“When I am composing, I don’t necessarily hear music inside.
Instead, I experience a subtle dissatisfaction until the sounds my hands create match the deeper emotion I feel within.”
Welcome to my blog, Life According to Piano.
Now with comment capability, so talk back!
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is as down-to-earth as a man who spent half a year in space can be. On what we earth-bound folks can learn from astronauts, Hadfield replied:
Have a purpose to your life. Have a destination in mind. What is in the distance that you are interested in? Don't just let life randomly kick you around. And then make the small decisions on a daily basis that move your life in that direction.
The real key to that, though, is to recognize that the endgame is not the measure of success... Your life is every single little step along the way.
Read the whole thing — and be sure to listen to Hadfield’s music video filmed aboard the International Space Station. (It’s okay, the guitar survives.)
(And we could take his quote above and build our whole piano practice around it, couldn’t we?
What do we want to play or compose “in the distance” that we can take small steps toward daily? How can we have a purpose to practicing, in each practice session — to learn something & move forward each & every time at the instrument? How rich will our music be if we hold just that attitude toward all of our practice?
I love love love love love it!)
As you know, one of my two major projects right now is notating all the music from The Rebirth of Light & getting it published in a book. (The other, of course, is preparing the Verbs CD for replication. One would expect that to be quite easy, since it’s Keith playing piano & not me, and it should be. But a little editing & then mixing are still required; and our editing software was no longer usable; and then the new software required system updates; and the new tools are weird; and then... All I can say is, it makes the dog eating the homework look like a strategy for success. Anything else would be whining, which I try not to inflict upon you.)
Anyway, we took an afternoon — well, my Roadie-Techie-Groupie took an afternoon — and hooked up the Kurzweil keyboard through a MIDI interface to my computer. And lo, there was playing music into the notation software! Which looked like this:
You can click that if you really want to see the horrors full size. My hands move around so much on the piano, and the inner voices are just complex enough, that Sibelius is having big time difficulties reading the split points.
My darling Mr Darcy (the DONKEY, not Colin Firth!) has gone to winter in the foothills of the Manzanos, playing companion to two horses and cantering through far larger pastures than we can give him here.
But what will I do for musical inspiration?!!!
This is a musical portrait of my donkey, who does not like taking walks on a lead rope. (He loves taking walks; but the lead rope part, not so much. Mr Darcy is a free donkey.) The music includes everything Darcy does — he runs, he kicks (playfully, of course), he brays, and then ...
he stops. When Darcy stops, I do too. Of course.
~ from the liner notes for The Donkey Drag, on Drivin’!
Here’s the charmer himself:
I want you to understand that I didn’t “get in his face” for that photo (something I was accused of last week!) Rather, I took this next photo, and Darcy came over to mug for the camera all on his own.
He may be plump, but he likes to roll:
And why is Mr Darcy so inspiring musically? Well, he talks a lot and has a dozen other interesting sounds. As you can guess, I like sounds. Also, his personality is so strong that I can sense his moods, and moods evoke music in me too. He has a sense of humor. He’s smart. He is very much his own person.
I keep thinking I might hear him braying in a moment. Other than visits to the Manzanos, that will only happen if I attain donkey superpowers or something.
It’s oddly quiet out there.
Folding the CD display boxes: (snoopervision by Cosmo of course)
Success! (That is, Cosmo inspects & approves.)
At long last, Drivin’! gets an actual release party!
That’s unexpected, isn’t it?! *
Still, it’s a wonderful CD (I say it, who should not?) and it’s my most summer-y CD, so ... a summer release!
New art on the theme of Earth’s Bounty will also be on display and available for purchase. As will, of course, ALL of my CDs. Sheet music, too, if you like. Refreshments, me playing Drivin’! selections on keyboard, artists galore, and just a general good time.
Do join us, we’d all love to see you!
*Hey, I wasn’t planning to break my wrist! (And then totally forget I had a new release.) No matter what people are talking about me!
Wherein I am tempted to write, “Notation is hard!” and leave it at that.
Except that it’s not. Figuring out what I play is hard. Yet again, the fact that when I play music I’ve created for myself, my knowledge of the music is essentially pre-verbal, interferes with the notation of the music. I don’t actually k-n-o-w what I play, without playing it.
Let me back up just a bit. When I’m making up music for me, I tend to improvise on the piano and I only notate passages that are too hard to remember for practicing. I think I must have had a better memory before, because I really didn’t sketch anything from A Handfull of Quietness when I was making up that music. I have most of it notated now, and my goal is an actual hold-it-in-your-hand book of those pieces by early autumn. So, notating I am.
Yesterday, while fiddling around with the look of my website (oh, you’ve noticed, have you? Expect more fiddlings!), I noticed that I hadn’t yet published Veni Creator Spiritus. And then I woke up at 3 am thinking, “Yes, I have too written down Veni. Where did it go?” So I went looking for it in my files this morning, and found all the notes neatly transcribed but not edited.
I promised myself I’d pack on Monday, and I did it. I’m all set to head out tomorrow morning, 0 dark 30 and all that.
I’ll be on the ground in London by noon Thursday, and Keith begins recording Verbs on Sunday.
(No, Cosmo does not get to go, even though he looks pretty ready too.)
I arrange music. There, I said it. I compose my own original pieces, and I also arrange music.
Some of my arrangements make me so happy, it’s almost as though the final music is more “my music” than pieces that I created entirely, melody and all.
That’s all I really gain when I create an arrangement, of course: a melody. A melody I already love.
I believe every piece I’ve arranged began as a song, whether a folk song or a liturgical song or hymn. One notable arrangement is a blues song. I believe they are all songs.
That means I have words helping me out, too. In fact, the words are often a better clue to the inner essence of the song than the harmonies are. For me, at least.
So I like to arrange the songs I love for piano solo, and I like to find something in them that is so-far undiscovered. (There is one song whose melody I love so much, I have 4 arrangements of it, 2 of which are recorded. That’s Forest Green from A Handfull of Quietness, which also appears at the end of All Through the Night on Under the Greenwood Tree. And I have 2 other ways that I play it. I expect to have more, before I’m all finished!)
I spent bunches of time today creating a spreadsheet of everything I need to know for my travels: when to be where, when to check in, what my confirmation numbers are, all the little details that I saved in many places are now all in one document.
It was a research & writing project.
I like writing music better!
(Although, I know I’ll enjoy my travels tremendously, too. And it wouldn’t do to miss connections & get stuck in Bath, or County Clare ... oh .... wait ... hmm ...)
I have never in my life had as much fun playing piano as I had just now, playing my (newly revised) arrangement of Homeward Bound (1850s American Hymn, not 20th C. pop song). (About which more later.)
At the conclusion I thought to myself, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”
And then I thought, “Sure it does.” (big smiles)
From XKCD, the primo web comic. Go there so you can read the rollover.
I’ve considered performing 4’33’’ by John Cage (I have the score — thanks, Keith!), but I’ve been worried about wrong notes. It would just be too easy to play one.
Fun (music junkie) factoid: 4’33’’ has 3 movements. Who knew?!
I was playing The Donkey Drag just now.
Husband: “That’s not the right chord at the end, is it?’
Pianist: “Yes, I think it’s how I always play the end.” Plinks a couple of chords. Plays the last 8 measures or so again. “Yes, that’s it.”
Husband: “That’s not how I remember it. Well, I guess you made it up so you’d know.”
Pianist: “More than that — I’m playing it, so that’s how it is.”
Where do I get my ideas for music pieces? I have been asked that by someone every time I’ve performed. I have the answers I have, and none of them seem very useful. And I like answers to be useful!
The answer that would cover most instances — “everywhere!” — probably makes no sense to most people. So I am going to write a series of “song biographies,” so you can see for yourself that “everywhere!” is true, if not enlightening.
This first song biography will be a rambling & convoluted journey, just like creating that solo was.
For my birthday, a year after we were married (so: last millennium (I love writing that!)), my husband gave me a mug for my morning tea. I love everything about this mug — the size, the shape, especially the colors — but what I love most is that it combines the bright colors I love with a picture of a marmalade cat. I had a wonderful marmalade cat at that time (have another one now, in fact), who was named Marma, of course. So the mug has always been my Marma mug, and no one else gets to use it.
I had myself some fun this morning creating a Facebook page for Verbs. I’ll be posting the history of Verbs, & all the adventures Keith & I get into when he is recording them in May, and the definitions of the Verbs, and all sorts of yummy stuff, there on the Verbs page.
And you can find it at http://www.facebook.com/VerbsPreludes.
Pretty straightforward, eh?!
I hope you’ll visit us there, soon.
The creator of this video, Salvatore Raciti, kindly wrote for permission to use my music A Handfull of Quietness. Of course I gave it. Watch the video & see why!
(I think this goes in the category of inspiring others to do my work: I have a music video & I didn’t need to do a thing at all!)
PS: Thank you, Salvy.
PPS: Link to video at YouTube (since I don’t see the link icon above).
When we moved into our California house, many years ago, our bedroom had new French doors opening to the patio. There was part of the label stuck on the glass of one of the doors. I was not able to remove the label, and after a couple of attempts I gave up. The label was on the outside of the glass, so it sat out there in the weather, now dripping, now baking. My extremely occasional attempts to get it off became increasingly half-hearted.
Then we were moving here and putting up that house for sale. I was willing to live with a tattered label stuck to the glass of the French doors, but I wasn’t willing to show the house that way. (Let’s discuss that psychology some other time, okay?!) I finally realized that I had a question: what will it take to get the glue unstuck from the window?
I forget where the answer came from, but it came in time: oil will loosen the glue. I went out with some vegetable oil & paper towels, and amazed myself by removing the label in about 10 minutes.
I’ve always said that it only took me three and a half years and ten minutes to remove that label, and that’s correct. But the truer story is that it took me three and a half years AND ONE QUESTION and ten minutes to remove it. Asking the question was key to getting the answer and the following success.
in a good cause!
Keith will be recording Verbs in Bath, England, in late May — and I’ll be there to “help.” Since I wrote the Verbs, and all.
I’m so excited.
And Keith: I’ll try my very best not to rewrite them on the spot. (Although I was thinking that Push really should be in C# minor....)
More about Verbs here.
If you have listened to any of my CDs, you already know that I have a love of spiritual songs, in all species: plainchant, spirituals, hymns, shape note songs. As far as I know, I’m the only composer/performer ever to use an African-American spiritual as the lead-in to a Gregorian chant!
I have more arrangements of spiritual songs sitting around unrecorded and this is the year for the recording of all of them. I want more music for the “album,” of course, so once again I’m in composing mode — a happy place to be!
Monday morning I created an arrangement of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. I hadn’t really thought about using it for the new CD, but, as occasionally happens, after playing some other music, I found myself playing it, “accidentally.” The melody is quite ancient and haunting (possibly my favorite type of melody, come to think of it). I just had to keep playing it.
This music really speaks to me, so my arrangement came together pretty quickly. I like it, but as I’ve written before: I’d better like it, & if I don’t then it’s my job to keep playing with it until I DO like it.
One year ago today the wonderful Dr. Matthew Patton of New Mexico Orthopaedics operated on my left wrist to repair the radius bone that was smooshed out of place when I broke it.
I came out of surgery with a titanium plate in my wrist — I’m bionic!
I don’t plan to bore you with all the details I’ve already bored you with so I’ll just say:
Everything I could do before the break, I can do now. All, absolutely every last micro-inch, of my reach is back (& maybe I have just one or two more micro–inches; a stretch in Sweet Home Chicago is a teeny bit more do-able now than it was when I recorded it). (And this is thanks not only to Dr. Patton but also to Olga Sacasa, my fabulous physical therapist; plus, of course, regular piano playing.)
I cannot do a handstand yet; just like I couldn’t do a handstand before I broke my wrist. Apparently becoming bionic doesn’t necessarily confer powers heretofore unpossessed!
This is a happy happy anniversary for me.
Last summer, once my left wrist was feeling quite strong, I took an afternoon and completely reorganized the shelves in my studio. And I do mean completely.
Where before I had music shelved by composer in more or less chronological order (right to the point in the late 19th century when I could no longer remember who was born before whom), now in my new snazzy system I have music shelved by composer in alphabetical order. I also made a particular point of keeping all of a single composer’s music together, no matter the instrumentation. So the Schubert songs are right there next to the Schubert solo piano and the Schubert duets. If it’s by Schubert, I know exactly where in the room to go. Ditto for every other composer whose music I have purchased.
So one would imagine that I could immediately locate any given piece of music. And one would of course be wrong.
There’s a Bach cantata, that for many years had sat right next to the book of Bach chorales, which were placed next to my church books, because I frequently would use the chorales as background music during services. That cantata was in the same place on the shelf for 6 & 1/2 years, and each year or so I would take it out and marvel again at “Wachet auf” and then return it to its place.