Monday, May 17, 2010

More Bach and Further Progression

I continue to work on the Bach Minuet in G, and probably will be working on it for a while. In the meantime, I laid to rest the two Alfred's lessons O Solo Mio and Auld Lang Syne and moved on to Greensleeves, which introduced a very cool half-pedal technique which I wished I had known earlier.

I don't know if I have any real interest in ever playing for other people--I perform for a living, you see, and not sure if I relish the idea of retiring from show business, and then parading a new skill. But I am achieving my goals of understanding music better. For example, the bass line of the Minuet in G develops a theme by itself, which forms a counterpoint to the melody played by the right hand, and you can't really see this unless you play it for yourself. At least, I didn't fully understand it until I played it, and I must have heard that piece at least a hundred times.

It's got some tough passages, which I'm wrestling with, but it's more fun than I've had in years.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Johann Sebastian Bach Meets Jon Saint Germain

As I related in the very first posting in this series, the very first piece of Classical Music I fell in love with was Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto.

I recently purchased a splendid compilation of music, one apparently (if my research and readings are accurate) much beloved by many: Volume 17 of Easy Classics for Moderns. This particular volume compiles works by various masters in their original form, not the simpled-down version you find in lesson books--like Alfred's. These are reasonably easy to play pieces by such composers as Telemann, Mozart, Chopin, Bach (several of the Bachs, in fact) and many others.

So today I began work on the Minuet in G by old Johann, my first real Bach piece. This is for me an historic moment.

I'm just past four months into my lessons and I've met one of my favorite composers. This is just so very cool.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Cowans at Mayo Clinic

I have nothing to add to this wonderful concert by Fran and Marlow Cowan, a couple in their nineties, performing for staff and visitors at the Mayo clinic in February of 2010. Thanks to my friend Richard Busch for bringing this to my attention.

Watch and enjoy.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Short and Sweet

If you haven't already done so, go to the Metropolitan Opera's facebook page and peep the trailer for the 2010-2011 HD broadcast season. The HD broadcasts as you may know, are shown in selected movie theaters worldwide.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Remembering The Sixties

My bloodline is an uneasy amalgam of the Riggs and Taylor tribes, two surly and paranoid lineages which stumbled from the mists of primordial time into the present, angry and confused, convinced that the entire rest of the world was stacked up on the other side of the fence plotting their extermination. This genetic tendency toward paranoia was good preparation for show business, which I've learned, unfortunately, is a cutthroat affair.

Not bothering to trouble themselves with actual knowledge, my family tended to make up facts to suit their delusional fancies, citing the Bible or other fictional sources when challenged on their more outrageous claims. Cracking an actual book never seemed to occur to them. My mom and dad spent long hours trying to out-BS each other. Their arguments were legendary; spinning off into complicated constructions rivaling Faulkner and Joyce on a good day. My mom always emerged victorious from these battles. Dad retreated into his bottle and his television sporting events; mom sought refuge in her romantic world of imagination, where our family was the center of the universe; the focus of conspiracies and envy.

In reality, of course, we were nobodies. Nobody cared what we said, did or thought.

In retrospect, I guess that illusion was always a way of life for me. Eventually I created an on-stage character that was everything my mother wanted our family to be: all-knowing, all powerful, on top of things. I didn't realize this until I was forty five years old – that my performing career was the apotheosis of my mother's vision of what we could have been if the fates were kinder to our clan. In light of the constant, lifelong struggle to make it as a performer, I've always been puzzled why I keep going. I think this is what has been burning in the secret furnace of my mind, the fuel that has driven me on since I was a small child: the determination to vindicate my mother's belief that we were something special, even if only through the make-believe magic of the theater.

As crazy and delusional as my parents were, I miss them. I think I prefer their imaginary world to the one I actually live in today. It seems that all the magic is gone, replaced by a dry technocratic cynicism. Maybe they had it right: perhaps being crazy IS the secret of happiness.

I remember the very moment I decided to become a full-time performer. I was around six years old. People used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I responded that I wanted to be a Wizard.

In East Tennessee, in the early 1960's this was tantamount to saying "Gee, I want to worship Satan and all his Imps. Thanks for asking." Since my family dabbled in fortune-telling, it was expected that I was to follow the Highway to Hell. To understand what a bold career decision this was you have to understand the religious and intellectual climate of East Tennessee in the
1960s. One anecdote will suffice:

In the fourth grade, I did a book report on The Origin of Species. I had recently read it, found it fascinating and wanted to share it with my classmates. I also knew a good controversy when I saw it, and I wanted to see the reaction I got when I dropped this intellectual cluster-bomb on my Southern-fried contemporaries. Bear in mind that I come from the part of the country that outlawed Evolution. Even though the ruling was overturned, it didn't matter. Along with the outcome of the Civil War, East Tennesseans never accepted evolution as a proven fact. We're still Rebels, and we stopped Evolving. Free spirits all, we yield not to the laws of government, man nor nature.

I never got to deliver my report. Unfortunately for my attempt to elevate the minds of my contemporaries, we had a Bible-Thumping zealot for a substitute teacher that day who was so appalled at hearing the name "Darwin" that she dropped her coffee cup, which dashed into fragments on the tile floor.

The Substitute Teacher, Bible in one hand and my ear in the other, hoisted me to the principal's office by that convenient jug-handle (in the mid-sixties teachers could still do that) whereupon the principle, a scary, iron-tough woman named Mrs. Gray, lectured me on God and Satan, demanding to know "What kind of family do you come from that allows you to read this kind of trash?"

Well, actually I got Darwin's heretical opus from the public library and my family would have no clue what it was about. And it just so happened that my family liked trash. The only books I remember seeing around the house involved racy cartoons and jokes I didn't understand until I was seventeen, in bed with my first female, when a light went on in my head and I said "Oh, NOW I get it!

However, Mrs. Gray soon learned what kind of family I came from--the dangerous kind to mess with. My mother answered Principal Gray's stern phone call in a manner I'm sure the woman hadn't anticipated. If the principal had been hoping for a kindred spirit, a partner in her determination to make me get with the program, her hopes were soon shattered into more fragments than Substitute Teacher's coffee cup. My mom burst into the office, eyes flashing fire, screamed over the principal's stuttering remonstrations, and threatened to run her over in the parking lot after school for daring to question the family integrity. Iron had met fire, and was rendered into slag in the forge of my mother's fury.

For two weeks, I am told, a fearful Mrs. Gray checked the parking lot for signs of my mother’s Chevrolet before fleeing to the modest haven of her Ford Sedan.

My family fought like cats and dogs amongst ourselves, but if an outsider so much as glared at any one of us, we banded together, sharpened our knives with gleeful passion, and took a break from our squabbling long enough to reduce the interloper to quivering rags. It's a Southern thing. I knew many things about my family. We were not normal, not sociable, perhaps not even sane – but I knew that if I got into trouble they would watch my back.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Modern Cavemen

There is a sense of satisfaction in conquering a new skill; in mastering something you never tried before. When I was a lad, I wrestled with the most difficult sleight-of-hand I could find, and how good it felt once I broke through the wall of my personal limits and learned to perform those moves perfectly. Performing the effect for other people never felt as good--often other people couldn't appreciate the work that went into the effect--but nothing could detract from that sense of accomplishment you get from acquiring something you didn't have before.

I think this is because endocrinologically speaking, we're not that far removed from our paleolithic ancestors. We crave challenges, and lacking mammoth hunts and fleeing from saber-tooth tigers, and having our needs met by convenient stores and other luxuries, we seek these thrills where we can. The more physical types engage in sports, lifting weights, running long miles. The cerebrals wrestle with crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Or take up piano in mid-life to keep their brains soft and moist.

I fear that calcification of the brain. My great-grandmother was 102 when she died, and autonomous, but she had slipped a little. Granted, she did well for herself. She lived in her own home, drew water from a pump, dug coal from a small vein, but she also nurtured a plastic ivy plant while swearing it grew, and tried for years to remove a "stain" from our coffee table which was a hole through which you could see the floor. My family thought these idiosyncrasies were cute. I thought the idea of the cheese sliding from your cracker when you got old was horrifying and I swore, as a little kid, to be dead by age fifty.

Well, here I am, and still walking the skin of the earth like the spectre of Hamlet's father, and still semi-functional. Rather than pushing up daisies, or poaching college-age women in an attempt to recapture something I never had in the first place, I'm studying music to stave off senility.

It's good to experience that sense of satisfaction again when I conquer a difficult passage of music that i can't play at first. The cool thing about music is that you get immediate feedback. You can hear when you get it right. You're your own audience. When it comes together it sounds and feels right and everything's fine.

Senility will just have to wait another fifty years.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

You Senile Old Fool

I performed a show in Terre Haute last week, one of many the past month. For those of you who may be unaware of the cyclic nature of this wacky business, this is post-prom season, and as Show-business is often feast or famine, in the idiosyncratic slang of my Southern forebears, we get while the gettin's good.

The post-prom or "lock-in" was an ingenious idea someone came up with to literally save student lives. You see, it is traditional for students to hit the town after graduation ceremonies and party hearty. Unfortunately, many do not survive this experience. When I went to school in the 1970's we lost quite a few students to after-graduation accidents. Of those who do survive the celebration, a large percentage, their inhibitions and libidos unlocked by liquor, found themselves asking that timeless question, "What do you mean you're WHAT? How did that happen?"

So the concept of the post prom lock in is simple: You secure a venue, provide entertainment and activities for the kids, and lock them up all night. At 6 AM, you release them, presumably too exhausted to commit mayhem upon themselves or others. It seems to work.

The lovely benefit is that the organizers need student-friendly entertainment--me. This is one of my busiest times of year. Since they hold these events late at night, I usually perform at 2 AM, 4AM all kinds of ungodly hours, which means if I plan it well, I can do two or three shows a night. Over the course of 20 years, I've learned to plan it very well.

The problem is these days I'm fifty years old. So late hours, long drives, and weeks of repeated shows takes a toll. Which brings us back to tne Terre Haute show, as I was leaving for this show, i grabbed one of my two pairs of dress shoes. Wife and I keep our shoes in an amalgamated pile by the door. I have two pairs: one Armani, for performances, and one Geoffrey Beene, for lesser formal occasions. I grabbed the Armanis. I thought.

I arrived at the venue, unloaded, set up the show, and got dressed into my suit. I don't drive to a show in my suit as this causes wrinkles in both the suit and me, plus it's uncomfortable. This is when I noticed I had grabbed one each of the Armani and the Beene. The right shoe was Armani, but the left shoe was Beene. At least both shoes were black, and I had one for each foot (rather than say, two left feet) but the styles of the shoes were completely different --one pointy toed and the other round--and if you looked, you would notice.

What was a chap to do? I went on with the show--a two hour show--and hoped nobody noticed. The show went well and nobody said anything. But when details like this slips your mind, it's definitely time for a vacation.

Of course one thing about getting older I find very nice; you really don't care what other people think of you. A least not as much. I remember when I was younger thinking that old people must have no sense of self-awareness. They would dress oddly, say whatever popped into their minds, and had terrible taste in music, movies and literature. Now I know that if you live long enough, you witness horrors, and you eventually arrive at a point where you don't think the opinion of anyone younger matters, so you do whatever the hell you want to do; whatever it takes to overwrite the horror stories that go on in your head. If it's watching stupid movies, or making silly jokes, or collecting matchbook covers, or traveling around the country looking at the world's largest gumballs, so be it--the laughter of inexperienced youngsters fall on your rapidly-deteriorating ears. And the reason old folks laugh to themselves so much is because we know all you young smart alecs who are laughing at us will be hobbling around in our funny-looking shoes one day, wondering what the heck THOSE youngsters are laughing at. Go ahead and shake your cane at them and yell--you've earned it.