More Than 3…um…<3

I adore pop culture.  I love going to movies.  Thus, I love all the clips that Bob Mondello and Linda Holmes from NPR have put together.  So far there are 8 clips (I believe) available on YouTube and the NPR Monkey See Blog.  I have not seen ANY of these movies but I sure have enjoyed these comments posted on Rotten Tomatoes as interpreted by Bob and Linda.  Watch, enjoy, and laugh.

Peace and Love,

The Mad Pianist

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Hugs…A Form of Torture or Comfort?

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“Oh, I love hugging.  I wish I was an octopus, so I could hug 10 people at a time!” – Drew Barrymore

I am not a touchy-feely sort of person.  I never have been and I assume that I probably  never will be this way.  Physical contact of almost any kind makes me want to scream and run for the hills.  I admit this fact quite freely.  However, I most likely will not turn you down if you come to me in tears and say you need a hug.

This morning, as I was at the piano, there was a knock at my door.  So, here I am looking pretty scary while  playing scales.  My hair not done (not even brushed), still in my pjs, a pencil stuck in my hair, and a metronome clicking.  Quite a lovely picture.  I am a little apprehensive about opening the door and showing the world that at 10AM, I am still in this state. Even now I feel justified in being this way nearly every Thursday because I have nothing on my schedule until 1PM.  I creep to the doorway, even though the person on the other side could hear me at the piano, look through my peephole and see my next door neighbor.  I open the door and she tells me that she loves hearing me play.  Then, she says something that makes me pause for a second.  “Can I have a hug?”  I can see that she is nearly in tears.  My response, “Of course.”  I have no idea what was going on with her and it really doesn’t matter.  If my goal this year is to step outside my comfort zone, I’m well on my way.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to be acquainted with this funny old man.  I think we should call him Jim.  He was probably one of the funniest old men that I ever knew.  He wore these bike gloves that you see motorcyclists wear – ALL.THE.TIME.  I would fix him a cup of coffee and he would tell me all sorts of stories (most of which I’m sure never happened).  One day, he looked not quite like himself.  This was probably just a few months before he died.  He motioned me over toward him and said, “Can I ask you a favor?”  I replied in the affirmative.  He then asked me for a hug.  I gave him one and then sat down by him.  He told me that “sometimes you just need a hug.”  He went on to tell me about his day and that he just felt a bit alone and down and was glad that I had come along.

I work with a generation of people that seem to enjoy this type of comfort.  As humans, we use holding hands, a reassuring pat on the arm, hugs, kisses on the hand or cheeks to show our affection.  I often have people grab my hand when I am sitting by them or touch my arm.  I am better than before but please don’t call me babe.

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How often are we providing the comfort that those people in our lives need?  Are we more concerned with ourselves that we are looking to help those around us with such a simple thing as a hug?  I know that I am often more self-absorbed than is truly needful.   Let us make it our assignment this week to seek out those around us and just do something nice for them.  I am almost positive that this you won’t regret.

Peace and Love,

The Mad Pianist

The Illusion of Progress

“Be not afraid of going slowly.  Be afraid only of standing still.”-Chinese Proverb-

The above proverb has, in a way, become my motto.  I used to have it written on the board above my desk at work.  In fact, I should probably do so again.  I would see it many times each day and have the reminder that as long as I am laboring and working to make progress, then everything will work out just the way it should.  Progress always.  

I had a teacher in high school that was pretty influential on my life.  Her name was Judy Pederson and she was my Honors and AP English teacher.  I remember her telling our class more than once (probably many, many times) over the years that when we cease to learn something each day, that’s when we die.  I didn’t really understand it all that well as a teenager and I’m not sure I fully get it even now.  I just finally realize that not striving my hardest to make progress is not just standing still – it’s going backward.  I cannot afford to move the wrong direction in life – I’m not willing to try that move.  Progress always.

One summer a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a friend of mine, Luke.  He was working on his MM degree at NYU but back in the area for a little while giving some music theater workshops.  I was the pianist and it was truly remarkable to see the transformations that the attendees (I can’t think of an appropriate word to call them) made over the course of their session.  I also learned a few things.  One night during this time, after I practiced my scales and was making my plans for the rest of my practice session, I decided to try a little something different.  In these workshops Luke talked about a process called centering – and I decided to try it.  Granted, as a pianist I am not using my words to convey the emotion but rather all the technical things like tone, voicing, and the like.  Well, I decided to try it anyway.  It was amazing.  I tried it first with Bach.  My Bach had been with me so long that it had just become a part of me.  As I played it, it felt different – I was not, icing different things within the piece – important things.  It was incredible.  I don’t know that I even would want to go back to playing it the way it was.  Using the centering  process on Bach was like being in the dead center of a lightning storm.  Lightning is flashing all around you and things are being seen in new and exciting ways – but in flashes.  It was like being taken to a higher realm and understanding things that my teachers have been trying to tell me about playing.  Progress always.

As I reflect on this moment, I wonder if I have once again started standing still or moving backward?  Am I consciously making that effort toward progress and all of its wonderful results?  What are you doing to ensure that you are moving forward?  Send me your ideas – I would love to hear them.

Is this idea of progress really just all an illusion?

Peace and Love (and Progress),

The Mad Pianist

My Broken Metronome…and a Metaphor

It’s story time.  While I was doing some cleaning a little bit ago, I ran across my old metronome.  For some reason, I still had it with me.  It has not worked in about 10 years and yet, it has made the move from Idaho to Oklahoma and back to Idaho (with many moves from house to house in there).  I enjoy the story of why I have a broken metronome and so, I thought I would share with you.

I got this metronome my freshman year of college.  It was a good one and very sturdy.  For those who know me, you know that I tend to drop things a lot and am just rather clumsy.  Well, I guess I dropped this metronome one too many times on the hard floor of Idaho State’s Fine Arts Building.  I had a small locker just outside of the practice rooms on the 2nd floor of that building.  I would keep my music and metronome and such in there so I did not have to transport it back and forth all week long.  Well, one day back in 2003 or 2004, it fell to its death.  I was a junior or a senior in college and took my metronome everywhere with me (like a good music student – haha).  Well, upon pulling my music out of my locker it fell and exploded once again.  I took it over to the “pianists corner” to put it back together.  The back would not stay on.  I initially thought “no big deal – I’ll just throw a rubber band around it or something.”  Well, I turned it on and it gave 2 clicks and promptly died.  No light flashing, no sound, no A440.  Just a dead metronome.  I did what any piano student would do – I took it to my applied teacher.  Now, my teacher was (and is) many things but a metronome fixer is not one of them.  She looked at me when I told her I broke it and was wondering if she could fix it and then promptly started laughing.  She asked me if she looked like she was an engineer or some other kind of person that was talented in fixing things.  I said, well sure.  She took the metronome and a post-it note and fiddled around on the innards.  Nope.  Nothing.  Nada.  My poor, devoted, sturdy metronome was dead.  I had killed it.  Not only did I learn to be more careful when pulling things out of high places, I learned that pianists are not always able to fix their own equipment.

Well, I bought a new metronome and it is still the one I use today.  It’s fabulous, with a lot of great settings, and it’s blue.  My mom even made a case for the metronome so that if it does fall (and trust me – it does), it has a cushion.

So, the real question is why do I still have this broken  metronome.  It was in a ziploc bag in the bottom of a plastic crate that I had not looked in for quite some time.  In fact, I was surprised I still had it in my possession.  I do not really know why I kept it except that it is a reminder of a time in my life and of people in my life.  I am throwing it out.  It does not work and there is really no point in me keeping something that just does not function in the capacity that it is supposed to function.

What are you holding onto in your life?  Are there things that are broken or not functioning properly that you can get rid of (physically or otherwise)?  Get rid of the junk.  Declutter your life.  Free your mind.

Peace and Love (And Steady Time),

The Mad Pianist

Embracing Life, Dropping Fears

 

 

Author’s Note:  This is an edited repost of a post written on my former blog, “Here, Here, and Here” from January 2013.chance

There’s a quote that has been on constant loop in my head all day.  It is from one of my favorite works by C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.  The book begins with this statement:  “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

It is a funny thing, this life.  No matter how much knowledge and information we have regarding something, the inevitable never ceases to provide a shock.

How much should one be called upon to endure, I wonder?

Strength lies in enduring.  That is what I tell myself everyday as I wander my way through all the struggles of my life.  They seem so inconsequential in the view of real pain and trials.  So what if I am not doing what I wish to be doing  career-wise?  So what if I lost hours at work?  So what that my life is nowhere near I imagined it would be five or ten years ago?  Life has a way of giving perspective when one least expects to receive that type of gift.

I wish I had more faith.  I wish I had more power of endurance.  I wish I had more love for others.  I wish I had more strength.  The thing is that I can – I have the opportunity.  I am still on this earth and as long as I live and breathe, I have the opportunity to continually improve myself.

My life is not stagnant.  My life is life.  It constantly ebbs and flows and provides me with experience and opportunities.  Who am I to constantly snub my nose at the opportunities for living that are provided for me?  I guess the point I am getting at or the point that has been drilled into me is to embrace life.  Life is for the living.  I, for one, am going to embrace and rejoice in this wondrous gift that I have been given.

So yes, grief does feel like fear.  It is something that must be lived through – every agonizing moment.  It is fear of the unknown; fear of this life that I have been given; fear of never living up to the expectations thrust upon me.  Maybe, just maybe, by embracing this life, the fears will not be so forward in my mind.

So, those are my thoughts.  A little jumbled maybe but it is what it is, I suppose.

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.  Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process….Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” – C. S. Lewis

The Mad Pianist

 

Melody, Phrasing, and…Tension?

Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a recital held at the local university.  It featured music for duo piano and other piano collaborations.  It is always an interesting night when I attend events such as these.  I knew many of the performers and was delighted to be able to support them and all their work.

There were some very wonderful moments.  However, there were some things that I noticed that concerned me. Some of these things I see every time I see students play – at least lately.  I wonder what is happening within our piano community that is encouraging these issues that arise in so many pianists.  Not every pianist is impacted and these things can be so easily overcome.  Are we as educators consciously turning our heads and ignoring some big red flags?

The biggest thing that I have been noticing is the high amount of tension that is so visible during performances.  Playing the piano should be natural.  The piano is simply an extension of the body and should be treated as such. Often a student can accomplish the right movements away from the piano and then he sits at the piano and the wrists lock and the arms and shoulders become tight.  What can we do to help our students become more relaxed and act more naturally when playing this beast of an instrument?

Something else that really stood out to me was the loss of the melody and phrasing.  Tonight it seemed as if the technical issues overshadowed the artistic ideas available.  Do we and our students get so bogged down by the “hard parts” of pieces that we lose sight of what is really the point of the piece?  There were definite parts of certain pieces where I was not sure where the melody lay.  It made my soul a little sad.

I really do not want to go into detail with everything I heard.  There were some moments that the lines, balance, harmony, melody, and pedaling were superb and I celebrate those.  It is hard work to get a solo piece ready and when playing in a collaboration, double or triple that number.  So, I do celebrate and say my congratulations to every pianist that performed tonight.  Performing can be challenging and you handled every thing thrown at you with grace and fortitude.  I am proud of you and look forward to seeing what progress you make by  next semester.

Peace and Best Wishes,

The Mad Pianist

Growth, Acceptance, and Respect

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My last post was a bit of a cathartic experience.  So, I’ve decided to share a bit about my other piano teachers.  My applied piano teacher during my master’s program was a bit of…well, we didn’t always see eye to eye.  I think that is putting it pretty kindly.  We had our ups and downs but I am SO grateful now that I had the experience to study with her.  She was (and is) a phenomenal performer.  I recall listening to her perform Liszt and being absolutely mesmerized.  It’s a feeling that rarely comes to me.  I would become so focused on the music that everything else would fade. It was like being transported to another realm.  If I had the chance now to go and hear her play, I would never second guess the opportunity.  I wanted to play like her.  I wanted others to experience in my music what I would experience in hers.  Her technique was so incredible and her artistry impeccable.

So, what is up with the “not seeing eye to eye” comment from above?  Well, I began to DREAD each and every piano lesson.  I think I may have developed an ulcer during this time of my life or at least heightened my anxiety issues.  We did not always get along but it wasn’t just her.  I made so many mistakes along the way.  There was a bit of a language and cultural barrier that I just couldn’t seem to cross and neither could she.  My last semester in the program, it was like everything shifted.  I don’t know why it changed or even how but I was able to see her in a completely different light.  My lessons with her went so much better and functioned more smoothly because we were on the same page with the same goal.

What did I learn during this period and from this teacher?

  • I learned how to treat people and to not treat people.
  • I learned what respect truly is and why it is so important to respect each other.
  • I learned many technical things from her.  These are things that I still do in my playing, especially in my warm-ups.
  • I learned how to voice more effectively and to control my playing.
  • I learned the value of a mirror and using one in practice.
  • I learned calm under pressure and now feel as if I can “go with the flow” without freaking out inside.’
  • I learned that love of music or anything is not always enough.  You sometimes have to dig deeper to access the will to go on.
  • I learned strength of character.
  • I learned that people can cross barriers and learn to get along.
  • I learned that life (and music) is never static.

So, maybe my ride during this period of a couple years was not smooth, but it was worth every tear and every venting session.  I wondered if I would ever be able to rid myself of the resentment that I held toward this teacher for some time.  Well, it’s gone.  It has been gone for a long time and now I feel only gratitude – gratitude and awe.  She will always be, at least in my mind, one of the most phenomenal performers that I have ever had the opportunity to study with and to hear perform.

See, we CAN do hard things and it will always be worth it in the end.

Peace and love (and much respect),

The Mad Pianist

Opening Sequence: The New World

I have fallen in love with Songs for a New World, composed by Jason Robert Brown.  This is a score that I fall in love with over and over and over.  There is so much that I could talk about here, so much for me to say but I am simply not going to go there.  I could talk to you about the harmonies, the instrumentation, the relationship between the music and lyrics, and so much more.  However, I want to talk about the lyrics.  This go around, I just want to visit the opening sequence.

So much of this musical/song cycle revolves around the theme of decisions.  Jason Robert Brown said when talking of this show, “It’s about one moment.  It’s about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.”  I think this is a theme that is so applicable to everyone.  We have moments of decision every day of our lives.  Some are big and some are small but they are prevalent in every single day.

All I have been able to do for the last two weeks as I commute (or even while at work) is listen to this score.  I listen to a part of a song and have to rewind immediately because something else stood out to me.  Sometimes, it is the “I have to hear that incredible harmony – the amazing blending of tones.”  At other times, it is more of the hearing a lyric and immediately understanding it to a level that I hadn’t before.

Having to make decisions frightens me.  I will most often choose the safe road, the road others tell me is okay to travel.  This is not what I should be doing, necessarily, and is something that I am trying to overcome.  I am trying to overcome others making me second-guess myself.  This life is made up of moments of decision.  Where I stand will depend upon me.  Life is truly about that “moment before it all becomes clear.”

These lyrics speak to me.  They reassure me that I am not alone in the way that I feel.  We may all be on our own journey’s in life but we are not alone as we travel.  I want to share some of these words from the opening with you that have made me listen and relisten and then rinse and repeat.  Over and over and over. These are not in the order that they appear in the song but in an order that makes the most sense to me.  All credit does go to Jason Robert Brown for creating this set that I think should have had much more popularity.

  • “It’s about one moment/The moment before it all becomes clear/and in that one moment/You start to believe there’s nothing to fear.”
  • “It’s about one moment/That moment you think you know where you stand/And in that one moment/The things that you’re sure of slip from your hand.”
  • “It’s about one second/And just when you’re on the verge of success/The sky starts to change/And the wind starts to blow.”
  • “And you’ve got one second/To try to be clear, to try to stand tall/But nothing’s the same/And the wind starts to blow.”
  • “And you’re suddenly a stranger/There’s no explaining where you stand/And you didn’t know/That you sometimes have to go/Round an unexpected bend/And the road will end/In a new world”
  • “And you’re suddenly a stranger/In some completely different land/And you thought you knew/But you didn’t have a clue/That the surface sometimes cracks/To reveal the tracks/To a new world
  • “All of a sudden/Your life is different than you planned/And you’ll have to stay til you somehow find a way/To be sure of what will be/Then you might be free.”