Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 66: Practice on a Local Piano...

So, I finally managed to make the time to go to a local church and practice on their baby grand today.  I didn't practice for long because my time management skills seem to be lacking lately.  It quickly became very apparent to me that I definitely need to make more of a solid effort to practice on a real piano at least three times a week. At first, I had trouble controlling the dynamics of the music.  That is, I was having trouble controlling how loud  was playing.  After about 15 minutes, I got used to the piano I was playing and had a much easier time producing the range of dynamics from piano all the way to fortissimo.  The other problem I was having though was playing notes cleanly.  You see, with my keyboard, I do not get any resistance when I play a piece.  When I play a real piano, I get resistance because I am causing the hammer to strike the strings on the soundboard instead of depressing just a key that connects a circuit to produce the sound electronically.  This meant that some of the areas of the pieces I have learned thus far that are pristine on the electronic keyboard didn't come out sounding quite so clean on the real keyboard.  So, again, the only solution here is for me to get more practice in on a real piano.  I am quite well aware now why my piano teacher was made to practice on a weighted "dummy" piano when she was learning.

Anyway, Golliwogg's Cakewalk is complete, but the measures that were giving me trouble are not quite up to tempo.  So very close, though.  I still think I can manage a recording before the end of the week!  Next up: Maple Leaf Rag!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 64: The Line-Up for New Pieces

Since I have passed the half-way point in re-learning my old pieces, I have taken a little time perusing my music books for the "new" pieces I will learn.  I believe I have my selections.  I will learn, in no particular order:

  1. Arietta, Op.12, No. 1 by Edvard Grieg
  2. La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) by Claude Debussy.  This is No. 8 of 12 Preludes, Book 1.
  3. Scott Joplin's New Rag by Scott Joplin (redundant, eh?)
  4. Elite Syncopations by Scott Joplin
Why two ragtime pieces?  For symmetry.  I am re-learning two Grieg pieces, two Debussy pieces, and one Joplin piece.  For the sake of balance, I thought it only fair to Joplin to pick up two new pieces by him so that I would have three pieces by each composer in my repertoire.

Golliwogg's Cakewalk is almost done.  I only have two measures that are still a little bit of a problem, but if history serves as a lesson, I should be playing those two measures just fine by tomorrow.  Expect a recording posted to Youtube before the week is up!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Word About My Pal Claude Debussy

Claude Achille Debussy (August 22, 1862 – March 25, 1918), was the composer of impressionistic classical music.  He was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Yvelines, France. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1872-1884 and then as the 1884 Prix de Rome winner, he went to Rome from 1885-1887.

Debussy had quite a private life.  At the age of 18, he started an eight-year affair with Blanche Vasnier, who was the wife of a wealthy Parisian lawyer.  This relationship ended when he won the Prix de Rome.  When he returned to Paris in 1889, he began a rocky nine-year relationship with Gabrielle Dupont, with whom he cohabitated.  He also carried on an affair with the singer Therese Roger during the same time and was briefly engaged to Roger. He left Dupont for her friend Rosalie Texier, whom he married in 1899.  Debussy became frrustrated with her lack of musical sensitivity and intellectual limitations and started a new affair with Emma Bardac (wife of a Parisian banker) in 1904.  Debussy left Texier for Bardac and they had a child, Claude-Emma, born in 1905.  Claude-Emma died from diptheria in 1919, not long after Debussy passed away.
His planned set of six sonatas was not completed due to his death in 1918 from rectal cancer.  He died in Paris on March 25, 1918 during World War I.  The siege by the Prussian army on Paris prevented much fanfare in his funeral.  He was reburied after the war with a more fitting tribute. 

Rudolph Reti points out these features of Debussy's music which established a new concept of tonality in European music:
  1. Frequent use of long pedal points
  2. Glittering passages and webs of figurations which distract from occasional absence of harmony
  3. Frequent use of parallel chords which are 'in essence not harmonies at all, but rather 'chordal melodies', enriched unisons.'
  4. Bitonality, or at least bitonal chords
  5. 'Use of the whole-tone scale.'
  6. Unprepared modulations, 'without any harmonic bridge.'
He concludes that Debussy's achievement was the synthesis of monophonic based 'melodic tonality' with harmonies, albeit different from those of 'harmonic tonality'. (Reti, 1958)

Sources for this information are 8notes and wikipedia.  

Day 63: Grieg Piece Chosen

I spent part of my practice today, sight reading a few measures of a few selections in my big book of Grieg lyric pieces.  I think I have settled on Arietta, Op. 21, No. 1.  It is very short at only a page long. The brevity of this piece isn't why I chose it, though. It is quite simply the most beautiful of the pieces I was considering. Of course, I will not be starting it until I finish Golliwogg's Cakewalk, Maple Leaf Rag, and Clair de Lune. Speaking of Golliwogg, I am on the precipice of completeness.  I literally only have three measures that are causing some issues still. Expect to see a completion video posted to Youtube this week as I move on to Maple Leaf Rag!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 62: Ragtime Influence

If you have already looked up Golliwogg's Cakewalk to get an understanding of the piece I am working on, something may be nagging at you.  Could it be that the piece seems to be influenced perhaps, by ragtime?  Yes, ragtime was wildly popular at the time Debussy wrote Golliwogg's Cakewalk and this piece was obviously influenced by ragtime, albeit in Debussy's own way, of course!

I bring up ragtime because, well, my next piece I will be re-learning is Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin.  This was Joplin's first published rag and one that other ragtime composers modeled their rags after.  I also bring up ragtime because my ears are enjoying the feast of ragtime music on my Scott Joplin Pandora station this morning.  I am listening to not only Joplin, but Zez Confrey, Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, Claude Bolling, Thomas "Fats" Waller, James P. Johnson, and Jimmy Blythe (just to mention a few). I know there are some more popular names that I am leaving out, but those are the ones that have rolled through my playlist this morning.  Such invigorating music!

Anyway, Golliwogg's Cakewalk is about done.  There are just a few measures left that are shaky, but they should be taken care of in the next couple of days!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 59: Still On Golliwogg

Well, measures 61-86 (where Golliwogg pleads) are taking a little bit longer than expected.  Part of this is because I haven't been devoted to practicing every single day like I should.  I'm turning that around this week.  I can't lose the lead time I have gained by finishing the Grieg pieces faster than the 30 days allotted for each.  I have had excellent practice both yesterday and today on these middle measures.  Once these are nailed down, there are really only about five measures remaining that are different than the front 46 measures, so the piece should wrap up quickly once I have mastered the middle section.

I still need to put up a short bio of Debussy.  That shouldn't be a problem to do either later today or tomorrow.  After Golliwogg's Cakewalk is completed, I will move on to Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin.  After that, I will finish out this initial phase of my project with Clair de Lune by Debussy.  If I can remaster Golliwogg's Cakewalk by the end of this week (approximately 62 days), then I'm looking at having Clair de Lune wrapped up by no later than the end of May.  This is with a little extra time padded in because remember, I am budgeting 30 days per piece.  Per my budget, I would have been finishing Notturno right about now, but I am closer to finishing Golliwogg's Cakewalk, so I am pretty far ahead of schedule.  I realize I could be even farther ahead of schedule if I really sat down and practiced with the same intensity that I devoted to the Grieg pieces, so I am working to correct my "falling off" of how hard I was working.

Since I work best when constrained by a schedule, I am writing out a schedule today that will allot time at the piano I have access to locally at least twice a week.  This will help me improve as I move through this first phase and into the next phase where I learn "new" pieces!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 53: Stubborn Little Golliwogg

While I have only about 19 measures left in Golliwogg's Cakewalk at this point, I am far from being done with this piece.  I am having success with the left and right hands separately, but having a bit more difficulty putting them together for some reason.  It may be another week before I'm done with Golliwogg.  He is a stubborn little guy.  If I complete Golliwogg's Cakewalk in another week, I will have re-committed three pieces to memory in 60 days, 30 days ahead of the goal time.  I have a feeling that I will need that extra time to work out Clair de Lune and Maple Leaf Rag.

I have access to a baby grand for the next several days, so I intend to get some good, quality practice in.  Maybe I'll be coming back home in the next few days with Golliwogg whipped into shape?  We'll see!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 48: Golliwogg Pleads

First of all, I want to clarify some of what I said in my last post.  The first 14 measures of the next section are not pleading, but rather a transition from the playtime in the first 46 measures to the pleading of Golliwogg for the playing to not stop.  Sort of like playtime is winding down before we get to the part where Golliwogg pleads.  So, the first 46 measures are playtime, then measures 47-60 are a winding down, and then the remaining 29 measures of measures 47-69 are the pleading portion.  Got it?

Notturno is 99% pristine.  I went ahead and made a recording of it and am posting it to Youtube right now.  I am still having problems with the sound over-blowing the microphone on my camcorder, but the angle is at least better so you can see what I'm doing.  I hope you enjoy it.

One last note: With some of the repetition that appears in Golliwogg's Cakewalk, I expect to have it complete in another week.  Expect to see a video posted towards the end of March!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 45: Un Peu Moins Vite.

I apologize, I made an error in counting the number of measures that comprise the first section.  There are 46 measures, not 48.  Anyway, it is now a week later and I have the first 46 measures under my belt.  I will begin working on the next section of Golliwogg's Cakewalk tomorrow.  I also intend to finally go practice on a real piano.  Anyway, as I prepare to head into the next section of the piece, I would like to cover some musical notation that I will encounter.

Un peu moins vite literally means "some less faster."  So, a little bit slower. 

Two notations here are cedez and avec une grande emotion.  Cedez means "to yield" or "slow down."  Avec une grande emotion means "with a great emotion."  This part of the section is almost like Golliwogg is pleading with his playmate.  I like to think of the piece as the first section where Golliwogg and a child are playing together.  This part is where the child looses interest and wants to put Golliwogg back in the toybox, so Golliwogg starts pleading with him/her to not put him away.  This section is marked by sudden single or double measures back at the original tempo and liveliness, like Golliwogg is trying to show the child what he is going to be missing out on if Golliwogg goes back into the toy box.

Retenu means "return" and likely means to return to the way this was previously played.

That is that!  Notturno and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen still get the proper amount of attention and are getting more and more polished.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day 41: Great Day of Practice

I had a great 70 minutes or so of practice this morning!  I am now up to 25 measures, at tempo, of Golliwogg's Cakewalk. That is almost 20% of the piece re-learned in just a couple of days.  :)  I expect a bit of a slow-down when I hit the key change in the next section, but I should still finish this piece ahead of the 30 day goal.  I am going to focus more on completing this piece before moving on to the next one this time because I am finding that I am neglecting Notturno and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen now that I have moved on.  Both of the Grieg pieces still have a few rough measures.

I did iron out some problematic measures in Notturno this morning, so that should be ready for a completion video soon.  There are still a few rough patches in Wedding Day at Troldhaugen that will take a few days to iron out.  If you watched the video, you know where they are.

I now have enough pieces I am working on that I can go make good use of a real piano.  Since I have one available to me just a couple of miles away, I will be starting practice there at least twice a week next week!

And one last word about the "new" pieces that I will learn.  I have not yet selected what I will learn, but I have already thrown out three different possibilities to select from for Grieg.  I am mulling over what pieces to select two from for Joplin and have pretty much decided what Debussy piece I will select (sorry, you don't get to vote on that one).  I am happy to accept suggestions for two Joplin pieces to learn.  Please check out the videos I posted on Facebook for the Grieg pieces I am considering and suggest one to me.  I am leaning towards Berceuse.  I will reveal the four new pieces when I complete Clair de Lune in approximately 90 days.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 39: Surprising Progress

I have 13 measures of the first 48 that comprise the first part of Golliwogg's Cakewalk under my belt.  This piece is made up of 128 measures.  I have set the usual 30 day limit on re-learning this piece.  I expect to have the first 48 measures under my belt by this time next week.  The next section after the first 48 measures is marked by a key change, which usually slows me down a bit.  Well, actually only if I'm going from dealing with three flats to five. More on that when I get to that part of the piece!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 38: Golliwogg's Cakewalk

I have to admit, I have been a bit of a slacker since last weekend.  I haven't practiced much.  Just a little bit of a down-cycle, but I'm picking right back up today.  Notturno is still in pretty good shape and almost complete.  As I did with Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, I am now picking up the next piece before I am completely finished with Notturno.  I am moving on to Golliwogg's Cakewalk by the great Claude Debussy.  This piece is the last of the six-part Children's Corner written between 1906 and 1908.  Golliwogg, a black male doll, was the gallant hero of popular children's books written in the 1890's by Bertha Upton and illustrated by Florence Kate. Golliwogg's Cakewalk thus is a very lively piece.  As with anything Debussy composed, you can close your eyes and envision Golliwogg on one of his adventures while listening to this piece.

I am not uploading a video of what I can remember of it because I can only remember about eight measures.  Not very impressive.  I am essentially starting from scratch on this piece.  So, I will start from the beginning on this piece.  The first section is about two pages in length.  I didn't count up the measures just yet, so if you are looking in a different publication than I have, your two pages could very well be more measures than my version.  This happens when a publisher likes to cram more measures on a page than some others.

There are a couple of musical notations of note here:

First of all is the term "allegro giusto." Giusto means strict and allegro means fast or lively.  So, literally this means strictly fast/lively.  Given the nature of the doll this piece is written for, this is a very lively piece.

You can barely make it out here, but this says "tres net et tres sec."  This is French (Debussy was French, after all) and means literally "very clean and very dry."  I think that Debussy's intent here is that the notes should be played very cleanly, but also without any intervention of the pedal (thus, the "very dry" notation).  Any thoughts on this?  This is how I've always interpreted it.