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Romanian Dances
By Bela Bartok

This week on the blog:    Friday, January 18, 2019

Smart Practice: Observation


My running route took me by the church one afternoon and I stopped in to get a drink from the fountain, and to rest. Someone was practicing in the social hall, and while I sat on the bench outside, I couldn't help but hear the old familiar patterns:

They were playing the entire piece all the way through each time. a few measures in, they kept making the same mistake in the melody line. I'm not sure they noticed. Five repetitions later it was still wrong.

A few minutes later there was a new mistake. One the opening left hand arpeggio, which had now become minor instead of major. It was early and obvious. I'll bet what was going through the person's head at that point was along the lines of #[email protected]#%! Why Can't I get anything Right!!!!!! Unfortunately, that kind of emotional surge does exactly what we don't want it to do: burns the mistake into memory, as strong emotional states, whether positive or negative, tend to do. This time they backed up and started over. If you'd been there I'd have bet you a five that they would make the same mistake and you would be out five dollars.

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Here are a few things I'm going to have to put in my Curriculum Vitae when I get a chance. They probably all belong in the category 'flying by the seat of your pants,' which is a major life skill, no less for musicians then for everybody else.

They do a pretty good job teaching you how to make a highly technical racket on your chosen instrument in music school, but they don't tell you what to do when half of your instrument is missing. Recently some organs that I've been asked to play have fallen into that category. I mean that, in certain cases, the keys, when depressed, make no sound at all. In other cases, the pitch continues to sound well after it is time to practice discreet silence. This last category is called a cipher, and it can add so much to a concert in the way of unwanted drones, particularly if it happens to an obnoxiously loud tuba stop or something fun like that. One of those organs is in town and I'm playing it next week during a concert. The only way to get rid of these things sometimes is to turn off the entire organ and wait for the hubbub to die down (which can take several minutes). There is a downside to this strategy. (Note: by the time I got around to posting this the concert had gone off well--the organ was on its best behavior and I have no casualties to report)

One morning, practicing for the concert, I had a curious adventure with one of those infinite tones. Nobody else was in the theater at the time, so I attempted the fix myself, crawling into the pipe room and trying to locate the recalcitrant pipe. (Calling tech support probably wouldn't have helped, since they would just ask if you'd remembered to turn the thing on.)  I got the babbling pipes to shut up by simply putting my foot on the first rung of the stepladder I needed to get over to get to the catwalk in the near the relevant bank of pipes, find the offending pipe, and yank it out of its socket (rather subtle, don't you think?). I think it knew I meant business and promptly quieted down. I feel justified in saying that, as an organ technician (of the purely informal kind), I get results.

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it's as if the musical universe is not composed of random notes

How to sound like a human being
the rise and fall of a good phrase

thi sisrea  llyimp   ortant

Attack of the blobs  They're just dots on a page. But like you, they hang out in groups

You have my sympathy  Learning music the hard way

Some more haphazard thoughts about grouping
a little of this, a dash of that

The Practice Room
Series on Grouping

Why so Serious?

Mozart's variations on a children's tune

I hope your day is going well. If it's not, say, if it's too dignified, here's something that might help. It's a piece by Mozart, a set of variations on a children's tune. It was originally written for the piano but I've committed sacrilege by playing it on the organ. The whole thing happened rather suddenly when I was seated at the organ the other day and someone told me about a wedding in which the couple asked that this piece be played for their recessional. Kind of an unusual choice, I thought, and promptly started trying out different combinations of organ stops on the various variations to see what kinds of things one could do with such a piece. The recessional is actually going to be played on the piano, but I still had to have my fun. So did Mozart, apparently.

Mozart could be quite a serious fellow, at times, but he could also be the patron saint of composers with ridiculous senses of humor. He was also known to enjoy bathroom humor. There, I've said it, ok?! The great Wolfgang Amadeus liked fart jokes. (Boy, this blog is going downhill fast.) If you are similarly inclined, you can skip directly to variation ten.

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