Tag Archives: piano

The post that WordPress ate


I haven’t exactly been ignoring my blog. Really, I haven’t. I had written a very nice post right after Christmas that started to explain why I’m in the state I’m in now — utter confusion.

Then WordPress ate my post. Bless its heart.

It went something like this:

Mudderella: I came, I fell (hard) on my already irritated knee, I walked 1 mile through 1 mud and tapped out. Alecto and Cletus took Kate in hand and the three of them finished. They were awesome.

Post-Mudderella: remember that knee that bitched BEFORE I fell on it? Well, it became very testy after Mudderella so I took it back to the MD. Turns out it was unhappy because it had a torn meniscus and a ganglion cyst AND a benign tumor gumming up the works. So on October 30 it had major surgery, 6 inch incision, and a recovery that was worse than that of a knee replacement because I couldn’t bend it for 6 weeks unless I was flat on my back. All walking had to be done with a walker and in a knee immobilizer. MD threw in some more microfracturing (had that done in 2007) in hopes that we could put off knee replacement for another 10 years or so. It’s getting better, but it’s going to take about a year for full recovery. In this case, full recovery means BETTER than it was before, so I’m OK with that.

The beginning of the crisis in which my lizard brain ran away:

We did the gypsy Christmas thing and went up the mountain to visit Hubby’s family. On the way home I was surfing XM looking for anything besides Christmas and found this:

It’s called Vocalise because Rachmaninoff wrote it to be sung just like that. I used to play a transcribed version of it on the piano, back when I could still play. After it was over, I plugged up the old smart phone and hunted down more Rachmaninoff to listen to, landed on the 2nd Piano Concerto, which I absolutely adore. Yeah, I know the critics don’t like it as well as the 3rd, but hey, it’s my life.

So we’re headed back down the mountain and I’m listening and thinking and Kate is snoozing in the back seat. Wubby and girlfriend had also accompanied us, first time he’d seen the family in at least 5 years. My thought process was something like this:

I will never play the 2nd at Carnegie Hall. I could have chased that dream but probably wouldn’t have caught it, and in the chasing I would have lost the life that gave me Hubby and Kate and Wubby. So it’s all good.

Only it’s not. Because before there was a Hubby and a Wubby and a Kate, there was a piano. Because there was always a piano. Because MY lizard brain needs music like a Southerner’s lizard brain needs 4 loaves of bread and 2 gallons of milk when the weatherman predicts 1/4″ of possible snow. And I have ignored that fact, about my lizard, for way too long and life is getting way short on time.

In case you’re not familiar with Rachmaninoff’s 2nd, part of it turned into this. It’s the long version because the radio jocks in the 70’s cut out the part that starts at 2:57. That’s the good part. It’s not verbatim concerto, but it captures the essence.

There it is. And there goes my lizard.


the music of the universe

So, I found this joke floating around on Facebook last week:

C, E-flat, and G go into a bar. The bartender says, “Sorry, but we don’t serve minors.” So E-flat leaves, and C and G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished, and G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough. D comes in and heads for the bathroom, saying, “Excuse me; I’ll just be a second.” Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, “Get out! You’re the seventh minor I’ve found in this bar tonight.” E-flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, “You’re looking sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major development.” Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit and everything else, and is au natural. Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he’s under a rest. C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.
Very witty stuff. I’d like to add to the humor, but I spent Saturday going through my knitting stash and organizing things, while watching and listening to two 25th anniversary editions of major musical works: Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve been in an extended rest period since then.

Saturday morning before the organizational extravaganza started, I was poking around on craigslist looking for something, most likely something horse related…like a dressage saddle, or a horse? Anyway, this thought popped into my head: “Wonder if anyone around has a grand piano they want to trade for an upright?” I’ve considered selling my piano several times in the past couple of years, for several different reasons. So, why this thought, and why now?

Well, the now part is obvious. I’ve listened to more music in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years, and maybe some synapses are trying to reconnect or something. “Love Never Dies” just keeps getting deeper and more intricate, and it overwhelms me at times. I’ve tried to listen to “Til I Hear You Sing” without weeping. I can’t. Lots of catharsis in there that needs cathart-ing I suppose.

As to the ‘why’ am I wondering if someone might have a grand piano that they want to down-size….turns out, there was one listing within a one-hundred mile radius of my house. It’s actually 20 minutes away.  Someone with a vintage Lester baby grand who is looking to trade it for an upright. The listing had been there since January. And, Craigslist being what it is, chances are that the listing individual forgot to delete the listing. But, there it was, so I sent the email Saturday morning.

Sunday afternoon the response came back: yes, I still have the grand and I’m still looking to downsize, with a request for photos of my piano. I took a  couple of phone pix and emailed them. Again, the email came back. “I’d like to see your piano.”

So today, I have guests come to look at and play my piano. She plays entirely by ear, mostly gospel, and sings. I read, am classically trained and have only recently-like for the past 15 years or so-started to become comfortable with lead sheets. Pure improvisation, even less comfortable. She played my piano and sang a little, very timidly. I totally understand that. I sing wonderfully when no one is around, and I’m sure it sounds great inside my head. My cats would disagree with my assessment. They think I’m exercising cat-speak.

The she asked me to play something for her. I played Schubert, stuff I learned in high school. It was obvious to us that I probably own the piano the universe meant for her to have, and she just might have mine.

She and her husband left, wanting to discuss their next move. He bought the piano for her as a gift and she may not want to part with it. Or he may not want her to part with it. But he did enjoy listening to her play and sing, and he also seemed to enjoy listening to me play my little Schubert.

I bought my piano after selling the vintage Baldwin baby grand my parents bought for me when I was in the ninth grade. My piano teacher at the time know the Baldwin’s owner, and knew that it wasn’t being played. I remember going to the woman’s home to see and play it. She had purchased it for her daughter, who never really took to it. It was beautifully placed in her living room, the lid covered with family photos. It hadn’t been played in years. I played Beethoven. She didn’t really want to sell it, but after we left she contacted my teacher and told her she wanted me to have it. I sold it almost 23 years ago, when I discovered I was pregnant with Wubby. We needed a house more than I needed a grand piano, but I didn’t think I could exist without one in my house.

All these years later, Wubby is grown and on his own, sort of. And Kate will be here for one more year and then…..empty nest.  This particular baby grand may or may not be the one the universe has waiting for me.

But I’m beginning to think that there IS a baby grand out there somewhere, with my name on it.

Glory Days

I was never a Bruce Springsteen fan. However, I continue to find the song “Glory Days” to be very relevant in a number of ways to a number of people, including myself.

For example, there’s the mysterious fairy-tale writer who keeps telling the same story over and over and over and over and….is very entertaining because, for some reason unknown to me, said writer actually believes in the credibility of his/her writing. Go figure.

Then there’s this guy I know. Don’t know him very well, but he entered my life as the product of decisions made by another member of my family. He’s a bit older than me, sports one helluva mullet-looking hairdo, and is so stuck in the past, and in such denial about it, that it’s actually funny.

In a very sad sort of way.

For example, he loves to drop names of “famous” people he hung out with back in the day, while simultaneously ragging on people who drop names. Hello? (Hey, guess what? I met Bob Barker in 1978. Aren’t you impressed? I know you are. Heh.) Evidently he was, and perhaps still is, a talented technician. He worked for about 20 years as a technician, says he was pulling in a six figure income, which is hard to do as a technician in these parts. The northeast corridor, we are NOT.  The problem: those glory days weren’t spent being a technician, they were spent in a commune, being an “artist”, basking in the glow of a very famous, now deceased, artist whose name he loves to drop while waxing poetic about how obnoxious name-droppers are.

Funny story: way back in the 90s there was a weekly summer concert series around here, every Wednesday at noon. Hubby and I both worked downtown and would meet at the park for lunch and whatever entertainment happened to show up. Sometimes it was great: Matt Kendrick. (If you’re from around here and know anything about the local jazz scene, then you know Matt.) Other times, well, not so much. One Wednesday we got a student from the local arts college. It was surreal, kinda beatnik. He would strum non-chords on an un-tuned guitar while reciting poetry that went something like this: “I am an art-TIST. I go to professional art SCHOOL. I am totally COOL, because I’m an art-TIST.” It was hilarious, great satire.

But I digress.

So, back to the future, here’s this guy, with a family, living on unemployment because the Lord says he’s really an artist, not a technician, going around saying stuff like “I’m so stoked about the gig tonight”. I’m telling you, Bob Barker NEVER said that! I had a chance to observe him practicing his art, and while I can’t work in his preferred medium, I can recognize talent. Or lack thereof, if you get my drift. And he gets a lot of sympathy from a lot of people because his talent isn’t recognized, dare I say, perhaps because it isn’t there? The problem is that there is no sympathy from the one person he’s really looking for sympathy from: dear old dad.

I sit back and observe this ongoing drama, and drama it most certainly is, and I wonder: if you’re a good technician, and you believe that God made you what you are, might it perhaps be true that God made you to be a GREAT TECHNICIAN? Just a thought.

But, what do I know? I’m just a frustrated artist who used to be a great technician, who is now neither one. Who is now, essentially, not much of anything. If Obamacare were fully implemented, I’d probably be on the short list for “end of life counseling” because hey, let’s face it, I’m not a contributing member of society. (In other words, I’m not contributing to the country’s revenue. That’s not 100% accurate because I am a tax-paying citizen, just not paying my fair share right now. Or is that, “I’m not doing my patriotic duty”? I forget what the proper verbiage is these days, and it’s always changing so who cares, right?)

As some character in one of my favorite movies EVER (If You Could See What I Hear) said: Well, who really gives a DAMN? (That was his way of saying “Wassup?”)

I wish I could say that the answer to that question is: me. I give a damn. I want to, I really do. For all its annoying politics, boring meetings, long hours, trying to do the impossible and sometimes succeeding, but mostly not, I miss being a technician. I was good. I was efficient. I could explain technical issues in non-technical terms to people who needed to hear technical issues explained in non-technical terms.  But, like the “late to the party pony”, my tack just got too heavy and now I’m a swayback pony, mostly good for being a companion pony to some other pony who needs a companion.

Lucky for me, I do have a companion pony. Actually, I have several companion ponies, but only one that lives in my pasture. (NO, no THAT kind of companion pony in someone else’s pasture…shame on you!) This week my pony learned that the workload at his barn is drying up, and some of the ponies have been sold, and unless something changes, he might be headed to the stockyard for auction as well.

So, where do we got from here? Can a swayback pony be rehabilitated? After you’ve been a dressage pony for 20 years, very precise, very controlled, able to change course at the tiniest signal from my rider, can I learn to be a western pony and sort of lope around? Sounds easy, but old habits are hard to break. Is it hard to teach a smart pony dumb tricks? Beats me, I’ve never tried it until now. But, if I take my observations of mullet-guy and apply them to myself, then it is more than likely true that God made me to be a technician too, not an artist. And if I could adapt to change before, than isn’t it possible that I can adapt again? I have to believe that if it weren’t possible, then the time and money I’m spending on retraining myself from dressage to western is a wasted effort.

I do know this: I don’t wanna grow a mullet and sit around musing about the good old days, before I was a technician myself, wishing I could go back and re-capture something I never really had to begin with: real talent. Skill, yes. Talent, not so much. I don’t want to be a mediocre artist who complains because my talent is not recognized. Who recognizes mediocre anyway?

But, oh how I miss being a mediocre artist as well as being a great technician.

And so, here I am, sporting my mullet and musing over the glory days that really weren’t so glorious after all.

Here’s to talent….two pieces that I played, with mediocrity, in recital–played here with genius:


What does it mean when you want to be, NEED to be, just mediocre at something? At ANYTHING?

the psychic ipod strikes again!

IF my ipod had been in the general vicinity of my computer when I downloaded the piano music from iTunes Friday night, it might make sense. Maybe. But my ipod wasn’t anywhere near the computer. It wasn’t even in the house. It was in the car.

Saturday morning we debated over what to do with the day and settled on a trip to Costco for food. So we jumped in the car and headed into the frenzy that is greater downtown Mall and outlying shopping meccas. While hubby drove I grabbed the pod and tried to figure out what I was in the mood for. Since nothing immediately came to mind, I took a chance and put it on shuffle. I don’t do that very often because, for some reason, the pod likes to play Christmas music in shuffle, and I have LOTS of Christmas music. (Dear Apple ipod Geeks: can you maybe add some options to shuffle, like include/exclude by genre, perhaps?)

First up: Chopin Waltz, A minor, early opus. One I wasn’t familiar with. Then. I’ve gotten familiar with it since then, and it’s the first official entry in my recital program, along with a B minor waltz that I played ages ago. Next, a Borodin string quartet. I used to love string quartets. We had a quartet-in-residence when I was in college, and they were good. They played an outdoor recital at the vineyard owned by my library employer Myra, in July of 1983. I remember that because it was hot, my future sister-in-law came with us, I wore my new engagement ring in public for the first time, and the quartet played Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which is an entirely different work when played by only four instruments.

Last night at church one of the music guys and I were talking about a song I want him to play. He said it was kinda hard, and I told him to just play the chords that follow the bass line and not to listen to the extraneous stuff going on over it. He said that sounded like a good idea, picked at a few chords on his guitar and thought about it, and then said to me, “Do you play any instruments?” I was crouched on the floor in front of him when he said that, and I just dropped the rest of the way down and sat there looking at him. The other music guy said, “Yeah, she’s a pianist.” Music guy number one wanted to know why I hit the floor, and I told him. He said, “Sounds like a God thing to me.” then he announced to everyone that the Christmas party will be at our house so they can sing carols at my piano.

Well, alrighty then.

The tuner is supposed to be here in four hours. The house is a mess, and I need to go buy horse food. I’m not touching the piano until its tuned. It’s hard enough to be rusty and dusty; playing an out-of-tune piano just makes it worse.

I think I’ll go buy horse food, come home and remove the large dust bunnies from the music room and move the several piles of music on the piano and on the floor around the piano out of the way so Mr. Tuner can do his job, and find something to occupy myself with until he leaves. Then I have a date with Frederic.

turning over a dusty leaf

See that?

I have one of those in my music room. It’s not quite that dusty, nor is it that old. That one up there is a grand. Mine is a studio upright.

A dusty studio upright.

Oh, and it’s out of tune too.

I honestly don’t know what I’ve been waiting for. Maybe for me to feel better, which may or may not ever occur. Maybe for a billboard in the sky that says “OK, it’s time to start playing again.”

When I was in college I worked in the listening lab at the library. Most of the recordings were, you guessed it, vinyl. We had a few cassettes, but mostly…vinyl. Someone would come to the counter and request a recording, and we would give them headphones, assign a cubby, and spin the records. Kind of like a geeky DJ.

The supervisor of the listening library was a wonderful woman named Myra. Her husband was an education professor, and they owned a beautiful house and vineyard in the valley. At the end of the school year, she invited all of the listening lab employees to her home for a cookout and multi-level croquet match. As we were touring the house, there, in her living room, was…a dusty piano. “Who plays?”, I asked. “No one”, she replied. “Karl used to, has a music degree from Cincinnati Conservatory, actually. But he hasn’t played since college.” Karl was nearing retirement age at this time, so that piano had been dusty far longer than mine. I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll NEVER do that!”

Only I did.

Last week the piano tuner called to see if I needed him to come tune the dusty piano. My first inclination was to say, “Heck no, I don’t play it.” But I thought about it before I said anything.

And the tuner is coming Monday, which means I have to dust the piano. And sweep up the dust monkeys.

No, I didn’t see the billboard in the sky. What I did see was my looming birthday, and the fact that I’m running out of time to play that recital I always wanted to play. All by myself. My senior recital in college was a dual recital with Crissy the weird flautist. Gosh, I miss Crissy. She was way too much fun.

But that’s another story for another day.

So, tonight, I’m goofing around on the computer when I should be doing something constructive, and I decide to look up my old piano professor. I found him, too. On iTunes. He isn’t playing, but the entire album is of his compositions. He was always a gifted composer, more so than a pianist, although he was an excellent performer as well. For a man small in stature, he could play the hell out of a piano. He hit one of the upper treble keys on his piano so hard it broke the string. That’s power. He likes to travel, and his compositions reflect his experiences in some exotic locations. Here’s the link if you’re interested.

FYI, track 13 was written after 9/11. He sent me the sheet music for it, because I asked him nicely. I’ve played at it, and I understand it, which is half the battle. It will be in my recital.

The last day of girls gone hillbilly, Alecto and CG asked me what my dreams were. I couldn’t think of any, at least not any that I could make them understand. Except this one. To play again. It’s up to me.

And it’s time.

The Legend of 1900

Read the description for this movie last Saturday: an orphan spends his entire life aboard an ocean liner as a piano prodigy.

Do what?

How did a baby wind up orphaned on an ocean liner in 1900? What a silly premise for a movie.

Then I watched it. Two and half hours later, with tears streaming down my face, I watched the retired ship burst into flames as it was imploded and sunk.

And I got it.

If you haven’t seen this movie, find it. If you love music, piano in particular, find it NOW. The score was written by Ennio Morricone, world-famous composer of movie scores for over 50 years, I suppose. If you’ve seen, or heard, “The Mission”, then you know his music.

The last movie that touched me musically in this way was “Somewhere in Time.” Yes, it’s a syrupy love story / time travel thing, but the music…..Rachmaninoff and Morricone. It doesn’t get better.

The first time I heard Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini it was by accident. I bought an LP of his works, looking for a piano concerto movement, but I didn’t which concerto it came from. So I put this album on the stereo and sort of half-way listened to the music. It was just ok at first, then the very “russian march” variation came out of the speakers and grabbed my attention, demanding to be heard. Next came the Deus Irae…how did that get in there? Then the music turned all misty, eerie, like it was wandering through fog-shrouded woods at sunset. The key shifted from minor to major, the sun came out, and there it was….the 18th variation. In all the world, I don’t believe there’s a single piece of music any more breathtaking than this one. It’s not very long, maybe a minute or two, but when it drew to a close I was on the floor of my parents’ living room sobbing. This is what I wanted.

But I knew I wouldn’t get there. It was out of my reach. Maybe I could have tried it then; certainly not now.

Then, last Saturday, I heard “Playing Love” from The Legend of 1900, music by Ennio Morricone.

And I sobbed again.

Immediately I came in here and started crawling all over the ‘net looking for it, and discovered that there were lots of  other pianists crawling around the ‘net looking for it too. But it was just out of my grasp. I’d find references to it, only to discover broken links.

Until I tripped over a website in China, dedicated to sharing Morricone’s muic. Yes, they had the piano score, free. But you had to e-mail them to get it.

E-mail someone I dont’ know in China, to get music I really wanted. How do I know this is really a site that supplies music? There were a couple of links to .pdf files of other pieces so I grabbed those. And they were good. There’s a very sultry rag (sounds incompatible, but it works) written by Jelly Roll Morton, a historical character who is instrumental to 1900’s plot.

But, do I dare e-mail them for the rest of the score? Most of the site is in Chinese, for heaven’s sake! Even after you hit the translate button. I debated over it with myself, and after several hours of negotiating, decided to give it a shot.

Obviously, my computer still works, so I didn’t get wormed or virused or anything. But, no music either. I figured, what the heck, it was a shot in the dark anyway, no harm no foul.

Monday I got an email from someone named HAN, in badly translated english, that said “Dear Lady…” and had a link to a site where I could download the score.

My computer still works, the score is in a new folder called music/legend of 1900, and two of the pieces are fresh of my printer.

Think I’ll go play.

making it up

Thanks to Amy I stumbled onto Quiescence Music and am, after all these years, learning to improvise.

I’ve always been afraid of improvisation. It took me ten years, from 1996 to 2006, to get comfortable with playing from a lead sheet. The first time I saw a lead sheet I was thirteen years old, at summer music camp at William and Mary, and was the only pianist interested in playing keyboard with a jazz ensemble. They gave me a lead sheet for “Watermelon Man” (and if anyone can tell me the TV show that used this as a theme I will be eternally grateful) I looked at it and said “where are the notes?” (It wasn’t the Flip Wilson show, was it?)

I think the scary thing about improv is that you are so vulnerable when you’re doing it. Whatever comes out is 100% you. It will reflect the influences of the “rhythm and rhyme of the poem of your life (Michael Card)”. It makes you look in the mirror and see who you really are, listen to yourself. No way would I do this as a teenager. It’s somewhat easier now.

Anyway, I’ve been sitting at my dusty piano, making up stuff on the black keys that sounds Celtic, happy as a pig in mud.

Thanks Amy!!!