February 2012

Nit Picking

February 29, 2012 22:01

Today, I discovered that it does little good to send people Sibelius files, especially if they do not have Sibelius software. I also learned that you cannot simply wave a wand and watch your file glimmer into a pdf. Instead, you can download free conversion software with a couple of simple, quick clicks, and before you know it, your computer will be crawling with uninvited programs you've never heard about--that is, until you google it and read about everyone else's woes when trying to uninstall said malware. I feel like I've been picking lice all day. I'm still not certain I got rid of them all, but at least my blog is no longer hyperlinking to advertisements using random words, like driveway and idea.

Six inches of snow later, I was able to successfully (hopefully) download clean, responsive software, thanks to fellow v.commie Scott Tran. A simple wave of the magic mouse, and my Sibelius file glimmered into a pdf of my very first jazz transcription of Grappelli's 1938 recording of "Night and Day." (As computer-unfriendly as I am, I feel so very proud of this technical accomplishment.) Feel free to contact me if you'd like a copy of this, as well as any future transcriptions or arrangements (dare we venture into composition?) I create.

(PS As long as we're in it this deep, I say we go for a record. I will be heartbroken if the barbecue does not get completely buried.)

7 replies

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Snowday

February 28, 2012 00:53

To give you an idea of how this winter has added up, this is my back porch, and the object covered in snow is our barbecue. We had another 14 inches this past storm, and if I had a guess as to how much snow we've had for the total season, I'd say between eight and nine feet. Anchorage has had more like ten. This amount of snow changes the entire geography of the town, making canyons of the roads and hiding entire businesses behind violent upheavals of mountain ranges. But the moose now have the added benefit of grazing on treetops, like giraffes.

Since it wasn't such a great day for a barbecue, I spent the first two hours trying to get out of the driveway and the rest of the day sitting in my soggy socks, transcribing Stephane Grappelli, fussing over which bowings and fingerings made it sound like it should. Email me if you want a copy. You won't find a more accurate rendition, and I've been having lots of fun shaping my phrases and slides, trying to learn to sing it like the old masters did.

10 replies

Night and Day

February 25, 2012 19:30

Ill winds almost kept me from attending the annual Paul Rosenthal concert, despite the weeks of anticipation that preceded it. Some days, it's just easier to get out the door than others, and I wasn't sure if the rawness of my mood would be up for the Tchaikovsky trio. But if I could get there early enough, I might be able to slip into the front row without drawing attention to myself, thus avoiding the small talk. I hate small talk.

The front row also allows you the rare opportunity to engage intimately with world-class musicians, and this year I heard that cellist Zuill Bailey had been appointed as the new Artistic Director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival. Three years ago, I had the pleasure of playing the Beethoven triple concerto in the Anchorage Symphony with the Perlman-Quint-Bailey trio, and was already aware of his skills.

Thankfully, two kind, elderly people allowed me to squeeze into the front pew at Christ Lutheran. As I waited for the performance to begin, I thought back to that particular Anchorage concert and remembered a strange scenario that unfolded afterward, in which a friend and I ended up joining the trio for a drink across the street. Not wanting to impose, I remember feeling both lucky and awkward, being unable to think of anything clever to say. During the course of our chit-chat, the pianist mentioned something about her father being such a humanitarian. "Oh, so what does your father do?" I asked. "My father is Itzhak Perlman," she replied. "Oh..." I also told Zuill that I'd enjoyed hearing his cello through the floor of my hotel room. Creepy, I know, but I meant it as a compliment. I hate small talk.

Regardless. I doubted he remembered such trivial encounters; I hardly remembered it myself. I can never hold a decent conversation with a good cellist, because it's impossible to hide the fact that I have serious cello envy. Inevitably, they end up sidling cautiously toward the door in order to escape being locked up in my pigeon coop and being forced to play Brahms with me as I hope for Stockholm syndrome to set in.

The concert began. Zuill took his seat just four feet away and immediately swept me off my feet with the unfurling of the first phrase of Bach's C major cello suite. I decided to make it a date--a date between me and the imaginary cellist I've never had but always wanted. No one would know any better. For now, it was just the two of us, like a romantic dinner with candles and roses and all those things that girls like. As long as he was on the stage, he would be unable to escape the attention of my desperate ears.

His style? I would liken his approach to that of a gypsy or a pirate. Plundering his phrases with skill and panache, thirsty for the next adventure, he brought a sensual nature to Bach I'd never before encountered. Entranced, I hung onto every note. Then, as he paused dramatically before his next daring feat, he lifted his eyes with a smirk, directly at me. Did I imagine that, or did that cellist there just flirt with me? I hoped the elderly man next to me wouldn't notice I'd broken a sweat. But no, he'd barely lifted his eyes from his Sudoku puzzle.

The rest of the concert proved equally engaging; I was held captive by every note. I even rehearsed my proposition, trying to figure out some sort of draw to get him to stay in Soldotna. Like, say, a schoolroom of needy children who have no cello teacher and will inevitably turn to crime and mediocrity; only he could save them. Or how about moose? We have lots of them. And lots of darkness, snow, and sub-zero temperatures with no night life and lots of knitting projects. Hmm, maybe I could take him to Trustworthy Hardware Store. It has plenty of... stuff to look at, like ropes... Surely, you can't turn down this great town of Soldotna!

Alas, none of these ideas seemed convincing. I would have to tie him up and lock him in the pigeon coop, and pray for Stockholm syndrome to set in. Having no rope, I ducked out of the church after the concert without even taking the time to awkwardly thank him for the candles and roses. I hate small talk.

Every single night since the concert, I am haunted by the cello that got away, its vigorous resonant C string piercing me to consciousness like an alarm clock. Every night, that is, except this morning. This morning, for a change, I awoke with the song "Night and Day" playing in my ears.

"I need a cellist. Where can I get a good cellist?" I confide with a friend at the coffee shop. Speaking into her smart phone, she asks,

"Where can I find a cellist?"
"I don't know what you mean by that," replies the smart phone.
"Where can I find a cello player?"
"I don't know where you are."
"Who plays the cello in Soldotna?"
"What was that again?..."

14 replies

Pit Annie

February 18, 2012 13:39

This week, I didn't get much practice time. I haven't been on the computer much, either. I also didn't get to go to the gym. I pretty much disappeared for several hours every evening. But I got a whole lot more knitting done, while munching on peas, carrots, and grapes.

2 replies

Back in the Days Before Black and White

February 13, 2012 17:00

For the non-musician, let me explain, as quickly and painlessly as possible, that there's actually more than one way to play a note in tune. For instance, more than one pitch represents C#, and you pick the note that works best for the context. Violinists get in big arguments about it. But pianists don't bother so much, because it would be a tedious--not to mention expensive--pursuit to try and change the tuning to match the situation. At some point in the early 20th century, they figured out how to standardize the pitches evenly across the keyboard so that most of them are never 100% in tune, but the discrepancies are so minute that most people won't notice. Except violinists, of course, who complain about tight fifths and bland leading tones. But by using this "equal tempered" tuning system, one can play in any key without noticeable pitch "wolves" jumping out for a howl. (This explanation, I know, does little to enlighten someone who has never thought about the placement of notes in the scale--pythagorean, just, or otherwise--but the curious will now research this subject and behold the wonders of intonation.)

Now, don't laugh, but as a pianist, up until today, I actually thought Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was written for an instrument in equal-tempered tuning, like the piano in my studio after the tuner comes. I thought Bach was all excited to finally be able to play happily in any key he wished that he wrote a prelude and fugue for each one. I've even misinformed my students this way, when, in actuality, it was written for a well-behaved clavier that didn't howl or bite.

My own enlightenment happened while reading musical discussion threads yesterday, when someone mentioned having his piano tuned using a system whose name I'd never seen. Of course, I had to know what this meant, and so my curiosity led me down the magic internet tunnel to the history of keyboard instrument tuning systems. As it turns out, "well-tempered" is a specific system that Bach used to tune his harpsichord so that not only could he play in any key, but each key has its own flavor/color. For the first time ever, I understood that he basically wrote a wardrobe of color-coordinated ensembles of tops and bottoms, preludes and fugues. Video demonstrations on youtube demonstrate so clearly how Bach's C Major Prelude is calm and placid (C major has always been a blue key to me), and doesn't match the character of C# Major when transposed, but his peppy C# Prelude is perfect there, up on those sunny sharps. (Yes, sharps are really truly sunny in Bach-World!)

Here all this time, I thought I'd just made up the colors to keys. I don't know why it never occurred to me before that one time, back before they did away with various tuning systems on the keyboard and turned everything to black and white, that sharps were brighter, and flats were somber, and composers actually painted pictures with the various palettes. Although they are all treated the same way now, each key's personality is still present because of the compositions that lurk there.

I'm spoiled for good. I don't ever want to listen to keyboard Bach any other way.
I want my very own harpsichord, one I can tune myself, so I can get a hold of those colors. "They're so vibrant, George! See, I could set it up here in the living room corner, and play for you little harpsichord pieces in the evening!"

"Oh, yes, that's exactly what I would love to listen to every evening."

Hm, maybe I could play when he's at jiu jitsu practice. Or maybe I could clean out my art room and squeeze him in there. There's plenty of room in the bedroom for my well-tempered friend. How much do harpsichords cost, anyway? I checked Harpsichord Clearing House, discovering that not only do the prices range just like violins, but they also come in all types of shapes and sizes. Maybe I needed shopping advice...

Well, no matter. I can play with all the various notes I like on my violin. I guess that's why this ended up being my instrument of choice, as elusive and untamable as it continues to be. The world is just more fun in technicolor.

8 replies


February 10, 2012 03:43

One of my students displays a disorder of some sort, which I am professionally unequipped to diagnose. She whispers and mumbles when she talks, and recent lessons have revolved around her unwillingness to give me anything past a mezzo piano, as she runs through her weekly piano routine. "More volume, more volume!" I say, and watch as she reluctantly adds weight to her fingers and tries it again. I know that she has a deep love for the piano, which is displayed by her continual devotion to her practicing. Unsolicited, she plays for hours at a time, as reported by her mother.

My requests for dynamic contrast had become redundantly awkward. So, finally, I asked her what she thought about loud.

"It hurts my ears," she whispered.

She comes from a loving, well-balanced family. She has no reason to hesitate. She simply hates LOUD.

Having no idea how to make her like LOUD, I thought about my own parents and their struggle to make me like onions. It's not that they failed, it's just that onions were way too strong for my sensitive palette.

Sometimes, you are best to let it be, and not make an issue of trivialities. I mean, whoever failed in life because they didn't like LOUD?

I told her mother that I planned to ignore her lack of dynamic contrast for the sake of preserving musical enjoyment. As far as educational agendas are concerned, I feel unfulfilled in letting a fundamental slide. But, what is my job, anyway? I've taught her about dynamics. She knows about dynamics. She doesn't like them.

12 replies

Paganini Two

February 7, 2012 00:20

In search of something interesting, I googled videos of Paganini's Caprice No.2. By pure luck, I unwittingly loaded two separate pages of the same recording, which began playing a second apart from each other. The resulting canon, of one gloriously talented virtuoso playing a duo with himself exactly one measure back, was spectacular. I had stumbled upon to a feast for the imagination!

My mind began to interpret: an invasion of angry birds--hovering hornets--crawling ants--prancing guinea pigs--a basketball game--a chorus of tree frogs--windex on windows--merry-go-round mishaps--a basket of balls, bouncing down the stairs...

Free-associated images took a full-spectrum, rapid-fire assult on my brain, and I could not stop listening, though my head began to spin. The unexpected alignment of chromatic thirds and decending diminished arpeggios jazzed my toes and made my hair stand on edge.

Two Paganini's is twice as much fun! Although, with a pronounced groan, my dog always lets me know when I've had enough for one day.

Go ahead, I dare you to try it. One measure apart. But if you miss it by a bit, you'll just get different pictures.

6 replies

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