Tuesday, May 02, 2017

i used to play the piano

Last night. over plates of yakisoba and other Japanese delicacies, Roxane, Ed, and I shared stories of piano lessons.

Their tales were similar to others I have heard. Roxane's had the additional patina of nun villains.

My recollections were a bit different. I came to the piano as a third musical instrument. I had violin lessons in the fourth grade that did not go well, and saxophone lessons starting in the sixth grade that were marginally better.

I must have been in the eighth grade or a freshman in high school when I asked my mother for piano lessons. That is the way I remember it. But it is possible that a young pastor we knew needed the extra income, and inquired if I was interested.

Whichever version is true, Richard (I think that was his name) regularly came to our house to teach me. He was close enough in age to me that I thought he was cool. And he was a good teacher.

Early on, he told me every young pianist wants to learn how to play by ear -- and to play what is popular. He told me that was good. That was one way to learn. But I also needed to do the hard work of learning the basics of technique and music theory.

As an illustration, he asked me to play a church hymn from memory. I did. It was almost exclusively melody.

He then asked me to pull out a hymnal, and then showed me how the left hand could add texture to the music with chords creating harmony and counter-melody, as could the right hand by adding additional notes to complement the obligato. It was a perfect illustration for someone who had played two instruments that were generally stuck with one musical line.

In one lesson, he had given me incentive to learn more about music in order to reach my goal of playing what I wanted to play. At his recommendation, I enrolled in the Sherwood School of Music correspondence course.

The theory was a bit tedious. But, he kept my eye on the ultimate prize. My parents awarded my progress by selling our ancient upright piano in favor of a spiffy Yamaha spinet.

I eventually drifted away from the piano -- as I did from the violin and saxophone. But I retained my interest in music. Several of my electives in college were in the school of music.

Over the years, I accumulated about 2000 albums -- primarily classical music, but with a smattering of rock, folk, and musicals to give me enough cover to claim some type of eclecticism. That collection accompanied me to San Antonio, Denver, Merced, Kato Achaia, Oxford, Gladstone, Milwaukie, and Salem.

I cannot tell you why, but my interest in the albums waned. I suspect it had a lot to do with technological change. Even though analog quality was far superior to digital in the late 1980s, I started listening to CDs.

In Mexico, music has almost disappeared from my life. My album collection went to Goodwill -- along with the professional turntable I had packed around since I was stationed in Greece. My writing and reading has filled the part of my life that was previously dedicated to music.

But, that is changing. Even though there are few opportunities where I live to attend symphonic concerts or operas, I can get a shadow of the experience through Youtube -- or by building a new music collection. Because digital recordings have greatly improved, I can even do it with CDs. (Not so much with highly-compressed streamed music.)

On Saturday, I will head north for a brief visit. I need to take care of some legal matters that are best attended to in person.

But, while I am there, I intend to look around for some challenging recordings. Richard taught me about Aaron Copland's three categories of how we listen to music (from What to Listen for in Music):

  • the sensuous plane -- our emotional response to music where we let it wash over us (often while we are engaged in other pursuits; the way everyone experiences music at a visceral level, without much thought to what we are hearing)
  • the expressive plane -- where we try to determine what the composer's music means
  • the sheerly musical plane -- where we listen to the music as an abstract art form; or, in Copland's words: "the notes themselves and of their manipulation"
My visit to the Sydney Opera House has revived my interest in opera. When I was in high school, Verdi was the all the rage amongst the opera set. (That was before Elton John raped Aida.) In college, I moved on to Puccini and his "silver spaghetti." Sydney's production of La Boheme revived that interest.

A full set of Puccini operas would be a good start. With a smattering of Verdi and Wagner.

Who knows? The house with no name may even host the occasional night at the opera -- with or without the Marx brothers.

If you are in the neighborhood, stop by. There will be an aria about the place.

For those of you who think they do not like opera, take a look at this extravaganza of Puccini's Turandot, staged in the setting Puccini had imagined -- the Forbidden City.

No comments: