Monday, September 27, 2010

My Finger Peeled

My middle one to be precise. I've been training individual fingers, by God, to do my bidding. I'm training them to shift from chord to chord without me looking. or to be perfectly honest, looking from the edge of my peripheral vision. The fingers enduring the most wear-and-tear are my two middle fingers (what we call in piano parlance the third finger) and my right middle finger developed a callous and is now peeling. It's a little annoying.

The culprit is this jazz piece I've been working on with great fervor from Alfred Year Two which has an FF notation in several places. FF means you hit the keys quite hard. There are also accent marks, which look like this (>) over some of the notes, which mean the same thing: hit those suckers. I think all this drama gave me a callous.

I've also been working on the realio dealio Joplin Entertainer fingering for the first measure. It has octaves with an added third voice in eighth notes. Yes, that's as insane as it sounds. You play these pretty fast, even thought the composer notated his piece was to be played "not fast." This requires a finger-spread like King-Kong's left foot. Here is the passage in question. it looks innocuous, but as you can see from the bass line, all that activity occurs in the space of four beats. It's the melody part of The Entertainer that goes (and I'll try to convey this in print) La- de-dah Dah-dah Ta-ta Ta-ta Tah.

I can only practice it for ten minutes at a time before my tendons ache. So between the peeling callous and aching tendons, I'm a festering dungheap. I'm ruined. Well not really but it goes boo-boo.

Autumn has dribbled in so my moods are phasing in and out like Lady Ophelia's from Hamlet, so I'm given to crying jags followed by laughing fits, depending on which aisle I'm walking down at Wal-mart. This has added a poignant tone to my playing however, so even my upbeat jazz piece has a cynical edge to it, like Rock-a-Bye-Baby played by The Ramones.

I have a week off from lessons so I'm practicing independently. I'm having a lot of fun dabbling around with my independent study pieces and stretching my skills. I still sound like butt, but maybe one day I'll have a breakthrough and be able to play one piece all the way through without making a mistake.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Head is Made of What?

If someone is especially recalcitrant, some people would call him a fathead. Or bonehead, or, after the manner of Archie Bunker, a meathead. In short, all the components of a steak--except gristle. No, the epithet gristle-head just isn't esthetically pleasing. In fact, next on the descending rung of degrading substances which your brainless skull can be filled is a bulky matter involving the digestive function; indeed, the very end result of what happens to steak once you masticate, ruminate, extricate, intestinate and finally excrete it. If you don't know what I mean, drop me an e-mail and I'll explain it to you--you dunderhead. And exactly what cut of meat is dunder? I asked my local butcher. He shook his fist at me and said, "Get away from me, airhead." Which is another story--bridging the animal kingdom to the elemental. An entirely new literary genre. You have your airhead, gashead, rockhead, crackhead, knothead--but I digress.

Why do I worry about things like this? You see, I used to be a gearhead. That's a term meaning "engineer." So when I see a pattern in something I wonder how the pattern evolved. or if the pattern was part of a design. And design is a beautiful thing, especially in matters involving story and language.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interesting Piano Technique

This is a technique for playing up and down the Keyboard which was preferred by piano virtuoso Franz Liszt. Where this differs from "standard" technique is you're usually taught to tuck your thumb under your hand, and allow the rest of your hand to follow. Liszt believed it was better to treat the thumb like the rest of the fingers, an limit it to an up-and down motion. A group of modern teachers have recently become advocates of this "Thumb-Over" technique. I've tried it, and it's a bit difficult to make the transition.

Why Speilberg Sucks, and Why it Pays to Be Literate

Spielberg (along with George Lucas) made his rep on Star Wars of course--a rehashing of Campbell's work Hero with a Thousand Faces--and everyone who had never read mythology lapped it up. I sat in the theater in 1978 and thought "This piece of crap will never make it." The next day, I went to school and everyone was going on about "The Force." I haven't had a moment's rest from this corruption of Asian philosophy in thirty years.

But I guess the main reason I get tired of hearing about his creativity is that he isn't creative: he's a thief. Let me give you just two examples. If you read Science Fiction, and sat in the audience of the movie Gremlins, you experienced a twinge of pity for author H. Beam Piper, creator of an endearing chracter known as Little Fuzzy, who never received a dime. Why should he receive a dime, you ask? Check out Piper's Little Fuzzy:

Yes. That's a Gremlin, eh?

Another example. You recall the Ewoks, the baddass Alien Teddy Bears. Behold:

What is that--a badass Alien teddy Bear. Oh gosh.

So basically Spielberg just walked along the bookshelf of the fantasy and Sci-Fi section and thought "Hmm--There's a good character for a movie." But this is the way Hollywood does things. Ideas are stolen, retreaded, and then peddled as a "tribute" to the original. But in the meantime, the original author rarely receives any credit, or any money.

So why do we give them our money? Our we that desperate for entertainment? How about reading the works of the artists from whom Hollywood hacks steal.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Moving along in Alfred Year Two

I plugged along with the Cuban love song Guatanamara and have moved to the Theme from the Overture to the Opera Raymond by Ambroise Thomas. I haven't seen Raymond, but have seen his other opera Hamlet (yes adapted from the drama by Shakespeare by the same name) and loved it. It has terrific music and wonderfully dramatic scenes.

The Raymond theme is in A Minor, a key for which I have great fondness due to its melancholy tone. You could play Happy Birthday in A Minor and it would sound like a dirge. My preliminary tinklings sound dark and moody, befitting a transition into Autumn, when I'm sure my seasonal mood swing will kick in and my postings will take on a sombre and Gothic flavor.

This Year Two book has a lot of theory exercises in it and not as many pieces of music. Perhaps it's assumed you teach will roll up his or her sleeves and assign you extra work. Or, maybe, the pieces are longer and more difficult. However, the joke's on Alfred: the independent studies I'm doing on my own--Joplin and others--are much more difficult even than the pieces in the Year Two book. So far.

However, I'm sure Alfred has some surprises for me. He's a tricky old fellow.

I'm working on my scales diligently, and have pretty well learned C, D, G, and A Major. I've begun playing them in opposition; that is to say, left and right hands in different directions. These are the scales we've covered so far. If we continue to follow the Circle of Fifths (insert dramatic music here) the next scale will be E Major. Then B Major, which as I recall consists of mostly black keys. After that, F Major and that's it for the Major League. I get to start all over with the Minors, and the Flat-Majors, etc. You see, the study of the piano is infinite.

In other news I've added pedal to The Entertainer and polished it some more. It's starting to come together more and more. I may be ready to play it for someone in a couple more months. I took the beginning phrase from the original (advanced) version and tacked it onto the intemediate version I'm playing now. I also interjected segments from the original version, which is every bit as complicated as some piece by Chopin, into my intermediate transscription. My teacher pronounced this project very "ambitious." My idea is that over time, I'll transplant the original Joplin fingering into my simpler intermediate version until one day my Frankenstein version will be supplanted by the beautiful original in all its glory.

The "Conscience of the King" scene from Thomas' Hamlet:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Crash & Burn

I pushed myself too hard too long. Body and mind said "enough." Today I'm a festering heap. Been infusing soup & water. Resting with great intensity. No piano today. Just recharging body mind and spirit.

More later after I recharge my batteries. Sure could use a vacation.

In the meantime, watch this master of a weird and very cool little keyboard instrument called a Harmonium. I must have one of these: