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Keys are good - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Keys are good
While Owen went to a talk by Oliver Sacks on why some people hear music as mere clanging noises, I took the opportunity to hide at home and play piano for the first time in ages. It's not quite clanging noises, but I do feel self-conscious about playing while anybody else is listening; if I practise then I'm subjecting other people to endlessly repeated phrases and fragments of phrases, which can't be much fun, and if I just play for fun then I'm subjecting people to a) erratic playing (the result of not practising enough) and b) a somewhat random selection of music...

Bach, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

I have loved this ever since my first year at high school when we sang it for the Carol Service. There were four 'performances' of the Carol Service each year; only the choirs sang in all four (the rest of the school did one afternoon and one evening) but I was in the choir throughout my 7 years there. Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring was a key point of the service, sung by the choirs in darkness as accompaniment to a tableau of Raphael's 'Madonna of the Candelabra' with a real live actual small child being the baby Jesus. I can't play the Bach as neatly as my piano teacher did; every note has to be placed just so to produce the effortless flowing effect. I fudge the awkward chords with a bit of pedal, and feel kind of dirty for doing so, but the music's there in my head anyway.

Bach, Sinfonia No. 11 in G minor

This, though, I play because it's one of the few bits of Bach I can manage satisfactorily, a clear and serious little thing.

Haydn, Sonata in A flat (Hob. XVI/46), first movement (Allegro moderato)

One of the pieces I played for my Grade 8 piano exam was a different Haydn sonata (C major, XVI/50). I didn't particularly like it when I first heard it, but I grew to know it so well that I couldn't really help liking it a bit in places; I worked obsessively at it for months, until its lumpy little opening phrases were engraved in my mind.

Around the same time, my friend Jenny played me this other Haydn sonata, which she was working on at the time. A bit of background here: Jenny was incredibly musical, with five different Grade 8s by the time she left school, and her piano teacher let her do Guildhall music exams as well as Associated Board. It's a funny thing, music exam politics; Guildhall had a reputation as the exams for performers, while AB were more academic. So the Guildhall people regarded the AB people as boring and worthy, while the AB people sneered slightly at the Guildhall people while actually being insanely jealous of them getting to do all the 'showy' pieces. In fact, there was a similar snobbery between people who did ballet exams (technically accomplished, academic, worthy, boring) and people who danced in shows (populist, decadent, having more fun). My ballet teacher would have regarded letting her pupils dance in a show as slightly less decent than sending them out into Loughborough's red light district. Funny... and the funniest thing, really, is that this stuff mattered so much to me 15 years ago and now seems completely nonsensical. But anyway, the A flat sonata -- which was even in the same book of Haydn sonatas that I had! -- seemed to sum up the whole Associated Board v Guildhall issue. It was sparkling, bright, witty; the C major sonata was a cup of orange juice, while the A flat was a glass of champagne. It was a while before I tried to play the sonata myself, because, well, it was Jenny's piece, and if I couldn't play it as well as her then I didn't want to play it at all. I probably didn't even know if I liked champagne back then. These days, I don't mind if I can't play Haydn very well, and I have more champagne in the house than I know what to do with. It's funny the way your life goes places you weren't expecting.

Haydn, Variations: Un piccolo divertimento (Hob. XVII/6)

I started working on this for my Advanced Certificate piano exam, which I never took, because by then I'd changed piano teacher (my beloved Mrs Eddon had gone on maternity leave, and I never got on with Miss Benn in the same way). I saw the crazy flurry of notes at the end (addedentry claims that a tuplet with 20 notes would be a vigintuplet) and thought it looked like fun. I've made a new icon out of one of the silly bits, but you can see a whole page of it here. It is fun.

Debussy, Clair de Lune

One of the bits of Debussy I can play passably (if I'm not as rusty as I was today). I wondered about changing my name to Claire de Lune once.

Sibelius, Romance

I found this in a pile of music which I got from my great-grandma (who was a piano teacher), and loved it. I just used to sight-read through random stuff and find things I liked, and if I liked them, I'd keep them, more like collecting interestingly-shaped shells than building up a knowledge of music. It's got the song-without-words kind of feel to it, and a big dramatic bit in the middle that I can't play properly, and then the tune with an extra yearny bit. I have forgotten all the music theory I once knew.

Michael Nyman, Big My Secret / The Heart Asks Pleasure First

From the film 'The Piano'. I saw the film, and got the book of music, and spent hours and hours practising these two until I could play them by heart (and I'm not very good at learning by heart) because if you had to sit down in front of the music then it just didn't feel right. It's so hard to play 'The Heart Asks Pleasure First' as it's written out in the book, though, because it just ends in the middle of nowhere, whereas in the film it's always circling round and never quite ending, but if you do that at home you drive yourself a bit mad, I reckon, and it's no time at all before you're carving the shape of piano keys into tables and playing piano in the dark and... well, no spoilers, okay. The title's taken from an Emily Dickinson poem; you probably all knew that, but I didn't for a while, and then I found it, and wrote the poem out and paperclipped it to the inside back page of the book of piano music, where it still is.

She's Like The Swallow (trad. arr. Craig Cassils)

A really lovely and simple and sad arrangement of the folk song. The words are nonsense-and-meaningful in the way that some folk songs manage to be, things in the shape of stories; or maybe it's all a metaphor for being pregnant or dying in wars, the way other folk songs manage to be. Trying to sing even though my voice is wrecked by cough and cold at the moment. I wanted to sing all sorts of other things, folk songs, and songs from musicals, and Christmas carols, and Vaughan Williams songs, and Tori Amos songs, and Joni Mitchell songs, and on and on and on as if my voice was nice to hear or something, but then Owen came home and I decided to give my voice and his ears a rest.

I keep resolving to play more often, because I always enjoy it when I do, but ... time, and awkwardness, and clanging noises in my head.
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Comments
nou From: nou Date: November 17th, 2007 01:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, oh, I still remember you playing the piano at Lewell. It was really nice being in a house where people would just sit down and play the piano. You played the theme from The Piano (which may be the piece you're talking about — I still haven't seen the film).
j4 From: j4 Date: November 17th, 2007 11:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh gosh! I am glad somebody liked the piano-playing at Lewell. I still remember Ben having a go at me for waking him up at three in the afternoon by playing piano. :-} And it was a really cruddy piano.

And yes, that's the same piece. The film is excellent; I wouldn't exactly say I enjoyed it but I found it very powerful. (I have seen it twice, & that's a lot for me, I rarely watch films at all, let alone watching the same ones again!)
miss_newham From: miss_newham Date: November 17th, 2007 01:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Grade 8 piano! I am in awe! Of all the instruments I've tried, I've found the piano the hardest due to sheer concentration, and being able to hold all the ideas about what all of your fingers should be doing at the same time has always proved too much for me. For instruments like the oboe (hi, Grade 6!) it's just a matter of playing faster and faster, but the piano demands so much dexterity that it still makes me quail. Play everything you like, more often!
j4 From: j4 Date: November 17th, 2007 11:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Blimey, I am in awe of people who can even get a note out of reed instruments. :-} Oboe always sounded amazing, gorgeous and unearthly, but despite lots of nice oboeists in orchestras trying to show me how to do the magic thing with the lips (oh er crikey NOT LIKE THAT) I could only ever make very rude noises with it.

I am really grateful that my parents made me learn piano (I mean, I didn't object, but I probably wouldn't've thought of it) when I was small, like throwing babies in the water so they swim before they realise it's actually technically impossible (oh no that's aeroplanes isn't it).

I don't really have the dexterity that I used to have any more, though, I just sort of cheat with pedals and missing notes out. I suppose that's the thrown-into-water-as-a-baby equivalent of realising "oh actually I don't need to swim I can just use that bridge/boat/etc"...
venta From: venta Date: November 17th, 2007 09:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Am very jealous. Since I left college in 1999 I've not had access to a piano and I miss it.

When I go home to my parents' I sit down at what is notionally "my" piano and lurch lumpily through pieces that are now far too hard for me. My head still knows them, but my fingers can't keep up any more. I love Clair de Lune too, though probably not as much as Arabesque or even the comical Golliwog's Cakewalk.

When I Am Grown Up (heh) I shall have a digital piano, so I cna plug in headphones and play Schubert badly in the middle of the night without upsetting anyone.
qatsi From: qatsi Date: November 17th, 2007 09:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
It transpires that the headphones don't block the noise of you hitting the keys, which I am informed makes a passable imitation of a middle-distance car stereo blaring out techno. Though I can't vouch for that myself.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 17th, 2007 11:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

rambling about pianos

When I went to university I missed the piano more than I missed my parents. :-} I did occasionally get round to booking the manky practice piano in Lecture Room 8 (horrid cold little room with nasty acoustics) but it was Not The Same.

My parents said that when I had a house of my own I could have the piano in it. When I ended up signing a mortgage and nominally owning half a house, I got the piano moved in there, and have somehow managed to hang on to it through two subsequent house-moves (and being back in rented accommodation). I feel very very guilty for not having had it tuned for Far Too Long (though it holds its tuning amazingly and you'd never know it had been moved house twice since last being tuned).

I really just haven't got on with digital pianos. I don't like the way the keys feel, even on proper posh digital pianos (my grandparents have a Clavinova which really is quite impressively piano-like but still definitely not right). They would be a lot easier to move from house to house though...
From: ewtikins Date: November 18th, 2007 12:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: rambling about pianos

I don't like the Clavinova much myself.

I do like my P200; I should play it more. It is not the same as a real piano but it is good enough that I could practise on it most days without going nuts, to keep my hand in. I grew up with ivory keytops and of course those aren't available now (and rightly so), so many real pianos feel wrong to me as well; other than the plastic I'm happy with the touch (weighted action, right down to the bottom keys being heavier than the top). When I grow up and have Munny I might look into getting a piano with bone keytops, or perhaps just an elderly one with ivory, or nick a set of ivory keys from an ancient piano that's past being tuneable...

But as with any instrument, the trick with getting an electric piano is to play lots and lots and lots of them until you find the one that you like.
From: ewtikins Date: November 17th, 2007 11:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Very Very Good digital pianos that take headphones can be useful for practising-with-other-people-around.

I might look for that arrangement of She's Like the Swallow - it's one of my favourite pieces ever.

I should play piano more. I probably won't until I finish my degree, though.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 17th, 2007 11:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
The arrangement I've got is:

She's Like the Swallow
Canadian Folk Song arr. Craig Cassils
Unison Song
No. 75386 Leslie Choral Series

if that helps. :)

See reply to venta's comment re digital pianos. And I think I'd feel almost as self-conscious about playing-piano-with-headphones-on-where-other-people-can-see as I do about playing-piano-out-loud-with-people-listening. But that's just me being daft, really.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 17th, 2007 12:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you: you have made me rethink Jesu, joy of man's desiring because you like it so much and have written about that persuasively.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 17th, 2007 11:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I still always feel all shivery when it gets to the "soaring, dying" bit.

It definitely is very much tied to the school carol service presentation of it in my head, though. I was very sad to see in the last Old Girls' thingy that the school seems to have stopped doing the big carol services with tableaux and everything. :(
qatsi From: qatsi Date: November 17th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know what you mean about playing vs practising (Grade 6 piano here). I'm reasonable at sight-reading and hopeless at playing from memory (a common correlation, I believe), but the funny thing is, there are some pieces I've learnt where, at a certain point, it becomes like riding a bike. Provided the music is in front of me, I can go straight back to them. Schubert impromptus and some Beethoven sonatas are good examples of this. I've been struggling with The Well-Tempered Clavier off and on for a couple of years now, the Bach-Busoni Toccata and Fugue BWV565 and the 2-hands arrangement of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances.
thegreenman From: thegreenman Date: November 17th, 2007 11:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
If radio 3 is anything to go by then plenty 20th century/"modern" classical music is actually clanging noises....
taimatsu From: taimatsu Date: November 18th, 2007 11:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, one day I will live in the same house as my piano and then maybe I will learn to play it better than terribly.
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