Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I'm sorry to do this to you

Submitted for your review without further comment.

- Aw2pp, who now understands why Al Gore invented the Internet.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hodge Podge Picture Post

Catching up on the last month...

Houston pics
As you'll recall, we drove last month to Houston and back. The weather was so nice we... went indoors and played one afternoon at Pump It Up. The gang was pretty excited, as you see. Even Joey was doing some high-stepping.

But yes, there was also plenty of outdoor playing. Mostly on the trampoline, which has an interesting effect on your hair, as Rowan will now demonstrate.



Other outdoor pics...

The first ever Aw2pp family volleyball game. More to come, I am sure.

Really not sure what is going on here, but clearly the racket committed some sort of grievous offense.

Remember that Young Chang piano I mentioned a few weeks ago? Here I am playing it, with that silly "I'm playing the piano" look on my face.* That's a glass of Amarone, by the way. It was tasty.

* - Some day, I hope to be a good enough piano player to be able to think about things like, "Gosh, I wonder what I look like, I should try to look cool." Until then...

Returning to 41 miles west of Chicago
All good things must come to an end, and our fun in Houston was no exception. When we returned, we returned to Winter. In fact, for more days than I can count, we've experienced something called "Freezing Fog". It goes something like this... the temperature outside is, say, 19 degrees, humidity is 100%, and the little floating water droplets instantly freeze onto anything they contact. It is actually quite a site, especially at night, but unfortunately you are going to have to take my word on that, because I am not a good enough photographer to capture cool nighttime freezing fog. But during the day... still nice.

Up the street to the north

Some of our trees

More of our trees

If you look closely enough, you might could see Mr. Tumnus.

You'd think, based on all that snow on the ground, that what you see in the trees is snow. You'd be wrong if you thought that. Instead, this stuff is the frozen fog droplets, which, as Tom Skilling taught me this week, is called Hoarfrost. (Stop snickering, you in back. I'm serious: Hoarfrost. Look it up.)

Of course, there is snow on the ground, and our children like to go out playing it, right? Negative. Here they were when I came in from taking these pictures.

Later, Jason at least took it upon himself to build a pyramid out of Connect 4 chips.

Finally, we had a day or two of clear weather. Here's a sunset, with something called a Light Pillar.

Turning around, the sun was at an interesting angle to the house across the street. The picture is not nearly as awesomely cool as the actual scene was, unfortunately. Where's a tripod when you need one?

Tonight, lesson #2 on the year. I think I have progressed enough with Calypso Carnival to get a pass on it. Here's hoping.

- Aw2pp, who, for one, welcomes our new insect overlords, and would like to remind them that as a trusted piano blogger, I could be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

And we're 2! (Thereabouts)

A lot going on with work right now, so this is merely a reminder that, January, 2008 is when Jillian and I started playing piano.

- Aw2pp, Tae Kwon Do White Belt (look out world!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rock A My Soul

Rock a My Soul - Box.net link

We haven't had an Alfred's recording in awhile, which could cause you to question whether I am making any Alfred's progress at all. You'd be right to wonder about this, because I haven't. Over the last month, I have been focusing on the Clementi Sonatina, Christmas tunes, and, most recently, restarting Le Onde for the June recital. Given that I average maybe 4 hours a week of bench time, there isn't much room for Alfred's pieces there. Which is a bit of a shame, because I really want to finish these books, but I've been in Book 2 for a year now, and I'm not even halfway through. I had hoped to be DONE with Book 2 by now, and even that wasn't supposed to be an overly ambitious pace.

Anyhow, Rock A My Soul is a fun, unserious* little piece of music intended to introduce the Key of D-Major*** (two sharps). I have found that Alfred's pieces get easy when they introduce something new, which makes perfect sense. If true, I should fly through the next three or four pieces until it gets hard again.

* - What, that's not a word? It oughtabe**.
** - See what I did there?
*** - That was off the top of my head this time! My theory is coming along after all... apparently, all you have to do is remember which note the corresponding scale starts with. Of course, this would be easier if I did scales.

First lesson of the year is tomorrow night.

- Aw2pp, who will rock you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Christmas apparently arrives late when you live on the Plateau of Piano Mediocrity. Maybe they use another calendar here.

Box.net link - O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Actually, the real problem is that I had quite a bit of difficulty with this piece. Listening to it (you are listening, right? go on, it's short...), you'll wonder what the fuss is all about. Trust me, it's harder than it sounds, and I would certainly tell you otherwise.

It comes from Bastien's Book of Christmas Classics, Book 4. Almost every piece in this book was a real stretch for me, either because of tempo or, fancy keys with lots of flats or sharps, or because it required sort of technique I hadn't learned. The latter is the case here. This piece required that I play multiple notes with the same hand (not new) and sustain some while releasing and moving onto others (new and strange). It took quite a long time to get this presentable, to say nothing of getting it good. But it's coming up on mid-January, and it's time to move onto something else.


- Aw2pp, who bows to his Sensei.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Observations on two pianos played over the holidays

Shortly before Christmas, we went to the home of My Work Buddy Jeff*. He has three children, and we've been trying to get our families together since shortly after I (and, as it turns out, he) joined our Small Canadian Software Company last May. Having finally settled on a time and date, we bravely set out through lousy weather for his home in a northern Chicago suburb.

* - How Jeff and I know each other is not complicated, but it is hard to label. Simply put, Jeff is the sales rep I work with. He and I represent the entirety of our Small Canadian Software Company's existence in the Central US. Which means, even though he sometimes assigns me work, he's not my manager (I have one of those, he's in Boston). But he's not really my peer either. So Sue and I weren't sure what to call him when we were telling the kids where we were going. "My work friend?" In the end, we just settled on "Jeff".

Jeff is the person who makes lots of calls, identifies sales opportunities, and charms the potential customer into hearing what we have to say. He then hands the conversation over to me to do the impressive demos / proofs of concept / trial implementations. Upon successful completion of all that, I then I hand it back to him so he can talk about really boring things like contract terms and conditions. He's done this for a very long time, is very good at it, and I'm glad to be working with him. Jeff is a good guy, and I look up to him in some ways, but we're very different, as our roles might suggest. One thing that Jeff is NOT is a piano person. "Oh, that's my wife's thing. I let her handle all that. Getting the kids set up with lessons, recitals, that's her thing." He told me that she bought a piano a few year back, but had no idea what it was, or even whether it was an upright or a grand*.

* - Jeff is not a details person. Unless we're talking Squawk Box.

So imagine my surprise when, upon getting the tour of the large and lovely home in the northern Chicago suburbs, I see that the piano in Jeff's music room is a sharp-looking Charles Walter upright. Some of you may know that I have a soft spot for Charles Walter pianos. They are one of only three American piano manufacturers making pianos today. Their pianos are, according to those qualified to say such things, engineering marvels, as well as being musically responsive. As a result, their uprights play bigger than they are. And they give heavy discounts to churches, which I think is pretty cool. Their factory is a short drive away in Elkhart, Indiana. Some day, I'd like to think we'll pay them a visit. If Jeff and I can sell any* software, that is.

* - More correctly, if Jeff and I can sell lots and lots of software. We have quite a few other priorities to take care of first.

I tell you this so that you'll understand I am, admittedly, predisposed towards liking this piano. And understand that I didn't play much on it... just a little here and there while dishes were being done. So my impressions are brief and should probably be taken with more than a few grains of salt. Bad news first: it was horribly out of tune. And smaller than I thought, though it's arguable whether that is truly bad news. And that's about it. What a wonderful little piano! Deeper in the bass than the piano Jillian and I take our lessons on, which is saying something for a little upright. Wonderful, even touch. But what I like most was something I couldn't really identify until I observed an extreme lack of it in the next piano. And since I don't really know what to call it, I will call it clarity. The notes were very distinct, even during the fast (and pedaled) passages of I Due Fiumi. There are parts of that piece that have sounded muddy on every piano I have ever played them on, including my buddy's Steinway back in November. I figured I was doing something wrong. Turns out, this piano had exceptional clarity, and didn't sound muddy at all in those tricky passages.

This particular characteristic, as a result, has suddenly jumped to near the top of the list of things I am looking for in the event we ever go piano shopping.

In Houston, we visited a friend who has medium-sized Young Chang grand. Beautiful piano. Most powerful bass I have ever played... it really thundered. But the action was very, very heavy, and, again, it was way out of tune. Most of all, as I have already hinted from my comments above on Jeff's Charles Walter, this piano lacked any clarity at all. Notes really ran together in a muddled mess, and I confess I don't understand how or why. But they did, and to be honest, this piano was very difficult to play. I'm sure this can be regulated somehow, but again, I know nothing about these things.

Anyhow, this is a fun little hobby, trying out pianos. I'll let you know when I get to play others.

- Aw2pp causes confusion and delay.

Friday, January 8, 2010

"Getting Started" with Le Onde

June 4, 2010. Mark your calendars. You'll feel a Disturbance in The Force that day, as Jillian and I attempt our second live recitals. This is no trick for Jillian, who seems to have been born without the gene that induces stage fright. Her mother and I are both carriers, though, so Lord only knows how Jillian escaped. Jillian began work on her recital piece back in November, and has asked that I not share with you kind folks what she is working on. So I shan't.

Me? Longtime friends may recall that I had an eye last year towards performing Le Onde. And after about 6 weeks, I had reached the point to where I could play (most of) the notes, but it simply didn't sound musical. (Professor K. has described Le Onde as her "Waterloo" because of similar difficulties.) One lesson, I brought the iPod in to let PT compare and contrast what I was doing with the recordings from Einaudi himself. The La Scala version is particularly expressive, and it was while listening to it that PT had an "ah-ha" moment.

"Listen carefully to what he is doing... he is creating a wavelike sensation by implementing crescendos on every upward arpeggio (like those in the first four messages) and decrescendos on every downward arpeggio." I listened. She was right. That's why she makes Big Piano Teacher Bucks.

So I went back home and tried to do this. It was much harder than it sounds. In fact, I spent a week on this concept, during which time my ability to play this piece simply fell apart like the deck of cards that it was. By this point, recital time was 8 weeks away, and I was basically on page 1. I told PT that we were going with I Due Fiumi instead, and she expressed some relief at my decision. (Good thing, too, because first recitals have plenty of anxieties of their own. No sense adding to them with questions about your ability to actually play the music.)

Now where are we? 8 months later, I have about another 150 hours of bench time behind me. I'm better. I'm actually working on the key of D-major* in Alfred's, so it seemed like a good time to dust off Le Onde and see where we're at. After two weeks, I can say with supreme confidence that... I am right where I was when I gave up on it last Spring.

* - Heck no, I didn't know that off the top of my head, but thanks for asking. I had to look it up. My theory needs work.

My plan is to focus the next month on the first three pages. I'm in the "Acquiring the Notes at about 1/2 tempo" phase of things, paying very little attention to the aforementioned unwritten crescendos and decrescendos, or even the written ones. I hope, by the end of January, that the pattern will be fairly automatic for me, and the musicality will come by focusing on the details. When I make some progress there, I will turn to page 4, and start work on the halftime interlude, which, from what I recall, is not too difficult from a technical perspective. And so on.

What's more, as with many of Einaudi's pieces, there is quite a bit of repetition. I'd guestimate 90% of the first three pages is repeated in the second half. This should leave quite a bit of time to work on pushing and pulling the tempo and dynamics, to create that wave sensation that those who play it well can simulate.

Like Pianoworld's Kawaigirl for instance: Box.net link - Le Onde by Kawaigirl1

Look for my Le Onde in ABF Recital 18, which should be in May some time. In the meantime, updates as necessary.

- Aw2pp, new to the ways of The Force.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Revisiting I Giorni

LizziePug wrote in the comments to an earlier post that she had some trouble accessing my recordings of I Giorni. Here is the Box.net link:


Let me know if you have any trouble accessing it.

That said, I have lately been listening to the recording, and have concluded that it would be best to listen to other interpretations of the piece. Mine is... unpolished. The Maestro himself, for example, has two recordings that I know of, one from his I Giorni release (natch) and another from the La Scala double CD concert.

In addition, periodic Aw2pp visitor and Pianoworld ABF Recital Maven Professor K has graciously allowed me to post a link to her recording of I Giorni.


There are a couple reasons why her recording is preferable. First, obviously, she is a much better piano player than I am. Secondly, her piano is a wonderful Mason & Hamlin, and sounds fantastic. Most importantly, (and Monica, correct me if I am wrong here) this is her favorite piece from her favorite composer. Her heart is really in it. For me, it was a real strain to get this recording completed before the recital deadline, and I think it shows. Fact is, the piece was really beyond me at that time, and though I might could* improve on it now, I'm probably still a year away from doing it any real justice.

* - "Might could" is a down-south verb tense suggesting extreme conditionality. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

I have started work on Le Onde, which I intend to play in June at my piano teacher's annual recital. Afterwards, I may take a second look at I Giorni and see. Having recently revisted I Due Fiumi, I can confidently say I now see value in dusting off old pieces. IDF sounds much better today than it did last summer.

So take a gander at these, and let me know if they help. For a real treat, I will see if I can find a version from Kawaigirl. The only problem with her versions are that she makes them sound so easy, you end up asking yourself, "Now, why can't I play that?"

- Aw2pp, three two stomach flus away from his target weight.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

And... we're back

Believe it or not, all of the following statements are true about our trip to Texas:

  • Sue, our four children (ages 7, 6, 3, and 1) , and I drove both legs (Illinois-Texas and Texas-Illinois) without stopping. Going there, 18 hours. Coming back, 16.5 hours. Without stopping. It was exhausting.
  • Rowan (the 3 year-old) got sick on the way down and threw up.
  • Joey and I got sick while we were in Houston and, uh, yeah, we'll leave those details out. Not good times. We're still fighting it.
  • Jason's turn was on the way home. Twice.
  • We had a great time and wouldn't do anything differently. Saw lots of friends (hello, Moriartys, hello Hylands), got lots of good family time in, even played outside. In January. Can you believe it? (You see, the joke is that we live in Illinois, see, and it is 6 degrees outside right now, see, and in Houston... oh, never mind.)

So it's all good, we're recovering, and I'll have some pics for you this week. Maybe some recordings and observations on a couple of pianos I played over the holidays. I'm also looking into LizziePug's question about I Giorni.

- Aw2pp, whose road stamina would frighten you.