Sunday, November 14, 2010

Light blogging to resume in 3, 2, 1...

Sorry for extended blog silence. And it won't entirely abate, but I did want you to know we're still kicking it here 41 miles west of Chicago. Among topics I may or may not get to before the year is out:

  • Where HAVE we been, anyway?
  • How not to move a piano
  • Christmas music
  • Jillian and I will be doing a recital together in January
  • So, I is a triathlete
  • Work is awesome (or at least, it should be by the time I get to this post)
  • Kuhlau Sonatinas are hard
  • Brief Einaudi concert review
- Aw2pp, who voted a couple weeks ago mainly to preserve his right to complain about topics like redistricting versus reapportionment.

Monday, August 16, 2010

So I married a triathlete

Congrats to Sue, who finished mid-pack in last month's Woodridge Mini Triathlon. And if it wasn't for a displaced bike chain, combined with her utter terror at swimming long distances (hello, Hylands, any suggestions here?), she'd have finished even higher.

But believe it or not, her eldest two children (Jillian and Jason, perhaps you've heard of them) followed up with triathlons of their own. Rock on! I am so proud of them, but for different reasons. For Jillian, the race was difficult and uncomfortable, and she wanted to quit halfway through. After some water and encouragement from mom, she want out and ran her third leg, and finished strong. Jason, I am proud of him for his enthusiasm and spirit. On the way home, he told us he wanted to do that again. Which reminds me, I need to see if there are any other events upcoming...

The mom / triathlete, and part of her Pit Crew. The sharpie number stays on your arm for a few days, and it looks really cool.

Jason kicks off his race.

Jillian finishing leg 2 of hers, a 5k bike (on a bike that is really not built for this sort of thing). Jillian was very unhappy at this point it time, I later came to learn...

... but she felt better at this point.

Not to long after, here came the World's Largest 2nd Grader.

The Three Triathletes and the Rest of their pit crew.

- Aw2pp, Official Family Couch Potato

10 Amazing and Stunning Piano Pieces

10 Amazing and Stunning Piano Pieces

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

No recital piece this time

For the first time in, I guess, a year and half, I won't be submitting an ABF Quarterly Recital piece. The Kuhlau Sonatina just isn't there (it's hard, did I mention that?) and I just can't bring myself to submit Hava Nagila from Alfred's. Partly because it's a somewhat fun but mostly annoying piece of music, and partly because I am simply not playing it very well. I am sure if I played it better it would be more fun than annoying, but for as long as I have been working on it, I'd have thought I would have reached that point by now.

I'm not happy about this, I must say.

In other (and related) news, we spent most of the last week in Tennessee, helping Gramma MA spend some of her timeshare points in Gatlinburg. Brief synopsis: first part of the trip was hot, crowded, touristy, and quite a bit of fun, but probably not enough fun to return for. Second half was spent in the Smoky Mountains National Park, and... wow. Words fail me (as they often do). Amazing, outstanding, even more fun than Dollywood, if'n you can believe that. (Which is really saying something... Dollywood had the added bonus of continuous ragtime being piped through the park, coming at you from all directions.) Lots of spontaneous fun that we didn't plan for, and didn't see coming.

- Aw2pp, who is considering wearing a coonskin cap at all times, henceforth.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Larry King Style

Back in the 1990's, I used to listen to a short annoying* fellow on the radio. Jim Rome was (and, I believe still is) the guy's name, and frankly, I couldn't get enough of him. I listened to him as much as my day job would allow. He had an interesting tonal delivery, something of a blend of Snoop Dog and Jeff Spiccoli. I was teaching at a large Houston-area high school at the time, and even found, completely unintentionally, that I began to adopt certain aspects of Jim Rome's manner in my communications with my students. They were not impressed.

* I mean "annoying" in the most endearing sense. He'd privately embrace the label, I'm certain.

One of the things about Jim Rome that remains with me to this day was his complete and utter disgust with Larry King. King's USA Today columns, for example, evoked powerful derision. Those columns were a stream of unrelated thoughts. The only way to know you had gone from one to another was by reaching an ellipsis... So his columns from the mid-90's read something like this:

I like puppies. In fact, I would be suspicious of anybody who doesn't...
Alan Greenspan was on my show last night. I've said it before, and I will say it again: he's a sharp fellow... I should floss more... This Internet thing may really turn into the Real Deal some day. You'd be surprised what all is out there...

In hindsight, Rome's scorn was completely unfair, as King's writing style was well ahead of it's time. Many early bloggers, and modern-day Tweets and Facebook posts all resemble the kind of material Larry King offered in USA Today 15 years ago. Larry King, Ladies and Gentlemen, the world's first Web 2.0 content provider!

With the notion that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I will now compose the remainder of this post in mid-90's Larry King style.

Packing up the family tomorrow morning for another round of road-trippin'. This time, we are meeting Gramma MA in Gatlinburg. Hello, Alpine Slides...

Piano is hard. Have spent most of the summer on a Kuhlau Sonatina. Might have it presentable for the August ABF Recital, who knows...

Jillian is working on The Entertainer in Alfred's Book One. She seems to like that version better than the one in her book. She's really coming along...

Einaudi is coming to Milwaukee October 16. Tickets are still available, although I don't have mine yet. Wonder if there will be some sort of Pianoworld meetup...

Speaking of Einaudi, how did that Anthony B. get so good, so fast...

Sue and I have been doing triathlon training this summer. Hoping to complete a race in September. I hate running. Running is hard. The swimming and biking, not so bad...

Thinking about moving to the Nashville area some day. Nice town...

After one year in my Honda Insight, I've driven about 15k miles, and averaged 48.6 mpg. Not bad. I'm wondering what that new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will be like...

Jim Rome tried to establish a market in Chicago. Didn't take here. Wonder why...

We've had 9 inches of rain at my house this month. That's a lot...

Elroy Jetson... can you imagine raising that kid...

I still haven't watched my recital performance. I will some day...

- Aw2pp, who promises never to do this again.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hot Air Ballons, Weight Loss, and Piano

The Internet has covered a lot of off-the-wall topics since Al Gore gave it to us decades ago.

Bacon taped on a cat.
Bluhd ("not funny!").
"My-lah-HEE! My-lah-HOO! My-la-HA-HA!"

(You choose your own 15 minute phenomenon.)

But never in the history of the Interwebs have these three topics mashed into a cohesive whole. I will now attempt to rectify this unfortunate gap in our collective consciousness.

I am told, from those who know considerably more about it than I do*, that piloting a hot air balloon requires two things: careful attention to detail, and the ability to plan well in advance. The reasons for this are few and simple. First, you only have so many controls at your disposal. You can add heat to the balloon to increase lift. The same effect can be derived by reducing weight, which requires throwing things or occupants out of the basket**. Your other control is to do nothing, thereby gradually cooling the balloon, and decreasing lift. That's it. That's all you got. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of the wind, updrafts / downdrafts, or rope tethering you to the ground.

* - I know basically nothing about this, so it wouldn't be hard to find someone who knew more.

** - Is that what they call it? I wanted to use the word "Canopy" here, but I couldn't pull the trigger on it. See, I told you I know very little about this.

The main difficulty here, and the thing that requires careful planning, is that any adjustments you make on these controls take quite some time to manifest themselves. Depending on conditions, it may be 30 seconds, perhaps even a minute before you notice any change in the balloon's behavior. Novices, then, tend to over-correct course, out of fear that they didn't do enough. This can be a little dangerous, as once a balloon builds momentum in a certain direction, it tends to maintain it. Extreme corrections will produce extreme results, just not right away. An expert balloon pilot, like an expert automobile driver, politician, surgeon, teacher, athlete, or what have you, gets the job done effortlessly, with few adjustments and a keen eye on subtle results.

I have a weight loss / fitness level theory based on the concept of piloting a hot air balloon. Over the years, I have tried to foist this theory onto my poor wife about a dozen times. As an Exercise Science major in college, she is significantly better informed on this topic, which makes her approval of my thoughts and ideas in this space very important to me. So the fact that I have yet to get her to buy into my theory is a little deflating*, I must say.

* - Heh. See what I did there?

Anyway, my theory goes like this: losing weight (and achieving a desired fitness level) works just like piloting a hot air balloon. There are only so many adjustments you can make. The course corrections you implement take longer to manifest themselves than you'd think. Folks can think that their efforts are in vain, and give up before results should have been expected. You see the parallel here, I hope. The most important thing is to stick with the plan, then make subtle adjustments downstream as necessary. Because once positive momentum is obtained, it actually isn't that much tougher to keep it going in the right direction.

The corollary is that this works both ways, of course. Negative behavior patterns may not manifest themselves immediately, either, but it's the negative momentum you generate that is the bigger problem. One day sitting on the couch* makes sitting on the couch the next day just that much easier. Skip a day on the treadmill, and the next day is much more likely to be skipped. Eat badly one day, and you may as well have those potato chips the next day, too, what does it matter? And so on.

* - We need a new metaphor here. I know of nobody who actually sits on couches, by the way. We have four couches in our house, and they go pretty much unused. Recliners, on the other hand...

Now to piano. Works the exact same way. I don't believe single practice sessions, single lessons, or even learning single pieces of music make a measurable impact in my ability to play the instrument. It's the cumulative effect that does the trick. And the effect is not easily observed. In fact, not at all observable at first (at least, not for me, anymore). But the day-to-day improvement, derived from consistent contact with the piano / keyboard... this is where it is at. The more you do this, the better you get, and the more, in turn, you do this. Positive momentum begets more (both qualitatively and quantitatively) positive momentum.

And, unfortunately, it works both ways. Skip a day, skip a week. Bemoan your lack of progress. Skip another week because, wow, this is hard, and you haven't really improved in a few months. Is this even worth it after all?

In each case, piloting a balloon, building a better diet / fitness regimen, and practicing piano, the answer to fixing the problem is the same: do something. Nothing drastic, but change the unwanted pattern. Then be patient as the results come, which they inevitably will. Once you see those, observe them closely, and make subtle changes as necessary.

- Aw2pp, preachin' the Blues.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back from the 2010 Tour de Dixie

Since last time, we have spent nights in:

- Elizabethtown, Kentucky
- Blairsville, Georgia
- Montgomery, Alabama
- Smithville, Tennessee
- Louisville, Kentucky

Along the way, we played two pianos (thoughts on those coming later) and drove around suburban Nashville, pretty much convincing ourselves we'd like to move there someday. This week, I'm back in the saddle with work, and will spend most of the week in Indianapolis.

Thanks everyone for your comments on the piano touch post.

Anthony, can you send me a link or some information on Einaudi's Milwaukee date?

- Aw2pp, whose Odyssey is 2,514 miles closer to the end of its journey

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Some observations on piano and key touch

Recently, while staying at a Marriott that was hosting a convention, I happened across a large Kawai grand piano. And of course I sat down and hammered out a halting version of Hava Nagila, followed by an absolutely outstanding Le Onde. The people in earshot (there were two or three, it turned out) were duly impressed.

And so was I. The piano as probably around 6' in length, and the bass was fantastic. Some of the middle notes were a little out of tune, and I'd have liked some more sustain, but my main reaction was to the key feel. As much as I liked the sound of this piano, I found the touch to feel cheap. Which really surprised me, for reasons I'll get to shortly. Over the course of the next two days (lots of downtime at these conferences, not to mention the 375 mile drive home afterwards) I gave this significant thought. Results follow, and I would really like your input here. Don't make me go back to Pianoworld and start a thread in the Piano forum on this question... things can get ugly in there.

After thinking about, every piano I've played, with two exceptions, can be categorized according to touch in one of two categories.

The first category I'll call "Switches". Every key is clearly pressed or not pressed, in the same way a switch is either on, or off. These pianos offer some initial resistance when a key is pressed, which lightens mid-travel down to the bottom, ending abruptly. Done well, these keys create sort of a snick-snick sensation, something akin to rowing through the gears of a well-tuned manual transmission. Almost* every digital piano I have ever tried has this feel, including higher-end Rolands, Casios, and Yamahas. But lower-end digital pianos, such as Casio's CDP-100 and the ubiquitous Williams pianos sold by Costco (and others, one presumes) have them as well. Even a number of acoustic pianos, such as my piano teacher's piano (a tiny Emerson grand), Sue's cousin Patty's piano (a tiny Apollo grand), and the large Kawai I mentioned earlier. I mentioned that piano's action surprised me... when I looked up the serial number, I saw that it had been built in 2006, which meant it had the much-lauded Carbon-fiber action. I didn't care for it. It felt cheap to me. Sure, many high-end instruments have it, but so do some low-end instruments, and (unfairly, I realize) I associate the sensation with cheaper instruments.

* - Almost, that is. Hold that thought.

The second category is the opposite of the first. I'll call these "Mushers". The keys have a gradually increasing resistance as one presses towards the bottom. But the bottom isn't a firm, abrupt end... rather, it is soft, cushioned one, where it is sometimes difficult to know whether you have, in fact reached the bottom. Ole Bessie, my in-laws' ancient upright, has this feel. So does the recital piano at church (a 10 year old Kawai RX-1, I am told). My old colleague Jeff had a Charles Walter I once told you about... it had this feeling, and I really liked that piano. Then again, my Houston friend Mitch has a 15 year old Young Chang grand that I didn't care for at all... and it had it, too. I can't think of a digital piano I have played that replicates this feeling.

I guess if I had to choose between the two categories, I'd have a slight preference for a Musher. Done well, I feel like I have greater dynamic control (insofar as I have any such control at this point). But the problem here is that it is easy for this to get out of whack, and if the resistance doesn't increase / decrease progressively up and down the keyboard, it becomes very difficult to play well. (This is the main problem with Bessie, whom we've gotten to know very well recently*, as well as the Houston piano.)

* - More on that in an upcoming post. You wouldn't believe it.

Those two exceptions? Among the couple-dozen pianos I have played over the last two years, only two cannot be easily categorized as either a Switch or a Musher. The first is our very own Casio Ap-200. Mainly, the touch is so light, it defies categorization. It lacks the initial resistance of a Switch (which is why I preferred it over similar Yamahas). But the end comes somewhat abruptly, making dynamic control difficult.

The other? My college buddy's Steinway. As luck would have it, we're going to stay at Dr. Crane's house this Thursday night, on our way down to see my Dad in Montgomery, AL. I'll let you know what Jillian* thinks of it. Somehow, his piano, although it underwhelmed me at the time (weighing the experience of playing it versus what I know it costs), nevertheless managed to be neither a Switch nor a Musher. And yet, it was both. Which makes no sense. And I am not a good enough writer to come up with fancy words to demystify this. We'll just have to play Le Onde on it, and get back to you.

* - Although, no matter what she thinks of it, we're not getting one of these... I majored in Math (among other things) at Vanderbilt, and as such, have a pretty good facility with numbers. Even I can't count high enough to estimate the unimaginably large number of software licenses we have to sell to even begin considering a new piano. Much less a $60k Steinway. It would be easier to just commute to Kentucky and play Dr. Crane's once in awhile.

So help me out here. Does this match your experience? Most of you who commonly stop by (thanks for doing so, by the way) are piano players your own right. Some (hi, Anthony B) have very nice digitals, far upmarket of mine. When you cross-shopped, did you experience this same dichotomy? Others (hi, Professor K) experienced the confusion and joy of playing many highly-regarded grands... how would you describe your pianos, and those you like / dislike?

- Aw2pp, who obviously thinks about very frivolous things on long road trips.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Succinct Book Review

The Supplement to Larry Fine's Piano Book is the best bathroom reading since the last Calvin and Hobbes Treasury was released.

- Aw2pp, who may have to start turning down offers from the NY Times Book Review crowd if he keeps churning out quality material like this.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Secret to Classical Music: It's Just Music - Culture - The Atlantic

Once again, my apologies for extended blogger silence. I was at a conference most of last week (although the hotel had a piano... more on this soon). And this week, we're doing our best to get something closed before the close of our Fiscal Year at the end of this month. But, since you probably allocated a certain amount of time to fritter away anyway (you're here, after all), take the five minutes it will require to read this.

The Secret to Classical Music: It's Just Music - Culture - The Atlantic

There are two follow-up posts as well. Great stuff.

- Aw2pp, who is available on TV, on the Internet, and on Your Phone.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Where's the recital?

Sorry for the delay, I am still recovering from Epic Fail (as the kids these days say). I haven't had the time courage to pull the camera out of the trunk of the car, much less view the clip or post it to Youtube.

Really, it was bad, and I am a little shaken and discouraged from it.

- Aw2pp, who doesn't park anywhere after a 2" snow fall.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Back from the recital


Jillian was amazing. Awesome. She played with a smile on her face, and clearly, obviously enjoyed being up there.

Mine? I was so bad, so unbelievably bad, that I am actually a little proud of myself for plodding through. More details later.

- Aw2pp, who now needs to go resume his place on the Blackhawk's Bandwagon.

Pre-Recital Practice

I've read threads Piano World (Home of the World Famous Piano Forums!) where folks posit that one should NOT play their recital piece the day of a recital, until it is actually time to do so. This is crazy talk, to me. I want to play as much as I can, then show up 90 minutes early and play it again on the recital piano. So far, I've probably gone through it a dozen times today, with probably a dozen or so more ahead of me. And you know what? It's not going well. Little annoying errors here and there.

Just saying is all.

(Quick update with information that doesn't warrant its own post... just played three takes in a row that I liked. I'm quitting while I am ahead.)

- Aw2pp, who bets Chopin went through this all the time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

T-minus one day...

... before Recital. Yes, tomorrow evening, Jillian and I play in front of dozens, nay, SCORES of friends, family, and curious onlookers compelled to attend only by their sense of morbid curiosity. I had my last pre-recital lesson yesterday, during which time I played Le Onde three times*. The first, not so well, but then again, I never play well at the beginning of a lesson. But who among us does?

* - Yes, that probably means I've now played it 300 times over the last three months.

The second, sloppy, and in fact, I got distracted halfway through, thinking about an error I made in the first half, and how I was going to play it SO MUCH BETTER the second time through... which, of course, since I was distracted, I messed it up even worse. But the third...

... the third...

Wow. I know a lot of words, but I don't know of any to explain how satisfied I was with how I played it the third time. I was another person. The music took on a new life.

Naturally, I have no expectations that that will happen again tomorrow. But wouldn't that be cool?

- Aw2pp, who is starting, for the first time, to play piano.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tale of Two Trip Legs

I had to get creative to get to Phoenix. For the outward leg of the trip (Chicago to Phoenix), I cashed in some miles. For the homeward leg, I bought a last-second fare. Let's examine the differences.

Chicago - Phoenix
This was sweet.

"Need to check a bag, Mr. Aw2pp, no problem? How about two, no extra charge? Very good then. Now, see all those people standing in that long security line? Yeah, the unhappy ones looking at their watches? Go around them to the priority lane, and we'll get you through TSA screening quickly. When you get to your gate, listen for priority seating, and board before everyone else does. Sorry we couldn't get you in First Class this time, it's all filled up. But if you book a little earlier next time, we can make it happen for you. Would you like an Exit Row seat instead? Window or aisle? Ok, very good then, thanks again for flying American."

Phoenix - Chicago
Because, as you know, our tournament ended a little sooner than planned, I was at the airport this morning 11 hours before my scheduled flight. Thinking being, it would be better for all involved if Sue could pick me up at, say, 11:30 AM (while Jillian and Jason were at school) rather than at 9:30 PM (when Jill, Jay, Ro and Joey should be sleeping, but instead would have to accompany her on the 82 mile trip to and from O'Hare). So how did that go for me?

"Hey you, if you want to check that bag of yours, it'll cost an extra $25. What's that, you want to be added to the stand-by list for other flights to O'Hare? Are you serious? We only allow our Platinum Plus and Executive Platinum members to stand-by for other flights. You are clearly NOT one of those. In fact, you bought your ticket May 16, so you are way down on the priority list. It'll snow here before you get on one of these earlier flights. On some days, we would allow you to pay $50 extra for a spot on the stand-by list, and you're welcome to give that a try, but today, you have no shot. You'd just be wasting your money. Not that we wouldn't be glad to take it. Anyway, enjoy your 11 hours at Sky Harbor airport, and enjoy your middle seat on your three hour flight to Chicago this afternoon. Thanks again for flying American."

Any idea what to do in Phoenix for 11 hours? At least I get to sleep in my own bed tonight.

- Aw2pp, whose boarding pass says simply "Steerage".

Monday, May 31, 2010

And that is that from Phoenix

We're done. We never did recover from the disappointment of losing our Gold Bracket play-in match. So, as I feared, we were an emotional no-show in our early afternoon Bronze bracket match, and lost it 0-2. So we're done.

Very disappointing result for us. Finished tied for 32nd overall.

Pics, vids and maybe some stats in another week or two.

- Aw2pp, who is now headed to to see if there are any early flights home to Chicago.

So much for the Gold Bracket

Lost our first Gold Bracket challenge match this morning. Congrats to Rizen from Hawaii, who played a tough, hard-fought match that was marred near the end of game 3 by some dishonesty by the winners. At this moment, we're moping around the Phoneix Convention Center, feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves for losing in the way we did, angry at ourselves for not playing harder / better, and disappointed in the other team for some calls they should have made on themselves, but chose not to. "It's Nationals... this is why we pay for officials, so they can make the calls, not us*." Well then.

* - To be fair, most teams would agree with this. As would most of my teammates. Except when it costs them (us) a match. This is one of those things that I guess I understand, but is much harder for me apply personally. If I touch the ball, I say so. If I touch the net**, I say so.

** - Those of you who have been out of volleyball for a few years may be surprised to hear that you are now allowed to touch the net under most circumstances. I know, I hate it too.

Next up is the Bronze Bracket. Unlike the Gold, which is double-elimination, any match we lose in Bronze will end our tournament. Winner of the 12 team Bronze bracket will take home Gold Medals (go figure) that say "Bronze Champions". They'll also be able to claim a final National Rank of (counts it up...) 25th. We are going to need to get our heads back on our shoulders before our first match... or our trip through Bronze is going to be short and sour.

- Aw2pp, who will now go find the closest Subway, then go back to the Convention Center.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day two update from Phoenix

Easy day today. Two matches, two wins, I played only the first.

After dropping our second match yesterday, we seem to have composed ourselves, and took care of business in sweeping both matches today. To recap, now, pool play:

Match 1 - RVC Red (from Boston), we won 2-0
Match 2 - Vamo' Alla (from the Chesapeake area, not Indiana as I had previously thought) we lost 0-2
Match 3 - Graywater VBC (Seattle), 2-0
Match 4 - Balls and Beers (Milwaukee, natch), 2-0*
Match 5 - Metro Long Beach (New Jersey), 2-0

* - Midway through game two of this match, I had one of the top 5 kills of my 20-year volleyball career. It was unusual... I knew I was going to be set, and I figured they (the other team) knew, but when I went up to swing, I found myself all alone, no block in sight. I questioned this momentarily. "Where is everyone?" No block ever appeared, so I swung away. I'll post a clip of this if I can.

Other than our moment of inattention against Vamo' Alla, we've had an easy time of it. Problem is, Vamo' Alla swept the pool, which means in order for us to advance to the Gold Bracket (where Championships are won, of course), we now need to win two matches instead of one. So 8:00 AM tomorrow, we'll take the court against Rizen VBC, from Hawaii. They are exactly the kind of team that gives us fits... little, quick, smart. I'm officially concerned.

Last comment, completely unrelated to anything. My Yahoo email address sent some spam a couple of nights ago to everyone in my address book. Ordinarily, this is a sign of a virus, but in this case, I don't have the Yahoo address installed on any email client*. Which suggests to me that this was a problem on the Yahoo side (and if anyone can point me somewhere that might verify this, I'd be obliged.) If'n it happens again, I might be forced to cancel that email account. Not sure what else I can do about it. So apologies go out to those of you who were spammed a couple days ago. Here's hoping that's the last of that.

* - Like Outlook or Lotus, for example. Viruses commonly are written to co-opt these programs.

Depending on how we do tomorrow, it could be a very, very long day.

- Aw2pp, virus-free since 1998.

Day one update from Phoenix

We ended up being seeded a gaudy third, which is really an endorsement in a 72 team field. After the first day, though we proved unworthy of the compliment, dropping a match to a small, unassuming, and feisty team from Indiana. We made the mistake of rolling our eyes during their lethargic and unimpressive warmup, and sat two of our best players*.

* - Yes, I was one of those who sat. It's a long tournament, the Open, and I willingly take every break offered to me.

We rebounded later, winning our third match of the first day, and finishing 2-1. All is not lost, but the path to the Gold bracket probably is now one match longer than it should have been.

- Aw2pp, who now understands what people mean when they say, "But it's a dry heat."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Piano takes a break for a few days...

... unless my hotel has one, in which case all bets are off.

My flight leaves this afternoon for Phoenix, for the 78th Annual USA Open National Volleyball Championships. Or as my Junior Olympic coaching friends call it, "That Big Party USAV Uses To Fund Itself For The Rest Of The Year." Or as I call it, "The Annual Convention of Really Tall People."

Last year, as you may recall, we finished 5th out of 48 in Men's A. It was an insane result, really, much better than we had a right to expect. After all, we started a 5'10" (ie, unusually short) setter, and me, a 6'5" (ie, somewhat short*) 40 year-old (ie, unusually old) middle blocker. This year, our setter is no taller, I am a year older, and yet, even though 72 teams** are entered, optimism is high. We'll find out our seed tonight, then get underway tomorrow. Daily updates to come, including match results, soreness complaints***, and a running tally of the number of people I come across who are taller than me.

* - Ok, Sue, fine, I admit it, I am no longer 6'5", I am 6'4". Maybe.

** - Moving the tournament out west seems to attract a large number of West Coast teams.

*** - This year brings an added challenge, in that I am saddled with something called the Croup. It's a virus that has been going around the family for a few days (thank you Joey and Rowan). Before the doctor diagnosed them last week, I had heard of Croup, but thought that it was a made-up disease our great-great grandparents dealt with, or something that had been eradicated years ago with the advent of sterilized operating rooms. (See Dropsy, Scrofula.****) Wrong, it's apparently a real malady. And a fairly debilitating one at that.

**** - And yes, I was wrong about those, they are real too. Just called something different today. Obviously my pre-med college curriculum, such as it was, didn't take.

Finally, to channel Phineas and answer the question you're almost certainly thinking... why yes, yes I am too old for this sort of thing.

- Aw2pp, a Middle Blocker for Chicago Coast North, leading his team with a .289 hitting percentage on the year.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hylands (and other Houston friends)... (fixed)

... you MUST take 3 minutes out of your life and watch this. It is...

The World Cup is starting this month. As you know, I'm a sucker for excellence... you've heard me say that I'd watch the world's best Tiddlywinks players* compete if it were televised. But regardless of how you feel about soccer (er, football), it's highly likely we can agree that soccer is inherently more interesting than Tiddlywinks.

* - What would these people call themselves? I wanted to call them Tiddlywinkers, but wasn't sure if that would have resonated. Besides, "Tiddlywinkers" sounds faintly NSFW, even if it is perfectly harmless.

Anyhow, even though we Americans are ranked something like 16th in the world, you can bet I'll be watching. This fires me up. Furthermore, now you know why I subjected you to growing grass the other day. I had to prepare your for this. Anything more exciting in the previous post, and we'd risk being overcome by the vapors.

- Aw2pp, who used to harbor a vague and completely misplaced notion that he had some soccer (er, football) skills. Then he spent a few months in Brazil. Nothing like extended time in Brazil to disabuse one of such fantasies.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Back it down now

It's been a little too exciting around lately. I thought I might ease the pace a little. Here is a video of grass growing.

If you think that's exciting, wait until next time, when I start talking about my work.

- Aw2pp, who just can't help himself sometimes

Friday, May 14, 2010

Le Onde - Behind the Tapestry (way too long)

The old adage holds in many ways. Focus on the finished product, because you may be better off not knowing about the bits and pieces and effort that went into it. "Don't see how sausage is made" says Life's Little Instruction Book. By the same token, stay out of the kitchen of your favorite restaurant. Don't turn the tapestry over and look at the chaos on the backside. The work that goes into publishing a book, creating commercial software, a dance recital, building a house... all very messy, and all very tedious. And, when done well, all completely transparent, hidden by the excellence of the finished product.

Those of you who think my Le Onde recording is wonderful and seamless (hi family!) should probably skip the rest of this post. Fact is, I spent a cool 5 months working on this piece. Hard work. Even now, when I play it, my mind is completely atwitter with specific thoughts relevant to where I'm at. The rest of this post will attempt to capture most of those.

First, a comment on the specific recital recording itself. In the end, I had the choice of two imperfect recordings. Recording A was recorded a week or so ago, at a time I wasn't even really intending to make a recording. And it had some awful, obvious errors on both the front and back halves. I kept it, though, because when I listened to it afterward, I was very impressed with how well the subtle things were done. More on those shortly. For now, consider recording A to be the figure skater who fell on her triple axle, and two-footed a landing late in her performance, but scored well on what those judges call "artistic impression".

Recording B was flawed in less obvious, less subtle ways. There was a pause here and a flub there, but it was overall cleaner than Recording B. And it was recorded later, just after a lesson. In listening to it, it was less polished, but had nothing major going against it... nothing that I couldn't live without. This is the figure skater who landed all her jumps, but scored lower for reasons known only to the Illuminati who judge the sport.

Of course you know I went with Recording B, even if I have a slight preference for the more imperfect, but subtly superior version. Both of them are good, though, and represent quality takes of which I'm proud.

Here is what goes through my head when I play this. I hope, by capturing this stuff here and sharing it with foisting it upon y'all, it might begin to clear my mind of all this clutter, so I can just play music come Live! In Person! recital time. Let me know if this sort of thing happens to you. That might help.

  • First 12 seconds - Keep the tempo even here. Build from soft to medium loud with each measure. (This "build" command repeats itself through the music for every LH pass. It's my attempt to create the wavelike feel.)
  • "We're not at the beach yet, but we can hear it off in the distance."
  • Measure 5, Starting at 12 seconds - RH melody kicks in. It must overcome the LH, and yet, decay, medium to soft, with every measure. In addition, the melody (the higher notes) must be accented over the secondary notes. This is crucial. Finally, the last dotted half of the passage (the first of which occurs at the 18 second mark) needs to be lightly accented, and MUST occur exactly the moment the corresponding LH note hits. (This is what makes the note sing, as Denis was asking.)
  • Measure 15 (30 seconds) - Start building volume. The increase from piano to mezzoforte in 4 measures is more sudden than you think. Don't be afraid to be too loud there, you'll quiet down quickly thereafter.
  • Measure 20 (38 seconds) - And the reverse is true here. I had more trouble with the gradual diminuendo than the gradual crescendo, for some reason.
  • "We're at the beach, and the tide is coming in, albeit very gradually."
  • Measure 25 (45 seconds) - Starting a new theme here. Still piano. Resist the powerful temptation to rush this section.
  • Measure 28 (51 seconds) - Crescendo, but then immediately dip back to piano. I never quite pull this off.
  • Measure 31 (55 seconds) - Since you were back to piano, crescendo again. The music calls for a slight allargando (something of a reduction in tempo), but Einaudi himself doesn't seem to do this here in any of the recordings I have. Either way, I usually forget this, because, as you see, there is a bunch of other stuff going on in my head by this point.
  • Measure 33 (59 seconds) - Repeating the second theme. Supposedly, we're beginning mezzopiano this time (as opposed to piano the first time around), but that didn't leave me enough room to crescendo in the upcoming measures. So in practice, I typically begin this second theme softly, and build. Speaking of which...
  • Measure 35 (1:03) - Start building the volume, so that you're blasting away by the time you get to measure 39.
  • "The waves are building. The tide is reaching its peak."
  • Measure 39 (1:09) - Loud here. Accent that first note, and the first one in measure 40, then quickly soften to piano, to increase the contrast with the next section. Big slowdown, too, for exactly the same reason.
  • Measure 41 (1:12) - Play this relaxed, but as loud as you can without making errors. Save the ferocity for later. Don't rush.
  • Measure 44 (1:18) - That LH D needs to be crushed to get the proper accent. The RH D needs to be subtle, because it's contrast with everything else that is going on is enough to bring proper attention to it.
  • Measure 47 (1:22) - Quick reduction in volume and tempo, followed by an equally quick rebuild.
  • Measure 55 (1:35) - Start quieting down. In a few measures, you'll have a quick build, then back to almost nothing.
  • "The tide, having reached its max, begins to recede here."
  • Measure 59 (1:41) - It's ok to be very quiet here. We need the contrast with what's coming up. Don't crescendo, stay quiet. (Note, I usually always crescendo here anyway.)
  • Measure 63 (1:45) - Loud. Accent the LH firmly at the beginning of each measure here. The RH is a tie; as much as you want to hit that D again, DON'T!
  • "The tide has gone out. The beach is very quiet."
  • Measure 64 (1:49) - Key measure. Einaudi calls for una corda, but wait until you hit that first note, then push the pedal. Regain the tempo and don't let it drag. Be smooth. Though we're supposed to be piano here, the LH tends to drown out the RH if you let it. Don't.
  • Measure 73 (2:05) - Slow down, then pause. Create the impression that the piece might end here. That would be confusing, because we've not resolved anything.
  • Measure 74 (2:08) - Hanging just briefly on the pause, start anew. There should be a sense of relief here.
Ok, we're halfway through. And let me answer your question: "Yes, absolutely, every single one of these thoughts, and likely more, pour through my head every time I play this." It's a mess, and I'm thisclose to thinking something is wrong with me. But hey, maybe everybody goes through this? Or maybe the secret to playing this well is emptying your mind of these distractions? How do you get to that place?

At any rate, the second half of Le Onde is very similar to the first, and as such, most of the same thoughts run through my head. I'll be briefer now, detailing only the changes for the second half. There aren't many, but they are important.

  • Measure 90 (2:36) - Constantly coming back to B on the LH creates significant tension here. Don't let that affect you. The tension is for those who are hearing the music, not you.
  • "The tide is coming back in. But it's different this time. Are those storm clouds?"
  • Measure 101 (2:54) - Finally, the LH moves off that B onto a D, releasing the tension. Everything feels familiar now, with the exception of those disconcerting pauses (measure 108, 117).
  • "Yes, it is a storm."
  • Measure 126 (3:36) - Blast away. When you went through this section the first time, you were loud, but relaxed. No need for that now. The music calls for ferocity here, even if my recording doesn't sufficiently convey that. So be it. Einaudi's recordings don't, either.
  • Measures 147 - 149 (4:08) - The entire piece builds to these measures. Hammer the accents. This time, that RH is NOT a tie, so hit that D again in 148 with everything you've got. As before, hit the first note in 149 before deploying the una corda.
  • Measures 153 to the end - I had quite a bit of trouble with this page. My saving grace is that Einaudi plays these measures slowly and carefully, so I did, too.
  • "The storm is passed, the tide is going out, the beach is quiet again."
Anyway, thanks for reading this far. Live recital is in three weeks.

- Aw2pp, who feels like going out and running a 5k about now, even though he hates running.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Le Onde - Final Take

(Two posts in one day? Blogger overload. I may have to take a day off tomorrow.)

As I said earlier, today is / was piano lesson day. I stumbled my way through Night Song in Alfred's... that is MUCH harder than I thought it would be, and it will need another week before we move on to Hava Nagila. Then I launched into Le Onde. It was pretty good... not perfect, but good. I told her I was trying to put together a good recording for the ABF Recital (a concept that still mystifies her, by the way... online recitals?) And that it would be nice if I could put together perfect recording, but also that I'd come around to the idea that "good" is good enough.

She said something she'd said before: "It's good enough. Don't try to improve it. You may improve it, but not by trying. Strive for excellence, which is much more attainable and worthwhile than perfection."

I got home, pushed the record button, and five minutes later, ended up with this. Hope you like it. It's good enough. Imperfect, yes, but good enough. More thoughts on it later this week (as you've come to expect from me). link to a recording of Le Onde I'll be submitting as my recital piece

- Aw2pp, goat rodeo clown.

Aw2pp overcome by Red Dot Fever

I have a piano lesson in 29 minutes. Was just playing my recital piece, and played the first half, even three-fourths so well that... it made me nervous. I was thinking, "Wow, this is really something here..." And of course, that took my mind off what I was doing, and I made a fatal error. Recording over.

But I'm telling you, for the first 3 or 4 minutes, it was some seriously good music.

Back to it. Thought I'd share that with you on this slow afternoon.

- Aw2pp, who will now get back on that horse and try again.