Friday, July 30, 2010

Scott Joplin Kicks my Ass

My left hand actually cramped as I attempted to learn the left hand part of The Entertainer. I realized I had lost track of time and had been practicing for several hours. I took time off and watched Jonny Quest cartoons (I know, I'm a geek.) and gave it a rest. When I returned to my practice the next day, my brain had integrated the practice and I could play the part pretty well, It's the rapid finger changes that's getting me.

But it's coming together. Just a matter of time. I think I'll have it in decent shape by Monday. Then onto my last piece for Year One. Then I think I'll take a break.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

One More to Go

I started work on Scott Joplin's The Entertainer, a jaunty piece that's challenged me to master it so I can begin work on the very last piece in the Year One Alfred Book, which will be Amazing Grace. For some reason, I've also developed a renewed interest in difficult card flourishes, and picked up a couple of crazy items I set aside a year or so ago. One of these insane finger busters involves constructing a three-tiered pyramid between your hands in a series of one-handed cuts. You'd have to see it to believe it; it's insane.

The only problem is I've only seen this performed once, by a friend of mine, and that was over a year and a half ago. So I only know the end result. I don't know how to get into it. So for the past several days I have literally been reinventing the pyramid--the card pyramid. Last night, I accomplished it twice. For people who do not understand why magicians sit for hours, days and months mastering these ridiculous maneuvers, it's really the same thrill of accomplishment you get when you successfully finish a crossword puzzle--another thing many people don't understand.

I get the same sense of satisfaction when an elusive piece of piano music comes together. I wrote some months ago when my brain "discovered" my left hand and all of a sudden it could play independently. What a day that was! I noticed this morning I can easily move my awareness back and forth between hands without losing concentration. This is very cool.

I was speaking with a very old friend (we go back to my childhood) and he expressed joy that I was finally studying music. He said his parents forced him to study music and he hated to practice. Therefore, he told me, he never became a "music person." Perhaps it was fortunate I came to it late in life, but I don't know. I've always loved music and sometimes I wish I had started this ten years ago. I just feel I don't have enough time to do everything I want to do. will I have time to develop the skills to play Chopin or Rachmaninoff before it's time for me to bow from the stage forever?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Going Around the Bend

By my calculations, I've just past my six month point and entered my seventh month of piano discipline. I began sometime in mid-January and it is now mid-July. Six months ago I could neither read music nor play anything on a piano except cacophany. For those of you who don't know what that is, it isn't a jazz tune, it means irritating unstructured noise, like cats and bagpipes attempting to communicate with each other while a million slinkies tumble down brass stairwells. I have no idea where that last set of images came from, but it gives you some inkling of what it's like to live in my skull.

Life gets in the way of totally surrendering to obsession. Recently I had a spate of hardware collapse. It was as if an evil spirit had possessed my house and began killing all my machinery. Within a two-week period, my monitor, computer power-supply, motherboard, printer, and scanner had all died. Then the filter pump on the aquarium, and the VW bus belonging to my houseguest wheezed and died like an oil-poisoned walrus in my driveway. This gadget-slaying dybbuk was insatiable.

In the meantime, I had to keep up with my piano practice. I prepay my lessons each month, and be damned if I'll fall behind. Plus, for some reason, this seems extremely important. I can't explain it. It's more than a hobby; this is something I must do. So I ordered replacements for everything and waited. Every day, boxes came via UPS, USPS and FED-EX. I rebuilt the mechanical infrastructure of my life and business. Some of the computer components arrived dead, and had to be returned. More waiting. In the meantime, I made progress on the Schumann piece The Wild Horseman and began work on Raisins and Almonds.

Interestingly enough, the more my external world falls apart, the calmer I get. I think it reminds me of my childhood, which was the utter picture of chaos. Nothing was ever at peace or predictable, so when things fall apart I just stand perfectly still and look for something to fix. This is the starting point. Once you make one thing right, then you move onto the next thing. Iknew fixing the aquarium was a priority so I took care of that first. My Betta Firebolt is a year and a half old--pretty old for a Siamese Fighting Fish--and I coddle the old boy. He eats raw tilapia and a high-vitamin fish food. His six-gallon tank is a palace, with real tropical plants and a small colony of janitor snails to keep it tidy of waste. So his pump was fixed, and he was pleased.

Then the printer and scanner parts arrived, and some computer components--but the motherboard was dead. Unfortunately, I spent four hours rebuliding the beast and when I booted the machine up--nothing. I checked everything out and I had done it correctly. My son and I have built our own computers ever since you could build your own computers, so I knew it was right, but I called tech support. What followed was an exercise in patience, international diplomacy and translingual malapropisms. Diagnosis: Your motherboard is dead, Sahib. I am ravished with the throbbing sorrow. I am terribly terribly terribly unable to help you. So I sent it back. Replacement will be sent any day now.

But the machine eating ghoul hasn't dared touch my piano, and I play on, la-dah-da-dee-dee-dee... Six months now. I have three more lessons, three more songs to learn and I will be on to Book Two.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

D Minor--Hoorah!

Hoorah because D-Minor is a very cool scale (both natural and Harmonic) and because it's the last section before I move on to Alfred, Year Two. The current pieces I'm scrutinizing are Scarborough Fair and Raisins and Almonds. D-Minor Scale has a B-flat in it, which gives it a melancholy sound. The Harmonic version has both B-flat and C-Sharp, which sounds exotic, like Egyptian music.

I would provide a sound file of the scale if I could find one. Alas, a fairly diligent search of the internet failed to yield results. I'm still experiencing difficulty capturing MIDI files from my keyboard to my computer or I would do it that way. I think I need a driver or some other piece of interpretive software to make it work. It's always something. I just installed Windows 7 so I should try again perhaps.

I seem to be coming out of the recent slump I've been experiencing since May or so. I hope this means I'll enter a hyper phase and will make rapid progress and be productive for a while. I have a lot to do and could use an energy boost.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sunshine on my Shoulders Makes Me Glad I'm Not a Gliitery Gay Vampire

So I took Wife to see the midnight premier of Eclipse: the Twilight Saga Part Three. So there I sat in a theater full of teenage girls, middle-aged cougars (you know, older women who lust for bulging teenage boys, although Demi Moore has said she prefers the more dignified term Puma) and a smattering of middle-aged single men whose motives may best be left disinterred. My review, brief and pithy: What the hell? There is no story. Edward proposed marriage to Bella, which he did in the last two movies, and the audience cheered as though it were a long-awaited surprise. Jacob the sulky Werewolf ran around shirtless ( his one theatrical trick) and the audience of women of all ages howled like wolves themselves. Believe me, if a guy showed any interest at all in a girl that age, he would find himself summarily in handcuffs and on an internet database. Talk about double standards. I threatened to run around shirtless for a week, but I think the effect is diluted when you're a fifty-year old Native American, though my torso--especially my back--is as hairy as any werewolf's.

I long for the days of Buffy, where there was actually some very good, funny and often touching writing. Who can forget the scene where Angel decided to commit suicide-by-sunrise, and Buffy said if he were determined to do this thing, she would stand by his side as he became a crispy pile of ashy Angel. And then a miracle--it snowed. Redemption for the formerly damned in the form of a snowflake. And was there ever a more entertaining triangle than Buffy,Spike and Angel? Come on--Jacob and Edward are exactly the same character, just one of them wears a shirt, because poor Pattinson, while a fine actor, isn't very buff.

What's this to do with piano, you ask? Not much, except I could have been practicing. Oh well. I did have a good time. It's fun to get out with Wife once in a while since she works all night and sleeps all day. No wonder she has an affinity with Vampires.