Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wanted: A Moment to Think, & a Moment to Write

Ever feel that way?

Work has been super-busy, particularly this week because I'm having to put in extra hours so I can leave early Friday--we have a piano group class at 4:00 in Asheville, which means I need to leave work no later than 2:00 or so.

Had a 2-hour lesson on Saturday afternoon. Awesome lesson. It wore me out, but it was a great lesson. I honestly think I may be playing better now than I've ever played in my life.

Prelude sounds great. I'll be playing it for the group class. I'm mainly working on speeding it up a bit, though Deborah said it sounds fine at the speed it is (about 76).

Fugue: She raved about how well I played the first two pages. The last four sounded good but not great. "You're not thinking in musical sentences." So I need to work on making the last four pages less of a run-on mess of notes. OK.

Liszt: I'm lingering a bit too much here and there, but for the most part it sounds good. I'm playing it for the group class, too.

Elfe: We worked on this one quite a bit. I'm pretty far along in it, actually. I can play the whole thing through, at a nice (but not fast) pace, in blocked chords. I'm starting to practice the broken chords.

That's all for now. It's 6:30 a.m. and I need to get ready for work!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I Like My Job

I like my job. I love the fact that I don't love my job. The network folks monitor employees' internet rambles, so I'm sure I'll get "caught" sooner or later for blogging.

Thing is, I punch out before I blog, and I punch in after I finish blogging. I work hard at this job. I work from the moment I walk in until the moment I leave, save for the 45 minutes or so I take mid-day to commune with Sebastian, Franzi, Bob, and the rest of them. The only bad thing I'm really doing is using the company system for blogging.

I work for a good company. I have a good, laid-back boss, and I work with some really great people. I've made some friends. Life is good.

Friday, September 07, 2007

What Should I Do?

It seems my blog is dead. Three years of blogging ... gone. I'm not sure what to do now. Should I just blog from here? Should I start a new blog that isn't just piano-related, since piano isn't the only thing in my life? I definitely don't want to use Blogger again. Should I go to squarespace or wordpress or one of the other blogging services?

I've actually been thinking about starting a piano podcast. As if I have the time.

I'm kind of depressed about this. Boo hoo. :(

Short & Sweet Schumann Session

I had a whopping 25 minutes available for practicing today. I spent most of it drilling this:

Have I mentioned that "Elfe" is a complex little piece for a small-handed pianist? I did? Oh, OK.

It was fun, though. It's really, er, stretching my capabilities.

Piano lesson tomorrow! I can't wait!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

45-minute practice

Thursday's practice session lasted all of 45 minutes. I basically flew out of a meeting at 12:00, got to the piano as quickly as I could, let time stand still as I practiced for 45 minutes, then ran back to the office for another meeting at 1:00.

Not much time to write at the moment. (Being important at a job has its perks, but it also means never being able to slack!) Here's what I focused on today:

This is "Elfe." After the usual scales and arps, I spent 20 minutes--20 whole minutes--on this itty-bitty little section. This sure is a complicated "intermediate" piece. It would help if I had Rach-sized hands, but oh well. I'm playing block chords in rhythms, only I can't play block chords in the last two chords of the LH in the section circled above. So, I'm in rhythms, going from block chords to rolled chords for two LH chords. I'm not playing fast, but my hands seem to be scampering elfe-like all over the place.

I also worked on the second 9-against-4 section of the Liszt. (I can't find it on the IMSLP, or I'd post it here for you.) Spent about 15 minutes on that single half-measure.

Last night at home, I worked on Bach. I can play the fugue through pretty smoothly, but each time I play it, little "speed bumps" come up here and there. So I drill and drill and drill the speed bump, and it ceases to be a problem, and allows me to focus on other speed bumps. The good news is, the speed bumps have been getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

So here's what I drilled for a good 20 minutes last night:

Yup. Three beats. Twelve notes per hand. For twenty minutes. That's all I worked on last night.

What makes this passage complicated is that the ups and downs are not quite in contrary motion. It would be so much easier if the RH and LH came toward each other at the same time, and went away from each other at the same time, as in a formal dance. It would also be a little simpler if the notes were even and in the order of the scale, with no thirds, held notes, etc. But no. Notice that the LH is a sixteenth-note behind the RH. I made arrows so you could see how the upward and downward motions of the LH are behind the RH by just a smidgen:

This is a speed bump keeps coming back every now and then. Kind of like a PMS zit. But twenty minutes of drilling fixed it.

Would that PMS zits were so manageable and fun!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm Late! I'm Late! But Franzi Wouldn't Wait!

Not a bad practice today. I started with the usual scales and arps and really, really focused on using my forearms and not just my hand/finger strength to strike the keys. This "fingery playing" is a technique issue I've been dealing with for some time, and habits are hard to break--particularly when no one's ever corrected the habit before. But the arm-thing has begun to feel more natural. I'm getting there.

My "intermediate" piece, "The Elf," is from a series of short pieces by Robert Schumann. Here's a blurb from Music Web International:

"The Albumbl├Ątter are twenty miscellaneous little pieces, sounding much like other miscellaneous little Schumann pieces; the playing is precise, dramatic, and idiomatic, but at times I found it hard to keep my attention on them, even though number 17, ‘Elfe,’ is a marvel of pianistic skill. Some may prefer these rather cool performances, but I look for those uniquely Schumann passions in this music and I don’t hear them here." -- Paul Shoemaker

"Elfe." That's the piece I'm learning. I like it with an "e" at the end.

Here's the main part of "Elfe" I worked on today:

To be honest, I'm not crazy about this piece; I much prefer the lushness of Liszt, or even of heavier Schumann pieces. But this one is a nice change of pace, and who knows--since it is "a marvel of pianistic skill," it might be a fun little encore piece, if I ever find my way to a concert stage of any kind (and if I ever learn to play it half-decently).

I didn't have much time after wrestling with "Elfe" for 25 minutes, but I wanted to touch on all the other pieces if nothing else. So I didn't spend a lot of time on the prelude and fugue. I spent last night's practice on a few glitches that had come up in the first two pages of the fugue, so I played through that section again today and it sounded nice. The prelude ... ahh. What a wonderful piece of music. And it is slowly becoming mine.

I really didn't have time for Liszt, but I couldn't stand to leave my practice session without at least checking in on him. (I don't know why I've adopted the principle, "Save the Liszt for Last," but I have. Actually, I do know why. Maybe I'll write more on that later.)

Sounded good. That piece is mine, too. Except for the second 9-against-4 measure, which continues to drive me batty.

Oddly enough, the first 9-against-4 is no longer a problem. It's played with passion and drive. But the second is a bit slower, and a lot more reflective. It's hard to give a sense of whimsical reflection while trying to play 9-against-4. It really is.

So I was late getting back to work. Sadness.

I love the way music messes with my mind. I got the giggles on the walk back to work, picturing a little elfe-like figure riding on the subway in D.C.: A Metro Gnome.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'm Still Alive

I'm still alive. I'm just very, very, pre-occupied with the day job. I worked my first 45+ hour week last week, and I'm well on the way to my second.

We were gone all Labor Day weekend, camping near Boone, NC, home of the Appalachian State Mountaineers, who beat Michigan in football on Saturday. (Hubster is an Ohio fan and was delighted.) It was a pretty good weekend, but not a restful one.

"A Sort of Notebook" is gone. I'm glad it's gone. I was so tired of it. I don't know if I'm going to pick up blogging again, but if I do, you, dear readers, will be the first to know.

I managed to eke out 45 minutes of practicing today, most of it on Schumann's "The Elf." Last week was a disaster for practicing, as I didn't take one single lunch break all week, and then I was piano-less for the entire Labor Day weekend. My next lesson is Saturday, so I'm going to try for two practice sessions a day from here until then ... even if those sessions are only 15 minutes long.

I'm two weeks behind on e-mails and am trying to catch up while at work, but it's tough because a lot of my job lately has been spent sitting in meetings. So I haven't had much time or opportunity for "personal business" while at work.

This is just a quick update. More later.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


It looks like "A Sort of Notebook" is an ex-blog. I'm not going to post a link to it because it's been taken over by spammers.

It's Saturday night and I love merlot. No, I'm not drunkly. I went to a 50th birthday party tonight and had two lovely glasses of merlot. Then we went to a toy store. (I should never go to a toy store after two glasses of merlot, and after running eight miles. I bought some yellow teeth, a remote-control fart machine, two crazy pencils, and a present for my future niece who has yet to be conceived.)

We went to an art gallery earlier that happens to have a grand piano and I played the Bach Prelude. Oh my, but it's sounding nice!

Deborah (my piano teacher) has a grand (I can't remember the manufacturer. Forgive me.) that she wants to sell me for $8,800, or $100 a key. Hubster thinks that's too much. I told him it's a steal--we get the pedals, and the wood, and the wheels, and the bench for free!

Lightning struck last night. It fried our computer, our television, our stereo, and our telephone. I was thrilled. We could finally get rid of the T.V. and replace it with a piano. An $8,800 piano. But no. Would you believe, Hub has already bought a flat-screen TV to replace it? Poor Hub. But at least he called and asked my permission. I said, "No, I don't want a T.V.," but then I said, "But I love my Hubster, and my Hubster loves college football. Yes, dear, go ahead and get the T.V."

As soon as we get a house that doesn't have serious humidity problems, I'm getting myself an $8,800 grand. I can't wait.

Piano Lesson Yesterday ... Finally

I had a two-hour piano lesson yesterday. It was awesome. I was afraid it wouldn't be.

I had to work extra hours Monday through Thursday so that I could leave at 2:00 on Friday so that I could make it to piano for a 4:00 lesson. Which means I didn't get to take lunch on Monday through Thursday, and lunchtime is when I practice. So no practices. All week.

No practices at home either, because once I've run/worked out, I don't get home until after 8 p.m. And I'm exhausted by the time I've had dinner and a shower.

Work has been extremely busy, but in a good way. I'm enjoying the job. I can't say I love the job, but I like it. It's a paycheck, and it's somewhat challenging, and I work with good people. It's a good way to support my piano and writing habits.

I'll write a little more later. For now, I'll just let the world know that I had a great lesson. And Robert, I'm planning to e-mail you this weekend, so don't lose hope! :)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Yes, It Has Been Awhile

But the blog isn't dead. Not yet anyway.

I've been practicing regularly but haven't made the time to post about those practice sessions. I haven't had a lesson in several weeks, and won't have one until the first week of July or later. But I've been practicing.

I'm going to talk a little bit about my intermediate piece right now. I've spent more time on it than I imagined I would, but you know how we musician-types get when our perfectionist gene kicks in ...

I'm playing an "easy" Bach prelude in F. It's in a piano book I bought in England, something called "World's Greatest Piano Pieces" or some such, and it has a few dozen "popular" pieces, mostly from early-intermediate to intermediate, with a few late-intermediate pieces thrown in.

The prelude has been a challenge for me. The notes are easy enough--they are mostly broken chords, typical of a Bach prelude. Nearly every measure has some form of an F chord, a Bb chord, or a C7 chord. One good thing about having played piano so long (and having practiced arps and inversions in I-IV-V progressions) is that I really don't have to think about moving from one such chord to another. My hands just sort of do it naturally.

The problem with this prelude, however, is that it calls for six or seven fingers on each hand, and I only have five.

OK, it doesn't really call for that many fingers. But it would be an easier piece to play if I the arps didn't keep jumping by a fifth, even after I've run out of fingers.

So the challenge with this piece has been the same challenge I've faced in previous pieces: figuring out the fingering. Deborah has done a stellar job of helping me to become more confident in my ability to work out my own fingering. Or, I guess I should say, I've become a lot less reluctant to try every fingering pattern under the sun until I stumble upon the one that works best for me. I try to follow the usual arp fingering for much of it, with a few adjustments.

I think I've figured it out. So now I'm at the stage of playing through the whole thing and listening for the patterns and repetitions in the piece, and thinking about the voices and how they work together and apart. (It's not an invention or a fugue, but I think of everything as being in "voices" now.) I guess that's a way of saying that I've moved from "learning" the notes, to working out the fingering, to being able to play the piece smoothly, to where I can really hone in on interpretation and style--the fun part! (Of course, it's all fun.)

What's cool is that I went through all of these steps this week. I've had the intermediate piece for a couple of months, but I've never really looked at it or thought seriously about it until several days ago.

I love Bach.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thursday, May 30

Scales: A-flat major and F minor. Ah, evidence of my lack of practice reared its ugly head tonight. The scales sounded OK at 92, except for when the LH is at the bass end of the scale (all the way to the left) and the RH is far at the treble end (all the way to the right). That's when my LH starts acting a little drunk, stumbling around and acting, well, uncouth. Pianistically speaking. I did some drilling on the "turnaround" sections of the two scales, and it helped. A little drilling goes a long way.

Then, I went on to arps.

Folks, I don't deserve a breakthrough. If anything, I deserve to move back a few notches on the metronome, particularly when it comes to arps, which have always gave me fits. Granted, I was working on the "easy" F major and D minor arps tonight ... though I kind of find white-key arps harder because they provide no black-key "anchors" to touch down on.

I played F major at 72. Then I thought, "I really hate that jumpy silence when my hand crosses over!" So I practiced hands separately, in chunks, just for fun. Then HT in chunks. Then in bigger chunks. Then the whole contrary-motion arp routine. Then with the metronome. Then with the metronome just a bit faster ... and a bit faster ...

I got up to 100. Yes, friends, I was playing arps at 100. I was playing them well at 92, not too bad at 96, and definitely not horrible at 100.

I'm in shock. I cannot claim the excellent execution of arpeggioes that my friend The Opinionated Arpeggist can. I never could. When I play arps, I always feel like I'm trying to jump across a chasm that's just a wee bit too wide for me. (OK, so a bit of cognitive self-therapy/ thought-retraining is in order here.) I much prefer scales and runs to arps and big broken chords when learning music. This is probably because I have "petite" hands.

Now for some creative visualization and thought-retraining. Yes. My eyes are closed. I am imagining that I have large hands. Yes. I am Rachmaninoff. I am Rachmaninoff. I am Rachmaninoff.

clicking heels three times, opening eyes

... um ... it didn't work. Not yet, anyway.

No Bach tonight, except for a couple of play-throughs on the intermediate piece. Then I moved on to Liszt before that mean old bully, WTC 1, jumped onto the keyboard ahead of poor old Standchen like it always does.

It was a close call. But Franzi got my attention tonight. It's too bad Bach and Liszt can't show up in the flesh whenever I choose to practice them. I'd probably meet with Liszt more often.

Hmm, I just got an idea for a racy novel ...

Anyway, here are some notes I wrote down as I was practicing Liszt tonight.

mm 1-4 intro: sounds really nice. I could use a bit more control in my hands, though--control I think I had three months ago. It shouldn't take me long to get that back.

mm 4-5 transition: needs to be smoother.

m 13: LH is not hitting the C7 chord inversions boldly enough. This is partly because I changed the fingering rather late in the game. Not that I'm making excuses ...

mm 62 & 66: The bane of my existence, these two measures are. Not really. I love playing 9-against-4, I truly do. One day I will be so caught up in the music (and so well-practiced at those measures) that everything will just fall nicely into place and I'll never again have trouble with measures 62 and 66. But in order to do that, I have to quit thinking of them as "the bane of my existence." (OK, so I don't really see them in that light. But I do get a little ... on edge ... whenever I approach them, thinking, "Will I do it? Will I finally get it right this time?" And of course that spoils the entire mood.)

mm 71-78: sloppy, and it shouldn't be. I always play this section really well, even if all of the other sections don't sound so good. I can't let this one get sloppy.

The measures after 78 are also rather sloppy, but they're definitely salvageable. It will be just a matter of drilling them a few times. I had them down cold before, and I still do. My hands just need to get themselves back into the rhythm.

So, for my next Liszt practice, I'll work on some of those areas that need the most work.

I will admit, the Hubster came up while I was playing and had this look of wonder and delight on his face and said "That's really beautiful," or some such nonsense. He's not much of a Liszt lisztener (I'm punny tonight), but considering he's heard me practicing this piece ad nauseam (his nauseam, not mine) (apologies to any classical scholars that may be reading this) for the past eight months, I was happy to see him so pleased.

I'm being silly. Music does that to me. It's so good to be practicing again. Very good.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Day 2 of New Leaf

I spent the morning working on Chapter 16 of my novel. Then I went and got my oil changed. Then I was going to come home, change clothes, and go work out (yes, I'm making the most of this last "free" week before my new job begins).

So I got home. I thought, "If I don't practice now, I'm not going to practice at all today." After all, I do have a meeting from 6 to 8, and then a conference call from 8 to 9, and we can't forget that the season finale of "House" comes on from 9 to 10.

I know. Pitiful. "House" shouldn't trump piano. Ever.

So I sat down at around 2:30 p.m. and practiced.

Scales: G Major and E Minor. Both sounded fine. I'm at 92 still--as I said in an earlier post, I'm pretty much picking up where I left off when I stopped practicing regularly a few months ago.

Onward to arps at 72. Today I did B Major and G# Minor. They sounded fine. Not great. I don't know if I will ever be remotely happy with my contrary-motion arpeggios. I can't avoid that messy little "jumping" sound (or actually the jumping "silence") that occurs when the fingers cross over. I want my arps to sound like a machine is playing them: perfectly even, perfectly smooth. I'm not there yet. They sounded fine, but not fine enough for my ears.

No intermediate piece today. I have no love for the intermediate piece, delightful as it is. It always takes me a while to warm up to a new piece. Always.

Bach Prelude: Played through a few times. No real practice on this one today.

Bach Fugue: Yes, it's a guilty pleasure, the fugue is. I worked on mm 35-38 primarily, including the transition from 38 (with the trills in the RH) to 39 (where the bass voice swoops in to begin playing the primary "melody").

In case I haven't mentioned it before, I just love practicing Bach. I love practicing this particular fugue. I think I would love practicing any fugue. I just love to practice very slowly, listening intently to how the different unbroken intervals sound, how the tone and color of the piece change from sixteenth note to sixteenth note.

I worked pretty hard on mm 35-43 then, playing all in rhythms and then playing them through at increasing tempos maybe 25 times. By the time I was finished with that practice, I was no longer thinking about the fingering and was focusing more on how to get the different voices to sing out at different times, how to control my hands so that there are no sloppy changes in dynamics as the different voices intertwine.

Then I played through the entire fugue. Yes, it's rusty, but I really can't complain. It doesn't sound bad, and it still feels good and familiar in my fingers.

Liszt: I played through the Liszt a couple of times. I'm going to need to devote several whole practices to it--to picking through it, playing in rhythms, getting to know the piece again. I've gotten sloppy.

No. I haven't gotten sloppy. I've always been sloppy. So that's the news on the Liszt: several months of piano sabbatical have not decreased my sloppiness, not one bit. So much for that experiment.

All in all, I was happy with the practice, which ran for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I'm picking up where I left off, and am thrilled that I don't seem to have "lost" any of these pieces.

Monday, May 28, 2007

I Practiced!

I practiced, and now I'm paying for it. Music has a way of catapulting me into manic mode, so here I am in manic mode. I played scales and arps to start with, as usual. Once again, it was like I'd never left the piano. I flew through contrary motion Db and bb like I'd been practicing them all along. Same goes for Bb and g contrary motion arps. Smooth as silk. I am not lying.

Then again, I usually play pretty well when I sit down to play for the first time after a piano sabbatical. I'm embarrassed to say that I've taken more piano sabbaticals than I'd like to admit. This little 2-month sabbatical has been nothing compared to some of my previous ones.

I declined to play my "intermediate piece," a Bach prelude that isn't a "P&F" prelude. Instead I played through the Prelude in C from WTC 1. Can there be a perfect piece of music? If so, can this prelude be it? No? It must be the unfortunately monikered "Air on the G String," then? No? Let me guess. It's something by Bach. It must be something by Bach.

Yes, I am manic. When I get manic, I get a little silly about my beloved bewigged one.

I played through my C#-major prelude, not at a fast tempo ... but I didn't miss a single note. Weird. I played it through again, just to make sure. Yup. I haven't played it in over a month, and I didn't miss a single note. I really wanted to focus on the fugue, so I played through the prelude a couple more times, just to get it back into my fingers (though I wonder if it's ever left), then moved on to the fugue.

My sweet, beloved fugue. Sigh. I played through the entire six-page piece, not at tempo, but not at a creepy-crawly pace, either. The first four pages were similar to those of the prelude: not a single missed note. (Mind you, I was only playing to see if I still had the notes; the interpretation, tone, etc., left much to be desired.)

I played Page 6 with very few missed notes. Page 5 was a different story; the first half was fine. The second half, not so fine.

Guess why.

When I left off practicing, I had learned the entire piece HT, at tempo, more or less, except for the second half of Page 5.

It's as if I never stopped practicing.

I hesitate to start explaining why I still had all of this in my noggin. I'll wait a couple more weeks. If the "good playing" stays with me, then I'll outline my theory of why George and I are like two old friends. You know how old friends are: they can go for years without seeing each other, and when they finally do get together, it's like no time has passed at all. They pick up right where they left off.

I love George. Yes, I'm manic at the moment, which means I should probably go out and run a few miles to burn off the excess energy. Instead I'm eating crackers and drinking wine.

I love George.

Piano Issues

I don't know where to start. I've been forced to prioritize over the last few months and, unfortunately, and in contrast to my usual priority ordering, piano has had to sit on the back burner. I didn't plan it this way, but it's how it worked out.

The months of April and May were very busy, between volunteer work and freelance jobs. My piano teacher, Deborah, was planning a recital at the time, and a couple of my "lessons" turned into listening/critique sessions where she played her pieces and I listened and gave feedback. We did this for several reasons: (1) I hadn't practiced; (2) she needed the practice; and (3) I think it was good for me as a piano student (piano colleague?) to have these experiences. Deborah said she would give me those lessons back, since they hadn't been actual lessons where I played and she critiqued/guided. That was fine with me.

I was working a contract tech-writing job through part of April and most of May, so I suggested that we not have lessons for the rest of the spring semester, and that the tuition I'd paid in March be applied to summer lessons instead. Deborah was OK with that, I think. Disappointed, as was I, but things were OK.

But now there's a huge obstacle.

I've taken a full-time job that requires a one-hour commute ... in the other direction of my piano teacher's house.

I have some decisions to make. Here are my choices.

(1) Quit the job before I ever start: Not actually a choice. I need the money, and I want the job. Just wanted to make that clear before I present the real choices.

(2) Quit piano: I'd like to say that this is not actually a choice. I definitely don't want to quit piano, even though I've taken quite a sabbatical from it this spring. I'm even trying to arrange with a church near my new job to practice on one of their spare pianos during my lunch hour.

(3) Balance the job and piano: This is the choice I want to make. It's easier said than done, though, because, along with the job and piano, I also want to balance writing, running, husband, and home. I know I can't do it all, but I'm loath to cut out any of these. To try this, though, I can choose from several approaches.

(a) Meet with Deborah for after-work lessons: The earliest I could get to Deborah's house after work would be 7:30 p.m., after a long day of early-morning running, the commute, a full day at work, and another commute. This plan could work if I committed to it, but just thinking about it makes me tired. If we do this, we'd need to meet once every two weeks at most.

(b) Meet with Deborah for weekend lessons: Again, I think this would work best if we met bi-weekly. I like this idea best, even though it would mean shuffling my Saturday morning runs and not attending some Saturday morning races. I mean, this is piano. Writing has always trumped piano, but piano must trump running. But the question is ... would Deborah be willing or even able to give up her Saturday mornings? And if she is, will I be able to practice the piano diligently enough to make it worth it for both of us? It's hard to say because I have no idea how drained my job/commute is going to leave me at the end of each day and week.

(c) Find a new piano teacher: I really don't want to do this. Deborah and I "click," and she has been a wonderful teacher for me. I'm tempted to say this is another "not an option" option. But I've forced myself to think about it. It feels sacrilegious to even write down my options here.

(i) Find a teacher in my town: There are several teachers, but they are mostly teacher of kids, and I don't know how many would be willing/able to take on an advanced NAPS. We NAPS types are a special breed, we are. I may be able to find someone willing to take me on at the local community college, however.

(ii) Contact the music department of the university closest to my new job: The university is about halfway between the new job and my house, so it would be more convenient if I were to find a teacher there. Again, though, it may be hard to find someone who would be willing to take on (1) a non-university student who is also (2) an adult amateur at this keyboard thing, not to mention (3) a full-time professional in a non-music career.

(iii) Ask around and find a non-university piano teacher near my new job: An option, I guess, but I would need to find someone with a doctorate or at least a master's degree in music, and it seems like Option (ii) would be the best place for me to start.

I'm at a crossroads. I started to e-mail Deborah about scheduling summer lessons, but found myself hesitating to make definite plans. I have to think through some things, and probably spend quite a bit of time with George the Piano before I decide what I'm going to do. It would also be nice to work a couple of weeks and see how much this new job is going to take out of me.

And it makes me feel sick to think of quitting lessons with Deborah, who is my friend as well as my piano teacher.

So, instead of finishing my e-mail to Deborah, I wrote this post instead. Any feedback you NAPSters want to give will be appreciated.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Title, New Leaf

Stay tuned. I'm going to start posting on this neglected blog again soon.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wednesday's Lesson Cancelled

Yesterday, Deborah and I made the mutual decision to cancel my lesson. I've been estranged from the piano all week, and was going to need a "practice lesson" anyway. And Deborah had an unexpected schedule change. It wasn't a change that would interfere with my lesson, but it would have required her to race around and be stressed and have to hurry ... just to get home so I could have a practice lesson. And I wasn't all that crazy about the idea of the hour-long drive for a practice lesson.

We both agreed. Not worth it.

So, did I practice yesterday? NO. Why not? I worked at the bookstore, then ran four miles, then came home. My husband was home early, and it was Valentine's Day. It would be really bad form to lock myself up in the piano room when one's spouse comes home early for Valentine's Day. So I didn't practice.

And I won't get much practicing in this weekend because I'll be on the road and piano-less for most of it.

I'm not stressed about the lack of practice, though. Piano is a priority, but it isn't always the top one. And this week, my novel and my friend Jan's book (which I'm editing) have been the priorities. And piano's going to have to play second fiddle (is that a pun?) for a few more weeks, I'm afraid, until Jan's book is done.

Still, I hope to do better than I did last week. Two hours a week on this music is simply not going to cut it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Feb. 9 Practice

My February 9 practice was short and sweet. I worked only on the Liszt, playing in rhythms. Do you know how hard it is to play a piece in rhythms when the LH is even and the RH is all over the place, with 2-against-3 and later with 4-against-9? Don't worry--I'm not trying to be impeccably exact when I'm doing rhythms. And I've discovered what a *rut* I've gotten into with the Liszt. It's so beautiful, and part of me is content just to play it through, again and again, and be done with it.

But rhythms are forcing me to look at the seamy underside, at the 0's and 1's that make this piece what it is. And it's not an altogether pleasant experience.

But it's waking me up. The beauty of this piece has lulled me into a sort of sleepy complacency when I play it. I think that's why Deborah said not to play the piece through a single time this week. It is so tempting to just play it through and listen to the beautiful music.

But when I do that, I'm limiting myself, and I'm limiting this piece. I don't fully know this piece yet. Parts are still a little sloppy. I still trip up on the 4-against-9 section, though not always. My fingers may hit the right notes, but I'm not always certain that they'll do so. The slowness of the piece allows me to "fudge" as I play it. If I were to try to play it through faster than tempo, my hands would have no clue what to do.

Rhythms are forcing my hands to figure it out. They are forcing me to jump from chord to chord faster. They are forcing me to think, and then to not think and let my hands do the thinking.

Like I said, it's not the most pleasant experience. And it is most unpleasant, not being able to play through this entire piece that I love so much. But I know these less-than-pleasant exercises will yield wonderful results.

And so the rhythms continue ...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I Need an Intermediate Piece

Deborah wants me to pick out an intermediate piece to start learning next week. I went to the ARCT Syllabus guide that Robert so graciously sent me and looked up all of the pieces that I considered "intermediate." They were mostly Grade 6 and Grade 7. Not intermediate enough.

I looked up my Beethoven Sonatina in G, my most recent intermediate piece. It's a Grade 3--a very early intermediate. So I'm looking for something in the Grade 4-5 category. And I'd kind of like to work on one of those pieces that everyone loves to hear--Fur Elise, Chopin's Em prelude, the Brahms waltz in Ab--all pieces I learned in junior high, but pieces that I'd like to re-learn, and learn to play well, and not like my junior-high self, whose heart wasn't in the music. And they are pieces I love, and that others love hearing as well.

Hmm. Fur Elise is Grade 7. The Chopin Prelude is Grade 8. The Brahms Waltz is Grade 8. Too advanced for an intermediate piece? I'll talk it over with Deborah.

I looked up my C# major prelude and fugue and couldn't find them at first. They're in the "Performer's ARCT." My Liszt isn't in there, but I would put it at a Grade 10, since the Consolation No. 3, which I learned in college, is a Grade 9, and is much more basic than "Standchen."

So I guess I'm better than I thought. Or more advanced, at least. But I still need an intermediate piece.

I also made a BIG realization last night as I dug through all of my old music from junior high and earlier. I found another reason that I hated piano back then. Nearly everything I learned was 20th century, mostly things like Kabalevsky and Bartok. I don't dislike either, and sometimes I really get in the mood for Bartok ... but a steady diet of it for a 13-year-old? (I can see why my teacher gave me these pieces. But I can also see why I dreaded practices and lessons both back then.)

Asheville Piano Teacher

I've titled this post "Asheville Piano Teacher" for a reason. If anyone in western NC is looking for a good piano teacher and googles "Asheville Piano Teacher," I want this blog to come up. Deborah Belcher is probably the best teacher I've ever had. My last two lessons have been quite good. I think that's partly because my practices this week were good.

I've really made strides in the fugue. I've been working exclusively in rhythms and can play the first two and a half pages at a decidedly faster tempo than my usual creeping pace. The notes are starting to feel natural (there's a joke in there somewhere, since this piece has seven sharps) to my hands. Really. I'm getting to where I don't have to think about every little movement and gesture. They're just happening. I sometimes doubted that I would ever get there.

So I played the first two pages for Deborah, and she wrote "Great Work!!!" in my piano notebook. Of course, the last four pages were stumbling and bumbling because I haven't done the intense rhythm work with them yet. But again, the gestures are feeling more and more natural.

I have a gazillion metaphors for this piece. One is the "spinning plates" metaphor. I get the RH down in a measure, then by the time I learn the LH, my hand has forgotten the RH and I have to re-learn it. Or I'll get one section down, HT, and lose it because the next section takes all of my energy. Once I learn the next section, I find that I've lost huge chunks of the sections I've already learned.

It's been frustrating because I generally have very good practicing techniques. I practice very ... intentionally. Not passively, never just running my fingers over the notes just to hear myself play. So it was a little discouraging to find that I kept "losing" things into which I'd put a lot of time and concentrated effort. Spinning plates, and the plates keep falling. But I'm slowly, slowly learning to keep more plates spinning at once.

I'm not sure what the other metaphor is. But with this piece, it's been necessary for me to go through numerous phases, over and over again, it seems. Learning the piece HS took forever--a couple of months. Then, learning it HT took a couple more months. While I was learning it HT, I got to where HS was relatively easy.

HT has taken a long, long time. I started learning it (in sections) HT back in ... oh, September or so. I worked with rhythms a little bit, but not exclusively. When I'd finally learned every section HT, I had lost the ability to play the earlier sections HT. I know, it would help to play it through once a day, but I didn't always have the time to devote to that (it took me a LONG time to play it through).

Then I learned it HT using rhythms. And now I'm learning it HT again, using rhythms again.

I've also had to take several breaks from the piece. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it apparently also makes the fingers grow nimbler.

I now have the notes in my hands, though I do still need to work the last four pages in rhythms. That will take a week or more. But Deborah said I also need to think musically, now that "just getting the notes" is no longer a hit-or-miss proposition. So I'll practice the last four pages in rhythms, thinking musically, and will also run rhythms (thinking musically) of the first two pages, but focusing most on those last four. I'm getting there. It's just taking a while.

I started to play the Liszt for her, then quit after the introductory measures and said, "Wait! I can't play this today. I forgot, I changed the fingering." She didn't even look at my new fingering. She just said, "OK. Work in rhythms on the new fingering, and do not play this piece through this week. Just work in small sections, in rhythms, thinking musically."

Then I had the choice of playing the prelude for her, or doing some fugue drills (in rhythms, thinking musically). I chose the fugue drills.

I find it hard to practice when someone is listening to me--particularly when my piano teacher is listening to me. Which is kind of silly, because piano teachers should listen to their students practice occasionally, helping them to adopt better and more rewarding practice habits. But when I started doing rhythms (thinking musically), I played them timidly. She told me how I needed to play them, and I said, "I play them fine at home. I think I'm just nervous because you're listening."

"See?" she said. "You're giving your authority away to me again." I'm really trying to get away from the "Must Please Teacher" mindset. I'm much better than I was three years ago, when I first started taking from Deborah. Much better. But there's still that pleaser of a student in me, waiting (and perhaps expecting) negative criticism.

Strange because Deborah tells me that I'm unbelievably musical and have excellent musical intuitions. I just need to keep learning to trust myself.

My scales and arps sounded great, by the way!