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?

ttfn

Journal Entry   (2016Aug14)


20160814XD-MoreLilSen_01_x

Saturday, August 13, 2016                                                8:04 PM

Okay, I give up. Yes, the computer room needs an air conditioner. In this heat I waver from wanting to stay in the cool bedroom, or coming out here to the hot-box and typing on my PC. I can be comfortable and bored, or engaged and sweating like a pig. Neither one is working right this minute—and I always decide I need A/C on the weekend, when I have to wait until Monday to order one. What a schmo.

20160813XD-MorninLilSen_02_x

I just got back from the supermarket. Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pastas and Progresso hearty soups—it’s a can festival. Also some hot dogs. Now that I know I can make it into next week without shopping for a while, I feel better—plus, call me picky, but I like to eat dinner almost every day. I bought dill pickles and pickled sausage bites and some Laughing Cow and those round cheeses in the net-bag.

20160813XD-MorninLilSen_03_x

I found the world’s best microwavable breakfast—Eggo’s bacon-egg-and-cheese waffle-meals. And I grabbed some Polar Bears (Heath bar flavored). I was worried about getting those two things home and in our freezer before they were ruined—I think I made it.

20160813XD-MorninLilSen_01_x

Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         12:48 PM

“98.6” by Keith—what a great tune. It lifts my spirits. I collect one-hit wonders—the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of the music world—strange artifacts that belong to no movement or genre but their own personal musical ‘ear’. There are a surprising number of them—and it’s sad in a certain way. Think about it—you can try for a musical career, spend a few years touring local bars and clubs, then peter out from lack of determination or lack of audience interest—or you can get lucky and hit it big, get signed to a label, tour big venues, the whole nine. But with a one-hit wonder, the artists are served the success-banquet and then have the whole thing snatched from their mouths after the first course. The same amount of grueling giggery, PR, lawyers, fans, and yet more giggery—then the promise of fame and fortune—then the almost instant fading of it all—how hard that must be. I love one-hit wonders—but I truly feel for the artists that make them.

20160814XD-MoreLilSen_02_x

And it begs a question that often haunts a sixty-year-old would-be artist like myself: Is there a finite amount of creativity in each of us, to one extent or another? Would Beethoven’s Tenth have been anti-climactic? Did Van Gogh kill himself because he had used all the colors in every way he could imagine—and was loathe to repeat himself? Was Dickens’ last novel just ‘more of the same’? In olden times an artists could be satisfied with just one single ‘masterwork’. Of course, if one is capable of that, there was probably a bunch of stuff one could do—Michelangelo did sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry, but he did some things better than others.

20160814XD-MoreLilSen_03_x

But today, with the ‘industrialized’ arts, if you can have a hit record, contracts are drawn up by the money-people, as if to say, “Well, anyone who can please the public can continue to do so forever”. There is no recognition of the possibility that what makes someone creative may be the same thing that bridles at being expected to play those songs every day for years, or come up with another whole album of ‘more’. What the hell is ‘more’ when dealing with inspiration? And how can we expect inspiration to stick to a release deadline?

20160812XD-Babys1stBath_03

We think of art as a job. It was never a job. The musicians that played at weddings and dances were just the folks who had a knack for music—they had day jobs. The artists of old weren’t working on canvas—they were carving sculptures into the furniture they made, painting landscapes with glazes on the pots they were throwing. The ‘career’ thing started with court appointments—Michelangelo was part of his Pope’s court, Bach worked for his church choir until his fame made him a member of the household of the Duke of Brandenburg.

These early artists didn’t do anything but their art—but they were servants to royalty, at their beck and call—even with regard to subject matter and style. No artists made a living from their art except the travelling troupes of entertainers—and they were mostly fugitives, working sub-rosa in a culture that forbade merriment in general—criminals of art, in effect. No individual musicians made a living concertizing until the nineteenth century. The monetization of art has a fascinating history—but it is a history of the deformation of the original impulse to art.

20160812XD-Babys1stBath_02

Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         6:48 PM

I’ve made a nice video that contains our granddaughter’s latest pictures and, in between the two improvs, a piano cover of Cole Porter’s “Tomorrow”—so I tried to throw in some entertainment. It’s difficult to create a video under these rolling thunderstorms—I’m a computer hack since back in the ‘80s—lightning is my mortal enemy. I always rush to power down the PC when the lightning gets too proximate.

20160812XD-Babys1stBath_01

Usually a storm comes and I call it a day, computer-wise. But with this kind of late summer weather, I can either play the margins or wait for Fall—intermittent thundershowers are forecast for the foreseeable future.

So, I’m going to upload my video and get off until tomorrow—it’s hot and muggy even when the sun breaks through. Only a fool gets stressed on Sunday. Bear returns next Thursday, thank goodness.

 

ttfn.

Huzzah!   (2016Jul12)


Tuesday, July 12, 2016                                             7:40 PM

Don Pietro del Cianflone has returned from summer hiatus—sing laude and strike the tambor! Here, we have the Buds-Up Semi-Ensemble wreaking havoc with the laws of both rhythm and harmony in a spectacular display of bongo-osity and piano-tivity. If you spot this duo—notify the musical authorities at once. If you hear something—you’ve heard too much!

 

 

The rest of this is just me—nothing to see here, just move it along…

 

 

 

 

 

That’s that, for now. A big thanks to Peter Cianflone for the jam session!

 

Nothing To Be Afraid Of (2016Jan06)


Wednesday, January 06, 2016                                          12:41 PM

Suicides are up; random violence is rising; Europe is turning away from its march towards unity—back towards nationalism; borders are being walled off; and worst of all, stupidity is on the ascendant. I don’t think even Hillary can handle all of America’s problems—and I don’t think even America can handle all the world’s problems. Yet population continues to grow—meaning there’s less of everything for everyone. And our planet is hurting, which means we can’t use as much of it as we used to.

20130325XD-Goog-Imag-Marc_Chagall_0280

We’ve been told that racism is over—but it isn’t. We’ve been told that population growth is no longer a problem—but it is. We’ve been told that capitalism is good for us—but it isn’t good for all of us. People will be what people have always been—talking a good game, but walking the walk of self-centered-ness. Problems that can be solved are not—and problems that make money for somebody are lied about—their existence denied outright.

20130811XD-GooglImag-827ea

It looks pretty hopeless, doesn’t it? How do we solve one problem when that one problem is enmeshed with a hundred others? How do we discuss our problems when the kibitzers get all the air-time—and the words of wise men and wise women get bumped for Bieber updates? As I look over this post I see nothing but bummed-out despair in my words—but am I lying? No. Am I focusing on the bad and ignoring the good? No—the good’s ‘all good’ but it doesn’t solve the problems of the bad. Sunshine and laughter would make far better material for a post—I know that. But our problems abide.

botticelli3

What do we do? I don’t know. All I know is what we shouldn’t do—we shouldn’t turn to demagogues like Trump—he’s just a 21st century Hitler waiting to happen. And we shouldn’t throw up our hands, just because there are too many problems. We should care about each other—that’s the only answer. Pass all the laws you like—if we don’t care about each other, it’s all just wasted paper.

20130603XD-WinslowHomer-TheBirdCatcherse

Trump’s recent call to register Muslims reminds me of a story I heard—about Sweden during the Nazis—when they were told to have all their Jews wear Stars of David on their clothes, the entire population put stars of David on their clothes. They found an answer to Hitler—through the simple expedient of caring about each other. And they did something else—they put their fear aside. Americans used to think of themselves as that kind of people—people that put their fear aside.

20150711XD-Wiki_Ingres_NapoleonSurLeTrone

Today America is the world’s largest producer of fear—we have become a nation of cowards. We cower before black teens, we cower before people who wear headdresses, we run to the gun store to stock up on firearms, as if our neighborhoods are different than they were last year, or the year before—fear is in fashion.

FlowersNearArles detail

We have to stop being afraid of our neighbors and start caring about them. And we have to act on that caring—and stop acting on our fears. People will never be sensible—it’s not in our nature. We cannot ‘formulate solutions’ to all the threats our imaginations can conjure—we have to care about each other and embrace the courage that made this country great.

Hopper15

Personally, I’d prefer to take all the super-wealthy out back and shoot’em—but Iraq taught us that evil is a snake without a head—destruction without caring about what comes after just makes things worse. We are quick to listen to the shouters, the bullies, the hecklers—as if there was no wisdom in silence, no good in quiet reason, and no point in patience. We can’t help it—people are like that. But if we care about each other—and if we act on that care—we might start voting for people who care about people, too. We might start voting for people who aren’t rich or pretty—like Berny. But he’s just one guy—electing him wouldn’t do nearly as much good as emulating him. Better we should all become him than expect him to change the world all by himself.

20150711XD-Wiki_Ingres_Odalisque_a_l_esclave

A phrase from T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” has always stuck in my head:

“Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.”

I think it means that we need to learn what to care about—and we have to have the courage to sit still—to not flinch at every worry that flies past our heads—and to have the patience to work things out the hard way—instead of going with ‘Hulk smash!’

So, anyway, my two improvs for today are titled “Teach Us To Care” and “To Sit Still”.

 

The camera didn’t work today, so I’ve substituted video of photos randomly selected from my hard drive–if you are a relative or friend of mine, you’re probably in the video–then I ran out of material and used illustrations from my book of Bear Poems to fill up the rest of the video. For the classical recital’s video, I used some of the great art from my library of images.

I also played from my “Classics To Moderns” piano book today—the stuff towards the end of the book. Run down to Stanton’s Sheet Music to get your own copy—there’s a whole series of easy-to-middling piano works for the amateur (like me) that are nonetheless very beautiful and satisfying to play—I’m sure with a little practice, you could play them much better yourselves in a surprisingly short time.

 

Xper Dunn plays Piano, January 6th, 2016

12 Works from ‘Classics To Moderns’ :

Romance –Reinhold Gliere (1876-1958)

Brisk Game, Novelette, & The Horseman –Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987)

Chanson Sans Paroles (Op. 40, No. 2) –Jan Sibelius (1865-1957)

Prelude No. 4 (Op. 11) –Alexander Scriabine (1872-1915)

Sea Piece & To A Wild Rose –Edward MacDowell (1861-1908)

Valses Poeticos –Enrique Granados (1867-1916)

Elfin Dance, Song of the North, (‘Saebygga’) & The Cowherd’s Song (Op.17) –Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

botticelli1

Piano Work   (2015Sep20)


Sunday, September 20, 2015                                            4:15 PM

I played the piano for forty-five minutes today—I’m getting so active that I’m letting a bunch of recordings go—I can’t make a video out of everything I play these days—life is too short.

But I did stitch together all the improvising I did between the Brahms and the MacDowell—it came to just over eleven minutes, but it’s actually three different improvs ‘smushed’ together. The final segment has a break where the camera ends one file and starts another—my camera does that every twenty minutes. If I want to be sure of no interruptions, I have to jump up and restart the recording every time I play a separate piece of music.

The MacDowell is very fragile stuff—I tried to keep the phrasing intact while I let the tempo lag, trying to get my shaky hands to settle in to the proper configuration of each chord to be played. He’s such a romantic, he even added little phrases and poems to the titles of his works:

Xper Dunn plays Piano

September 20th, 2015

Three (3) Pieces by Edward MacDowell

from “New England Idyls”, Op. 62

  1. An Old Garden

“Sweet alyssum,

   Moss grown stair,

Rows of Roses,

   Larkspur fair.

 

All old posies,

   Tokens rare

Of love undying

   Linger there.”

from “Sea Pieces”, Op. 55

  1. Nautilus

“A fairy sail and a fairy boat”

from “New England Idyls”, Op. 62

  1. With Sweet Lavender

“From days of yore,

Of lover’s lore,

A faded bow

Of one no more.

 

A treasured store

Of lover’s lore,

Unmeasured woe

For one no more.”

I also played the Brahms Opus 117 again, all three intermezzos, like I do every day—I almost posted today’s, but it still isn’t quite ‘there’ yet.

Daily Doings   (2015Sep05)


Saturday, September 05, 2015                                          6:19 PM

My last few posts are not of the type I admire or enjoy—I don’t know why I post them. They feel right at the time—but in the rearview, they always seem kinda mean-spirited—as if I catch the meanness from the meanies I rail against. But time will take care of them—time makes everything seem less urgent, less dire—and it doesn’t need me to do that.

I’ve been too distracted lately to interweave my posts with anything other than my anger. Today I present a recital, warts and all—fairly representative of my usual morning’s doings. There are works by Mendelssohn, Bach, and Brahms—unedited, with all my slip-ups, and a nice little two-minute improv at the end. I would have preferred to edit the page-turns and the garbled notes—for the sake of you, dear listener—but today you get the real deal, just by way of full disclosure. I have also appended some videos which I left out of recent postings. No pressure—watch’em when you want the musical equivalent of ‘peace and quiet’ and you won’t go far wrong.

Morning Recital (Mendelssohn, Bach, Brahms)   (2015Sep05)

Improv – Delicatito   (2015Sep02)

Improv – Family Time   (2015Sep03)

Improv – Weavers Dance (2015Sep02)

Happy Anniversary To Us (2015Aug29)


Saturday, August 29, 2015                                                12:27 PM

Claire and I have been married thirty-five years today. And as the world has changed quite a bit since August, 1980, so have we—but some things stay the same—I still feel incredibly lucky, Claire still puts up with me, and we are still both happy as clams when we know that our two kids are both fine and dandy. I feel a little guilty, however, since there is only one Bear—and the rest of male-kind has to make do with less-perfect mates—sorry, fellas.

Today’s first video is “Xper Dunn plays Harpsichord on August 29th, 2015 – J. S. Bach’s keyboard transcription of Antonio Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto in D Major’”. As you will hear, it takes me a minute to get me sea legs underneath me in the first movement. The second movement (the slow one, of course) is where I make the least mistakes. And in the third movement, you can hear the computer suddenly make a weird tone, apropos of nothing, which distracts me—while you can also see that I am tiring by this point—just as I’m supposed to be making the last movement all jig-gy and jocular. So, a pretty terrible rendition of one of my favorite pieces of music.

Why, you quite sensibly ask, would I post such a horrible excuse for a performance of a piece I love so much? Well, it’s not about me, really. I learned to love this piece by listening to it over and over again, incessantly, on an LP re-recording of a wax-cylinder master-recording of Wanda Landowska. Wanda Landowska was a legendary harpsichordist and a great proponent of Bach’s enduring legacy to musicians and to music lovers. Even on a scratchy, antique recording, she makes this Bach/Vivaldi piece sound like heaven itself—pure, sweet, perfect, simple. I highly recommend giving it a listen, either before, or in place of, my own awkward attempt:

Back to me—I first came across the sheet music in a library book which I Xeroxed and created my own copy of—years later I would buy a printed copy, which is much easier to sight-read. It tickled me, over the years, to simulate small moments of the beautiful sounds I heard Wanda make—even though I would practice it for years on a piano until I acquired the Yamaha Digital Piano P-95, with the harpsichord setting, that allowed me to make today’s recording. And, as bad as it is, this is by far the best performance I’ve ever made of the Concerto in D—or ever will make, most likely. And when I play this piece, I don’t hear myself making a hash of it—I hear Wanda making it sound like heaven. That’s the trouble with most of my music—I hear what I want to hear, and you poor suckers are stuck with what I actually sound like:

Then again, you’re not going to hear anything like today’s improv anywhere else on the web—at least, I haven’t found it. This leads me to a couple of alternatives—one, the most likely, that I’m a wanna-be New Age musician trying (and failing) to sound like Keith Jarrett or George Winston—while completely overlooking the fact that New Age is no longer new. Or two, that I have succeeded, against all odds, in finding a style that is all my own—which incorporates my failings and what few strengths I may have into a form of music like no other. That would be nice—though it still avoids the question of whether I’m worth listening to.

The Yamaha P-95 once again comes into play today, in that I find touching a ‘piano key’ and hearing weird electronic noises is very refreshing and inspiring to someone who has spent forty years playing an acoustic piano, where a key gives a tone, the same tone, timbre, and texture, always and forever. So, today we hear my usual guff, but rendered into something new by the simple use of a few ‘effects’ buttons—I almost like myself in this:

My mother-in-law dropped off some great blondie brownies—and later I’ve been promised Chinese take-out for dinner (my favorite). I hope you all are having as nice a day as I am.