Sunday, August 30, 2015 2:28 PM
I always knew I was special—and now I have proof. This morning I listened to a great YouTube of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Beethoven Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral) in F, Opus 68.
So maybe I had nature on the brain—but then I went to lie down and listen to myself. It’s not as self-centered as it sounds—I play CDs I’ve burned of my improvs, so that I have something to listen to while I roll cigarettes or watch close-captioned TV on mute or read a book.
I usually play it pretty low volume—just enough to hear it well without it actually striking my eardrums (I’m a sensitive flower) especially if I’m trying to read. By doing this I can hear when a particular improv has a sour note or an ugly passage—any awkwardness of execution, beyond the endemic. It interrupts my thinking—because, like everyone else, I’m used to perfect music coming out of loudspeakers—it’s almost impossible to imagine an album with a sour note on it. Not surprising, since a recording studio is basically a perfection filter that catches any trace of clumsiness and rules it right out—not that there’s anything wrong with that…..
I’m occasionally, pleasantly surprised by a bit of musical soaring that catches my ear in a rare piece—something that makes me proud. These are important for several reasons—one, obviously, it encourages me to continue playing Don Quixote on the keyboard. But I also play them back repeatedly, trying to take note of what I did and why it works and how I might use it in future.
There are, among those rare moments, even rarer instances where the key to what makes a passage striking is the emotional energy—not something I’m famous for, but it shows its head every decade or so. These passages stymy me—how can I transport myself into inspiration once I’ve sat down to play? You might as well ask me to fly.
Anyway, sometimes I listen to myself turned up real loud so I can hear every sound and nuance on the recording, just to make sure I heard everything I did—and whether any background sounds that might ruin the recording show up at high volume. That’s what I was doing today—I had the Bose cranked to 50—and I get to the third track, which is called “Blue Lake”. Now Claire and I have often joked that the birds outside our windows like to sing along with me at the piano—and it did seem kinda eerie sometimes, but I was too busy to pay attention.
26 seconds in you hear a cricket or cicada or something, then after a minute in, you hear a bird chirping along for two minutes or more, with occasional chiming in throughout. But it’s right on the beat—you can even hear it get a little huffy about my messing up the beat (which I do).
So, I jumped up and went to tell Claire about it in the living room—and while we were talking about how strange it was, I felt inspired and began to record today’s improv, while Claire studied on the couch—and after a minute and a half of playing, the darn bird sang along again—but Claire says it was a different bird. There’s some other birds in there, too—although I can’t say whether the crow was doing his own thing or what. Once I heard them chiming in, I started to play to them, looking around the upper register for stuff they might react to—ultimately, this is less a musical piece and more a dialogue with my avian house-hangers. So I guess I have a fan club—boy, do I feel special.
So that’s my day so far..