Thursday, December 12, 2013

I'd like a show of hands, please . . .

Who else has been directed to begin accompanying Christmas carols - as the room plunges into total darkness?

Tonight was the second time.  I'm on the opening chords to "O Come All Ye Faithful", and down the lights go, until I can barely make out the chords. Fortunately, it was only me and the singers, who had the dimmest candle/light sticks on the planet.

My first attempt at blind playing was a few years back: as the lights dim to nothingness, as only two candles gleam, the pastor nods at me to begin "Silent Night".  I smile grimly and begin, hoping I selected the correct key (if not, it'd clash delightfully when the orchestra joined me at the top of the song).

Our job is uniquely stressful - and sometimes a layer of random 'you want what?' is layered in as well.  Be prepared*.  

*Seriously.  Have portable lights in your car.  I do, but noone told me the lights would go out during the show.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Congratulations, it's over!

Sitting through a bad performance is one thing - but what to say to afterwards to the performer?  I've found that people can be ingenious when it comes to simultaneously expressing upbeat support while being completely honest.

For example, one professor’s stock non-statement was to go up to the player, clasp their hand with enthusiasm, and say, “How you played!” with an engaging smile.  

Another slant I've seem is to wildly praise the performer's appearance, "I adore your dress!  What great shoes!  Your makeup is divine!" ...  

There is also the wildly praise the music angle: "I LOVE that set/song/quartet/composer!!," all the while somehow failing to mention any aspect of the performing of said music.

But probably the worst is to damn with faint praise - "It was pretty good. I liked it."  In performer* land, that is usually an insult.  They want to hear the words amazing, fantastic, incredible, life-changing, etc - anything that implies it outshone anything you've ever seen in your entire life and you are in the right ball park.  

Apparently musicians aren't alone. Comedian Matt Ruby commented on some stock phrases he'll hear after a performance of improv (and how to interpret the comments):
"You looked like you were having a lot of fun up there."  =  That one also applies to combining pills and booze. Fun and quality aren't the same thing.
"I could never do what you do."  = really means "I could never do what you do...because I have a sense of shame." Or "I could never do what you do...suck that badly."

just some food for thought . . . 

*Especially with singers

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Pianist tackles the Organ

One of the simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating aspects of my chosen profession is the ongoing learning opportunities that present themselves.  Usually in the form of "we need you to be able to do this ... publicly. And immediately."

This time, it's the church organ: a 3 manual Series Classical Allen Organ, to be played two services a week.  For a pianist the biggest challenges are:

To my incredible fortune, the church was happy to pay for organ lessons (filed under 'professional development'), and I found a wonderful guru who introduced me to the wonders of registrations, pedaling, and the organist's ability to be expressive by 'bending time and space'. Ultimately I've enjoyed the challenge I've been presented with, and am finally getting to where I feel like I'm 'making music' instead of  'successfully hitting notes'.  

Warning for all considering crossing over: on the organ, your pianist superpowers don't matter.  Your touch, your control and your flashy chops aren't as vital to success - instead you need to learn to listen in an entirely different way.  You have to think as an orchestrator - on 3 to 4 levels - and use the space in between notes way more than before.  And you need to learn how to separate your left hand and your feet, which often want to become one in your brain.   

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Few Months Ago

I experienced the overwhelming desire to kill a composer with a shovel*.

I was asked to accompany a high school choir concert, and the teacher offered to mail the music to me.  I commented, "I'm also comfortable with sightreading the material at the first rehearsal", to which he replied, "Oh, no, I want you to have this ahead of time."  Huh.

Upon arrival of the music, I flipped through the pieces, mentally gauging the difficulty.  Easy, easy, 20 minutes to work on tricky spots, etc.  Then I noticed the last piece - J'entends le Moulin arranged by Donald Patriquin . . . and I discovered it was not your average choral accompaniment. A key factor is the tempo, Quarter = 120+. The first page wasn't too bad:

 But then I looked ahead and saw this:

And this part I had to memorize:

The first two hours of practice on it I was absolutely livid - forgive my brutal emotionally transparent writing - but I had never been required to spend this amount of time practicing a choral accompaniment before.  For a high school.  For a flat fee that didn't seem to match the time investment.  

BUT - on the positive side, I began to like it after two hours of practice. Then I began to love it, and finally ended up getting the biggest kick out of its performance.  To pull off the piano parts' technical demands and dramatic dynamic changes, all while supporting and highlighting what the choir is doing, gives you that rare 'rock star' feel which you don't get often in choral accompanying.

I really do love the piece, and think it is fantastic, and do not really wish the composer any ill.  It was just an initial reaction**. 

Here's a youtube performance from another choir:

*This is hyperbole.  Homicide is bad.
**You know you've done it, too.  Leave a comment if you have a similar story.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Blog Update

Okay, so I realize I haven't updated this for awhile*, so here's the latest since the move.  My husband an I are now living in San Antonio, TX - we bought a house in December(!), we got a puppy(!), we actually own furniture(!!!) - and since moving here I've amassed a few professional ties.  Here's what I've been up to:

Church gig - I'm at another Methodist Church, and this time around I get to play the organ - which has been an interesting beast to tackle.  The organ is surprisingly different from the piano, and I've been learning about registrations, pedaling and more.  This'll take a separate post to do justice to it - but I've been having fun, I love my new church, and the music director is wonderful.

The Playhouse - This is one of the few theatre gigs I've actually gotten by applying.  I just sent in a resume, not expecting anything, but they asked me in to interview - and I said that'd I'd prefer to play in the pit at this point and maybe do Assistant MD'ing eventually.  I got a call in February, and have been hooked up ever since.

Community Theatre - It is alive and well, here in San Antonio, and I've had opportunities here, also.  Strangely enough, it pays better here than in Northern Virginia/DC.  Who knew?

High Schools. etc
Through some networking on Facebook, I've been hooked up with HS and MS choral directors here. The bands and choirs here are excellent, and I've enjoyed playing for concerts and UIL's (stands for University Interscholastic League, its Texas's version of judging musicians).  I've been really impressed with the quality of musicianship.

And finally, I'm going to UTSA this fall to get a second masters's in solo piano performance.  My first two degrees were in Collaborative Piano (strange, I know) - mainly due to my disinterest in solo repertoire (strange, I know) - but I think I'm ready for this challenge.  I have an assistantship, so it's basically free.  Will it improve my salary?  Ha.  Will it improve my life and enjoyment of playing music?  Most definitely.  

The only other exciting thing is that I have my own music office now, with a set-up for a 'finale-ing keyboard' and everything.  It's silly, but I find it incredibly helpful to have a separate place to work in from the rest of the house.  

Hope you all are having a great summer!!

*Thanks for the nudge, Dad

Monday, April 8, 2013

Piano Bike - Repost

Musician Gary Skaggs pedals and plays around San Francisco aboard his custom piano bike, St. Frankenstein. It took Skaggs two years to build the 320-pound three-wheeler out of an $80 junk piano and a heavy duty front loader tricycle. Since the piano bike’s completion in 2008, Skaggs has been taking it to the Embarcadero in San Francisco to perform for tips. He is able to play and pedal at the same time, though steering is particularly challenging and hills are a real hazard.