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
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
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
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.