Monday, August 21, 2006

Monday, August 21

I'm really tired tonight, so I'm just going to write a quick log for today's practice.

I only got to spend about 45 minutes at the piano tonight. I mostly worked on adding another couple of measures of the fugue. I did a lot of drilling, but it didn't seem like my mind was registering it. I was just really tired, possibly because I did a longer-than-usual run today (5 miles).

I'm rearranging my schedule tomorrow so that I practice the Liszt first, and during the day rather than at night after dinner. I hope to devote the after-dinner practice to JSB, and then have another practice on Wednesday before my afternoon lesson.

Time to get some sleep!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday, August 18

Practiced for about 80 minutes. The usual warm-ups, plus some of the fugue and a lot of the Liszt with no pedal and much exactitude.

It was a good practice. Went longer than I'd planned, which was nice because I won't be able to practice again until Monday at the earliest.

August 17: Piano Lesson

Good lesson today. Deborah and I usually chat up a storm before we get around to music, but that didn't happen today. We just dove right into the lesson.

Scales and arpeggios were fine. When we got to Suzuki, I told her I didn't want to do Suzuki anymore, that I felt that the time required wasn't equal to the benefit it was giving me. I knew she wouldn't be happy to hear that. But it's true--I hate taking valuable practice time to work on something that I believe is, honestly, not challenging enough. Particularly when I have a Liszt transcription and a fugue to work on.

She compromised. She said, "OK, maybe some of these pieces are too easy for you, but I want you to try the Beethoven sonatina at the end of the book." At two pages and with two movements, it's the longest piece in Suzuki Book II. So I guess I'll get started listening to that.

I played my twelve and a half measures of the Bach and she basically said to keep on doing what I'm doing, that it sounded very precise, intelligent, and musical, and that I seem to be doing a wonderful job practicing it. That was it. I must admit that I did play it pretty well.

I played through the Liszt, not very well, which shouldn't be a surprise since I slacked on it all week. After I played through it, I told her that I'd slacked on it, and that it just paled so much in comparison to the Bach. I felt really bad, saying that I was getting bored by a piece, particularly something as beautiful as the Liszt.

But she seemed to understand! She said that the Liszt bores me because the Bach is such an intellectual piece and the Liszt isn't a very intellectual piece at all. The Liszt is beautiful, of course, but it's not as interesting as the Bach on a theoretical level. In addition, it's not as difficult as the Bach.

"I just wish I could motivate myself to practice the Liszt with as much focus and tenacity as I give the Bach," I said.

"So do that," she replied.

"But ... I don't know how!"

"Practice it like the Bach," she said. "No pedal. Play everything very distinctly. Don't let yourself be lazy about the notes or the timing. Don't play it rubato. Pretend it's Bach."

Basically, I am to strip the Liszt down of all of its exterior beauty and look at the inner workings. I think that will help. I find that the rubato and pedal tend to make me lazy when I practice.

It was a good lesson. It was the most "piano-focused" lesson we've had in a while.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wednesday, August 16

I only managed about 30 minutes at the piano today, but I did work on the Liszt. I'm posting this on Thursday morning and my piano lesson is this afternoon, so I'll write more about my progress after my lesson.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tuesday, August 15, Part II

I was able to squeeze in 30 minutes of practice-time tonight, but I'm afraid I didn't make very efficient use of my time. Normally I'm Little Miss Efficiency when it comes to practicing, since I normally have so little time as it is.

I planned to work on the Liszt tonight. So, naturally, I walked into the Inner Sanctum, plopped the Bach fugue onto the piano, and began practicing.

There's something wrong with this picture, isn't there.

Folks, I am a fugue-aholic. The fugue is like a big, juicy zit, and I can't stop picking at it. OK, maybe that's not the best simile for it. Zits are gross, infected, pus-filled things. The fugue is transcendent. Divine. A work of genius.

Yep, the fugue went and got transcendent on me again tonight. I worked on the two "end pieces" of the section I've been working on HT for the last hundred years few weeks. Measures 14 and 15 were still good, but the measures at the end needed work. So I worked. Got the kinks out (again), then played it through, mm 14-26. It sounded good, but I did the panic-and-pause thing a couple of times in the last couple of measures.

Slow down, Waterfall. The fugue ain't goin' anywhere.

So I slowed down. Way down. Turned on the metronome so that each click was a sixteenth note. (40 being a quarter note was too fast for the pace I wanted.)

Ahh. There is something about playing a passage perfectly, even if it is at 30% tempo.

I turned off the metronome and played through the passage again, just as slowly. Ahh. That's when it got transcendent. Starting with measure 16 (Episode 2), the soprano sings the most delightful little melody, jumping up a sixth and holding the note while the alto and bass do their thing underneath. That little held high note ... ahh. Sweet. The next high held note is a little lower, and the next a little lower. It's this wonderful descending line that stands out from everything else. The notes are like little bells dinging. It's divine.

After practicing that, do you think I was capable of moving on to the Liszt?

Of course I was. But not very. I played through it once, thinking, "If I just put some time into this, I could have it. I would be ready to pronounce it 'good enough' and get to the 'maintenance' stage of the piece and start learning something new."

Yes, I'm that close. Yet my motivation to move forward is surprisingly low. Why? Do I love this piece so much that I don't want to get to the "maintenance" stage? I don't know. All I know is that, if I practice the Bach first, I will never get around to practicing the Liszt.

Tomorrow. Liszt. If there's time afterward, then Bach. But tomorrow's practice will be devoted to poor, neglected Franzi.

Tuesday, August 15

Spent 80 minutes practicing so far today, and I'm hoping I'll be able to grab another hour at the piano this evening.

Scales sound good. OK, so g# gave me some trouble, but I did a little bit of 9-8 and did a little bit of playing in rhythms, and voila! it sounded fine after that.

Arpeggios sound pretty good, too. I've always been better at scales than arpeggios ... maybe that's just the way it's supposed to be. As always, they sound good but not great to my ears.

Inversions are becoming much smoother. Triad inversions (plus the 4-note dominant seventh) are easy enough to play, but I've started playing the triads in octaves (4 notes). That makes it a little harder. The familiar focus has to shift. Sometimes the results aren't so great.

I can now play twelve and a half measures of the fugue! It doesn't sound like much, but it's a nice little chunk of music. I started with mm 25-26, then went back and worked on mm 14-15 (the two measures before the big section I've been working on for so long). Measures 25 and 26 were stubborn, but mm 14-15 didn't take long at all.

Measures 25-26: OK, here's what's going on. The RH is playing soprano and alto together. The soprano voice is bouncing along, jumping up sixths in a staccato. The alto is legato and is descending as the sixths descend. Meanwhile the LH bass is pattering out the counter-subject, which is very similar to but not exactly like something it plays a few measures earlier ... so there was the issue of remembering to play it the "new" way and not the "old" way.

Measures 14-15: Bach has mercy. Measures 14 and 15 came pretty easily. Here, the RH is doing the pattering while the LH plays a version of the subject. The alto is quiet for most of these measures, which, I'm sure, is part of why it wasn't too hard to get in my hands.

I practiced the Liszt for about 15 minutes but got tired of sitting (how's that for an excuse?). I did get to work on the first page and a half, which I have by memory. It sounds good; at this point, I'm just trying to play it smoothly and by memory. I'm sure Deborah will have many things to point out when I play it for her on Thursday. But to my ears, for now, my progress is sounding good.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday, August 13

First of all, my lack of posts doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of practice, though my summer-glut of monster practice-sessions seems to have tapered off a bit.

Thursday night, I went to a cocktail party and met Russian pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski. Friday around 1:00, my parents came over. My dad went off to play golf with the Hubster while my mom and I visited and made a cobbler. That evening, we all had dinner and dessert to celebrate my dad's birthday. (Though I later got a message from Konstantin's host asking if I wanted to hear Konstantin practice Friday afternoon ... argh! Too late!) I did get to practice for about an hour on Friday night, but most of it was devoted to the music I would be playing on Sunday morning at church (though I also did the usual scales, arps, and inversions, plus a couple of play-throughs of the Liszt).

Saturday wasn't a day for practicing. I made chocolate truffles for part of the day in preparation for the "Classics and Chocolate" concert that night. I also did some much-needed house-cleaning. I'd rather practice than clean house, and it shows ... I am MUCH better at piano than I am at housework!

After the Konstantin concert, I came home and played through my old sonata, the Mozart A minor (K. 310), which I hadn't touched since my freshman year of college. Konstantin played it as part of his concert, and I was chomping at the bit to get home and play! Alas, my unpracticed version didn't sound quite as good as his ... but he got me thinking about doing a Mozart sonata next instead of a Haydn.

OK, enough babbling. On to my practice session.

I practiced for about 75 minutes tonight. Did scales (E and c#), inversions, and arps (Ab and f#). Skipped Suzuki and went straight to Bach. Since I hadn't had an intense practice in several days, I reviewed what I'd already learned (mm 16-24.75), and boy was it sloppy! I played through those measures several times, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, paying close attention to my hands, the fingering, the chords, and playing it ... perfectly. (Funny how "perfection" isn't so hard when you play at 10 or 20% of the speed you normally use.)

Once I was satisfied, I forged ahead to new territory: the last beat of measure 24, plus the first three beats of measure 25.

Whew. The challenges never end. I worked on the final beat of measure 24, which, for some reason, gave me trouble. When I finally managed to coordinate my hands, I played it twenty times through (twenty being the magic number), and then the entire measure twenty times, and it sounded good. Then it was on to measure 25.

OK. This measure made me feel like my head was going to explode.

All three voices take part in most of this snippet. Probably the most challenging part for me was the second beat of measure 25. All three voices are playing: the soprano (RH) is restating the subject using sixteenth and eighth notes, the alto (RH) is harmonizing with descending half-notes and held quarter notes, and the bass (LH) is playing the counter-subject, which is made of sixteenth notes and has a "pattering" sound.

Well, at one point, the alto plays the B# above middle C (i.e., an octave above middle C), the soprano plays a B# an octave higher, and the bass plays a G# below middle C. Not that confusing. Only ...

The soprano note is a staccato eighth note. The alto note is a half note (i.e., it needs to be "held" for a couple of beats). The bass note, meanwhile, should be played as a kind of detached legato. Basically, this means I play three notes, each of varying lengths, simultaneously.

It's harder than it sounds, but it also, surprisingly, didn't take me as long to master as I thought it would.

Twenty is the magic number. I played the first three beats of measure 25 twenty times. Then mm 24 and 25 twenty times. Then the section from mm 19 to 25 a few times (not twenty). Then mm 16 through 25.

Woo hoo! Sixteen million hours of practice, and I can now play ten, count 'em, TEN measures HT! Moving right along, I am!

Tomorrow I'm going to review what I did tonight, but I'm also going to work more on the Liszt, since poor Franzi was neglected ... again.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fugin' is Fun

I practiced for about 60 minutes tonight. I'd had a glass of wine with my husband at dinner to celebrate the bonu$ he got today, so I was feeling a little woozy when I sat down tonight to practice. I didn't expect a very good practice because I wasn't feeling quite alert enough for a good practice.

Went through scales, arps, and inversions with my eyes closed. Literally. Just resting my eyes, I was. And the inversions sounded a lot better than usual. Usually, I'm scurrying to get the four fingers in the right place each inversion, and tonight I just played through them with a Zen-like calm. Weird. Wonderful, but weird.

I played through Suzuki a couple of times, then moved on to the fugue.

What a great practice. It started off rather slow, but it ended up ... transforming.

My goal for the night was the tail end of measure 24. This is shortly after the bass voice has rejoined the soprano and alto. It's tricky, with the bass holding a note while the alto plays, and then the alto immediately holding a note while the bass plays. Meanwhile the soprano plays a steady Bach-style legato. For the last two notes, the alto rests, and it's harder than you would think, to remember to pick up that alto finger and let the bass and soprano play the last two notes alone.

I had to play through that single beat about twenty times before the passage, with all its holding and resting, started to feel natural.

Of course, I had to REWRITE THE FINGERING in several places ... but I realized something important: the fingering-changes are an adjustment I've made for my hand size. Rather than struggle through an awkward fingering, somehow thinking I'm doing something "advanced" because it "feels difficult," I'm coming up with "easier" fingerings that work best for me. The challenge, then, isn't to hold my hand in weird positions and look strained; it's to hold or rest a note, to play it staccato or legato, using the fingering that feels most natural to my hand.

Duh. Why did it take me so long to figure that one out? No clue.

After playing the final beat of measure 24 twenty or so times, I played the entire measure twenty times. Then I played measures 23 and 24 together twenty times. Then the "section," starting with the second beat of measure 19--you guessed it, twenty times. Then I played through measures 17 through 24 a few times (not twenty--I was starting to get tired!). As with the Liszt, I finally feel like I'm starting to make music with this piece--even though I still have a long way to go.

Something else wonderful happened tonight, though.

OK. I know this piece very well. I can probably hum the soprano, alto, and bass voices each for you (but please, don't ask me to do that!). I have analyzed it, listened to it, played it on my iPod as I've fallen asleep at night. I've learned it voices separately and hands separately, and now I'm learning it hands together. This piece has become a part of me.

So it was strange and refreshing when I played the first beat of measure 23 tonight and was suddenly struck by the most profound-feeling sense of longing. The pathos of those few notes took me by surprise, and I can't begin to explain the yearning that welled up in me. Yearning for what, I don't know. But whenever I played those four notes, I felt ... homesick? nostalgic? sad? romantic? All of those things.

But I wasn't tempted to play it "romantically," with pedal or rubato or anything like that. It's perfect without all of that added stuff. But the longing ... it was something greater than the longing that Romantic pieces sometimes pull up.

Then, while I was playing mm 17-24, I got to the last beat of measure 17, and again ... the yearning. It was so ... delicious, yet so ... piercing. I played it again.

I know. It sounds like I could be writing about sex. Maybe it's akin to sex. Whatever it was, it was powerful.

What was it about these combinations of notes that stirred up such emotions in me? When I first learned these sections, I thought things like, "Oh, that's pretty," or "Hm, that's clever." But now they seemed ... miraculous. And I was struck by the most profound sense of honor, of privilege for having the opportunity, the skill, and the tenacity to be able to participate in the miraculous. To be a part of something that the genius Bach started over 300 years ago.

I know. I'm getting wordy and purple-prosey. I don't care. I'm not above being moved emotionally by music (if I were, I doubt that I'd have much use for music at all!), but I have been approaching the fugue as a series of tasks and challenges. If I could just be driven and dedicated enough, I would get it. I wasn't thinking about emotional impact ... if it came, it would certainly come later, after I had learned the entire piece as an organic whole.

Tonight, all of that work paid off, even if in just a small way, in just two short sections. For a couple of moments, the fugue ceased to be a series of mini-projects and became something transcendent. And I got to be a part of it. Me and George.

It was a good practice.

Tiny Practice

I sneaked into the Inner Sanctum for about twenty minutes this morning to play through Standchen a couple of times. Ahhh ... it is sounding good. If a person who knew nothing about piano were to listen to me, they would be impressed. It still needs a lot of work, but I've definitely moved up a rung with this piece in the last week or so.

No time for Bach ... I'm hoping to make time tonight.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I Need Two Practice Sessions a Day

Wouldn't that be nice? Wouldn't it be nice if I had a million dollars, too? :)

I practiced for 120 minutes tonight. The time flew by. I started at 8:00, took a break from the Liszt at what I thought was 9:00, and realized that it was already 10:00. You know what they say about when you're having fun ...

Actually, it was a frustrating but ultimately productive practice. Scales and arps sound great. OK, the scales sound great and the arps sound pretty darn good but not great. I need to spend more time doing them in rhythms and focusing on what I'm doing. At a certain speed, it just seems like my fingers are landing where they may, and if I hit the right note it's because I'm lucky. I usually hit the right notes, but I don't feel confident about them. Hm.

Then it was on to the Liszt. Yes, friends, I resisted fugal temptation. I didn't even look at my WTC 1 book. I went straight to Ständchen. Tonight's focus was measures 5 through 26, and more specifically, measures 5 through 16.

Do you remember that scene in Amadeus when the kapellmeister rips out several pages of The Marriage of Figaro while Mozart stands helplessly by, looking shocked? Well, that's how I felt tonight. I erased and re-wrote so much of my previous work; my hands were the businesslike kapellmeister, my mind the hapless Wolfie.

I had to change the fingering again. And again. And again. Every time I found a better fingering, one that didn't stretch my left hand into weird positions, I would play it ... and discover an even better fingering. I'm working really hard to keep my hand soft and to arrange the fingering in a way that allows me to do that. I do not want to induce tingling!

I erased, and erased, and erased, and erased. I wore out my eraser. Really. I had to use a new pencil when it the eraser started to make that bone-chilling squeak of metal rubbing against paper. Yikes!

I re-wrote so much fingering that the paper now feels thin enough to tear. It didn't tear. I hope I won't have to change the fingering anymore. But if I do ... so be it. But I think I've come up with the best fingering for me for measures 5 through 16. I'll focus more on measures 17 through 26 the next time I practice Ständchen. If I had two practice sessions a day, that would be tomorrow, but a more realistic prediction is Thursday night or possibly even Friday. :(

Once I finally figured out the frustrating fingering, I practiced measures 5 through 10 and ended up playing that section ten times each. Then I did the same thing with measures 11 through 16. The good thing about all this repetition is that it helps me to memorize.

After practicing each mini-section, I played measures 1 through 16 through about fifteen more times. The notes were feeling very comfortable in my hands (all that fingering-frustration had a purpose after all!), and I was actually able to focus on dynamics, on making the melody sing out above all the other "stuff" that's going on. That was deeply satisfying. I really felt like I was making music.

I played through measures 17 through 26 once before my 10:00 "break." I forsee a few more fingering changes, but I think I did the brunt of necessary erasing and re-writing tonight. Oh, yeah ... I got so sick of erasing little numbers that I eventually erased my penciled-in scribblings for entire measures, inadvertently erasing my musical analysis notes. Pooh.

I'm too tired now to work on the fugue. I'll get to it tomorrow night. If I have time, I'll work on the prelude, too. It needs more attention than I've been giving it.

All in all, it was a good practice. It had its unpleasant moments, but I finished it up playing the first sixteen measures at level I'm happy with for now.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Monday, August 7

Yes, it has been a very long time since my last practice.

I worked for about 70 minutes tonight. Did the usual warmups--my, but those scales and arps sounded good! I flew through two sets of each, worked on Suzuki for about two minutes, and moved on to the fugue.

I kid you not. I played my six and a half measures from memory, perfectly, five times in a row. After five times I started to make little mistakes here and there ... but five times! I think I kept replaying it because I didn't believe my ears.

I worked on two and a half more measures tonight. I now have nine measures of the fugue. The material I worked on tonight wasn't quite as difficult because one of the voices steps out for a short while, and I'm only working with two voices instead of three. But even when the third voice comes back in, it's not too bad.

I played those nine measures through about fifteen times. They sounded OK the first time, pretty good by the tenth time, and great by the fifteenth time.

Then, since my husband is home for the first time since early June, I asked if he'd like to hear the Liszt. (That's code for, "Hey you. Listen to this. Now.") I played it through. It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't any worse than what I'd played for Deborah last Wednesday. I was thrilled that I didn't seem to have "lost" anything in the days I haven't practiced. I'll spend more time actually practicing the Liszt tomorrow.

Why haven't I practiced? I had piano on Thursday afternoon, then left Friday morning for a (piano-less) retreat and didn't get home until Sunday evening. Then the Hubster came home shortly after that, and I wasn't about to practice piano when I had a Hubster at home for the first time in months. That was yesterday. So tonight's my first practice since Thursday.

It was a good practice, not very long, but productive and ego-boosting.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tuesday, August 1

I have no idea how long I practiced today. I had a rare leisurely day and managed to practice on and off all day ... I probably got about 150 minutes in, give or take a few minutes.

I didn't do Scales O' Day today. I just went through all of 'em, major and minor, four octaves, parallel and contrary motion--kind of like I used to do in college every day, minus the contrary motion. For arpeggios, I did a G major and Eb-minor. The arps sound great as long as I keep the metronome at 60. When I go above 60, the quarter-note contrary-motion arpeggios don't sound so good. I have to "warm them up" at 60 before I can play them well at 63.

This morning, I worked on the C#-major prelude for about a half-hour. I need to quit telling myself that piece is easy. It's not that easy. It's just easy when compared to the fugue.

I devoted the bulk of my today's practice time to Liszt (finally!). I can now play through the whole piece. I also spent quite a bit of time writing in the English translation of the song lyrics (Liszt's "Standchen" is a transcription of a Schubert song by the same title, and it means "Serenade" in English). Then I practiced, thinking about the lyrics while I played. Very interesting. I want to write more about that, but I don't have time at the moment.

I spent about a half hour on the fugue. My arms felt fine for the entire practice, but my right arm started to tingle again after working on the fugue for about 20 minutes. I switched to LH practice after that. This tingling-arm thing is really concerning me. I'm supposed to go to the doctor next week anyway, so I'll ask about it. I'll also ask my piano teacher about it at my lesson tomorrow. And maybe I should lay off of the fugue for a while.

Gotta run ... I'll write more on the Liszt later on!