Monthly Archives: October 2010

Week Three- and I’m still at it

Piano

Piano (Photo credit: esc861)

 

Things don’t typically go as planned— my three-time a week at 9 AM practising plan among them.

 

However, I’ve stuck to the hour a day commitment for three weeks now, relaxing a bit about my schedule, just making sure it gets done —in the morning. Showing up is the main thing. Once I walk up the stairs, the next hour of playing is given.

 

Every day has started with drums. Drum sticks on a practice pad. This helps calm my brain, empty it of wandering thoughts and clearing it for focus. It also helps my drumming! Whatever I’ve been pondering up to that point in the morning goes into park, on to the back burner, off to the side, percolating, while I focus on right left right left, in some combination. I remember to breathe, to relax, to have fun doing it.

 

The piano requires a different approach. It’s an instrument I know, one upon which I’ve practised for years, and so know how the practising is ‘supposed’ to go. As I go through scales and arpeggios, broken chords and Hanon, I’m also breaking some old patterns. I don’t have to spend the whole time on one scale. Today, I did 4 or 5 scales, 4 octaves, 2 octave splits, in thirds and tenths, then plowed through arpeggios using the cycle of fifths.

 

This is not revolutionary stuff. However, releasing the old requirement to stick to one scale day after day, has been important. The flow is better now and I’m listening for fluffy notes—those times when my fingers aren’t quite precise enough to hit the key squarely.

 

One note at a time—full and complete and precise and heard.

 

I’ve opened up the Grade 9 book. Didn’t spend much time on it when I was 13, so there are lots of pieces I haven’t played at all. It’s and easy sell. The pieces are easy enough that I can learn them in a few days and interesting enough to provide a challenge—speed, expression, mood, colour.

 

Bach‘s Prelude in C- is my current best friend. It’s such a training and requires a precision I’m looking for in pieces right now. It trains me, leads me, teaches me. I listen. I’m beating my old practice patterns out of myself and Bach insists better than most. For once, I’m really learning a piece, bar by bar, listening, looking, watching my fingers, paying attention to the line, the interweavings. It’s going deeper. I’m going deeper, insisting on precision and right notes and right fingerings— not just letting everything slide under.

 

I have to breathe more, practising this way. I have to relax my shoulders, sit squarely on the bench, start again, go slower and enjoy it. The going slower. How many times did I hear “Slow Down!” when I was a kid. I say the same things now with my students. It really does work.

 

I have no expectations or aspirations — yet. Right now it is enough that I play, and practise and repeat and slow down. It is enough that I do this for three hours a week— and find myself able to do it without difficulty. It is enough that I play up and down the keyboard, using all the things I know. I DO want to get better. Not just on the piano.

 

My hour ran out today without improvising and without playing unusual scales or learning something jazz. I have to watch that I don’t make practising the classical stuff an excuse for not improvising and chopping away at something new.

 

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The Hour Went By Quickly

I began today on a djembe. Even hands. Left, right, left, right, one, one, one, one. Both hands even. Breathe. Listen. Relax. Listen again. Go deeper. E-ven, e-ven, e-ven, e-ven. One, one, one, one.

It’s all One. Rhythms in 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 12… they’re all collections of one. With different emphases. Rhythms in 4, 5, 6, 7, 11… just altered combinations of 2 and 3. Played around with different emPhases on DifFerent plaCes! Got some sticks out and a practice pad and went at Even Hands again. Not so even! Ha! It’ll get there.

When I was a kid, I hated Hanon. Wasn’t crazy about practising in general, but the scales and exercises drove me nuts. I hated the limits. I wanted to play the pieces– a different kind of limit. Today I started again with Hanon and went through all major keys. Slowly, evenly— another childhood challenge. Today the limits were comforting and relaxing. They let my fingers find their place, allowed me to breathe, allowed my brain to process and re-integrate, re-learn the power of limits.

I’m working on Moment Musical (Opus 94. No. 4), by Schubert. I chose it because the right hand pattern is one upon which I can improvise easily. Rather than sight-reading it and learning it by my quick learn method, I’m going at it in sections, singing as I play, getting the singing pitches right, feeling the spaces between my fingers, the places where my fingers need to stretch, or change order. Feeling the place where my  fingers need to think and listen and feel. I haven’t even looked at the third and fourth pages yet.

But I’ve played the sections, noticed the differences, played right hand alone, right and left hands playing the right hand… it’s been fun! Huh.

I want to work on melody creation. Creating a good melody, a theme that I can remember—at least for the duration of an improv—one I can come back to. That’s how I ended the hour today… finding a melody I like and playing around with it.

Kinda like life.

I already feel happier.

 

Finding the Mus(e)ic Again

The challenge for any artist is, primarily, to show up to one’s art. There are all kinds of ways not to show up. Doing the dishes, hanging out on email or facebook, working, watching TV, taking care of the family… the To Do list goes on, as does life. Then you wake up at the end of your life and realize- you didn’t become the artist you wanted to be. And it would have been so easy.

One of my ways has been to find interesting jobs that take time and a number of talents. Work that pays the bills and allows the creativity to move. Managing a farmers’ market, writing and strategizing for a cultural non-profit, teaching music lessons, starting a youth band, founding a women’s choir.

Ten years ago I graduated from the Musicianship & Leadership Program with Music for People. It was four years of growing, personally and musically. Four years of driving 2 000 km, four times a year to workshops. Four years of Homeplay, teaching, facilitating, thinking and busting through, over, under and around obstacles. And thanking them for the opportunity.

In my head, I knew I could make a life and a living with this. But I haven’t. Detours, Distractions, Dilly Dallying… it’s all added up to a very interesting, imaginative, musical, artful, creative life, but My Music -I’ve ignored it. Completely. Serendipity would have it that I created some work for this month and next— two days of work in a school. This past weekend, I spent a weekend coming out of the Shadow Artist role I’ve played, knowing I’d been missing making music. I made the trip to my first Music for People weekend since 2000.

I celebrated my 10th anniversary of graduation with 3 others who graduated at the same time, on the weekend of 10-10-10. Four new grads joined us, making it 100 MfP grads to date. The numerological significance of this did not slip by me.

At home, I wandered around our bush, on a sunny Thanksgiving Monday, camera in hand. I sang into the woods, I kept silence as my friend, I listened to the leaves rustling— and tried to imitate the sound, I made some photos, thought about “Art” and, let my mind travel.

As one job has ended, time has been released. With harvest in full swing, the house will be empty much of the time. I’ve reduced the number of teaching hours. We’re heading into the quiet season, the deepening time, the period of going inside.

Today I began the recovery process. Along with my meditative and study  practice, I’m committing to spending 1 hour each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning… making music. No phones, no computer, no dishes, mail, cleaning, making lists… just music.

And I will see where music takes me over the next two months.