Fate’s Piano Adventures – The Forgotten Moments

William Tell Overture Part 1

In general, classical music exists in little tidbits on the web and radio or as background music for movie trailers. Most performances and recordings show off the ‘popular part’, but leave the remainder of the song out.

Today, I’m not feeling much for writing a long blog entry, so I’ll leave you with two of these ‘forgotten moments’. The start of the William Tell overture (aka theme to Lone Ranger), and the end of the Moonlight Sonata, a popular piece for beginners to learn provided they completely ignore the second half…

Excellent performance of 3rd movement of Moonlight Sonata

Fate's Piano Adventures – Unexpected Discoveries in American Music History

I don’t often venture into ‘race’ here, but I thought I’d take a few moments to write about my current piano adventures, and the topic seems even more appropriate given that it’s currently Black History Month.

Getting back into piano, I’ve found a strong desire to learn more than simply old-school “classical” music (Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Mozart…) Last weekend, my wife and I visited a rather large estate sale, and I happened to stumble upon a collection of sheet music. Thinking some of the pieces looked interesting, I grabbed the stack and took it home. Out of the entire stack, one piece in particular drew me in. Yellowed paper, much older than I, marked on the top as “The St. Louis Blues.”

Now, while I may have a significant degree of knowledge on classical music, modern music (past the early 1900s) is not my strong point. My radio does stay tuned to stations playing mostly recent stuff, but I’m not a music historian or ‘nerd’ beyond my little bit of piano. And really, if I had been, I would have immediately recognized the title.

Interested in learning what the song should “actually” sound like after pounding it on the piano for a week, I began doing some research. Quickly, I discovered that this particular song was created by the “Father of the Blues” himself, W.C. Handy. As musician, I can easily recognize the influence of Blues in modern Rock, Metal, Country, and so on. But, I find it fairly amazing that I never really stopped to consider the Blues itself and how it developed. Or the person(s) responsible for its popularization and push into the American mainstream.

The Blues was around before Handy came on the scene, but it was musicians like him that helped popularize and influence American music history as a whole. As time moved on, the St. Louis Blues would become a standard part of Jazz reportoire, played by the likes of Louis Armstrong.

The more I learn of 20th century music history, the more interesting I find the various cross-overs of cultural and racial divides. Even in the past decade, modern music genres have obvious roots in the past crossing racial boundaries:

Studying early and mid 20th century artists like Oscar Peterson, Ray Charles, and now earlier links as well, has definitely aided in understanding how ‘Piano’ works with modern music, and is helping me, I feel, be better at what I do. Interestingly enough, even some of the most stereotypically “white” music – country – has obvious and traceable influences.

Anyway, I leave you with a video on the cross-over between two of my all time favorite musicians – Johnny Cash and Ray Charles.

More on W.C. Handy:
[1] http://www.una.edu/library/about/collections/handy/
[2] http://www.wchandymusicfestival.org/history.html
[3] http://www.biography.com/articles/W.C.-Handy-39700

NFL shows no talent in finding talent

I like watching the ads and the game. Unlike most people, I’m also interested in the half-time show and the national anthem. Mostly, I’m curious how the singer will present the national anthem, and what tweaks they’ll do to it. I also like live music, so I’ll pay attention to the half-time show.

I’m not a tweed wearing patchouli splashed hipster who discusses obscure indie-bands in some sorta effort to win a pissing content on being anti-establishment. Nor am I some conservatory trained brat that discusses at length how Lang Lang is an overrated pianist and that any real musician would understand the proper interpretation of some obscure classical piece (and then gripe it wasn’t actually classical). I have no aspirations of being a professional musician. I simply enjoy music – I don’t really care what form or if it’s popular or not. I like major commercial labels, indy, and stuff played at smokey bars in scary areas of town.

I should know now to not expect much from the clowns that run these shows, but year after year has shown nothing but disappointments. I’m not sure what made this year so much more remarkable to me, enough to write about it. Perhaps the butchering of the national anthem. Frilly, showoff singing, while butchering the words. To the performer’s credit, at least she kept going. That ability is one of the big separators between amateurs and the pros’.

The halftime show was a disgrace. Hardware issues in performances happen, but at some point I must wonder what’s going on. In general, it sounded like whoever ran the mixing board smoked a bit much before the show, passed out, and managed to flop across the board leaving all the levels set randomly. One overly auto-tuned main singer, and then another that cut in and out all the while being out of tune. I almost wonder if some software error forced us to hear uncorrected audio.

I must admit to being partial to the 80’s costumes, but the dull lifeless performance put a sour taste in my mouth for a band I occasionally like… I’m not sure exactly why the Halftime shows continue to suck. I thought it was the continued usage of bands well past their prime, but today’s show throws that basic assumption in doubt as well. At this point, I’d rather see a college marching band… Maybe something about the huge stage takes a band like the Black Eyed Peas and zaps them of talent, leaving them a group of lifeless zombies stumbling through set after set.

I’m not a big fan of country, but maybe they should consider throwing country acts at it for SuperBowl 46. Hey, they’d probably at least get the words to the national anthem right…

Fate's Piano Adventures

Piano Pictures, Images and Photos

Fin recently decided to dive into aquariums and has been some awesome things with our tanks. We now have four active running aquariums, with varying degrees of decor. For a while, we’d both been just coming home and watching TV. But, seeing her interest in taking up a hobby, I’ve decided to get reinvolved in another long running hobby of mine: the piano.

I’ve “played at” the piano for roughly 20 years now, and after 2 decades of playing, you’d think I would have achieved some mystical level of awesomeness. While the knowledge of piano has been floating around my brain for 20 years, I’ve only actively played for roughly 9 or 10 years. And of those, I received formal training for roughly 2 or 3 years. Playing actively for multiple years, then taking a multi-year hiatus results in going back in time abit and having to relearn.

In my high school days, I developed a list of pieces I wanted to be able to play, and started trying to knock them off one by one. I hit a rather massive brick wall on Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor. I played it for a few months, but it always sounded forced, strained, and mistake filled in playing.

This was only the 3rd piece in my list… My tastes have changed a bit, though I still really like a lot of Rachmaninoff in general. Were I to take on one of Rachmaninoff’s preludes now, I’d probably go after G Sharp Minor Op. 32 No. 12. That said, I’m putting more advanced pieces on “pause” for the time being.

I believe every pianist has 3 levels of playing – “polished”, “sortof”, and “delusional”. A child walks up to the piano, starts tinkering, and may develop a delusional playing level of Horowitz or Mozart. Then, a teacher gets a hold of them and either starts pushing their actual playing level up (letting them decide where they’re at), or crushes the delusion making them quit altogether. At first, the “polished” and “sortof” levels stay very close, but some pupils go out and venture into other more advanced works they want to play, perhaps before they have the skill or technique to do it. More advanced pieces can move up “polished”, but in my experience only moved up “sortof”.

So right now, I can “sortof” play various pieces from Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. But, pieces I can polish and play convincingly (make it sound like it should and add my own feeling to) are on the same level of a 2nd or 3rd year piano student. And some of my “foundations” are more remedial than that. When I started “playing at” the piano again, I decided that I wanted to venture out into other types of playing – Jazz, Blues, Standards. Quickly, I discovered that my high level of “sortof” couldn’t overcome my very low “polished” level. And then, I realized that I had deluded myself into believing I was better than I was (at least in terms of technique). So, I went on Craig’s list in search of a piano teacher, found one, took lessons for a couple months, then crashed and burned, deciding to just “noodle” and not worry about learning for real.

Then, a few weeks ago, something clicked in my head on some of the advice the piano teacher had given me. Sadly, while she was a good player, I don’t think she was the best at teaching, being relatively new (I doubt she was giving intermediate-advanced lessons for more than a couple years, if that). So now, I’m playing again and advancing at a steady pace. Every now and then I take one of the “sortof” pieces of the shelf and discover that I can no longer play a section or can mystically play a section better. The sections I can no longer play, generally tend to be those that never sounded “right” in the first place, and looking at it again, I can move it back up into the “sortof” category but a bit more polished.

In a personal effort to keep my advancement going, I’ve decided to try to write here about it. Hoping that the effort will keep my thinking about and playing more. We’ll see how it works.