Saturday, October 26, 2013

Learning again

Since the beginning of September, there has been a piano in my apartment.  It is a marvelous old instrument that belonged to my grandmother, an accomplished pianist in her own right.  It has loaned an air of gravitas to my hobbled-together little home.  I had to give away an Ikea metal-framed futon to make a place for it.  This looks a little more grown up. 

Isn't it lovely and dignified?  It's a bit beat up, but the wood just longs to sound out - If I sit on the piano bench and talk on the phone facing it, the wood vibrates with my voice and tries to send it back out to me.   

I absolutely love having it in the house.  The weekend after it arrived, I assembled all of the pictures and items to put on top of it, filled the bench with music, and went about playing through a few of the pieces I studied when I was taking piano lessons.  

My grandmother was a piano teacher, although since we grew up a couple of hours away from where she lived, I never studied with her.  We always played our recital pieces for her when we visited her, though.  I took piano lessons from the third to the eleventh grade.  I was never great--I had a mental block against the complexity of playing all of the notes in a chord at the same time--but the sheer hours of practice did have an effect and under the tutelage of a very skilled teacher I managed to do all right.  In each of my last three years of lessons, I learned a movement from a piano concerto and worked on a cumulative repertoire that in the last year reached 21 pieces.  I played these annually for the local music festivals (a misnomer if there ever was one--they were not so much joyous celebrations of music as panic-inducing audiences before judges).  My grandmother always wanted me to hit 25 pieces in my repertoire, but the time came to stop taking lessons and I had not yet hit that mark.  

From the time I left for college until now, I have not had consistent access to a piano.  Having one now is a treat; however, I have searched for the list of the 21 pieces I learned in high school and although I thought I would know just where to look, I haven't been able to put my finger on it--the situation definitely threatens my potential to ever hit that 25-piece goal.

See the sheet music on the piano in the picture?  That is an arrangement of Woodkid's Iron.  I  love how sheet music is as widely available online now as  is any other kind of information.  I found the arrangement for Iron here on Sebastian Wolff's site this week, and I finally had a chance to tackle it today.  
It has been a long time since I have tried to learn something new, and skill-wise, there is a lot to re-learn.  Counting, for one, and re-figuring out how the notes fit together to fill out a measure.

I gave the piece a quick and awful run-through sight reading first.  Well, quick might be an exaggeration, and awful isn't nearly strong enough.  You might say painful.  I made it through, though, then walked away for a bit.  I went back to it this evening and decided to tackle the rhythm.  See, I know what the rhythm sounds like when the professional taiko drummer plays it on the album, it just doesn't easily translate through to my fingers on the piano, especially when the other hand is busy trying to figure out cords.  So I stepped away from the piano and tried to clap it through.  I was pacing through the house counting and clapping, trying again and agian, but no bones.  So I pulled out grandma's metronome.  Sadly, something has happened to it in the time between when she owned it and now, and it clicks with a slight limp.  I was in the zone, though, determined to get this rhythm right, so I got on Amazon to see what a new metronome would cost me.  And then, as I was looking, the 21st century dawned in my brain and I realized that there is probably an app for that.  And lo and behold, the free app of the day on Kindle was the full version of Creative Metronome.  Go figure.  My stars must be lined up right.

This app is superb!  It has a little woodblock sound that you can use to hear how different rhythms would fall within a the main clicked metronome beat.  I was able to set it so a woodblock sound went off on the half beats, which helped me finally get the rhythm down.  

This was so much fun, just to the edge of frustrating without going over, and a challenge for parts of my brain that have lain dormant for years.  I worked on the first four pages (lots of repetition within them) and called that practice for tonight.

We'll see if I can still do it tomorrow.

Here's the Woodkid song I really would like learn to play next.  Too bad I just don't have the skills to figure it out myself.

Woodkid - Conquest of Spaces

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Musique d'auteur

So a person who watches night-time comedy content produced by Comedy Central is bound to see a lot of advertisements for adult beverages. Most ads are just icky.  Few rise above the scuffle.  One company, though, long known for its iconic print ads, does so consistently.  The ad I saw this weekend while catching up on the Colbert Report on hulu was as visually and musically arresting as an ad could be.

So I went hunting.

The music in the ad is by Woodkid, an artist new to me.  And WOW.  Let's just say this: remember how I have spent previous posts gushing over The National and Mumford and Sons?  Let me now gush for Woodkid.  His real name is Yoann Lemoine; he is French; he has already done a lot of film work with lots of big artists whose names trigger instant recognition but who I really don't listen to.  But now he is doing his own thing and it is amazing.  There are a couple of EPs, Iron and Run Boy Run, followed by a debut album, The Golden Age.  There are music videos for Run Boy Run, I Love You, and Iron.  The work is just so impressive taken as a group that I'm breaking with my usual self-imposed limit of one video per post.  This just doesn't seem like the time for moderation.  Shall we take a look?

Woodkid - Iron

Woodkid - Run Boy Run

Woodkid - I Love You

There are also "Quintet" versions of I Love You and Iron.  

Woodkid - I Love You (Quintet version)

Woodkid - Iron (Quintet version)

And finally, there is the title track of the album, which I find so intriguing.  Not that I don't find the rest of the album intriguing/arresting/necessary, it's just that I want to revel in the similarity of the staccato horn work starting at 1:34 with the brass in Bjork's Wanderlust.  Different but similar.  It's really such a driving, urgent sound.

Woodkid - The Golden Age (and the rest of it).  Downloadable on Amazon.