Friday, July 28, 2006

Power to the people

I've just finished the book, "Piano Lessons: Music, Love & True Adventures" by Noah Adams, who I guess used to host NPR's All Things Considered, or maybe still does. It was a quick and entertaining read for the most part. At 51, Adams decides he must buy an $11,000 Steinway, even though he hasn't had lessons for decades and does not know how to play. Directly after his piano arrives, he shells out $300 more for a piano lesson course on his old Mac (this is from 1996, so I'm guessing ... System 7.5 or so? 8, maybe?), along with what I can only imagine is an incredibly cheap little electric keyboard. The program teaches as he plunks along on the little keys, telling him if his rhythm is right or if he's off on all the notes. He goes through this program for a while, then pays for another learn-by-ear program, and then goes through a week of intensive piano camp, which ends in a performance for other campers. This all leads up to him playing Schumann's "Traumerie" for his wife as a Christmas present.

I'd read some criticisms of the book on amazon.com when I went to order it (for one cent! Odd). Readers in the music community were insulted by the way he went about playing, intimating that he cheated in some way. They criticized his lack of discipline
and hints of elitism.

And, after having read the book, I have to agree to a certain extent. While he approaches learning the piano with a certain degree of self-deprecation, there's no true humility. Maybe it's because his job allows him to, instead of simply admiring the great players of our time, just go out and interview them. It sort of puts him on their level, if not through music, then through conversation. Maybe people are resentful of first reading that a person blows, seemingly unthinkingly, $11,000 on a piano, and later more on a handcrafted boat for his wife. I mean, should he feel bad for working hard and making money? No. But I just don't smell even a whiff of gratitude.

I don't know who this book is written for. Like I said, it was entertaining to me, but I also recently bought a piano and started playing. That's why my boyfriend recommended this book to me in the first place. So let's say there are those people each year who buy a piano, cold, in their adulthood. We can all read it and enjoy parts of it.

But then who else is there? Is it for the people who can afford all of that? A month every year in Maine; Washington, D.C., digs that allow for a piano?

One thing I've always hated about chess is that people think it's only for the elite -- be it the intellectually elite, the good players, or maybe the people who grew up with a "library" in their house. That's why I like to play on a $2 K-mart plastic set. Also, I have a handmade Chinese chess board with glow-in-the-dark plastic pieces. It's a game for the masses.

And music is for the masses. But America is what it is, and some have more, and some have a lot more. Maybe a younger version of myself would read THIS blog and just want to vomit. Why do I need a little keyboard for roadtrips? Who the hell do I think I am?

Does anyone else face these questions? Let me know if you come up with any answers.

On the road again

So we're doing some traveling this summer, but I don't want to lag on the practicing. So I've been looking into getting a little keyboard that I can take in the car for 4-7 day roadtrips and such.

And you're thinking, you only just started playing piano because a friend of yours sold you one for cheap. Yes, well, welcome to a little neighborhood called obsession. It's sometimes fleeting, often expensive, and always intense.

So anyway. There are a lot of choices out there. This weekend I visited my friend Julie, who plays the violin, and we went to a couple music stores to scout them out. She wants to get an even smaller keyboard so she can just plunk out chords and understand some more complex theory than she's getting right now.

The thing is I just want a little portable piano. I don't want it to do scat, or sound like a French horn, or heat up my coffee, which I don't even drink. But the sales staff at the store was trying to sell us both on some very complicated machines. It made me love my little upright piano all the more. I felt strangely Luddite.

One thing I'm looking for is weighted keys. Does anyone have any idea how I can find a cheap keyboard with weighted keys? I'm guessing no. But I'm on the lookout.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What my mind can conceive, my body can achieve

It seemed so hopeful when I read that saying in a series of children's books long ago. I'm just having a little trouble actually getting it to work.

Right now, I'm having a problem playing the notes in the melody legato, while the accompaniment is staccato, or just even unmarked notes. At the end of my lesson this week, my teacher said I could practice a little passage while she waited for her next student. I played the passage (3 notes! 3 notes!) maybe 3 times, and then she just said, "well, maybe you just better stop." I laughed and said, "Just can't take anymore today, huh?"

She said I'm falling on the keys, instead of playing deliberately. So this week, that's what I'm working on: Deliberation. If she only knew how deliberate I am.

Does anyone out there know how much I should be practicing each day? I asked someone at work, who said it should be 2 hours, at least 5 times a week. That's going to be hard, since I work at least 50 hours a week. What I really want to hear is 30-45 minutes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How old will I be if I don't take piano lessons?

Oh, who the hell cares how I got here? Here's what matters: I'm 30 years old and I'm just now learning how to play the piano. It's something I've always wanted to do, but we couldn't afford it when I was a kid. And then laziness and complacency stopped me from doing it as a young adult. But when a friend of mine moved away a couple months ago and offered to sell me her piano, I thought, well, it's about time.

I've taken about a month's worth of lessons, and the kid who follows me at my teacher's house is oh, maybe, 6. As someone who's always considered herself a middlin' to high achiever, this brings with it a sweet pain.

I asked my piano teacher how long it would take me to get good at the piano. She said, maybe 3 years until I feel proficient. At first, I thought, man, I'll be 33 years old and just gaining proficiency. Damn.

But then I thought, I'm going to be 33 anyway. At least I'm doing something with my time. So I posted a sign above my piano: HOW OLD WOULD YOU BE IF YOU DIDN'T TAKE PIANO LESSONS?

In case you want to play along at home, I'm using these 3 books right now:

Faber and Faber's Adult Piano Adventures


Alfred's Basic Adult Piano Course Lesson Book, Level One


Piano Town


Oh good, the Piano Town book image came in the largest, so you can see the kids right on the front. That's the funniest, or most humiliating one, whatever your perspective. I enjoy such hits as, "Owls and Bats." "The Backpack." "Waiting for the Bus." "My New Class." And don't forget such classics as "Glitter Glue."

I kid, because I know I have an amazing opportunity. I have the time and the money and the space to bring piano into my life. I'm really glad. And I'll let you know how I do.