Monday, January 31, 2011

Day Eight: Tempo di Marcia un Poco Vivace

The first 30 measures are shaping up.  I am finding it interesting that as these measures come back into memory, I am having some of the same mistakes I made many years ago pop back up.  I expect that diligence in my practice will correct the problem areas.  Again, 30 measures under my belt in the front-end means 30 measures under my belt on the back-end.  "The conversation" seems to be holding up nicely and I still go back over it hands-separately for good measure.

Whenever I practice, I try to practice a measure plus one.  That means I practice a measure, plus the first note of the next measure.  This helps in committing the piece to memory, but also helps create starting points in my memory in case I make a mistake when performing.

Musical notations of the day are: Tempo di Marcia un poco vivace and sempre.

Tempo di Marcia un poco vivace is just as you might think: The tempo is a slightly lively march.  There is a lot of partying going on on the wedding day.  It has to be played appropriately!

Here, the notation is sempre pp.  Sempre means always and usually accompanies the playing style desired by the composer.  Here, sempre pp means always pianissimo.  Pianissimo means very soft.  The party part of WDAT is both soft and loud.  It builds several times and has a very climatic send-off into the conversation.  Almost like the bride and groom literally step into a quiet room.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day Seven: Surprising Myself

Well, I sat down just now to run through the parts I had practiced this week and managed to play them almost flawlessly at tempo without the music!  I have the 50 measures that comprise "the conversation" under my belt.  I have approximately 10 of the first 56 measures under my belt as well.  The good thing about the first 56 measures is that they are entirely repeated in the last 65 measures, so once I learn the 56 measures again this week, I will be most of the way towards having this one back in my memory and spending time making sure it is played according to the musical notation!

I had originally intended to go borrow a music theory book this weekend, but my travel plans fell through.  I may have to reveal myself to a friend of mine nearby who has a degree in music, just to have something in the meantime.  Still pondering if I really want to reveal myself to anyone locally (besides family that can keep their traps shut).  Anyway, it is time to go practice a few more measures of "the party" so the day isn't wasted!  Woohoo!

I am trying to make sure this blog stays interesting and may not update it every single day.  I will always note what day I am on when I make the primary entry regarding practice for the day.  I may only make a couple of entries a week regarding practice, though, just to keep your interest.  Sound good?  I am always looking for feedback, too.  If you have any comments, positive or even negative (I need brutal honesty, just try not to heap it on me), please leave them as a comment on my blog, a tweet, or by email.  Thanks!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Day Six: Going Slow...

I haven't had a chance to practice today for various reasons.  I still think I might have the chance and will come back and update if I do. Things have progressed quite nicely in just five days and I am pleased with how WDAT is pulling together.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Suzuki Be Damned? Well, Not Really...

At first glance, you may think that I am completely anti-Suzuki Method.  This is not entirely the case.  To start, you must understand that the important elements of the Suzuki Method are:

  1. An early start (aged 3-4 is normal in most countries)
  2. The importance of listening to music
  3. Learning to play before learning to read
  4. The involvement of the parent
  5. A nurturing and positive learning environment
  6. A high standard of teaching by trained teachers
  7. The importance of producing a good sound in a balanced and natural way
  8. Core repertoire, used by Suzuki students across the world
  9. Social interaction with other children: Suzuki students from all over the world can communicate through the language of music (source:
An early start?  Yes! The importance of listening to music?  Yes! Learning to play before learning to read?  Yes and no (more on this in a minute)! Involvement of the parent? Yes! A nurturing and positive learning environment? Yes! A high standard of teaching by trained teachers? Yes! The importance of producing a good sound in a balanced and natural way? Yes! Core repertoire, used by Suzuki students across the world? This is fine, as any teaching method is going to employ a core repertoire, so yes! Social interaction with other children?  Yes, but only if they are talented.  Ahhh, now I'm hitting on something that is at the belief of Shinichi Suzuki, the creator of the Suzuki Method: Everyone is equal and can learn talent.  Not true, I say.  If you have a gift, you are going to be able to be truly great. Not everyone can learn to play like Andre Watts, Vladimir Horowitz, or Van Cliburn.  I think we all have the ability to learn, but the ability to be an artist is something you are born with, not something you can learn.  

There are tons of pianists out there who can play a piece technically perfect, but they don't have the musical depth to truly move you.  This is what separates the everyday pianist from a true great like Watts, Horowitz, or Cliburn.  So, social interaction with other children in the Suzuki Method only works if the other children have a gift, as far as I'm concerned.  Also, I believe that in order for a student to truly learn music, he or she must be learning to read and play at the same time.  The whole belief that you should learn to play before learning to read comes from the observation that we learn to speak before we learn to read.  I do not think you can translate this to music.  In order to build a solid understanding of music, you must learn the theory  and how to read from the very beginning.  It might be fine if the student is too young to truly understand, but it must be introduced as soon as they have better understanding.  The Suzuki Method is not always very good at doing this, which is why I believe I never became really good at sight-reading or being able to sit down and bang out a piece without hearing it first (listen and copy).  Basic time signatures have meaning to me, but anything more advanced trips me up.  Anything with more than a couple of sharps or flats trips me up.  This is why I am trying to go back and fix things.  It's sort of like I was only taught a little bit how to read growing up and can now only speak every other word or so when I read a book aloud.  Get the picture?

Enough of my ramblings.  I just wanted to get it off my chest that I am not completely anti-Suzuki Method.  Just trying to correct what I perceive as an injustice done to my path through studying piano for fourteen years.

Day Five: Pull Back to the Conversation

I practiced a bit of the same part of the wedding party this morning, but pulled back to the conversation just to make sure it truly begins to get cemented inside my noggin.  I am thinking that this initial phase may take longer than six months.  I am much older than I was when I first learned these pieces and my brain doesn't retain information like it used to.  Regardless, I still had a decent practice this morning and will probably work on splitting my practice up into two or three shorter practices during the day instead of one long one early in the morning.  I think this may contribute more to my success.  Thoughts on  this?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day Four: On To the Party!

Although they need practice, the first several measures are still in my memory.  I practiced the next ten measures or so that I can't remember a lick of (see the video, I didn't even land on the correct first notes of this part, so it is completely gone!).  Anyway, the party is a bit more intense when it comes to what is going on in both the treble and bass clefs.  Craziness.  This may take a little longer than I anticipated, but I'm still sticking to my guns!  I still believe I am on track to get this puppy under my belt within the 30 day goal.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Evolution of the Project?

I'm thinking right now that I may tack-on one new piece by each composer I am re-learning for this initial part of the project.  So, when I get done with all my senior recital pieces, I will be looking to learn new pieces by Joplin, Debussy, and Grieg.  I may pick a few that interest me and let my readers vote on which ones I should learn.  We'll see.  That is a way off since I am only at the beginning of this journey right now.  After these additional pieces are learned, I can move on to the second phase that I mentioned when I started this (selected pieces by Debussy).

Day Three: Poco Tranquillo

I have now made it through the 50 measures that comprise "the conversation" of WDAT.  It will take a couple of more days of polishing and making sure it is locked away in memory, but I can actually play it for the first time in a very long time.  How exciting!  So, I wanted to take a quick moment to discuss some of the musical notation in this part of WDAT.  If you have a copy of the music, you can check this out for yourself.  If you don't have a copy of the music and want one, please contact me and I will refer you to the best compilation of Grieg lyric pieces to pick up for your own enjoyment.

At the beginning of this section, the music is marked "Poco tranquillo."  This means to play this section calmly.    This is very important in setting the mood of the private conversation between the bride and groom.  Also, there is another notation here, "cantando," which means "singing style."  These notes should be played such that they mimic singing to each other.

This passage is also marked throughout with "dolce," which is a reminder to play these parts "sweetly," as they are talking lovingly to each other.  Note that the first measures start piano (and build a bit), but the next few measures that get repeated start off pianissimo.  It's as if they start softly, almost whispering, and build in their conversation, but then break it down to a whisper again so as to keep their very sweet exchange private.

I think I may have to upload a video of this section for you to understand what is going on here once I have it ready.  Oh, before I drop off for the day, one more term here: "una corda." Literally: one chord.  The pedal is depressed through several measures here to capture what is intended as one chord over several measures.  At least that is what I remember it being.  I entertain corrections to anything I may have wrong here.  Remember, music theory is coming into the fold for me as soon as I can get hold of a good book.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day Two: The Conversation Gets Passionate

The first 18 measures that I practiced yesterday are the beginning of the bride/groom dialog in this section.  The next 16 measures that I practiced this morning are the most passionate part of that encounter.  Although it starts a bit muted, it picks up a bit of intensity through this part.  I sort of think of this part as them both really looking deeply into each others eyes and telling each other how much they truly love each other and are so very happy that this day is finally here to start the rest of their lives together.  I know, I'm being a bit sappy here, but when you listen to this, you will understand.  I may have to post a recording of the completed section at the end of this week, just to give you a better understanding.

Anyway, this particular section takes a bit more out of me to re-learn, so I may spend tomorrow on it as well before moving onto the final measures of this section (which are essentially a repeat of the first 18 measures with a couple of extra flourishes thrown in).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day One: Familiar Feelings

For those who are not very familiar with Wedding Day at Troldhaugen (WDAT), let me educate you for a few minutes before I delve into day one of my journey.  WDAT is essentially broken into two parts, with the first part being repeated at the end with some extra measures to close out the piece.  The first part is comprised of 56 measures, the second part is comprised of 50 measures, and the final part is comprised of 65 measures (again, it is a repeat of the first part, with a few extra measures tacked-on to complete the piece).  WDAT was written by Grieg, most likely to commemorate his marriage to his first cousin Nina.  Their home was at Troldhaugen, Norway, which is just outside of Bergen.  When I listen to this piece, I close my eyes and can see the events of the wedding day taking place.  In the first part, the business of the wedding day is evident in the tempo and intensity of the music as it builds and builds until it breaks into the second part.  When the second part arrives, it is markedly softer and a little bit slower.  The treble and bass talk in turn to each other, almost like Edvard and Nina slipped away from the festivities for a few moments and are having a moving conversation. Then, at the end of this section, they enter the wedding day again and all it's business.  The piece carries on as it did before the middle part, but has a very strong send-off at the end.  So, the next time that you happen to get to hear WDAT in it's entirety, just think of the wedding scene and the bride/groom conversation and you will appreciate this piece anew.

Now, on to day one of practice!  I have chosen to focus on the middle-section first (the conversation I mentioned above).  Today, I practiced both the right and left hand parts separately over the first 18 measures.  Wow, that sure brings back memories to practice a measure repeatedly and then move on to the next and the next, etc.  After about 30 minutes, I put both the right and left hands together and played through these 18 measures nearly flawlessly (with the music, of course).  Before today, I had barely been able to stumble through this while trying to sightread.  Big confidence booster for me!  I practiced some isolated measures with both hands, but mainly focused on learning them separately for now.  Tomorrow, I will run through the first 18 measures as a sort of reinforcement and then move on to the next ~18 measures.  The middle section should be mastered by the end of this week!

I will find a little time this week to write some more details about who Edvard Grieg was.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Current Keyboard

I currently have a Technics SX-PX228 electronic keyboard.  I bought it over ten years ago.  It has great sound and pretty good touch for an electronic keyboard.  It is the same keyboard that Billy Joel and Elton John used to haul around when they were doing their tours together.  I love it because I can record two tracks on it.  Four-handed pieces played with yourself?  Yes, thank you very much!  I also enjoy another little feature that you don't have with the real deal: headphone jacks.  I can practice to my heart's content without disturbing a soul.  How great is that?

I do plan on ultimately getting a real piano.  When I do, I do plan on still keeping this keyboard for at least practicing purposes.  And hey, with a MIDI box, I can play on the new Rock Band 3!  :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Word About My Piano Teacher

I wanted to take a moment to talk about my piano teacher of fourteen years.  No, I'm not going to tell you her name.  That could give me away!  Anyway, I don't want it to seem like I am unhappy with how she taught me or anything like that.  She is one of the best piano teachers around.  It has been about seventeen years, I think, since I last took a lesson from her.  She taught the Suzuki Method, yes, and it is for sure that is what I am railing against; but she did do me a lot of good over my many years of taking lessons with her.  She did depart from the Suzuki books after book three and she did attempt to help me understand some of the music theory behind what I was learning.  Alas, I still primarily learned Suzuki style by listening and copying on the keyboard.  She would often record a section of music on an endless cassette and I would use it to help me commit a section of music to memory each week.

Anyway, I just wanted to jot a quick, positive note about her to assure you that I am not disappointed with her teaching.  Soon, I will write more in detail why I am so anti-Suzuki and why I have finally determined that I must do something about my shortcomings!

Order of Music

I just realized that I forgot to put things in order in my last post.  I listed what I performed (not in the specific order, just as the pieces came to mind), but I failed to list them in the order I plan on re-committing them to memory.  So, here is the official list:

  1. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen
  2. Notturno
  3. Golliwog's Cakewalk
  4. Maple Leaf Rag
  5. Clair de Lune
The Grieg pieces are not technically difficult, but are between middle to upper-middle on the musical difficulty.  Golliwog's Cakewalk and Maple Leaf Rag aren't too terribly difficult musically, but are a bit more difficult than the grieg on the technical side.  Clair de Lune is more on the difficult side in both categories, which is why I'm saving it for last.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How To Get Started...

I hope that as I make my journey from fragments of remembered pieces to being able to perform an hour-long recital with a complete understanding of the music inspires some of you out there who had lessons years ago to get off your keister and get back into the groove again.  I have a few days of setting this whole thing up, but when the name of the blog suddenly came to me last night, I knew it was time to at least start writing about it.  Fortunately for my loved ones, I currently only have an electric piano that I can plug headphones into.  It is a good quality one (Technics, full 88-keys) and is good for now.  Eventually, I will have to get a real piano though.  Nothing beats the sound and the feel of the real deal.  If I get enough followers of my experiment, I may start up a Paypal fund for people to contribute a buck or two occasionally to help me get an upright or baby grand.

So, what do I need to do before I can start "Day 1?"  While I do need a good basic music theory book to start from the beginning (even thought I DO know some stuff, it is just fragmented thanks to the Suzuki Method), it is not necessary for me to have this book at the very beginning.  I do need to do the following, though:

  1. Figure out when I can have at least an hour of time uninterrupted to practice.  
  2. Lay-out the order I am going to re-commit my senior recital pieces to memory.
  3. Make video recordings of what I can recall of these pieces for now and post those videos to Youtube (you need a reference to know that I truly am not able to play more than a page or two of these pieces at present).
  4. Set a time-frame for re-learning these pieces and an end-result.
As far as when I can have at least an hour to myself, I think I am going to have to get up really early in the morning.  I am not much of a morning person, but this is plenty enough motivation for me to hop out of bed a bit earlier each morning.  Nothing makes me happier than to be able to play a song completely and to play it well and to play it not only for my enjoyment, but for the enjoyment of others.

The order of re-learning is probably a bit easier since my performance was made-up of pieces of varying difficulty.  I performed the following:
  1. Nottruno, Edvard Grieg
  2. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Edvard Grieg
  3. Golliwog's Cakewalk, Claude Debussy
  4. Clair de Lune, Claude Debussy
  5. Maple Leaf Rag, Scott Joplin
There were a couple of arrangements of hymns thrown in there as well, but I am leaving them off the list and will only include them as a surprise when I am ready to perform all these pieces together.

I have a nifty little HD camcorder that will capture my "fragments" just fine.  I will post each performance in the next couple of days.  As far as the time-frame goes, I think I should give myself six months to re-commit all these pieces to memory.  I may have to adjust as I go along, but that sounds good to me.

What is the end result?  I plan on giving a recital when I'm done.  It is obvious that I will be revealing my identity once I do this.  That is OK.  True success will come after the recital as I plan on taking on four new-to-me works by Debussy as well as the entire Kinderscenen by Robert Schumann.  I imagine that task will take over a year, but the end result will be a nice hour-long (or so) recital that I will give.  At that point, I am hoping that I will have learned enough by teaching myself that I will have a decent repertoire at hand that I will continue to build on, that will allow me to perform at weddings and other special events.

I intend to make this journey entirely without the help of a teacher.  At least for the initial stage where I am re-learning my senior recital pieces.  Every single day will be chronicled.  Just stay-tuned for updates right here!

Suzuki Be Damned

That's right, I said Suzuki be damned.  As in the Suzuki Method.  This is my experiment.  I was a student of the Suzuki Method for 14 years. I learned to play beautifully and even completed a senior recital with selections from Grieg, Debussy, and Joplin.  The problem is that I never truly learned music theory.  That, plus the way the Suzuki Method teaches, I have almost completely lost all the songs I had committed to memory.  I am going to start over, in a way, and learn music theory.  I am also going to re-commit my senior recital pieces to memory.  I will post links from Youtube soon of what still remains in my memory.  I intend for this to be a daily exercise that I commit at least one hour each day to.  I intend to relearn Clair de Lune, Golliwog's Cakewalk, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Notturno, and the Maple Leaf Rag over the next six months (if not less).  After that, I will embark on a new endeavor to learn new pieces by Debussy with a set time limit.  Impressionistic works will be my focus.  So, day one will be starting soon!  I'm looking forward to this journey!