Where Kathleen improvises about music, inspiration, & life.
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.
We made it! Happy New Year!
One of my plans for the New Year is to post a different piece of sheet music for free download each month. If you play, and if you have friends who play, I hope you will take advantage of this & stop by each month to get your new music.
And do tell your friends. All I ask is: please send them here, to KathleenRyan.com, to download their own copy. No one needs to sign up for anything or give me any information — although, of course, anyone who wants to may sign up for my very occasional newsletter to receive notice of when the new selection is posted and of other new music available for purchase. But that part is completely optional.
I just want y’all to come visit me!
There’s another project I have in mind for which I will need some help. If you are interested in helping move some of my music more out into the world (specifically, Under the Greenwood Tree & Drivin’! CDs), then drop me a line here. (Was that sufficiently mysterious?)
And now we return to our regularly scheduled relaxing New Year’s Day!
There are several pieces I’ve made up that I have never really understood. They are not completed, obviously; at least, in my opinion I haven’t completed them. You certainly haven’t heard them, unless you & I are quite close & one evening I got a bit crazy and started playing all the music I generally don’t take out in public!*
The uncompleted ”pieces” often are a great beginning or a great ending, and I have yet to determine the rest of the story. One beautiful phrase pair that just doesn’t inspire any other phrases. A few ear-catching melody notes that are so complete-unto-themselves that I have no idea where else they might lead. And I’m talking over more than a decade, here, of returning to these pieces and playing them and listening to them; and for me that’s all they say; and for me that’s not enough.
But there is one thing I am certain of with all these uncompleted pieces: they are winter music. They all have something to say about the deep dark mystical end-as-beginning of life. Maybe that’s why I feel there is more to the unfinished ones but somehow I can’t find it — I’m only half-baked myself!
I realize that in March I wrote I probably wouldn’t be playing much Schumann.
Well, a couple of short pieces aren’t “much,” right? oh, wait: 3 short pieces. Still not “much.” (And that’s my story & I’m sticking to it.)
I’m writing down all the music from A Handfull of Quietness. I have 4 pieces to go. One of them, the one I’m trying to notate this week & one of my very best arrangements, is Veni Creator Spiritus. It can be powerfully moving and I believe someone will want to be able to play it. So far, so good.
Except, I write them down by playing them to remember the notes. And guess what: I haven’t played Veni Creator Spiritus in several years (!!!) and ... I don’t remember the notes even when I’m trying to play them. That is, I don’t remember how to play it.
Really, there’s no excuse for this. I know what my story is — I’ve been very focused the last few years on getting out the repertory I had never recorded and on composing Verbs for Keith — and that’s a nice story, but it’s no excuse.
Happily, the piece is recorded and I have a good ear. Also, I found in my manuscript books several pages where I had written out part of Veni. The easy part, alas! Right where the playing becomes quite busy, and the music quite intense, I just stopped. I guess I couldn’t face it then.
Just to forestall any confusion:
- I’m playing piano with two hands now; in fact I’ve returned to my daily practice of the pieces I keep in my “ready repertory.” Yay!
- I don’t actually have three hands with which to play piano. I don’t have three hands at all. My surgeon was fab-u-lous, but not a miracle worker. Or: he is a miracle worker (that’s pretty much how I feel about where I am compared to where I might have been after the break), but he didn’t lose his mind and attach a whole extra arm. (Can you imagine the copay on that?)
Anyway, three-handed piano music has been in my repertory for years. This is the story of how that happened.
I remembered this incident because I’m currently attempting to notate What the Stars Saw on the Prairie (thanks for the nudge, Jason!).
What the Stars Saw on the Prairie is the linchpin of the CD A Handfull of Quietness. (That story is here.) It has a section in the middle where there is a lot going on. (This is the challenging part to notate.) Really, a lot. Not too much, but a lot.
Some number of eons ago, back in the last millenium (I just love saying that) when I felt ready to record the CD, I had a friend who was wanting to be in the record business. He had been talking with a record producer in Austin, Texas, about starting their own label. Charlie liked my music a lot, and he flew me down to Texas to “put down tracks” for the producer.
The day we went into the studio, Charlie, the producer and his wife, and I think maybe another recording engineer were all assembled to hear my music. The studio layout had a window through which, if the piano lid was down, I’d be able to see them all, and they’d be able to see me. But of course, the piano lid was up.
That’s how my piano playing finally is: more like music.
I didn’t want to mention before that when I wrote, “My left hand played piano today,” what that most likely meant was that I sat at my Steinway and played maybe 10 notes. I could make the keys sound, but the discomfort in the joints at the base of my fingers was too much to do more than play each finger twice. That is what counted for playing piano 3 or 4 weeks ago.
Playing 2 notes at a time was barely possible, but I would try that out daily anyway. I could get a fifth to sound, and a sixth, almost immediately. The day I touched an octave (felt too weak and vulnerable to try to press the keys) I was so pleased, because I had been very worried about getting my reach back.
Then several days later I could actually play that octave. It still hurt, about the way playing a single note hurt.
Then I decided that many visits to the piano each day, to play my 10 therapy notes each time, would be better than trying to play 20 notes in one sitting.
In January I broke my left wrist, blah blah blah. Here’s how it’s going. If this is going to bore you, I recommend you not read it!
It is an adventure. That is, healing, and visiting the whole medical-surgical-rehabilitation corner of the universe, are adventures. Maybe it’s just the only consolation I’ve had; but my curiosity has come to my aid and kept me interested and fairly cheery, even while I very much wish I did not need to visit this corner of the universe.
I am so grateful for the love and support shown to me and my “little broken wrist” (as one friend put it), especially early on, when I was in pain and also not particularly handy. The day of the fall and the next day, when I learned just how serious the break was, I was dangerously close to panic. I could feel fear wanting to take over, move into my mind and never leave. The knowledge that so many people cared about me & my music, were praying for me and cheering me on — that alone propped me up, more than once.
Daily life was quite a chore from when I broke my wrist in mid-January until mid-February, 3 weeks after surgery. Certain daily tasks like dressing have only gotten fairly doable in about the last week. I hope I am not breaking any more bones ever; that said, the ankle break last year was easier to cope with (except for showering, which was quite a challenge with a broken ankle).