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THE NOISE
a column about the music of people's lives
this is supposed to be a picture of some dude playing the piano in front of a stained glass window!
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These are some of my former piano students from Baltimore. Can't see them? sorry about that.
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This week's featured recording:



Once
by Marteau

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Monday 6/8

Let's go back to the beginning

The sound of late Medieval music

Wednesday 6/10

To be taken orally

sure, take two Youtube videos, but call me in the morning, ok?

Friday 6/12
I'd like to be stubborn like that
You mean it doesn't just rain down from heaven? I have to study, too?

upcoming performances....
Friday June 26 with TimeZone at Joe's Brewery 10:30pm

pianonoise is 13 years old this month. This week Let's look back at something I wrote on its 10th birthday.

The Big 1-0
posted June 1, 2012

On the morning of April 18, 2001, I rolled out of bed and thought to myself, "I'd finally better get around to registering that domain name." I'd had the idea in the back of my head for a while, but the internet was starting to fill up, and, given that everybody else in the developed world was in the same pool, I figured I'd better jump on it if I wanted to be sure that some other strange person hadn't already thought of the mashed-up word Pianonoise. Turns out they hadn't.

That afternoon I bought some software and spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out this website creation/publication, thing. By evening, I had managed to publish my first page to the web. It was a single paragraph, of which I now do not have a copy. It expressed some surprise that anyone would have chanced across my little plot of cyber-real-estate and promised to improve my property when I figured out what I was doing. Over the next six weeks I tried to do just that.

 

On June 1, 2001, the first official post of Pianonoise.com went live. It wasn't a whole lot. I'd spent most of that time fighting with my software over the right size to display pictures and other formatting issues. The site consisted of a home page which actually looked a lot like this one except for the color scheme, already with its trademark banner photo (I forget of what) and quotation of the month, and that navigation bar down the left side which already had clickable photographs. In 2001 it was one of the more visually arresting sites on the web, which was perhaps odd for a site dedicated to music. But I wanted it to look good as well as sound good, and found it sort of irritating that most of the "how to build a web site" sites counseled simplicity on the idea that web browsers couldn't be relied on to display things the way you wanted them to so you might as well not do anything interesting. I've never found that an appealing philosophy.

There were two other pages. One was a page detailing the interesting concert tour of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The other was a page called "the music room" and it had a handful of MIDI files you could download if you wanted to listen to me play a tinny synthesized keyboard. I was already having problems with the sound quality but hadn't just yet discovered that you could actually get audio recordings onto the web. They would have taken an hour to load anyway.

That's right, youngins. In 2001 the web was a whole different place. We used cheesy clip-art then and we liked it. There weren't any videos. Most of us had dial-up connections. When I started uploading my first recordings, a five-minute piece took a half-hour to get on the web. It feels like a whole generation ago. This was before blogs. In the early years of the 21st century, having a web site was somewhat unusual. I remember a student's mother tell me that my student thought I was "hotsh--" because I had one. Now everybody puts everything online and it is no big deal. Although I have been on several blogs lately whose last posts date from 2010. A lot of people have gotten into blogging, had their fill, and retired from the field already. I'm still here, which seems like an accomplishment. I don't update often enough, or regularly enough, but keep at something long enough and you wind up with something. Over 130 recordings and enough reading matter to make up a medium length novel (I'm guessing)--and that doesn't include all of the things I've taken down over the years.

There was one general idea behind Pianonoise from the beginning: to share music and what it is like being a pianist. To that end there were articles about composers of piano music and pieces of music to listen to. Some years back a relative of mine observed that what I was doing was a lot like scrapbooking. Sort of, but not really. The site is an extension of my personality, and it does include pictures of places I've visited and concerts I've given, thoughts I've had, pieces I've played, but the point is not really to simply chronicle my journey through life, but to share them with anyone who finds them of value. This amazing thing called music, and written commentary about it were the first two expressions of that sharing. The two were supposed to go together, although 10 years later I still haven't managed to coordinate them as well as I meant to. I think it was 2008 when I adopted the look of the site, with banners and navigation bars on every page and a left-hand column with music accompanying many (but not yet all) of the articles so you can read and listen at the same time.

Before that I'd done experiments with different colored pages, different effects when going from page to page, crawlers, and everything else I could think of to have fun with and make fun of. I remember an impossibly long crawler below the banner once making fun of the length of cable news crawlers, and another one that had the "stock prices" of various composers. Once, after some story about how the government was monitoring the web closely after 9/11 I wrote to our then attorney general "Welcome, Mr. Ashcroft" below the banner. That turned out not to be so funny when I reviewed my web statistics for the month and found a lot of attention coming from "US military" until I found out that a friend of mine was visiting her father who was a retired military officer.

While I struggled with the problem of how to get regular access to a good piano and not to sound like a chump while finishing a doctoral degree which meant more research than practicing, the website started to go in other directions. I began posting the music I played in church. This past year I posted nearly everything I played as a prelude or offertory that wasn't copyrighted--every week all season. I am not aware of any other church organist/pianist who does this. No wonder. It's a difficult deadline to meet every week for the better part of a year.

I also started writing about things non-musical. Sometimes I wonder whether this is worth the trouble, but then Pablo Casals offered up a good quote about being a "human being first, and an artist second." Social and political concerns may stir up wrath, but then they affect people more than classical music, always a specialist's concern. Most people could care less about the music. And I've always had a funny attitude about that. I want them to listen to it--actually pay attention. It would be easier to just put it on in the background, listen to the pretty sounds, and bliss out. But that's not what this site is about. So charging into the whole of life seems only appropriate. It has also given me an outlet during those years when I couldn't make many good recordings--new sections were born, flourished, got neglected, experienced a renaissance, lather rinse, repeat.

 

Sometimes I can indulge various other parts of my persona, what-ifs regarding directions I could have gone in life. Sometimes I'll write something potentially funny. My middle school journalism teacher thought I was going to be the next Dave Barry (actually, it was Art Buchwald, but she was older). Of course, I could have also been a computer programmer (I spent many childhood afternoons that way) but now I find I only know enough HTML code (what you tell the computer to get it to display your web page the way you want it) to be dangerous. My mother though I could also go into advertising. True, i could be writing all of those goofy, whimsical commercials you see out there, but I glad somebody else is doing it. One thing I have been is a teacher--philosophically I'm still a teacher, but there was a time when I had a raft of piano students. There were meant to be, (and will be) resources or aids for students, though the teaching section of the site is currently in stasis. After moving to Illinois, I began having trouble finding students who minded practicing occasionally.

There is even a resource for brides having weddings at our church. They can hit a few play buttons and decide what music they'd like to hear at the ceremony. Several brides have commented they like this idea very much. In return for the ease of the process, I don't have to have to practice the Pachelbel canon between ceremonies.

Some of Pianonoise's features don't get updated very often, and some testify to changing priorities, possibilities and interests. This year I've finally managed to get some decent piano sound out of my recordings, but even now there are more organ recordings. This summer I'm planning to change that--for the first time. Along with the sound itself, there needs to be more explanation about how it got there. This fall I'm finally going to start a weekly blog in which I share recordings along with what to listen for, what makes being a pianist so interesting, and I'm even going to be so bold as to indulge in a little all-important minutiae like fingering and interpretive issues so you know what I obsess about in order to bring you the music. It should be an interesting conversation. This site was never intended for knowledgeable musicians but for the larger crowd of people who would like to know something about art and music if somebody would kindly let them know what was going on. I'm still working on that.

 

Meanwhile, the experiment that is Pianonoise goes on, ten years later. It now contains close to 100 pages--some very long pages--of writings, and over 125 recordings. It has become rich in details, as well. At the top of every page is a quotation from something I've read over the last ten years. So, while the pictures testify to places I've been and things I've seen and experienced, the quotes remind me of where I've been mentally, of all of the thoughts that people have shared with me, living and dead. While Pianonoise is technically the work of one individual, it is, like all human products, the result of the efforts and influences of countless other people.

 

This year I've noticed a lot of blogs and Youtube channels that have come and gone, victims perhaps to one-time passions that have burnt out, or whose owners have shuffled off this mortal coil (one blog recently informed me that its author passed away last year from ALS). But we're still here. Let's celebrate--music and life.

 

 

6/23 (6/1/12)


michael@pianonoise.com