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.