Monthly Archives: February 2016

143: Misadventures in an uneducated tango

Three weeks ago, I was positively bashing the keyboard in trying to play Ronald Barnes’ “Milonga” (the third movement in his first serenade).

Several hours ago, after I had packed some practice and made a detour to Taiwan, Jeff removed his ear protection and said (with some amusement), “Well, that was the most delicate reading I’ve heard of this piece.”

There is progress  being made – I much prefer being unheard over reminding everyone on campus that I have a enormous keyboard. But maybe, just maybe, a milonga (an “uneducated tango,” in Jeff’s words) requires a little more sass and verve.

Jeff gave me some excellent pointers for the coming weeks:

  1. Breathe. Remember to pause on section boundaries. As keyboardists, we often forget that music is singing and singing is lung expulsion. This causes us to be (sometimes) sloppy with our phrasing. Sing with your playing and your phrasing shan’t be led awry.
  2. Be a little sassy. The piece is a happy jig, not a stuffy ballroom tightrope-walk. Romp excitedly to reflect this.
  3. Barnes’ word is not absolute law. Once you have all the execution down as accurately as a MIDI reproduction, make the piece your own. Delve into composer’s intent, but remember that you have not the power to ruin a piece. You give a bad performance and the piece floats up into the wind, awaiting a worthier champion. But you have not somehow besmirched the music. (Jeff definitely has the power to say this, because he knew Barnes personally.)

In the meantime, he added, I should pick up the Barcarolle (later in the first serenade?) to fill my practice hours, given that “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” is all but ready. I may arrange another chorale – it is a pity to stop at 1 when 370 others sit idly on my desk.

A word about Gorecki

I have a personal policy to never use the skip button. Once a piece is dequeued and begins playing, it must have its full allotted floor time.

I have another personal policy to occasionally make sure that I give every item in my library a little love from time to time (with exceptions). I purchased a secondhand recording of Antoni Wit conducting Henryk Gorecki’s third symphony, having heard about its runaway popularity with the public. I found it to be just under an hour of sheer claustrophobic misery, given the above policy.

As of yesterday it has hit five plays and I still find it impossibly difficult to listen to. I simultaneously loathe and fear it like a goblin confronted with an elvish blade. I feel so trapped in a terrifyingly smooth cell forged with simple figures and huge, spacious sounds.

Immediately after, I desperately queued Rafal Blechacz playing the Polonaise in A flat major op. 53 thirteen consecutive times. I basked in the radiant joy of his playing and felt Gorecki slip away like a bad dream banished.



142: Without malice, but also without sympathy

Let me try to summarize this in a short recast scenario.

Quoted below for posterity:

I’m a professional pianist who has been playing for 12+ years. I play entirely by ear and often learn new songs using just my knowledge of basic chord structures or sometimes a YouTube tutorial. I learned how to play a couple of Beethoven pieces using video tutorials and recently have gotten very interested in learning a piece by Chopin. For anyone who’s every played anything by him, you know the trickiest part is mastering his use of rubato (the free-form style that disregards both rhythm and tempo). Since I play by ear I depend greatly on the rhythm to guide my playing and movement…so I’m having a lot of difficulty wrapping my head around Chopin’s technique.

Any advice on how to master the Master’s music?

Btw, I’ve been trying to learn Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1 for almost a year now and still can only play the first 4 bars or so:(

A young man enters a party for financial enthusiasts. There are only two rules: you must enjoy something financial and you must not misrepresent yourself. If you don’t particularly enjoy or deal in finance, why be there? If you’re Bernie Madoff, the door is over there. The rest is up to basic decency, like “don’t be contrary.”

The people already at the party welcome him warmly. Always good to have new faces, new opinions, etc etc. His opening line: “Hi everyone, I’m a self-made rich rich person, and I need some help making ten dollars, can you help me? By the way, I’ve been rich rich rich for twelve years; I’m a really canny investor.”

The stunned reaction radiates outward, and for a moment nobody knows how to react. As the dust settles, a lot of people try to ignore the unfortunately misguided partygoer trying to run before walking.

“I know all about the yield curve and how to read it, I just need to know what an ‘interest rate’ is.”

Okay, this person is becoming a little harder to ignore.

“I’ve been trying to make these ten dollars for a year now, and all I’ve got are these five quarters I found by chance.”

At some point you throw in the towel and show this hapless young man the door, kindly suggesting a textbook and maybe a financial advisor. He becomes belligerent and insists (politely) that he is a rich and successful investor, and he doesn’t understand all the hubbub about learning about silly things like “interest rates” when he already has such an advanced grasp on things like “yield curves.”

Naturally, this imposter is impinging upon the house rules that govern this party: it is quickly becoming clear that he has rather a distorted view of what constitutes an “enthusiast,” much less a “rich and successful investor;” yet he insists on comparing himself readily to all present, putting himself on the same (or a higher) level than many of those present.

The bouncers are called, and the young man leaves in a hurry, though not without some slightly put-out words.

NOTE: I believe this poster is female, but I feel like the story sounds really nasty when I cast it in feminine form.