Friday, January 30, 2009

Unexpected Piano Music Part Five: Fake Empire

This is by a group called The National. These guys were apparently regular cubicle schmoes who just happened to play music together periodically. At some point, they decided to give up the glamorous Dilbert life, and try to make it big as rock stars. I think they're still at it, so it must be working for them.

You don’t have to listen to the entire song this time. In fact, it gets a little cacophonous (thank you spell checker) at the end. You wonder if they were seeing how many people they could fit in the studio. But I am really impressed with the piano part in the first minute or so, especially how the LH and RH parts seem to be playing on entirely unrelated time signatures. But it works.

U2 fans may want to hang in there until at least the 1:45 mark, when it sure sounds like they signed up Larry Mullen Jr. to sit in on the session.

Fake Empire - The National

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's contagious

Let's backtrack a moment, and recall how this piano journey got started.

  • January, 2007 - We make the decision to build a new house.
  • November, 2007 - Having sold our house, we move in with Sue's folks while the new one is being built. They have an ancient piano. I tinker.
  • December, 2007 - I visit Susie, Official Twin Sister of Aw2pp. Her son Jacob has Guitar Hero, which, strangely, increases my interest in all things musical.
  • January, 2008 - Jillian starts lessons. I decide she needs help. She didn't, but that's incidental.
  • February, 2008 - I buy my own lesson book, and away I go.

A couple months later, my mom (Gramma MA, a frequent visitor and commenter here these days) came to visit. She'd played piano when she was younger, but not in the last 20 years or so. She was very interested in my progress, and eventually played some things on her own. She (and to a lesser extent, I) was surprised at how naturally it all came back to her. I described it here:

So where are we now?

  • Jillian is in piano lessons, as you know.
  • I go to those, and may start as well.
  • Susie, Official Twin Sister of Aw2pp, bought a digital piano for Cousin Jacob.
  • Jacob now takes in piano lessons.
  • As of last week, Susie also has started piano lessons.
  • Gramma MA is starting to play again, and may herself buy a digital piano soon.
  • Jason, the World's Largest Kindergartner, will start lessons next fall.

- Aw2pp, who's wife is immune to whatever fever the rest of us contracted

Job hunt update

Applications placed: about 40
Rejections received: 10 (including 6 from internal IBM positions)
Legit opportunities I'm progressing: 3

At this point, I am working on a Sales Engineer opening at a small vendor of Contact Center software. I have a second meeting with them on Friday.

In the meantime, I am hedging my bets by dropping off applications for openings I helped create. "Hi, I see you are hiring a Business Technology Architect. I was part of the team that defined that need, and scoped the solution this person is supposed to implement. Can we talk about you hiring me?" There are two such openings at different WebSphere customers in the Chicago area, and I am spending my time looking for more.

And if all that fails, IBM has graciously provided a list of countries they'd be happy to transfer me to. "Sue, any thoughts about moving to Turkey? How about Slovenia? Or Nigeria? Their Winters aren't nearly as bad as ours, I hear."

Jillian has piano lessons tonight. She was off last week (MLK Holiday). I am going to talk to the teacher about taking the 7:00 PM slot, immediately following Jillian's lesson.

- Aw2pp, a driven, talented, and highly experienced professional with 13 years experience working with and managing large, geographically disbursed teams on enterprise-scale software development and implementation projects.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Unexpected Piano Music Part Four: Porcelain

Continuing in our intermittent series on popular songs that surprise me with their paino... this one is a little melancholy. (It's Moby, go figure.) But I really, really like the way the piano creates sort of a falling sensation. For some reason, this makes me want to take up jazz piano.

Alfred's Book One taught me that this sort of thing is called Call and Response. So there.

Porcelain - Moby

Thursday, January 22, 2009

And we're off!

Thanks everyone for the well-wishes. After the first full day of joblessness*, here are the stats:

- 1 interview in the books
- 1 2nd interview scheduled for next week
- 1 recruiter conversation down, another scheduled
- 10 applications dropped onto customer career portals
- 2 rejections already tendered (thanks anyway CNA and HSBC)
- 0 minutes of piano playing

* - Technically, I am not jobless. I remain employed by IBM for another month. But you know what I mean.

At this point, there is already a front-runner in the "Where will Aw2pp be employed on February 24?" Sweepstakes. Not much else to say on that yet; let's see where it shakes out. But two things are clear:

1. My time with IBM is over... IBM ain't hiring, and they may not be done reducing headcount.
2. Otherwise, the market is not the desolate wasteland that I had feared. There are opportunities out there.

More later.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good news, bad news

The good news:

- For 2008, I met my target quota.
- My company (IBM) surpassed Wall Street expectations, and issued strong guidance for 2009. Stock is up $9 today.
- For 2009, I have a healthy pipeline in my accounts, and I am well-positioned to continue, if not extend my 2008 success. Strong words in this economy.

The bad news:

- None of the above was positive enough to keep me and many hundreds of my colleagues from losing their jobs. I (we) have until February 23 to find new jobs within IBM, or accept IBM's gracious severance package, and some well-wishes.

Bummer. I'm not happy about this.

I'll keep you updated. For now, I have already applied for 9 openings I found at my customers, working on projects whose underlying software I was instrumental in selling. That could be interesting.

- Aw2pp, who might have quite a bit of free time on his hands soon

Monday, January 19, 2009

iMeem - is it working for you?

So far, most of the music links I have posted here have pointed to recordings I have uploaded to, or found on, I like this music host because:

a) It has a fairly extensive collection of stuff already uploaded to it.
To prove my own point to myself, I just thought to myself "Ok, think of something obscure, and see if you can find it on iMeem." Immediately the Waterboys popped in my head. They are an obscure (but not totally unknown) group of musicians from the British Isles who play Celtic-themed music (go figure). 157 hits. Another search for local Nashville musician Webb Wilder (the self-proclaimed "Last of the Full-Grown Men") returned 37 hits. Believe me, if you can find 37 entries for Webb Wilder, it's quite likely that you can find pretty much anything, musically speaking.

b) I can upload my own stuff to it easily.
Without going into detail, trust me when I say that uploading is easy. Which leads me to...

c) I can embed recordings directly on this here blog.
Like Youtube, iMeem provides a code I can then use to embed recordings on Aw2pp. But herein lies the problem, and I need your input on this.

Multiple folks have contacted me to say that they cannot get anything to play off my iMeem links. Myself, I have never had this problem. In my mind, this works. But I'm not the target audience here, you are. And if you can't play the music, what's the point? In that case, I need to find alternate means of sharing music with you.

So here's a test. Below, I am embedding my two-week-old, imperfect recording of I Due Fiumi. Could you do me the favor of clicking on the play button (if indeed you see one), and seeing if you can hear some piano music?

i due fiumi 1-5-2009 - Aw2pp

Those of you who can't fire up the link, can you tell me what you are experiencing? In theory, you are supposed to see something like this:

If you don't... well, I need to start looking into a new music host.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Unexpected Piano Music Part Three: The Denial Twist

This is a really interesting track. First of all, the lyrics are very well put together. Jack’s got a gift for this. (Trust me on this, I know it’s a little hard to make out what he says.) Second, although I am by no means an expert on this sort of thing, I would say, to my ears, that there is NO instrument carrying the melody here. The voice is the only melody. All other instruments, including the piano, are there to help drive rhythm. I’ve heard it argued that the piano is really a percussion instrument. In some ways, this is a really silly thing to say, but listening to this song, it’s easy to remember that the piano sounds are generated by hammers striking strings.

The slow decay and resonance of the piano sounds makes me as certain as I can be that they’re using an acoustic piano here. Of course, The White Stripes are not above manipulating the sounds of their instruments to create the sound they’re looking for (did you know that Seven Nation Army does not, after all, make use of a bass guitar?). But listen to the 1:20 or mark… that sounds like the real thing to me.

The Denial Twist (Album Version) - Jack White

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Quick hitter - Melodia Africana II...

... is coming along nicely. Having some troubles on the third page, but the pattern is slowly coming to me. Just finished tinkering with it, in fact, and now that I am about to go to bed, maybe the little piano Gremlins will work in my dormant brain overnight to solidify it. (I know you know what I'm talking about...) I've probably put 4 hours into it this week, which is a lot for me. If progress keeps up at this rate, it'll be my recital piece. If not, I'll submit I Due Fiumi (albeit an improved version over what you heard the other day).

As I work on MA2, it occurs to me that these pieces do not seem to be coming together any more quickly than earlier pieces did. It took me about 2 weeks to make it the whole way through Limbo, then another month or so to feel ok about it. That's kinda been the time frame for everything else I've tried. A couple weeks to be able to play the notes, another few weeks to get up to tempo, and another few weeks to make sure I am obeying dynamic and phrasing markings. I thought, naively, and incorrectly, that things would speed up the more I went along. Part of the problem is that the pieces are getting incrementally tougher. There are just so many entry-level pieces in my Best of Einaudi book. But the larger problem is, honestly, my lack of skill / technique / experience. Even when I get a piece as good as I can get it (remember Ombre?), I'm still not entirely happy with it. This is a powerful indicator that I need to improve my fundamentals, and probably return to Alfred's for awhile. At least through Book 2, and probably more.

Dinner conversation from last night... we were talking about Jillian's piano lessons.

Jillian: Daddy, do you think I'll be as good as you after piano lessons?

Me: Better. Really, Jillian, I feel like I'm not even taking baby steps yet. And you are going to me much better than me, probably sooner than you think.

Jason: If you aren't taking baby steps, does that mean you are crawling?

Me: If that. I guess it depends on where you want to go. If my goal is to run a marathon, yeah, what I am doing right now is no more than crawling around my Pack N Play in comparison to that.

Jillian: So you mean, I'm maybe sitting up, not crawling yet?

Me: Sure, that's one way to think about it. Compared with where you'll be some day.

Jason: What about me? Have I rolled over yet?

Jillian: Jason, you haven't even lifted your head up.

- Aw2pp. who knows his developmental milestones

This could cut into the piano playing time

Good news and bad news: among our Christmas presents, we got a Wii. Not much to say on it just yet, other than the kids love it, and my Mii looks an awful lot like, um, me. Remarkable in how lifelike this thing is.

- Aw2pp, whose Mii can't putt, either

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jillian has two lessons under her belt now

Hi everyone. Sorry for the blog silence. Busy, busy times.

We're underway with the piano teacher. To review, she is a woman who attends our church; we learned about her through the church grapevine, met with her, talked to her on the phone about the logistics, methods, and goals of her piano instruction, and decided to go with her through June. She teaches Monday through Thursday, from 3:00 to 8:00 PM, in 30 minute sessions. Jillian's appointed time slot is Monday, 6:30.

Like the woman who taught Jillian's first set of lessons, PT is a very nice woman. And there the comparisons end. PT is very outgoing, and talks a LOT. Curiously, this has had a resonant effect on Jillian, who is normally very reserved. After just two 30* minute sessions, Jillian has discovered her inner extrovert, who wants to show off and tell stories. For those of you who know her, you'd be surprised at her demeanor. She's almost giddy at piano lessons. You know, like a typical 6, er, 7 year old.

* - In theory, the lesson is 30 minutes, but nobody has booked the time slot after Jillian.** Since there is not a hard stop at the top of the hour, and since nobody is banging on the front door to say "Off the bench, my turn", that means we've tended to linger a little extra longer each of these first two lessons.*** Monday, in fact, we didn't leave until 7:25.

** - Yes, I am fully aware this creates an opening for me. Quiet, you!

*** - At no extra charge!

PT's instrument is an Emerson Baby Grand. As you know, I am no expert on these things, but I'd estimate it to be maybe 60, 80 years old. It sounds like it is in good shape. PT says the touch is a little firmer than most, but apparently Jillian isn't having any trouble with it.

At this point, PT is in an evaluation stage with Jillian, discerning what she can do, what she can't, strengths, weaknesses, that sort of thing. As she moves through the lesson, she takes moments to tell me what she is doing, and why she is doing it. As with our visit to the Suzuki teacher back in December, it is almost embarassing to have the teacher engage me while teaching another... but I understand her motivation. It might otherwise seem they're sort of all over the place, playing pieces from Jillian's old Schaum book, from her new Bastien book (Primer B), and various sheets of music we've had laying around. From these activities, PT has concluded the following about Jillian's development on the piano:

  • She's quite good at translating printed notes into keystrokes, but...
  • She's just OK at reading notes. Better on the Treble Clef.
  • She needs work on counting and rythmn.
  • As I've mentioned before, she can be creative with finger positioning. This is a mixed blessing, in that over time, she'll have the flexibility to do what she needs to do to play a difficult passage. But for now, we need to be sure that she CAN play using prescribed fingerings, so that needs some work.

In sum, she's off to a good start, but there are some foundational things on which Jillian's first teacher may have been overly permissive. We need to get those things on par with her strengths before we can make serious progress. Therefore, some of Jillian's first assignments seem trivial to her, but we're encouraging her to focus on the subtle points she's supposed to take away from them, like counting and finger position.

PT also knows what I'm up to in terms of the piano. She's even offered to split Jillian's lesson into a 25/5 ratio, giving me the last five minutes to play something, and/or ask questions. Thus far, we haven't been able to manage that, since, as I wrote earlier, the time seems to have gotten away from us each week. (Did I mention PT talks a lot? Well, she does. Not that there is anything wrong with that...) I'm considering asking for that 7:00 PM time slot, but money needs to loosen up a little first. Which could happen in the next month or so; stay tuned. I had I Due Fiumi ready to play for her, as part of determining where I am at, and how best to progress. Had I played it for her, it probably would have sounded something like this:

i due fiumi 1-5-2009 - Aw2pp

Which is to say, passable, with a couple of errors (you'll hear them) but probably not good enough for a PW ABF Recital, and not nearly as good as Anthony B's or Monica's recordings of the same piece. But still not bad for me. (And I really like the Pianissimo virtual piano!)

Back to PT. I think the odds are REALLY good that we're going to stay with her for the time being. Years, in fact. It's difficult, but possible to envision a scenario in which we might outgrow her. Her strength is not so much teaching piano / music per se, but rather in the Cognitive Development area, where she has a Master's Degree. (She's played piano her whole life, but only had five years of lessons herself. By her own admission, she's no virtuoso.)

And to answer Mom3Gram's question, yes, I think Jason will take lessons from her, too, probably starting in the Fall. And Jillian? Our little extrovert can't wait for her next lesson. She's making marks on the calendar for every day she practices. She gets up in the morning, puts on the headphones, and plays her assigned pieces. She loves it. Really, isn't that the point of all this?

Oh, and she is already excited about playing her recital piece in June. Who knew she had THAT in her?

- Aw2pp, who is Sooper, Sooper Serial about ManBearPig.

Monday, January 12, 2009

You can infer...

... when things are busy around the Aw2pp household. Blog silence is a good indicator of this. I'll try to get something up today or tomorrow about the piano teacher, and Jillian's first lesson last week. All went well.

- Aw2pp, who is starting to not like shoveling snow

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Unexpected Piano Music Part Two: Southbound

This is the song that opened my eyes to this topic. I feel ashamed to admit it, but in my 30 years or so of listening to this song, I had never, not once, noticed there was a piano back there. Of course, now that I notice it, I wonder how I could possibly have ever missed it. (There is even a piano solo beginning at the 3:00 mark or so. Hello, McFly!?) The next step in the progression was to realize how much the Allman Brothers Band uses a piano (or at least a piano-like instrument). Two of their most popular songs (Jessica and Ramblin’ Man) use it, as do a handful of more obscure (but every bit as interesting) songs.

I don’t have much more to say on this one. The piano part sounds really, really simple, almost (but not quite) like I could play it right now. (Very different from the piano part Telegraph Road in that respect.) And it sounds like a lot of fun.

Southbound - The Allman Brothers Band

Sunday, January 4, 2009

One Year

There wasn't a single day, moment, or hour in which I took up this piano learning thing seriously. It was a gradual process, over the course of several days, maybe even a few weeks, in tinkering with some of Jillian's lessons, and a couple sheets of music we had laying around.

At any rate, that all started about a year ago.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Jillian's Lessons start Monday at 6:30

As much as we would have liked to get started in the Suzuki method, the thought of fighting rush hour traffic for an extra 25 minutes each way was too much to overcome. So our new teacher, a woman who attends our church and lives 1.7 miles away, has taken on Jillian as her newest student. Our new Piano Teacher (henceforth, PT) has, including Jillian, 35 students under her care. She teaches 30 minute lessons continuously, 3:00 - 8:00 PM, Monday through Thursday, and had only three openings. (I think a couple of her advanced students sit for more than 30 minutes... that, or she mixes in breaks periodically.) Jillian's weekly slot is Monday at 6:30 PM. We're very excited.

At this point, I am not considering signing on as student #36. We'll see how it goes with me sitting in on Jillian's lessons first. I still think, at some point, I am going to have to get my own teacher. Sue says the same thing every time she comes over to the piano and watches me attempt some unnatural jump. Now is just not the time.

Unexpected Piano Music Part One: Telegraph Road

About a month ago, I was coming home from work listening to the iPod, and it occurred to me that the song I was listening to had a piano in it. What was surprising was that I had heard this particular song probably 400 times in my life (give or take, oh, about 200) and it had never occurred to me to listen to what the piano was doing. Then the next song came on, and it had a piano in it… in the case of this song, I was always aware there was a piano involved, but I never knew how significant the piano’s role was in that song.

Then Telegraph Road, by Dire Straits queued up. It's a long song, so fire it up now, then read the rest of what I have to say about it.

Telegraph Road - Dire Straits

I first heard it as an undergrad at Vanderbilt. A guy a couple doors down was blaring it, door ajar, for the entire hall (and perhaps those upstairs) to hear. I went to his room, and asked him to turn it down. “What? This is a great song! Tell you what, you got a minute? Listen to this song, and if you don’t like it, I’ll close my door. It's about driving home from work on a snowy day.” Well, who could pass up an intro like that?

Problem is, Telegraph Road is a 14 minute song. But this gentleman had previously shown reasonable judgment when it came to music, so I sat down and listened. And talked basketball. And listened. While I did, he explained it’s a song about the founding of Detroit, how it grew into a prosperous manufacturing town, but eventually caved under the myopia of those who were not focused on the world at large, and the changes that were happening. (Sort of ironic… this is as true today as it was when the song was written 25 years ago.)

I listened. My verdict: “What a long, boring song! Close your door!” Dutifully, he did. After all, we had a deal.

The timeline of my appreciation for this song looks like this:

1988 – 2001: “What a long, boring song.”
2001 – 2002: “Hmm, there is something compelling here, can’t quite figure out what it is…”
2002 – 2008: “Wow, those last five minutes… that’s about as good as it gets for guitar virtuosity. Mark Knopfler is a god.”
2008 – “Wha? There’s a piano in there? Why hadn’t I noticed this before?”

What I didn’t realize is that, not only is there a piano in this song, it’s a featured instrument, every bit as necessary to the music as Knopfler’s guitar. And perhaps as difficult to play, in its own way. Even when things get a little out of hand at the 12:20 mark, if you make it that far and listen closely, there is a piano keeping up with things. As you listen to this song, focus your attention on the piano, as it comes and goes. Afterwards, ask yourself whether the song belongs to the guitar or the piano. (Answer of course, is both, but you’ll see what I mean.)

And since this is a really long song, I may as well take a second to bring this thought back full circle for you. On my way home this particular day, this being the third in a series of piano-laden songs, I paid very close attention to other songs on my iPod. I was amazed at how many of them made use of the piano, sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly. And here and there over the next few weeks, I am going to share those observations with you.

- Aw2pp, who wonders what ever happened to James Giblin, and Engineering Major from Lackawanna, New York