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second edition from Pittsburgh
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this is supposed to be a picture of my two hands on a piano keyboard
New recording every Tuesday
  Index of MP3 recordings

The Practice Room
(part two)

Permission Granted   sometimes the biggest gift a teacher can give us is permission to break the rules 

an act of faith
You just gotta believe...and practice your butt off

Is Consistency Evil?Steady effort isn't a lot of fun. Therefore it is bad.  

The Birth of Musical Notation

(the Pope gets "inspired" by the thought of written music) 

 Don't your fingers get tired?

A question and answer page for the curious...

this is supposed to be a picture of some dude playing the piano in front of a stained glass window!
 Wedding pages
These are some of my former piano students from Baltimore. Can't see them? sorry about that.
 for students:
 Musical Games 

 Erasmus's blog:
In Praise of Chicken

 Mike's Ballpark
 hotdog review

The Global
Hall of Fame

This week's featured recording:  (6.21.16)  
     Herzlich tut mich erfreuen
                       by Johannes Brahms
"My heart rejoices in the summertime....God will make...all things beautiful and new." It might be a little early to be experiencing newness and reclamation, but as I come up for air from what is hopefully my last cycle of chemotherapy, and wait for the tests that may pronounce me cured or at least in remission, this lovely setting of the Lutheran chorale seems cautiously appropriate. Its author, unfortunately, died of cancer in 1897, a year after these 11 chorales were written (or collected from earlier writings) in the summer of 1896.

 Upcoming events:  kicking this cancer thing and then becoming a musician in Pittsburgh. Stay tuned!
Classic Blog   (updated June 21)  
from the concert hall... Monday 11/18/13
Noise noise and more noise  the terms don't all mean the same thing
from the teaching studio... Wednesday 11/20/13
Triage  effective practice on limited time
from the organ bench... Friday 11/22/13
Thankful  I'm not in elementary school anymore and I'm still writing this essay

for June 21

My apologies...
first posted March 29, 2009

It appears that, in these days of turmoil and anxiety, while recklessly and heedlessly pursuing my vocation, I have been unduly stressing you all out. Mea culpa. Also, I should apologize for doing it in Latin. Bad form.

The reason for my rather late apology is the epiphany I had while reading the paper last week. While in transit from Indianapolis to Champaign, I stopped in a small town and picked up a small newspaper to go with my side of fries. The opinion columnist had written about stress in the age of recession, and illustrated one of her points with a discussion of a famous laboratory experiment involving rats and electric shocks. There are probably, at this writing, a number of students in the sciences who, on the basis of the good old days, would like to major in rats and electric shocks, and are displeased to note that things are being done differently these days. I hope so, anyway.

Anyhow, the rats were divided into teams, and the first group received warning signals before the shocks were administered, while the second got no such preamble. The second group developed stomach ulcers  of greater size than the first, which led the scientists to conclude that not being able to predict the onset of such scientific outbursts was stressing the second group of rats out more. Ergo, predictability makes life easier to swallow.

Which is why, predictably, my mind went to music, and to the fact that most popular forms of music are eminently predictable, being made up of vast amounts of repetition, whereas the styles in which I specialize, most of them lumped under the umbrella term classical or jazz, are not so predictable, because once a composer or improviser has said the same musical thing a few times, he or she decides to go and say something else, often for what the listener may feel is a very long time.

There are various ways to combat this anxiety producing tendency. One is to listen to the piece enough times that you become thoroughly familiar with the contents--assuming recordings are available and you have one. Or you can go to a lot of recitals. One year I noticed that every pianist who came through town was playing the same Beethoven sonata on his or her program. I imagine a dedicated concertgoer could get that piece memorized by the end of the season at that rate. Then there would be no surprises, even in a piece a half hour long. Even in a piece by Beethoven. The man does like sudden changes in volume, after all.

Essentially, you are reducing a long complex piece of music to the same kind of narcoleptic that a popular piece provides by this strategy. But your mind does have to work harder. The average piece on the radio these days has about 10 seconds of different musical information in it, with the rest being repetition. That means you can shut off your brain pretty fast and have a stressless good time not having to adapt to anything new. I wonder if anyone has done a study relating classical music to the risk of Alzheimer's. My guess would be that it helps fend off the disease, since it helps keep the brain limber.  How many other secrets to the good life are available to those whose brains function at higher baud rates?

But if you really want to eliminate stress, you'll have to enter into a kind of conversation with the music. It might seem like the long way, but then, memorizing every piece of music you ever want to know can't be much shorter. By learning the ways in which music is put together, you'll have a pretty good sense of what to expect, and what is really a surprise. Not having any way to understand a stream of notes other than that they sound pretty means pretty much everything is going to be a surprise. That would be the goldfish approach to classical music. Goldfish are said to have about a three second memory, so they can swim around the same bowl endlessly and not get bored. 'Hey!' they say with glee. 'What a fascinating rock formation. I hadn't noticed that before. Hey...'

There are a lot of things to come to know about this. There are as many approaches to music as there are composers. Many more, even. But there are common tendencies. Grammars, spellings, rhetorical flourishes, three-point sermons. You can, for instance, have a pretty good idea when you hear certain chords what chord is coming next. Or what melodic fragment or rhythmic idea is likely to follow. You can learn to anticipate important places of repetition and learn to cherish variety more and more. If you'd like a hand in this, I'm starting a series of ear-opening experiences in which I'll take a piece of music and discuss things to listen for. Building on such experiences means your ears will learn how to deal with music much the same way they deal with English. You certainly don't know every word of this essay, nor are you planning to memorize it. You don't need to. You know what I'm saying and you can boil it down to its essentials.

However, this presupposes that you want to make a sustained effort, much the same way that people who write music in this genre make a sustained effort to create their music. If you don't, I guess all I can do is apologize for making your life so complicated. But I imagine most of you to whom this really applies have stopped reading this blog a long time ago. For the rest, all I can promise is an adventure. These things seem very basic for me, but they may be a shock to you. Recently I've been reminded of this by posts on the internet expressing: 1) surprise that musical style has actually evolved over time  and 2) the thrilling epiphany that composers don't just string notes together until they get tired of it, but actually plan their compositions. I'll do what I can to make these notions seem not quite so bizarre. You can bring your questions. I'll do my best to answer them.