Chopin   (2017Feb11)


Saturday, February 11, 2017                                             9:48 PM

Fryderyk Chopin was tutored in piano by Wojciech Żywny from age six until age eleven. From age 13 to age 16, Chopin (a child prodigy) studied at the Warsaw Lyceum, then composition under Józef Elsner. Chopin lived in Warsaw until the age of 20, in 1830, when he and several friends decamped to Paris—just prior to the November Uprising that same year. This marked the start of a doomed Polish struggle against Russian rule which Chopin is noted as supporting from afar throughout his brief adult life.

Chopin was such a consummate pianist that some of his compositions, when they do not cross into virtuoso territory (which was often the case) are technically accessible even to someone like me—though reading-through and playing the correct notes (mostly) is still a far cry from a true, capital-P performance of a Chopin work. His delicate lyricism and serendipitous, near-improvisational freedom of expression are found nowhere else in written music—and merely playing the notes as written is just a beginning towards reaching the full effect.

But I try—there is something about playing a piece oneself, on the piano—it is the reason that I play, albeit poorly, and with no hope of ever mastering the instrument. When we listen to music, we hear only the sound it makes. But in reading the music, as written by the long-dead genius (or any other) and in pressing the keys with my own hands, I feel an understanding and a connection to Chopin that is easily equal to relationships I’ve had with living people—I get not only the end result, the sound—but also the roots, the human source of whatever musical invention I happen to be playing. It is a wonderful kind of rush that transformed the way I listen to music, as much as it included me in the making of music.

Thus, when I play Chopin, I can stop dead in the middle of the piece—odds are I had to, but even still, I speak to Chopin—I say, ‘clever, that bit—and very beautiful.’ And Chopin replies, ‘I thought you’d like that.’ It’s amazingly like a vicarious composition of my own—as if I was creating it instead of playing it off the sheet music—as if I were Chopin. Despite the fact that my end results are hardly praiseworthy, in the playing of the music myself, I can hear it as Chopin first imagined it—in some ways, sounding more beautiful than the most polished artist’s performance of the same piece.

I was a weird kid. I enjoyed classical music in grade school—I had a lot of LPs, and many more that I borrowed from the Katonah Village Library. I sometimes fought with my siblings about playing classical music on the big stereo in the living room (rather than their rock n’ roll—not that I didn’t enjoy some of that, too) but most often, I would stack’em up on my record player, turn out the lights and lie on the floor to listen in the dark. My dad hated that—he’d burst in and turn on the lights and say, ‘What the hell are you doing in here in the dark?’ or whatever.

But my point is this—I’ve always loved classical music. But it wasn’t until I was fifteen (way too old) before I took piano lessons. There’s something about hitting the keys and making the notes play—feeling the music as an activity, as a part of you, instead of listening to music—it gave me a heightened appreciation of music that I don’t believe is possible without some experience, with some instrument, or with the voice. Glenn Gould’s Bach recordings, for instance, went from relaxing to fascinating—without changing a note—it was like a veil was lifted for me. Music is a wonderful thing to hear—but it isn’t until you make your own that you get the full picture, as it were.

And I’d say that’s why I improvise at the piano every day, too. I can’t make great music, but I can make music—and there’s something very empowering about playing music that no one else has written down, music that I make up as I go along. Survivalists prepare for a life after civilization—I suppose I’m preparing for a life after I-tunes?

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Super Leap Week (2016Mar01)


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Tuesday, March 01, 2016                                                  5:18 PM

I know what would fix our economy—raises. Nobody’s been given a raise since the 1980s. You could double the salary of any working person today, and they’d still be underpaid if calculated by the same increases the wealthy have enjoyed these last few decades. But no—the wealthy fret about how the world would end if we had a $15/hour minimum wage. Are you kidding me? Who could live on $15/hour? And if you can’t run your business without paying a living wage—then you can’t run your business—you’re incompetent. Since when does a business plan include victimizing your employees? Well, I take that back—literally all business plans do that, and always have.

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It seems strange to me that employers make half their money short-changing their customers—and the other half from short-changing their employees. Shouldn’t we just shoo these people away? We haven’t converted to an ‘office-free’ economy—we’ve converted to a ‘security-free’ economy—at least to employees.

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And a business is not a person. Until a business can feel pain, it will never be a person—and it will never deserve the rights and considerations of a person. That’s just legal mumbo-jumbo being promulgated by the rich. Let’s shoo all them off too.

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I’m serious—terrorists at least have the decency to chop your head off and make a clean end to it—American employers want to enslave us and abuse us until the end of time—who’s really worse? Capitalism has gotten out of hand—and the only way to restore the balance is to make the streets our workplace, dismissing all CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and HR personnel. Shoo’em off, that’s what I say. Their mismanagement is going to let our infrastructure rot away and be buried beneath the waves of global warming, anyway—dismissing these entitled fops wouldn’t cause any less disruption than their continued oversight will produce. We’ll just feed them the same line they feed everyone else—‘Hey, it’s not personal—it’s just business’. It is unfortunate that wealth confers power, without conferring one whit of good judgement. It that sense, it greatly resembles violence.

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Harumph! Anyway—let’s talk about something important—how’s Hillary doing? It is Super Tuesday, and the sun’s getting low in the sky—though, if you ask me, Leap Day is pretty special—making ‘super’ Tuesday something of an anticlimax. It’s just a bunch of primaries. Still, if I imagine myself in Hillary’s shoes (and yes that does feel uncomfortable) it must be a thrilling day.

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I’ve gone from sight-reading through Chopin’s book of mazurkas to his book of nocturnes—I have hours of recordings I’ve spared my listeners—I enjoy sight-reading through good music like that—but I don’t keep to tempo—and I go back and correct myself when I flub a passage—it’s a lot more like actual reading than it is performance—it’s quite unlistenable. I just do it for myself—it’s really fun. And after I find favorites, and do them over and over, I eventually get to play them better. I used to post some of the work—nowadays I only post the finished product—when I’ve gotten it as far as I’m going to get it. But that’s a tough call—take today’s nocturnes—they’re not great, but they’re a lot better than the other four that I’m not posting.

The improvs are a poser as well. I try to make them all different and, technically speaking, they are all different. But inasmuch as they’re all ‘me’, they’re pretty much all the same, too. So I post them all, even knowing that some judicious editing would make my YouTube channel far more attractive. But when you post nearly every day, it gets to be like writing a journal—you’re too busy writing it to ever read it back to yourself. Same with this blog—sometimes I go look at a post from a year or two ago, and I think to myself, ‘Huh! Did I write that?’

Okay then.

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Vigor (2016Feb12)


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Thursday, February 11, 2016                                           5:23 PM

We rely on the Brownian motion of personal relationships—we don’t acknowledge it outright, though—instead, we tend, when things are going well, to say ‘uh-oh, I just know something bad’s gonna happen’—or when things are going badly, to say ‘oh well, things will get better’. We don’t assume our lives will always get better—but we like to assume they’ll always change. And I suppose one of my biggest fears is that I would someday find myself in a situation that never changed—I can take the bad with the good, but I can’t take the nothing. That wouldn’t work for me.

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I think that’s the horror of poverty—looking at the situation and seeing no possibility that it will ever change. Even the American Dream has something of that—the pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it implies change of some kind—the possibility of it, at least—and that is why President Obama’s call for hope and change resonated so deeply for Americans—change is the American Dream. The financial inequality and the shrinking of the middle class frighten us—because they signal an end to mobility. America is becoming set in its ways—and that’s exactly what people yearn to escape when they dream of coming here. It’s the curse of ancient roots—to lose even the dream of change—and America, at a mere two centuries, is already getting as stagnant as the rest of the world.

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Americans used to travel more—we used to relocate more—we were restless—‘cruisin’ was the national pastime. Growing job markets used to attract relocated workers looking for new opportunities—now growing industries hide inside our computers—we don’t even go outside anymore—except to go to the gym. When did fresh air and new sights become the enemy? The person who figures out how to reinvigorate the millennials is going to make a revolution—and a butt-load of money. But what kind of app gets people outdoors?

I recorded a lot today—a whole bunch of Chopin mazurkas (only three made it onto YouTube) and a bunch of scraps of improvising that I threw together into one video—it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be—it’s really kind of a nice change for me.

 

 

 

 

If I don’t post before then–have a good Valentines Day!

The Wonderful Bongos of Oz (2015Feb21)


Saturday, February 21, 2015                                     12:30 AM

The great and powerful Peter Cianflone, drummer extraordinaire, came by today (or technically yesterday) and kindly agreed to join me in some ridiculous music-making, none of which is his fault—he was just an innocent, bongo-playing bystander. I do like the piano with a little extra percussion, though, and Pete’s performance upon the mini-bongos is not to be missed.

Nothing went right today at the keyboard—I haven’t listened to it all myself yet—the improv may be passable, who knows? But we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, so it’s all good.