Monthly Archives: October 2012


The Post-midterm Blues: a recurring condition whereby one is plunged into depression after a miserably mephitic and moribund midterm.

I have them. The PMB’s. So first thing I do when I get back to the dorms: shut myself in the darkened rec room and play 40-ish minutes of piano. I worked through the usual: my last program played for Panel and then some, including this gem.

I closed my night of piano with that fragment of “Deep Sea Ranch,” put in B-flat major because.


EDIT: No, it’s not performance-ready. I played it to blow off steam. I will improve.


It’s been latched to me for days now – not sucking on my life force, but amplifying it, feeding it back to me more than it was. It was especially strong last night when I was trying to sleep – the little snatches of melody which I think ought to form a base for a cello piece. I wish it were a sonata but that will have to wait. I’d only be flattering myself to call it a sonata; as it stands, calling it a piece is probably pretty thick-skinned already.

Strangely enough, my ideas came to me in D-flat major. This is new territory – I rarely stray from my comfort zones of B-flat, A-flat, and E-flat.

I would be honored to have The Nice Pencil-Selling Guy read any such piece that I write.



I’m still hanging out in the lower tier of students here in college – it’s rather a tragedy. I’ll come out of my slump at some point. I’ve got to. I’ve got to. I’ve got to.

On a much brighter note, Anne’s exemplary on-the-fly sight-reading and transposition put me in a great mood. I was so proud to have outputted the 50 odd bars for the theme from “Cinema Paradiso” (as performed by Josh Groban) in one go, a manic scoring spree that lasted until 4 AM. She played it beautifully, both with her own viola and Sam’s violin. “When You Wish Upon a Star” needs some work, mostly because I can’t do the chords.

Other pieces will follow, I hope; I really do regret never pushing the HiKaPh to take off…


EDIT: I forgot one of the most important items on my mental writing agenda: documenting my indulgent splurge on more music. $8.54 spent at Rasputin Music on two selections from the clearance rack and one from elsewhere. All three involved Leonard Bernstein: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris (apparently Bernstein plays piano, by the way – $1.95); Beethoven’s fifth symphony and Schubert’s eighth (THIS one was absolutely a steal, for being in almost mint condition – $1.95); and Bernstein on Schumann’s third and eighth symphonies, as well as his symphony for strings ($3.95).

Overall, not bad! Three CD’s for less than what you could buy ONE new one on for. I think I’m going to have a good time with this.



Even if I’m a shabby photographer, I can compensate a little bit by being better at cheating.

Taken today in the greater part of the Valley Life Sciences Building, this picture shows a charming 19th-century microscope (I deliberately omitted any informational text because I thought it’d take away from the picture):

The original picture.

It’s not a great shot for many reasons. To me, the most obvious was that the left side of the picture is completely wacko on the colors. I wanted to use this fine specimen for a background (at least, until I can borrow my roommate’s camera to get a better shot), but that discoloration would bother me for sure. After three minutes of mucking around in GIMP:

The touched-up picture, after being run through the GIMP.

I exaggerated the color fix-up a bit, I admit, but I think it’s nonetheless a substantial improvement. My method was simple: copy and paste (via rectangular selection) the affected portion of the image, plus some space to account for transition back to the untouched portion of the picture. In this case, it was the left one-third of the picture that I selected (and then some). Having created a new layer, I set its mode to Hard Light and played with the Color Balance (Colors > Color Balance) until I got pretty close to what I wanted (adding some yellows and reds did wonders). Then I fiddled with the opacity slider. Finally, I added a layer mask (to my retouched one-third layer) that was entirely transparent except for a sharp white –> black gradient at the extreme right, allowing for a transition back to the untouched part of the image.



I’m sad at being unable to notate my own music at speed; ideas come to me swiftly and leave me almost as quickly. At the piano the other day, a dance in A-flat major (“double-stopped” thirds in the right hand and everything else handed to the left); just yesterday, a “Broadway-esque” fragment of thematic material (in changing time signatures) in B-flat major. Weeks ago, I hurriedly scribbled down a tragic idea in C minor halfway through English class (a great theme for “Heat Death 101” should we ever make it).

Comparing and contrasting the many works of Chopin, Rachmaninoff, John Williams, Joe Hisaishi, Michael Giacchino (there’s a trend that picks up after Rachmaninoff, I can tell), and Yuji Nomi is not a thankless task; I’ve learned so much from it that can’t be easily articulated (else I would write it down here immediately for posterity). There’s just so much to be done with music.

And just now, shenanigans for the pianist: trills or tremolos in the right hand and fast descending scales in the left. I have no shortage of technical trials and challenges for the bored second-fiddle pianist when the other instruments take the lead. I know what sort of things make me miserable; it stands to reason that I should be the most qualified to write and attack my own challenges for the piano.

I’ve pulled up some samples of tuba music (mainly accompanied by piano) for reference. This could be useful.



“I have not mentioned to anybody – anybody who did not already know first-hand – the story of how my great-grandfather died,” said Danny, prodding the grate full of shrivelling papers.

Neil stared. It was mid-summer and the fireplace was alight.

“Would you like to hear?” Danny ushered a stray paper back into the blazing core.

Neil sat. He could spot a lengthy story brewing from a long way off.

Danny crossed his legs (the same sitting pose that had earned him snickers and jeers in middle school) and cleared his throat.

“He … was an alchemist. He spent all his time cooped up in his third-story laboratory, doing the weirdest things. Nobody – not even great-grandmother – was allowed in there, not even to clean.

“For the longest time we all thought it was just a weird hobby. The horrible smells on the third floor and the weird compounds that ended up in the bin – nobody took it seriously. Great-grandfather was completely crazy with paranoia, though; he was always going on about some black-handed league of alchemists out to get him.

“When he wasn’t waffling nutsy things, though, he was the funniest, the most outgoing, and the easiest to get along with. Dad has a lot of memories with him.

“And then he walked out the third-story window one day. After everybody had recovered from the shock and thought to check his lab, there was a bit of a shock – most of his equipment had been destroyed, and all of his papers were in the fireplace.

“He didn’t leave a will or a last letter or even a suicide note. The only clue we had were the papers in the fire; someone ran for a bucket of water and they did their best to salvage them.

“In that mess, we pieced together a heavy treatise: the secret to immortality. Great-grandfather had stumbled upon the formula for eternal life. He had not meant to, but from what we saw in his notes, he had come across a terrifying and immovable wedge which would stop Death’s Door in its place.

“He left us only with the results of his experiments; all of his formulas related to the subject that we saved were scribbled out with ink. We suppose that as soon as he was done disposing of the written evidence, he sealed off the last possible outlet of that inhuman secret for good – by taking his own life.”

Danny prodded the grate again. Neil sat and watched the flames. He pointed at the fire and raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, this? Those papers were passed to Grandfather, and from him to Dad; each generation has been tasked with safeguarding the last bastion of alchemy in our family. I have decided that it is for the better that we forget about all this and move forward, and pray that nobody will ever accidentally stumble upon this terrible discovery again.”


On Saturday night, I took the first dose of my prescription for bottled madness. This is not a metaphor for substance abuse or anything shady as that; it means that I printed out the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto and began reading it.

One might ask why someone whose skills with the piano are so shabby would dare attempt this “transcendentally” difficult work (I quote some paper about the fourth concerto that I was reading the other day – I’ll have to look at Berkeley E-links again some time). You could, on the other hand, ask validly why someone whose blood sugar is high still insists on eating sweets, or ask why an alcoholic doesn’t stop drinking, or why a smoker doesn’t stop smoking. Those are more straightforward examples; as for me, I NEED something to read, to dunk myself into.

The Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor, op. 30, provides exactly that little dash of alcohol and sugar and nicotine that I need to keep me sane. Reading it is like staring into a deep well – the kind that doesn’t really have a bottom and where you take forever to lower a bucket, forever enough that you start wondering if you’ll ever get a drink, and then the line goes slack. When you pull the bucket up, there’s barely anything in there, and you’re still thirsty, so you have to start the whole thing over again.

But that little act of reading and playing and doing – that little pointlessness that won’t ever get me anywhere – it keeps me sane. It keeps me, me. Not many other people would give up free time to shut themselves in the rec room for some alone time, a heart-to-heart with a battered piano.

I’ve read about one page so far; it goes VERY slowly. I foresee no extreme difficulties with the technique of the first movement. I actually found the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto far more annoying because it required high precision in jumps and some unusual finger permutations. There doesn’t appear to be anything like this, at least not in this movement of the Rachmaninoff.

Today I met another pianist – Lyra – from China! – and she plays wonderful Rachmaninoff. How curious that I met her with the score for the third concerto in my hand.