Janet (j4) wrote,
Janet
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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