Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Note to self...

... next time you connect the bike hitch, close the back door first. Oh, and maybe read the directions.

Sometimes, I just have to laugh at myself.

- Aw2pp, who is not so handy sometimes. But working on it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

J&J Update

I didn't imagine it. It was really true. Weeks ago, months ago, a year ago, Jillian (and, when his turn came, Jason) took it upon themselves to get on the piano and practice what their teachers had asked. Not much, mind you... 10, 15 minutes at a time. But that was all PT had asked for. These days, not so much. We are having to get on them about it, and they are resisting.

It started subtly, with Jillian telling me that she didn't need to practice, either because she already had, and / or because she knew her assigned pieces for the given week. I didn't push back, because, after all, she was progressing (and continues to progress) in her lessons, and likes them very much. But it was troubling, as the Spring wore on, when she seemed to over-report her weekly practice times for her teacher. (PT, as you may recall, gives out little pieces of candy if you practice 3 times per week, more for more.) We talked to Jillian briefly about it, and it seems to not be a problem anymore. But the precedent was set.

Jason, as you know, started lessons recently. And it's been more problematic with him. In fact, the other day, we actually pushed back when it was time to actually go to practice.

"Dad, I never said I wanted to go do piano lessons."

"Jason, yes you did. You were totally excited about it."

"No, you asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons, but I didn't answer you!"

In fairness to the kid, he had swim class earlier in the day, spent the entire afternoon at a neighbor's pool, the day was the hottest in two years, and he fell asleep shortly after arriving at piano lessons (Jillian had the first 30 minutes). He was exhausted. But when I picked him up at the end of lessons? Totally fired up, totally excited, and did a great job (according to PT). Couldn't wait until next week.

Since then (it's been three days)? Neither Jill nor Jay (insofar as a I know) have touched the piano. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am. Getting them to practice is like trying to conduct an orderly Goat Rodeo. With all the competing stimuli, it's hard to make the Chief Characters focus on the task at hand. Summer is screaming at us: "POOL! DS! PLAYSET! Wii FIT! LEMONADE STAND! FRIENDS! DS! ICE CREAM!" Tough to fit a lot of piano in there.

It's hard to get motivated to play the piano when there is $8.60 to be made selling lemonade.

We'll monitor this. Piano is something they have both shown interest in, and we aren't going to say "Ok, fine" at the first sign of resistance. Especially when they also seem to like it, once they get there.

- Aw2pp, taskmaster.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Duck and cover

You know, at some point, if you were the camera operator here, wouldn't you just say to yourself, "Hmm, maybe I should... take a couple steps to the right... or left, either way..."

Good news here is that, from what I read, nobody was hurt, everybody walked away. Including the camera operator.

- Aw2pp, who once (ONCE!) jumped out of a perfectly functional airplane.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Theme from Solace

Here's a new recording for you. I'll give you your links, you can fire them up, then read on as I yammer about what I've done here.

Box.net link for AnthonyB and others: http://www.box.net/shared/v1zqczr6vd

Imeem link, just in case you've a preference for it:

Theme from Solace - Aw2pp

I began this piece a couple weeks ago, when I beaten I Due Fiumi to smithereens. SO I guess you are hearing two week's worth of progress here. It was slow going at first, mainly because I was not the least bit familiar with the tune. (" 'Solace?' Is that some sort of chick movie I missed?") But PianoNoobAlexMan's recording on Youtube got me off and running. There were two measures that I had particular trouble with (right around the 40 second mark is the first instance), and I had to CC Chang those measures to get them down. Thankfully, Joey and Rowan expressed a great deal of patience with me while I played those measures over and over and over and...

Only other comment: I think the repeat is totally and completely superfluous. Listening to the recording, at about the 1:25 mark or so, I say to myself, "Good grief, finish this piece already." Just in case you are saying that to yourself as you are listening along, I want you to know that I am way ahead of you.

- Aw2pp, who just turned on the AC last night for the first time this year. It was the humidity, mind you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Insight Information

(Thanks, Sue, for the blog post title you accidentally suggested.)

For the last 7 years, I have driven a 2002 Ford Focus. It has been a useful, dependable, if unexciting car for us. It has power uh, nothing. Two summers ago, the AC went out, and we never got around to getting that fixed. I had the windshield replaced a year ago, and one wiper blade has been finicky (at times, nonfunctional) ever since. Although technically an economy car, I have had a hard time getting 30 MPG out of it, to say nothing of the 36 MPG Ford advertised for this car. (Once I got 35 MPG, but that was on the Interstate, heading to Nashville, at 65 MPH with a howling North wind at my back.)

But two things kept this car in the family for longer than expected. First, it's been paid off for years now, and second, the VAST majority of the miles we'd accumulated with this car have been with me, driving alone. And my needs are simple.

This year, the list of items that MIGHT need fixing has begun to pile up. Yes, the AC, we already mentioned that. And there is a new sound in the front right suspension. And a handful of times, the car has almost conked out on me while warming up... a coughing, shuddering, laboring sort of sensation that keeps me from going more than 30 MPH, until it goes away after 10 minutes or so. So while we were at the Honda dealer looking over new Odysseys, we also considered replacing the old Focus.*

* - Sue, when she reads this, is going to be thinking to herself, "Wait, that's not the whole story! You're skipping LOTS of details." Yes, yes I am. And I wrote some of those in the original version of the post, but they were long and boring and tedious.** So yes, there's much more to this.

** - Others are thinking "Longer and boring-er and tedious-er than what you've already got going here..." Yes, believe it or not...

Since I drive mostly by myself, potential replacements were going to be small and extremely fuel efficient. I weighed the idea of getting a VERY large, and/or VERY nice, albeit used vehicle, but I'm betting that gas is going back north of $4 sooner than later, so my attention was mainly focused* on cars that get 40 MPG or better. On a Honda lot, that means Hybrids. After considering a used Civic Hybrid and a new Insight, and after getting about $800 more for the Focus than we realistically expected, we opted to purchase a new Honda Insight EX.

* - Heh, I crack myself up. Moment of silence for the Focus.

Clark Kent, in the 1950's TV series drove a Nash Metropolitan. A humble, simple little car that conveyed a concise message about the driver: "I am a simple, unassuming, harmless nerd." I drive the modern equivalent of a Nash Metropolitan.

Fuzzy dice... were these standard back in the 50's, or a dealer-installed option?

On the one hand, there are lots of bells and whistles that are intended to help improve driving habits, to the end that the driver make better use of the Hybrid (excuse me, "Integrated Motor Assist") technology. Driving is sort of like a video game, with all these lights and charts and graphs grading you, evaluating you at every moment. For instance, there is even a soft green / blue backlight that provides a general idea of how well you are driving (green for "very good", of course, blue for "you are emitting more Carbon than is necessary"). BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! On the dashboard, there is a little plant that grows leaves as you drive intelligently, even growing a flower if you behave yourself for a very long time. As if to convey the message that driving isn't interesting enough, there is lots of attention-demanding eye candy for my inner nerd.

But, there is also a basic simplicity to the car that is also, well, beautiful. And it is here that the Nash Metropolitan reference holds a little more water. It is a small, simply sculpted runnabout, perfect for the 99.9% of the miles I will accumulate, driving solo in the car. All-wheel drive? Not available. Fog lights, power seats, heated seats and mirrors, copiuous horsepower, limited slip differential? Nope. A back seat adults can sit in? Negative. Audio controls on the steering wheel? You can't have those, either. (Which is a shame, those are handy.) It's a simple car, made to keep costs down, and mileage high. Think of it as a 4-door CRX from 20 years ago.

Early returns are in, and I averaged 37 MPG on the way home from the dealer. Clearly I have plenty to learn. Although the EPA estimates 40 MPG in the city, 43 on the highway, I'm aiming for 50. I'll keep you updated.

- Aw2pp, wannabe hypermiler

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Slow week here

I am spending all week on site at a customer. Early mornings, late nights. More later.

- Aw2pp, who Facebooks vicariously through his wife

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Now what?

One of my favorite exchanges* in the movie The Princess Bride happens at the end of the movie.

* - High praise, given that this is one of my favorite movies.

To set the stage... it's the end of the movie. Good guys: triumphed; villains: vanquished. Inigo Montoya, the Spanish swordsman played so masterfully by Mandy Patinkin, had spent his entire life seeking revenge for his slain father. He has tracked down the evil six-fingered man, exacted his revenge, and then says to the hero Westley...

Inigo : Is very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it's over, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life.

Westley: Have you ever considered piracy? You'd make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts.

I sort of feel that way right now. Not about piracy, mind you, but about what to do with myself. For most of May, at least in terms of piano-related activities, I did nothing but polish up I Due Fiumi for the recital. I don't think I made it to more than one lesson; I gave up my slots to Jason, since I was out of town for work and volleyball. As to the lesson I DID attend, it was, yes, polishing the recital piece. I shelved what I was doing in Alfred's Book 2, making zero progress there for nigh on 2 months now. I feel like now that the recital is over with... I don't know what to do with the rest of my life.

One thing is certain: no (or very few) lessons for me this summer. During the school year, our PT conducts lessons four nights a week, from 3 to 8 PM. Which means evening slots are typically available. During the summer, PT condenses her work week into two days, the theory being that since the kids aren't in school, she can have morning and afternoon hours available. In this way, she can cover her full clientele in just two days, rather than four. Makes sense, but I can't commit to a daytime slot, so Jillian and Jason are the only ones in the household taking lessons this summer. Their day is Tuesday, 4:30 and 5:00 PM. If one or another can't make their time, and if I can, I may get a 30 minute session here and there.

But mostly, I am on my own. I figure what I will do is return my focus to Alfred's Book 2, in hopes of making serious progress on it this summer. My goal will be to cover 12 Alfred's pieces before Labor Day, roughly one per week. I am off to a reasonable start with the first of those, Joplin's Mexican Serenade (aka "Theme from 'Solace'"). I have never heard of it by either title, and the music was unfamiliar. But it has come together quickly, and I may have a recording ready in the next few days.

Then, come September, maybe I will restart my regularly scheduled lesson slot.

As for fun pieces, who knows? I am tinkering with I Giorni, but haven't yet committed myself to it. So far, it seems approachable. And, like many Einaudi pieces, it plays shorter than it really is*, since it tends to repeat its patterns quite a bit (or vary them ever so slightly).

* - Pardon the golf term.

I'll take any suggestions. Particularly from you non-Einaudi fans... any fun stuff you'd recommend? I feel like I may be lacking simple pieces from standard classical repertoire, like say, Bach, Clementi, or Kuhlau (there were two of his sonatinas in our recital).

- Aw2pp, who would make a lousy Dread Pirate Roberts.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My recital piece

Ok, I am all uploaded. (And just like that, I have a spam commenter who suggests I could be a "Youtube star". Heavens, I never aspired to such lofty goals before...)

A couple of comments and observations:

- I edited out the introductory comments, as you couldn't really hear what I was saying anyway.

- Speaking of which, the sound quality isn't the best. AnthonyB has mentioned before how Youtube strips the sound of high-quality recordings. In this case, it isn't Youtube's fault. It's partially my fault, for not getting proper sound out of the piano, and it's partially an equipment thing, as our camera isn't the best for this purpose. So put the headphones on. And if* we do this next year, we'll try to fire up an external mic or something.

* - "If?" Who am I kidding, we're doing this next year.

- As to the performance: the first half was, now that I listen to it, much rougher than I remembered. Boy, did I get off to a shaky start. Other way around on the second half, which was a vast improvement, and sounds much more confident than I remembered.

- Aw2pp, who, for the 18th consecutive year, has declared himself eligible for the upcoming NBA draft

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jillian's Recital Piece

Here is Jillian's performance. We missed her introduction, and you'll see at the end that she left her music up on the piano when she was done. (She wasn't the only one to do this, as it turned out.)

mom3gram, you might be interested in knowing that she played this out of Alfred's Book One. My understanding is that you are beyond this. In retrospect, this piece may have been a little too far up the difficulty scale for Jillian. This would have mattered less had she practiced it more, but as I mentioned before to you, this piece became tiresome for Jillian. I believe she may have been frustrated by its difficulty, but who knows? Although she struggled, I particularly admire her determination to hit that last note correctly, after two failed tries. She got it on the third!

- Aw2pp, Proud Piano Dad

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Recital pics

Still haven't uploaded any videos yet. We used our "real" camera this time, rather than our handy Flip, which seems to have captured its last magic moment.

(Moment of silence for the Flip.)

(Thank you.)

With the Flip, uploading a vid was no more difficult than offloading stills from a digital camera. It's a much more sophisticated process to get clips off the Camcorder, a process which includes fancy things like Firewire and perplexing software like Adobe Premiere. In short, I'll have the clips of our recital pieces for you some time in the next, oh, week or so. I'm figuring somewhere in there, we'll have a block of 2 unscheduled hours.

So instead, some stills. Let's start with the sound check.*

* - It wasn't really a sound check... Jillian and I just got there about 45 minutes early to squeeze in some last-second practice before anybody got there. But it seems like all the cool musicians do sound checks, so let's pretend.

Jillian went first, and I wandered around the church while she played.

Wow. She doesn't look 7 here.

Then it was my turn, and Jillian took some pictures of me. Didn't ask her to, but I don't mind now, because, frankly, she takes better pictures than I do.

Apparently, from what I can tell, I have this look on my face a lot while I play.

We got the program, observed that Jillian was playing sixth, and I was playing 25th. Out of 25. More on that later. But the way it went was this: everybody went up and introduced themselves, "Hi, my name is..., and I am playing...", then they played, bowed, and the next person went. This is cute in theory, but in practice, children tend not to speak clearly into microphones. Jillian has no formal training in this, but she wanted to be sure that she was heard and understood.

Then she played, and... apparently I don't have any pictures of that. Must have been too busy enjoying the performance. But trust me, she played. We'll have film at 11:00.*

* - Figuratively speaking.

About an hour later, it was my turn. I felt like simply stating my name, rank and serial number wasn't going to cut it... partly because I was too nervous to immediately sit myself down on the piano bench, and partly because I wanted the people to be somewhat prepared for music that was out of step with the Sonatinas, method book pieces, and Coldplay songs that had preceded me. So I added a sentence or two. Something along the lines of "What you are about to hear is a musical description of two African rivers..." You'll hear later, in the meantime, this is what I look like when I am in front of a bunch of people, talking.

And because someone on Pianoworld suggested I do this, I took a moment when I sat down to gather myself, and take a deep breath. (It seemed like 20 seconds, although it was probably less than 5.)

Again, no pics of the actual performance. I suspect those in the audience were simply too spellbound by my mastery. But afterwards, here are the happy musicians.

- Aw2pp, currently listening to Reptile by The Church, and wondering why this wasn't my favorite song in high school. Seems like it would have been my sort of thing back in the day.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Quick recital reax

Jillian and I give ourselves a solid B+.

Could we have played better? Sure.

Are we happy with how we played? Darn right we are!

Was she nervous? Nah, this sort of thing doesn't bother her.

Me? Boy howdy, was I. It was interesting. I felt somewhat nervous, but that pretty much went away when I hit the first few notes correctly. Unfortunately, my hands and legs failed to get this message, as they were shaking almost throughout the entirety of my performance. I haven't looked at the tape yet, so I will be interested in seeing if this is noticeable there. But believe me, the shaking itself actually caused an error here and there. But don't tell anyone... they think I did fine.

And they're right, it did go, all in all, pretty well.

Pics and vids later.

- Aw2pp, concert pianist (at least for one night)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One more day...

... until recital time. Mine is about as good as it is going to get. Jillian still has some room to improve her Brahm's Lullaby, but she has gotten a little bit bored with it. It's the first time, in her 18 months of playing the piano, that I have actually had to ask her to practice something. This has got to be some sort of milestone, I am sure.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Saturday Soccer pix

This year, Jillian and Jason's soccer games have been almost exclusively concurrent events. When one plays, the other was also playing, several miles away. Saturday was the first time the played at different hours, so I attended both, camera in hand. Good thing, as I got a chance to capture Jillian's First Goal. Here's how it unfolded.

Jillian (#2) follows along as her buddy dribbles up the field.

Buddy passes her the ball (on purpose, no less... yes, they have come a long way this year), and Jillian tees it up.

It ROCKETS by the poor goalie. (Well, when she's 40, it will be a rocketing shot, as she tells her little ones about it.) GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!

At this point, I was excited. In almost two years of playing soccer, Jillian had never scored a goal before. She too, was excited.

I love the double fist pump, even if I missed the shot.

But here, it got to me. She came over to the sidelines, as it was her turn to be subbed out. And all the other players and parents were cheering for her, telling her "Great job" and all that... and she was so pleased, so proud, she barely knew how to handle herself.

And now at this point... I admit it... I cried. Here is a child who is always so composed, she let herself go for a moment of triumph, and, frankly, I'd never seen her like this before. So I couldn't help myself. You'll forgive me, I am sure.

Final score: Lucky Charms 3, Classy Cleats 9. (Did I mention we're not so good? But we do have lots of fun.)

Jason has a different take on soccer. As you'll see below, he's less... dynamic. He is generally easy going about most things (haircuts excepted, for some reason), and soccer is no different. Unlike Jillian, Jason has scored a few goals. 3 or 4 by my count, 10 or 12 by his. (This is not as amazing as it sounds... his game typically have scores like 18-10.) Unlike Jillian, when Jason scores goals, he treats the event with all the excitement and celebration of, oh, going out to get the mail. That is to say, it's completely and utterly unremarkable. Alas, no goals this day, but here is a glimpse of soccer, Jason style.

Once in awhile, he'll get a boot on the ball.

And he's good for throw ins.

But when you are the World's Largest Kindergartner (for one more week), soccer, especially with all that running around, is hard. At first, Jason finds himself trailing plays... following the scrum* around the field, but having a hard time keeping up with it.

* - Those of you who have attended soccer games with 6 year olds, you know what I am talking about here. Soccer is basically a mass of feet, huddled together, kicking the ball at each other, until it squirts out and into a goal. Once in awhile, a faster kid will end up with the ball at his or her feet, and dribble down the field on his/her own. But mainly, it's all about the scrum.

This is not uncommon... the group swarming the ball has made it to his team's goal line (there are no goalies), and any second now, one of them is bound to dribble it through. Jason, with eyes closed, has given up on the play some time ago, and is 20 yards upfield, thinking about... I dunno, Pokemon?

Another common site, especially near the end of halves and games. Jason sometimes decides that soccer is so draining, he should simply plop down and take a rest. I believe he was waiting on a corner kick here.

Yes, he is in the game. At least he's keeping an eye on the action.

At the end of the game, Jason is always in the front of the line, with the "Good Game" wishes.

He tells me that he's often asked by the other team if he is in third grade.

"Well, Jason, what do you tell them?"

"Not yet. Some day I will be."
If you knew Jason, you could picture him saying this.

- Aw2pp, who isn't counting on any soccer scholarships to help pay for college.

Monday, June 1, 2009

First impression of the Kawai at church...

... T-minus 4 days and counting for the recital. Piano Teacher (PT) suggested, nay, demanded that I find a way, some time, to get on the recital piano, and tinker with it a bit. She warned me it had a light touch, and, as a new piano (well, 5 years new, give or take), it had a very different sound from her old Emerson baby grand. So after church yesterday, after everyone had cleared out, and while Sue and the youngin's were having a coffee and cookie break, I took a moment to introduce myself to the piano.

First impression: meh. I don't know what I expected, but I expected more.

To begin with, overall, I don't find it THAT different from PT's Emerson. (Maybe this speaks well of THAT instrument, come to think of it.) What I mean is, I found the keys sort of spongy, and a little uneven, especially on the left hand. I expected that the keys would have a firm bottom, but it was more a matter of a gradual, soft landing at the end of their travel.

Furthermore, though I felt like I was hammering away on the keys, I couldn't generate nearly enough sound to fill the sanctuary. (For sizing purposes, the sanctuary is roughly the size of a basketball court. Which, not surprisingly, it is, complete with a carpeted floor and lines marking out the court.) I'm tempted to say, "This took a little getting used to," but that would infer I did, indeed, get used to it. I did not. In fact, my first time through, it seemed to me the left hand was totally dominating the right, so I paid a little closer attention to the relative dynamics between the two hands when I went through the piece a second time. I still didn't like it, and by this time, the family had consumed their cookies, returned the sanctuary (bringing NO COOKIES for me... hmph), and were listening to what I was doing. A minute or two later, in came our church's worship / music director, and by this point, I was ready to give Jillian a chance to try it out. (Not really... I wanted to keep playing, but I did not want to experiment in front of an audience, and I was a little concerned about the kids running around on a stage of expensive instruments and electronic gadgetry.)

So the good news: I'm not scraping around today for an extra $30k in sofa change, hoping to go out and by one of these things.

The bad news: I'm not totally comfortable with the piano, 4 days shy of recital. More importantly, I am concerned that what I didn't like about it (spongy, uneven feel) is a feature, rather than a bug. Have I become so used to the lightness and relative perfection of the graduated touch of my Ap-200, that when I sit down at a (from what I understand) perfectly fine acoustic instrument, I can't make the transition? Are the things that I dislike on the Kawai (and PT's Emerson) part and parcel of all acoustic instruments, and good piano players learn to use those characteristics to produce the exact sounds they want?

I suspect the answer to these questions is, "Yes, suck it up, and get used to it."

- Aw2pp, who is still awaiting the followup to Dexy's Midnight Runners 'Come on Eileen'...