, someone had to look at this information and decide it was incorrect, and reboot me to my old address.

Sheesh, Bloomington, Indiana--the Children of the Corn. I decided I don't receive all that much return on Yellow Page advertising anymore, so 'm discontinuing it next year.

On a lighter note, my friend Robin (Kardor the Magnificent)deWitt, who amazingly follows the perambulations of this blog, sent me the following anecdote:
Just read your latest narrative adventure in mastering the piano.

The reference to "Over The Rainbow" brought to mind story regarding a concert pianist who was just concluding his farewell tour.

He had just ended his concert and was reveling in the sustained applause. Somewhat humbled by the ovation he decided to do what he rarely did, but because it was his last night as a traveling concert pianist he decided to do an encore. Not just any encore, but in deference to his late revered mother he would play her favorite song which happened to be "Over The Rainbow."

He started out...Dah, DAH, dah diddy dah dah ...dah, dah, dah...Dah, DAH, dah diddy dah dah...dah dah dah...and he couldn't remember the bridge! He started again...Dah DAH dah diddy dah dah...dah, dah, dah....But he couldn't remember the bridge! Again he tried but as before, when he came to the bridge It just wasn't there!

Still again he tried...and again, but the goddamned bridge continued to elude him. His face was bathed in perspiration. He was, as they say 'wound rather tight' and in his fevered desperation he reached into the storage area in the piano bench, withdrew a chrome plated S&W .38 Detective Special and fired one shot into his temple.

As he lay there on the concert stage, with his life force oozing out of him, in the distance...he heard the ambulance coming.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oh Look--a Piano Posting

I suppose I should update my avid readers, if such creatures exist alongside other xenological beasts such as sasquatch and nessie, on my piano progress.

I'm currently working on two rather crunchy nuts from my Alfred book: Little Brown Jug (tough due to the staccato sixths played in the right hand melody line and the rapid chord changes played by the left hand) and a piece called Chapanecas, aka "Mexican Clapping Song." This is the song played at baseball and Hockey games to fire up the crowd. It has a fairly simple melody line but a killer bass line, with lots of chord changes.

I'll crack both of these in a couple of days--I already have most of both of them committed to memory, but they are challenging. Corny, but challenging. I'll admit there are some very pretty parts to both of them, plus I learned new chords in the F-Major scale, which is always cool.

I'm also working on running the scales of C, G, and A Major in two octaves. This requires a different fingering than playing the scales for one octave. The ascent and decent require some thought until you get it down instinctively, which as of this writing, I do not quite. What threw me at first is that the thumb exchange--the point where your thumb passes under your fingers so you can continue, is different for the left and right hand. For example, the left hand crosses at the C key and the G key. The right hand crosses at the C key and the F key. Why? If you do not (that is to say, if both hands switch at C and G), by the time you reach the end of the second octave, your left hand has the fifth finger neatly on C--but the right hand has the fourth finger on C; you're left with the fifth finger hanging out there in space, like that astronaut lost during the Apollo mission which NASA covered up back in the seventies.

So this is page 121 of 140 of Alfred's first volume. I found an on-line yahoo forum of people studying from Alfred. Some have teachers while others do not. Most of these people apparently take about nine months to a year to work through this book. I told my teacher this and she said yes, this book is meant to take a year but she likes to push her students as fast as she can. I don't mind it at all, I think I'm absorbing the information, although I'm not learning the lesson pieces perfectly. With 20 pages to go, and about ten more pieces to learn, I suspect two more months at the latest will find me at the end of Volume One.

So what about Over the Rainbow? I'm continuing to polish it and have learned 2/3rds of it. I'm going to finish it up a bit at a time and record it and see if it's possible to attach a sound file here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stop it Before I Slap You

I spoke before about how I sat in on a number of meetings with television producers and how they spoke with unutterable contempt for television viewers. Is it true we get what we deserve?

It's true in the past we have had vapid and inane programming. Gilligan's Island, The Flintstones, I Dream of Genii, The Brady Bunch. But it has become much worse. At least in the wacky days of the sixties and seventies, balancing out this giggling idiocy were some well-written and thought-provoking programs. David Carridine's Kung-fu introduced many people to Asian culture and Buddhism. Jacques Cousteau's sea explorations aired during prime-time, and they were breathtakingly beautiful programs.

It is an offense to be subjected to such visual atrocities as The Biggest Loser, Brett Michaels' Next Crew Slut (or whatever that show is called) and what has to be the rock-bottom in "reality" contestant shows, Paris Hilton's New British best Friend, where Britain's most empty-headed nitwits try to prove to Ms. Hilton they are worthy to hang out with her. The funniest line is when she says "I want to get to know you better," at the end of each show. What's to know? "I like to get drunk, take Ecstasy, screw and puke my last meal before my spleen can extract a single nutrient from it. Isn't that enough--these were the entry requirements listed on the cattle-call in Variety?"

Come on, my people please--do something. Protest. Write letters. Send e-mails or tweets. Whatever it is you do. Stand on the street corner holding cardboard signs: Will have sex for better programming. Boycott. Stop watching these crappy shows and take piano lessons. Do something. Don't just set there and take it anymore. Stations that actually show intelligent programming have to run fund-raising drives. Support them. Stop buying products from sponsors that support these festering dungheaps that insult your intelligence. They put these programs on the air because they think we do not deserve any better, or what's worse--we don't know any better.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Singing in the Bathtub

I got back from a show tonight in Terre Haute Indiana, a ninety-minute drive from Castle Saint-Germain--and don't you hate pretentious quacks who refer to their digs as "Castle so-and-so;" "Something Manor;" or "Blah-bling Estate" when you know full well they most likely live in a festering dungheap.

Back to topic, this was my two-hour show, a long theatrical stride, which means it was actually my four-hour show, since I have about a one-hour set-up time and a one-hour breakdown time. So from the beginning of my journey, to setup, showtime, breakdown, and return journey, you can count about eight hours. It's quite a stretch for a guy pushing a half-century.

But it's what I do for a living. And mostly it's quite a bit of fun. The audience tonight was terrific.

The most onerous part is unloading the car once I get back home. I provided sound for this show too. It's what we call in the business an "upsale," which means I got paid more for bringing it. So when I walked in the door I brought some of the load with me, sat for a while, heaved a huge, drama-queen sigh, went out and brought some more in. Tomorrow I'll put it away until next weekend, when I have three more shows.

I'm having some soup, then I plan to work on my G scale for a while before bed.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Southern Stuff

Last week I related an anecdote about seeing Jesus strolling alongside the road in the gloaming dawn. It occurs to me some background info may be in order for those of you who may be unfamiliar with Southern American culture.

From Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, Southern Christian Churches perform elaborate Christmas pageants, complete with music and, depending on budget, elaborate staging and costume, celebrating the entire career of the Man from Nazareth, from birth to death to rebirth to Ascension. My second wife, who was Episcopalian, was a devout member of the largest--and richest--WASP Episcopalian church in East Tennessee, and their pageant was magnificent.

This church had the largest pipe organ in the state, complete with full array of trumpets. Now that I know a little bit about keyboard, how I would love to get my hands on it. I loved that organ. It's mighty voice rattled the buildings across the street, and as everyone knows, the larger the organ, the more intense is God's scrutiny.

The priest was an okay bloke named Father Joe; he and I exchanged Green Lantern Comics. Actually I loaned him issues from my extensive collection, and we'd have lunch and geek out over Hal Jordan and Allen Scott. I taught him a great deal about Buddhism--he actually wanted to know about it. Episcopalians are cool people. They don't care if you drink, if you're gay, if you enjoy dancing and coitus, or if you're an agnostic Buddhist--if you're a good person, you're okay with them.

Like the Baptist Church of my youth, they occasionally tried to get me to portray The Big Man in the pageant due to my dark complexion, deep dramatic voice and other wholesome spiritual qualities. The elderly ladies of the congregation always tried to get me into the fold, you see. Even though everyone knew I was a heathen, I was a diamond in the rough. I suspect they hoped for a flash-conversion if i donned the robes of Jeshua.

Needless to say, I declined. I knew I could never do this with a straight face. Most people have a little imp on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, constantly urging them to good and bad deeds. For most people, the angel wins. Unfortunately, my angel developed Alzheimer years ago and has been negligent in his job for so long the Imp of the Perverse has held sway over my actions since childhood. Putting me in the starring role of the Life of Jesus would be an act of desecration second only to using the Shroud of Turin as a washroom towel at an all-you-can-eat chili dinner at the Alabama vs Florida tailgate party.

I knew it had to be Jesus strolling down that dark highway, not his father Joseph. Joseph is traditionally portrayed in these pageants as an old man, gray of hair and wearing dark robes. The adult Jesus is played by a man in his twenties or early thirties and ALWAYS wears a white robe. So my Roadside Jesus was clearly the Son of God, not the Father of the Son of God, the one Cuckold in history who had to grin and bear it or get struck by lighting. Besides, Joseph smoked a pipe, Jesus smoked Marlboros, he was a rebellious youth.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Everything Sucks--Almost

Got news today that an event I was truly looking forward to has been pretty much ruined. The Cincinnati Opera--a few hours drive from here--created a rare and magnificent event. For their 90th anniversary, they planned to bring in the Metropolitan Opera production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger. This production, with full staging, would be conducted by none other than James Levine (Music Director of the Met) and starring Bass/Baritone James Morris as Hans Sachs. This was an historic event; something BIG. Both of these giants, two of my favorite performers, whom I have seen in recordings but never live, will probably retire long before I ever have another chance to see them. This was like a miracle. I procured tickets for me and my son. Not cheap by any means.

Today I received an e-mail that due to health issues, both Levine and Morris had to cancel their appearances. The director of the Cincinnati Opera assures us they'll find replacements, but this isn't the point, and they knew it. I know they were terribly disappointed, and it showed in their communication.

Thanks Fate. Screwed again.

There was a lot more to this blog originally, mostly wallowing self-pity about how my entire life has sucked, how it has been marked by loss, how all my friends have died, how all my frogs are dead, how I miss my books and music, etc but I deleted it because--who really wants to read all that whinging? Besides, this doloralia was spawned by crushing disappointment from the above news combined with the unholy alchemy of insomnia and painful flatulence brewed up by one of my wife's admittedly delicious but volatile dishes which one should not eat just before bedtime.

I sought comfort amongst the intellectual challenge of my piano. My formal lessons require me to work on the scales of C, G, F and A Major, and two practice pieces. i did so for a while, then pulled out Over the Rainbow and moved on to the next section.

An hour later, I forgot my problems.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

No Country for Old Mentals

I'm the first to admit I'm self-indulgent, rebellious, undisciplined, unconcerned with the opinions of others, follow my own random impulses, and do not readily listen to anyone else. However,, I've accomplished quite a bit in spite of this tendency toward heedless self- indulgence. On the other hand, I often wonder how much further I could have gotten with a little discipline. Not that I ever expected to make it this far. For that matter, I never made it a habit to have expectations of any kind. My High School coach used to bellow that having expectations is a bad habit that makes an EX out of PEC and some guy named TATION. Or something like that. I think my high school coach was kinda confused from too many hits to the head.

With a messy mind like mine, accessing my knowledge on demand is a random and uncertain thing. For example, I'm a Buddhist. I've studied the Dhamma for many years, and know a lot about it. If you catch me at a time when I'm thinking about Buddhism--when my mind is in the vicinity of the subject--I can tell you a great deal about it. But if I happened to be focused on say, harmonicas and you ask me a question about Buddhism, my response may make you wonder if I've been hanging around opium dens.

This isn't a sign of age, as my aging friends piss and moan about all the time. I've been like this all my life. I have this restless mind which seizes on a subject, wears it out, then moves on. My brain packs the information away in a closet, and the information is there, and I can get to it, but I have to rummage for it. There are constants in my life, like Buddhism, music, my profession, certain literature, things like that, but they get cluttered up with the usual minutia of daily life and it all looks like your laundry at spin cycle. You reach in, grab a sock, reach in again, and only random chance and chaos theory determines if you grab the matching sock. You may grab a jock strap instead, and walk around all day mismatched and thinking very strange thoughts.

But from the juxtaposition of those two randomly-grabbed items a new amalgam is formed, and I think for some people, this is the source of humor and creativity . I'm serious. Some have a messy, cluttered mind, where all sorts of random crap tumbles around, and every now and then two or more items tangle together and seem funny. So for these people, when the mind whirls about, cluttered, tangled, messy, they have to periodically engage in some sort of creative process as a form of cleaning out the closet--mentally doing the dirty laundry. This also explains why logical, orderly people--for all their strengths and usefulness-- are rarely creative or funny: they aren't messy enough. Those highly rational people usually like puns, and as we all know, puns aren't funny; in fact, when the office rocket-head traps you in the corner and subjects you to his 101 favorite puns, you want to find the nearest window and leap to your death onto the searing pavement along with that decaying possum. And maybe the reason so many possums are seen dead on the side of the road is because foxes have a great love for puns.

This is a clumsy metaphor but maybe you see the point. I think perhaps some of our more gruesome writers may experience another form of catharsis when they put their nightmares on paper; allowing them to sleep peacefully at night, or maybe preventing them from ax-murdering their neighbor. Perhaps the difference between a Stephen King and a BTK is the ability to get it out of their head and project it onto paper. So protect the safety of your community by supporting this blog, and read it daily, and encourage all your friends to subscribe, because the more readers I have the safer civilization will be.

If You Meet Jesus on the Road...

About ten years ago at about 4 O'clock in the morning, my late friend Sam and I were driving to the Raleigh Durham airport to catch a flight to a Florida series of performances, along a very dark back road, and son of a bitch if I didn't see Jesus Christ, robe, sandals and all other Christly accouterments, walking along the roadside.

I looked at Sam, who stared at the road ahead with a glassy, dazed expression. He said, "You see Him too?"

I said, "Yes.”

"Thank God."

Sam's face worked as he struggled with a decision. He pulled over, looked at me, then spun the car in the opposite direction. He said, "If Jesus isn't on the side of that damned road—we're NOT getting on that airplane."

We drove back and there He was, the spitting image of Jesus strolling up the road. We watched as Our Savior walked up to a parking area, hitched his robes, climbed into a rusty pickup truck and drove off.

Speech failed us. Sam started the car and we continued on our way to the airport.

As we drove further up the road, and as the sun rose over the wintry horizon, we saw a sign on a church announcing an all night Christmas pageant. Obviously our Jesus was walking to his truck after the performance. It was all right though. As Christ had spun out of the parking lot, a cigarette dangling from his lips, he’d given us a thumbs-up. I took this as a portent it would be okay for us to board our flight.

For ten minutes, we almost thought we had experienced an epiphany.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Answer to the Mystery Piece

As if you lost any sleep over it. Under the heading "Tackling a Tough One," I posted the first page of a piece of music I actually purchased from an on-line store (for the outrageous fee of $5) because I couldn't find an arrangement pretty enough to suit me in my beginner's book or online for free download. This piece of music is "Over the Rainbow" by Harold Arlen. Of course, there are a million arrangements of this hoary old chestnut for solo piano, but I had to find one that didn't require the chops of Rubinstein to play yet was challenging enough to push me to learn the skills necessary.

Today, I finished learning the entire first page melody for the right hand and the harmony for the left hand up to the end of the first phrase. I don't think this is too bad for someone who has just hit his third month of lessons. Tomorrow is officially my third month of piano lessons and I'll get some pointers from Teacher on smoothing out my stumbling blocks on this first passage. I don't play it well; in fact it's kind of pitiful. But I can play it recognizably. Which is more than I began this year being able to do.

I think this is very cool.


After my lesson tonight, teacher gave me some tips which helped me finish the first page. She told me she usually didn't like people to attempt pieces beyond their skill level because they became frustrated and quit practicing. I assured her this wasn't going to happen to me. The thing is, I have a lifelong history of learning very difficult material, usually by myself (some sleight-of-hand material literally took me years to finally master) and to have someone available to actually help me with something is a novelty.

So I stayed up late working on this item and memorized the rest of the first page, and can play it, rather slowly but reasonably smoothly. I think I'll work on it for a coulpe of days to burn in the fingering and move on to the second page.

Oh yeah--I have lessons to work on too. Dang it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Crash and Burn, Ah Yes

A hectic week, my people. Two shows and one business luncheon, with just a few hours of precious rest in between. So what are my plans this weekend? I'm glad you asked. These plans involve a couch, melted cheese, chips, and a book.

My piano and I will have several intimate and serious sessions because I have three pieces due Monday and I can barely stumble through two of them. But, I must rest. And melted cheese is the essential ingredient. It is the caulk whereby the inner architect mends the shattered fragments of the shattered soul.

But soon...The Key of A Minor. You will be mine.

Franz Listz was a great pianist--and the Father-in-Law of Richard Wagner--who composed some very beautiful music. Much of this music has been made iconic by some of our favorite Looney Toon cartoons. Who can forget Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny frenetically playing the Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two?

I've included an amazing video here: Pianist Sandro Russo playing Listz's arrangement of Shubert's Ave Maria on Listz's own 1869 piano.

It's absolutely lovely, so enjoy it. I've always felt the Ave Maria, in all its forms, transcends its overtly religious connotations and speaks of our heart's yearning for our mother's love and approval--wherever she happens to be. Very few translations of this theme captures this yearning, in my opinion, as well as Schubert's.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Back on Track

There's nothing linear about my thought processes; long ago I faced the truth about the way my mind works. When you climb aboard one of my Inner-soul trains, enjoy the ride--it's going to be a scenic one. The journey from point A to B will be circuitous, convoluted, labyrinthine, and tangential. But, ultimately, it will arrive at the destination.

Along the way, we may stop to sniff several interesting species of flowers, converse with the natives, stop to explore foreign lands, discuss rare and curious ephemera with purveyors of the outre--and will be be better for the experience? Of course not. It's an utter waste of time, and we've chipped away yet another precious fragment from the fragile gem of our lifespan, which could have been better spent serving our fellow man, seeking enlightenment. or embettering our lot in life.

The point being I discuss all manner of things on this so-called "piano blog" other than my progress learning the piano. This is because my mind wanders all over the place, even when I'm concentrating on learning the piano. It's just the way my mind is wired.

However, I perused my past postings and saw I overestimated myself, or rather underestimated life's challenges. I mentioned some weeks ago I thought I would be through with Alfred, Book One by the end of March. My teacher missed several classes, and I've been smoten with a couple of bouts of plague, plus I've actually had to work at my chosen craft as an entertainer, so haven't been able to pursue my latest obsession with my usual heat, so I find I still have about twenty pages or so of good Olde Alfred left to go.

Of course, the material has become much more difficult. Offenbach's Can-Can (the Galoup From his operetta Orpheus in the Underworld) was challenging, as was Brahms' Lullaby. I'm also getting hit with long runs of broken chords-- arpeggios-- for the left hand. The pace is accelerating. We've delved into the 12-bar Blues progression. The pieces are uninspiring but the framework of blues music is recognizable.

It's like when you run on a treadmill and toward the end you lift the incline. The speed remains the same but now you're running up a steeper incline. You can either dig in harder, or slow down. Some days I dig in harder, or if life is particularly distracting--as it often is--I slow down. After all, I have to make a living, and when you're self employed sometimes you have to really scratch. It wouldn't be to my advantage to be a talented piano player who happens to live under the viaduct near the highway.

Yet, the project is achieving its goal. I wanted to stimulate my brain. At my age, learning a completely new skill set is fun and exciting. A an age when most men are looking for the footbll game on the wide-screen and a six-pack of beer, I feel like I'm beginning the second half of my life.

Men With Elaborately Groomed Facial Hair are Dicks

The title says it all. By elaborately groomed facial hair, I include the following: Handlebar mustaches, those bushy-walrus-style things that look like they probably smell like the last meal the wearer ate; mustaches with waxed tips (yes, there are people who still wax the tips of their mustaches, and usually these are the biggest dicks of all); those Admiral-Hornblower combo sideburns-and mustachio deals (for a while rednecks seemed to like these); those prissy beards with the pencil-thin jawlines; goatees with that forked thing under the lower lip (looking good there Mephistopheles, what's the going rate for a human soul these days?)--you know what I mean--anything that takes more than a couple of minutes and the most basic of barbering tools to maintain.

I'm not bellowing about neatly-groomed facial hair. No, this is a sign of good taste and culture. A neatly groomed beard is a very attractive feature. But dig it. A man who spends a lot of time staring at himself while fiddling with his follicles is beyond argument a DICK. He is a narcissist and an arrogant poseur. Don't even try to argue this point; it's irrefutable, self-evident and you can't even provide one exception. This isn't the seventeenth century Lord Huffington; those styles went out long ago and strutting around with waxed tips and curled mustachios is an affectation that says to the world: "Hey everyone: I'm needy. Look at me. I am a Dick."

Now add to this equation a funny hat, like a beret or derby (and oh, so many do), and you have a Double Dick. If you see this combination, do me a favor: pick up a brick and hurl it with a strong, overhand stroke and the surefire aim of a marksman. Or text me, give me GPS coordinates, and I'll hie me to the spot and do it myself. You see, I'm on a sacred mission.

If this makes your shoes pinch, sorry, and why are you wearing tight shoes anyway, along with your funny hat and elaborately- groomed van Dyke? Are you a TRIPLE-Dick? Now your panties are in a wad. HAH! So you wear panties too. Panties, tight shoes, funny hat, and you spend all your time preening in front of a mirror. You are LOST.

Next week: People who wear brightly-colored vests, ties with cartoon characters, and suspenders with buttons. The Judgment continues.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ah, Relief

Doc prescribed some prednisone, which seems to be working on this asthma / la Grippe flareup and I'm back in the saddle practicing away. I've about mastered the three practice pieces for this week's assignment (barely in time for tomorrow's session) and they are fairly tough, having ascended to the G-major scale and using plenty of sharps and flats, not to mention just about every chord I've learned so far. My cat rolls on the floor, covering her ears with her paws, howling, but she's a drama queen. It's not that bad.

Still far from 100% though. I have to take frequent rest breaks and if it weren't for powerful Louisiana coffee from CC's I'd probably sleep most of the time. Come to think of it, this isn't very different from my 100%.

Today at 2 PM Great Performances at the Met will air Turandot, the Franco Zifferelli production, which is magnificent. My son and I saw it together on one of my trips to Tennessee and other than the usually spotty transmissio problems the theater seems to be plagues with, it was splendid. I caught the re-broadcast here in Bloomington and it was flawless. Apparently, the Tennessee Regal theater which hosts the Met broadcast always blames sunspots and other natural anomalies but the broadcasts here in Indiana are almost always without interference. Apparently, the laws of nature are optional here. Well, it was only recently that Central Indiana finally agreed to Daylight Savings Time. I suppose we have a compromise: Tennessee agreed to allow the sunpsots, we agreed to allow Evolution. Seems fair to me.

I have a lot of shows this month so I don't know how often I'll post, but will try to keep up with both piano and blog.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lungs Suck

For over a month now (actually well over a month, more like six weeks) I've been fighting some kind of upper respiratory infection. I've been on two courses of antibiotics with no results. It's turned serious and my doc finally x-rayed my chest and prescribed prednisone. We'll see when happens.

I think what sucks worse of all is that I don't feel like practicing, and when I do, I don't get much out of it. Sickness appears to have kicked my ass.

I hope the prednisone fixes it. More later.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ah, Practice

Today is Saturday, and as I have no pressing business of any kind, and while I always devote two one-hour blocks of time a day for practice (unless I'm out of town on shows, and a periodic break is good anyway) today I've been doing nothing but devoting all my time and attention to my piano.

I'm not so foolish as to practice the same thing all day though; I would go crazy. I'm working on different things. I've practiced the three practice pieces from Alfred for the week, looked ahead at the next lessons, and worked on my target piece a little, but have also been practicing on refining my fingering techniques and dynamics.

I also dug out my old note-and-interval recognition software and drilled myself on these basic skills.

More fun than a barrel of greased cats.

I stopped counting, but decided to take a look and noticed we are on page 105 0f 143 in the lesson book of Volume One. Now the material is becoming more and more difficult, and we're finishing up with the key of C Major and moving to G Major (which we've actually been toying with for a while now) D Major, F Major and A minor.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More Media Bashing & Further Ranting

Remember when TLC was The Learning Channel? And A&E was Arts & Entertainment?

Alas, I'm old enough to recall those sylvan days of yesteryear, when these programs had educational content and cultural programming. Now, TLC stands for The Lowest Common-denominator and A&E stands for Anomalies & Exhibits--it's become the modern equivalent of the old Sideshow 10-in-one freakshow, with Dog the Bounty Hunter, Little People Big World, The Mermaid Girl, The Lobster Boy (and God help the world if those two marry and spawn the Crawdad Kid) seemingly endless programs about conjoined twins and the men/women who love them, Tattooed people, motorcycle people, Criss Angel, who wasn't even a magician but a rock musician turned universe's biggest douchebag and whose fanbase was apparently too ignorant to know the difference between a good, polished conjurer and a lisping moron who relied on the very-forgiving medium of television magic to cover his lack of even the most basic skill; programs about obese people, addictive people wallowing in their own vomit, people who (Gawd help us) don't dress stylishly.

Now here is the most frightening aspect of this many-faceted jewel of dazzling delusion: In between this parade of horrors we have entire programs whose premise revolves around people doing their jobs. Okay, some people might have interesting jobs, but selling houses, cooking food, driving trucks, sawing down trees, and draining septic tanks do not rank anywhere near the top of a resume of beguiling professions. But since apparently people (astonishingly enough) watched these content-devoid and cheaply-produced programs, we were offered the ultimate vapid program in an act of dazzling chutzpah that astounded even me, a person who has studied the greatest scams in history: programs consisting of nothing more than people working on their house.

Now listen to me. Listen well. Nobody likes to work on their house. I used to own a house. Activities like hanging wallpaper, sanding floors, digging holes, painting, mowing lawns, laying carpet--involve hard work, You don't want to do it. You pay other people to do it so you can do something interesting. But by Neptune's shinbone, put it on television with snappy music and flashy graphics and for some reason people will watch it.

In brief, the entire program line of both TLC and A&E makes me pull at my already thinning hair and shout at my cat: "Jesus Christ--WHO CARES?"

I'll give you my own experience with TLC. My friend Alain Nu, a very talented performing artist, nailed a contract for four television specials for TLC. He called me, elated over the news. I asked, "Uh, have you seen the programming on TLC lately?" He called me back a few days later, a little less elated. "This used to be the Learning Channel. What happened?" This was the first time I used my "The Lowest Common denominator" reference I think, which you have to admit, is pithy and winsome.

We had high hopes for that special. I was brought on as a creative consultant for that series, along with a few other very creative people, at a wage so low it was appalling. Low budget was the excuse. I basically did it as a favor for my friend and for the experience working for TV. I found myself thrown into one of the most dysfunctional scenarios you can imagine. The production team eviscerated our scripts, for one thing. They sucked the life from them. We wanted to bring emotional content to mentalism. The wanted to appeal to the masses.

Apparently our initial ideas, especially mine, were too "literary" for their conception of the drooling, trailer-park microcephalopods they imagined constituted their audience base. You would not believe the contempt with which they spoke of the television-watching public. The problem was these arrogant bastard's conception of the masses--which means you and me--was of an intelligence so abysmally dull and ignorant it would make a neanderthal seem like Steven Hawking. After working with these rocket-scientists for a while, I later decided the psychological term for this was "projection."

As for the direction team, they were, to put it mildly, insane. Constantly yelling, ordering everyone around, and supplanting our vision with theirs--which was basically a pastiche of David Blaine specials and a hip image which was about fifteen years younger than our star. As far as I could tell, neither the director nor her husband had read a book between them in their combined lives. One day they took our star out clothes shopping and basically transformed him into one of the New Kids on the Block. Here the problem was our star already had a well-established, likable persona of his own and they were not only clueless of this, they didn't even care to take the time to get to know him. They decided their "ideas" --really just bytes they assimilated from every other magic special they ever saw--would be far better than something new and better.

Our star, realizing this Justin-Timberlake-meets-Jackie-Chan ensemble was in no way reflective of his true identity, showed up at the set the next day dressed more sensibly. The director freaked out and began screaming at everyone. This was typical; she had at lest five meltdowns a day. There was constantly a false sense of drama on the set. Everyone associated with TLC were self-important, narcissistic and quick to yell at anyone they thought they could get away with. The creative team basically were reverted to third wheels and treated as hired help. Which I anyway, was not. Not hired help, that is. I was a consultant, and a very necessary one at that. I will tell you that hellcat yelled at me ONCE. I told her privately if she did it once more for any reason, I would not show up ever again. It never happened again, but she was very cold to me after that, which was fine with me.

The whole project was an exercise in incompetency. Entire shoots had to be scrapped because of camera crew malfunctions and other glitches. I was never so glad in my life when this project was over. I realized that somewhere along the line, TLC and A&E had been taken over by new owners, who decided the American public was just too dumb for quality programming. I decided right there that if anyone ever offered me a shot at television, I would refuse them point-blank. No way would I work with television people again.

Now the punchline is that after union fees, insurance, tax deductions and expenses, and other mysterious deductions I couldn't decipher even with my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, I wound up losing money on this deal. Furthermore, the TLC bookkeeping department made such a mess of their paperwork that the W2s they sent me raised a red flag with the IRS and I was audited. Yes, my accountant said the only reason he could see my return was singled out was those suspicious W2s from TLC. They were a mess.

Hey, maybe I could get a TV series from the whole trip? I don't know. It was very interesting to get a look at the inside of these two stations, which are both owned by the same company if you haven't noticed by now, and see just how they work. In spite of it all, the specials turned out very good and I recommend you watch them if you get a chance.