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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Epitaph for a Cautious Man

He came and left
and left things as they were

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


After endless self-improvement
the self is pretty much the same

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Weirdly proud

I was frustrated when first writing songs that they all sounded the same. Of course, I only knew one key, and I had a limited number of harmonic moves to deploy. In retrospect, though, it makes sense to develop the same material in three or four different ways before moving on to something else. I've continued to do that: I find an idea, melodic or harmonic, and use it for at least two songs.

Having a style, then, having one's songs (or poems or scholarly essays) sound like one's self is not at all a bad thing. I'm wondering why I thought this was even a problem. Style stems from limitations (or more positively the finite number of things within one's repertoire) and from a set of preferences, what one wants to do in the first place. (For example, my use of "one" in this post is irritating to me. It is not my normal preference at all, but I just fell into it. But it is not discontinuous with my style, either, just an added wrinkle. The post still sounds like me.)

Each chord has a color. Yet all my songs together, composed of different chords, have a kind of coloration. Not a single hue, but a composite range of tones. I am weirdly proud that I can do this at all.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Tucking the thumb

Just one more post before I take my summer break...

Trying to tuck your thumb under other fingers when playing piano does not seem right to me.

*In the first place, it cramps the hand.

*Secondly, it makes the elbow flay out.

*Thirdly, you've tucked the thumb under the third finger. What is the next finger you have to use? That's right, it is the second finger. Where is that finger? It's way to the right (on the right hand) and above the thumb, so you must bring your elbow back in and swing that finger over the thumb so it is in position to play the next note.

Instead, what I do is to simply move my whole hand over in one continuous motion. Then then the thumb and all the other fingers are perfectly positioned to play the next notes. I learned this from a you tube video. I just read that Charles Rosen did that too, and could play that way legato. If it makes sense for you to tuck the thumb, don't let me stop you. For me it is a disaster and makes me think of my childhood of keyboard awkwardness.


Looking at my piano playing, I find that the worst deficiencies are rather correctible.

*Mistakes. Well, just not playing as many wrong notes is doable.

*Legato. My playing is simply not legato enough. Even without the pedal, I could simply play more legato by trying to do so consciously. Even passages I think should be staccato sound better more legato than I am playing them, for example in the tune that I have nicknamed "Bouncy song." The sound I am actually going for is as legato as possible without the sustain pedal, if that makes any sense.

*Dynamic sensitivity. If I know the notes, then I can concentrate my efforts on playing with sensitive dynamics and legato phrasing. Mostly, I just over-emphasize certain notes that don't need to be played so loud. The piano is after all the piano-forte, so the dynamic range has come into play.

*Tempo. I don't actually mind the fact that I speed up and slow down at certain places. Some of that is implicit in the song itself. I just need to do that more mindfully and deliberately, so that ritardando and accelerando are not simply arbitrary.

Those four things will make my playing, if not exactly good, at least semi tolerable. What I want is for my playing to be a vehicle through which the song can be heard, without being an obvious distraction. In other words, I am a better song-writer than I am a pianist, but the main flaws are easily correctible. I'm sure that if I correct those four things, something else will spring into view to be improved, like clean articulation. I weep when I hear piano as it supposed to be played and compare it with what I can do.

Lying Low

I'll be lying low from around now until the first week of June's. I'm simply busy and will be traveling, etc... after my grades are turned in.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

4 kinds of listening

You can listen to music as background noise. Basically, you are not listening at all, but using it as a sonic backdrop for some other activity. You might not even want music with lyrics, because you are studying or concentrating on something else.

The second kind of listening is when you are actually listening. That is your primary activity. Say, when you are at a concert and sitting there. Your mind might wander all over the place, but the music is not secondary to you.

A third kind might be when you are dancing, or doing something else for which the music is a necessary accompaniment.

A fourth kind of listening is when you are attending closely to music in an analytical way. Suppose you were writing a review of an album, or trying to transcribe a solo, or comparing two interpretations of the same work.

None of these kinds of listening is bad, per se, and I practice all four. My point is that what we call listening to music encompasses a wide range of degree of attentiveness, from not hearing the music at all to dedicating one's full attention to it.

The Inside makes the Outside Sound Good

Monk told Steve Lacy, apparently, that the inside of a song (the bridge or B section of a 32 bar AABA form) made the outside (the A sections) sound good. That's brilliant. I feel that structural impulse in my own very modest compositional efforts. It is hard to write a good bridge which is stitched tightly together with the A sections and makes them sound good. The bridge should sound good in its own right, be different but related to the rest, and then lead back into the final A section and the conclusion. I think my bridge to "Italian Movie Theme" is excellent.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Another Workshop

I am thinking of doing another workshop, but not on translation. Tell me what workshop you would sign up for in July of this year. If I get a critical mass (4 people) I will do it.

It could be on scholarly prose, poetry writing, or anything else that's of interest.


A very prominent Lorquista sent me a review he published. Here is the relevant quote:
Thus when Lorca writes "yo"or employs a verb in the first-person singular, Peral appears to believe that it is unproblematic to to assume that the author is referring directly and unproblematically to some "true" self of which that personal pronoun is the textual embodiment.