Friday, June 30, 2006

Date with Bach

This morning I worked on the fugue for two hours. Got the last two pages of it smooth as silk (well, maybe not THAT smooth, but they sounded much better at the end of the practice session than at the beginning). I'm still playing it hands-separately, of course, but I can tell I'm nearing the point at which I can take the next step and actually start playing it hands-together.

No time for details, as usual. But it was good to have a date with Bach. Liszt wasn't even allowed.

I'm hoping for a second practice session this evening. A hot Friday night date with Franz Liszt. Sounds ideal to me. Too bad he's dead.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

No Time for Details

Practice for three hours (so far) today.

Just a few minutes on scales, inversions, and arps. I'm playing them faster, so I'm actually able to play more per day and not feel like I'm spending all my time on technical exercises.

About 30 minutes on the Bach Prelude. As I've mentioned before, I'm not really "supposed" to be starting on it. However, the Fugue and Standchen are both so hairy ... it's nice to have an easy ("easy" being a relative term) piece to warm up on. I've also been reviving some of the 2- and 3-part inventions that I've learned in the past as ways of warming up my hands and mind before diving into the harder stuff.

About 30 minutes on the Fugue. I've spend a lot of time lately on Liszt, so I'm planning a nice, long date with the Fugue later this week, probably tomorrow or Friday. I have the entire thing hand-separately, but it's not very polished sounding. I'm going to keep working hands-separately until my next lesson, which is a week from today.

Almost two lovely hours on Liszt. I now have the section with the 9-against-4 triplets all the way through the end. I'm not to tempo yet, but I'm gotten beyond my usual creeping pace, and it's really sounding lovely (if I may say so myself--but it's Liszt, not me (not I?), who makes it sound that way).

Tomorrow I'll start learning Sections 6 through 8, which is where the melody is played in the bass. The pulsing, accompanying chords are played in the bass, too, which means lots of handwiching. (A handwich is where the hands are practically on top of each other, both playing different things.)

No time to write more. Frustrating because I have so very much to write!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dance of the Nail-bitten Digits (A Ramble and an Analogy)

I am loving Liszt. I love the way my hands have to "share" the melody in "Standchen." I have so much to write on that, but I'm borrowing a computer and don't have enough time to do it justice. Suffice it to say that I've practiced three and a half wonderful hours today, and about two hours on Liszt alone.

What I find wonderful about the Liszt is that it pushes one hand hard, but not too hard. Then the other hand gets a turn to be pushed. But it's never both at the same time, and never one hand for too long. It's hard to explain. When I have more time to write, I'll word things rather more eloquently, I'm sure.

All I can say now is that my fingers feel like they're dancing a wonderful, graceful dance. I've been trying to "play with my body," as my piano teacher says to do, so all of me is dancing.

And Standchen, though it still need a lot of work (like, um, learning Sections 1 through 8), is sounding really good.

I'm so eager for tomorrow to get here so I can practice some more.

It is so nice not to be nail-gnawingly stressed. I'm still very tired and not sleeping like a pro, but I'm so much better than I was a week ago.

People can say what they want about how classical pianists are snobs and that playing pop music or New Age arpeggiated mood music or even just improvising is just as good as playing pieces from the classical repertoire ... but there is no experience like playing Liszt. Or Bach. Nothing compares. There is nothing like working, working, and working to get each little nuance perfect, and then being able to play it. Nothing in the world.

I'm not at the point at which I can play any of it at tempo. But that time will come.

Analogy o' Day: Imagine you have a huge present underneath the Christmas tree, or on your birthday-present table, or wherever. It's something you really want. It's wrapped, maybe even double- or triple- or quadruple-wrapped.

Now for the analogy o' day. The "present" is the ability to play the piece well, with all of your mind, heart, body, soul, everything. The "wrapping" refers to each practice session. Each session is a tearing away of a piece of wrapping. Imagine going, day after day after day, to tear off just a small shred of paper. You get a little closer to the actual present each time. Sometimes you tear a lot of paper, and sometimes you just get a tiny bit. Still, you know that someday, someday, you'll finally get through to the gift inside. I'm looking forward to my practice sessions more than ever these days because the gift inside is getting more and more attainable.

And it is a gift.

Life is good.

Dance of the Digits

Note: I've expanded significantly on this post over at my other blog, A Sort of Notebook.

I am loving Liszt. I love the way my hands have to "share" the melody. I have so much to write on that, but I'm borrowing a computer and don't have enough time to do it justice. Suffice it to say that I've practiced three and a half wonderful hours today, and about two hours on Liszt alone.

What I find wonderful about Liszt is that it pushes one hand hard, but not too hard. Then the other hand gets a turn to be pushed. But it's never both at the same time, and never one hand for too long. It's hard to explain. When I have more time to write, I'll word things rather more eloquently, I'm sure.

All I can say now is that my fingers feel like they're dancing a wonderful, graceful dance. I've been trying to "play with my body," as my piano teacher says to do, so all of me is dancing.

And Standchen, though it still need a lot of work (like, um, learning Sections 1 through 8), is sounding really nice.

I'm so eager for tomorrow to get here so I can practice some more!

Happily Ensconced in Louisiana

I'm in Louisiana. I have intermittent internet access. Probably not a bad thing. But blogging will be light (again) while I enjoy the lovely 100-degree days offered by my home state.

P.S. Be sure and check out this week's edition of the Tar Heel Tavern (#70!) at Another blue puzzle piece.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Lots of Practice, Little Blogging

I'm on a trip to my home state of Louisiana and will have intermittent internet access all week. So, I won't be posting much on this blog or my other one. However, I will be practicing for hours upon hours on the piano at a local church. I'll post a great big practice log after I get back home to North Carolina.

Friday, June 23, 2006

More Adorable-Little-Angel Pictures

I couldn't resist. Besides, I think there is an unwritten rule somewhere that says bloggers should post cat pictures on Fridays. I've never been much of a rule-regarder, but I think that's a pretty darn good rule.



So, here are more pictures of Beau beneath the tent. They were taken before I took the one I posted several days ago.



Is he not the very picture of a happy cat?

Under the Weather

It's pouring outside, but that's another matter. I've been very out of it for several days. My old friend, Insomnia, decided to pay an extended visit, even though he was not invited to do so. Long story short, I've slept maybe six hours in the last four days. Is it making me crazy? Yes, it's making me crazy.

My mom said that, when she'd come into my room to check on me in my baby bed, I'd just be lying there, eyes wide open, watching the ceiling. She wondered when I ever slept.

I never did. Only thing is, I'm not one of those people who requires very little sleep. Would that I were!

Sounds weird, but my own chronic insomnia was a big reason that a teaching career was so hard for me. It's really hard to be "on" all day when you're going on just an hour or two of sleep. And medications are only of limited help.

Despite the fatigue, I did manage to go on a very short hike earlier this week. I'd posted pictures and a little story to go with them, but my internet connection crashed, and that was that. I'll post pictures a little later, when I'm not quite so disoriented.

Hope everyone has a good weekend! I'm going to try to get some sleep, myself!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Practice Log for Wednesday, June 21

Today was lesson day. I'd planned to practice this evening, but I had a nasty bout with insomnia last night and am too tired to do much of anything tonight. So I just played through everything once (including Gb and eb scales at 76 and Db and bb arps at 60) and called it a night.

If I have another insomnia night, I'll spend it answering e-mails and responding to comments on both this blog and my other one. But I hope to sleep well tonight. It's been a while since I've slept.

So good night!

Piano Lesson

I had my lesson today. It went pretty well, despite the fact that Deborah (my teacher) and I both went into it feeling frustrated (due to non-piano matters).

Scales sounded beautiful at 76. I played B-major and G#-minor for her. (I play one major and one minor at each lesson--whichever she happens to ask for. Keeps me guessing.) Played 'em without a hitch, I did. With the chord inversions, she wants me to use my arms more. I'm being all spidery-fingered, but she said to play them more as a motion of the body and not a technical feat of the hands only (my words, not hers). She's very graceful as a pianist--imagine a ballet dancer, only using all of her gracefulness at the piano--and I can tell that her use of the "whole body" movement in playing contributes to her gracefulness.

So I'm really going to focus on the motion that I use to play the inversions this week--and not just getting the notes right. I'm past the point of trying to figure out the notes anyway.

My arpeggios rocked. Yeah, baby.

We didn't spend a lot of time on the fugue. I had a couple of fingering-related questions in Section 2, which she addressed, and we decided on an alternative fingering with a little less worry about trying to hold a note with my pinky while playing another note twelve notes down with my thumb (can't be done!). For next lesson, I'm just going to continue working through the sections (I've divided it into eight) hands separately.

As for the prelude, it's not a high priority at this point. I'll continue focusing on it a little bit several times a week, but I won't really dive into it until the fugue is much further along.

Most of the time was spent on the Liszt. Deborah made a very good suggestion that I record myself playing the 9-against-4. I'd thought about doing that but was frankly too lazy to go downstairs and get my tape recorder, find a blank tape, etc.

For Section 10, I need to remember that I'm playing two voices, or "characters"--the lower voice and the higher echo. It's one of those things that I know but forget because I'm too busy trying to make sure I have the notes and the timing down. She said I'm playing it beautifully, by the way, which was a nice boost to the old ego. :)

She also had nice things to say about Sections 12 and 13 (the last page and a half of the piece). I have the notes down, though they could be much more "down." I do need to make sure I focus on dynamic contrasts. At this point, as with Section 10, I'm still not completely confident that I have all the notes (except at super-slow tempos), so that's affecting other things. More drilling is in store for this week! I'm getting the notes, but I'm not quite there yet.

Speaking of confidence, I sometimes get major confidence problems with piano--thinking "I'm not good enough" or "This piece is out of my league." Part of me is scared Deborah will say, "You know, this piece is really too hard for you. I think you might be better off playing [insert easy piece of choice here]." I voiced my self-doubts today, and (after telling me that I was being ridiculous) she told me that she'd had a piano teacher in grad school who told her that a piece was too difficult for her. Deborah basically said, "Screw you, Prof--I love this piece, I want to play it, and I'm learning it whether you approve or not." So she learned to play it beautifully and her prof actually apologized for underestimating Deborah's abilities.

So basically, she was telling me, "If you love this piece and really want to play it, you can." (She also added that, knowing my practice habits, motivation, and natural ability, she knew I was capable. She wasn't just saying that wishing it were so would make it so.)

I love the piece and really want to play it. So I guess I'm on my way!

I Know I Owe E-mails, etc.

I'm apologizing in advance to people to whom I owe e-mails, work, return phone calls, etc. I have been unable to attend to that type of stuff for a couple of days, and it looks like the next few days will be the same. Please understand that I'm not trying to ignore or neglect you--life's just taking one of those unavoidable turns right now.

No More Practices Before My Lesson Today

I'm very sad about this. This is one of the times I wish I could be a music student and just say "no" to all of the other life responsibilities, claiming that music is more important because I'm paying for my education and I don't want to waste my money.

Alas, music is not my vocation or my primary course of study in a conservatory. It's a mere hobby (she said bitterly)--or, as Julia Cameron writes in The Artist's Way, "fluff around the edges of life."

It is difficult to feel so passionate about fluff.

Commitments, responsibilities, and my own dark moods kept me away from piano yesterday, and I have several appointments this morning before my piano lesson. One is actually a lunch I'm looking forward to, so perhaps I shouldn't complain.

Also, I practiced more in the past week than I was able to practice in a month when I was teaching. So I'll just be thankful for the practice time I did get.

Balance. Balance. Balance.

Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance.

Piano-lesson report to come!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Makeshift Shade

The Hubster will kill me when he finds out I let Beau use our expensive tent, which is being aired out here, as a sunshade.



But doesn't our feral little part-bobcat son just look oh-so-cute?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Practice Log for Monday, June 19

Spent a good 20 minutes on scales, arps, inversions, and Suzuki. I'm in Book 2 of Suzuki and am working on the fourth Bach minuet in there. It's so easy. I really don't feel like I get a lot out of Suzuki, but I'm trusting my piano teacher's judgment on this one. I learned the piece by ear and played through it a few times, paying attention to the rests, the held notes, the crescendos, and the decrescendos on the CD.

Next, I spent about 20 minutes on the Bach Prelude in C# Major. This is a deceptively easy piece, but, as I've mentioned before, I'm treating it as a hard piece. It would be so easy for me to play through it quickly, learn it by muscle memory, and develop a bunch of careless-mistake-style bad habits that I'll have to go back and fix later. So I'm treading very carefully on this one. Drilled some of the trickier parts of the first 31 measures (specifically, measures 8-9, 13-17, 21-25, and 29-31). These parts are tricky because they are transition measures, where the right and left hands trade places, so to speak.

I can play the first 31 measures through pretty smoothly, and at a nice tempo, so I know I'm ready to move on to the following sections in my next practice.

I worked on the Bach Fugue in C# Major for about 45 minutes. I've divided it into the following sections so far:

Section 1: Measures 1-16
Section 2: Measures 16-22
Section 3: Measures 22-28
Section 4: Measures 28-34

Working hands-separately, I drilled different parts of Sections 3 and 4. Measure 21 has proven particularly elusive for my left hand. I love playing it, hearing the different voices and all, but it's not easy at first. (Heck, it's still not easy, and I've probably played that measure 100 times!) I absolutely love Sections 3 and 4 of the fugue. Measure 21 is one of my favorite measures for the LH, as is Measure 24--also a tricky one, but oh-so-much fun to hear!

In the RH, I love the descending motif starting in Measure 30 and going through to Measure 34. It's not the only time that motif shows up in the fugue, but it just sounds so beautiful when it's in the soprano, singing high above everything else.

I LOVE this piece. It is a challenge for my brain as well as for my fingers, particularly when I'm learning something like Measure 21, where I'm hearing (and focusing on) two melodies at once and watching my left hand play them. I did the same thing in the 2- and 3-part inventions, but this is different in that it's a bit more complex.

So I just hope my brain doesn't explode when I finally start learning it hands-together.

After practicing Sections 3 and 4, I played through Sections 1-4 twice, hands separately, slowly. I have a lesson on Wednesday, and I think I'm going to spend the next couple of practice sessions (before my lessons) continuing to practice and drill parts of Sections 1-4. I can play these sections, but they're still not cemented in my mind.

I only had about 15 minutes left for Liszt. The 9-against-4 and the double-dotted notes of Section 9, as well as the 2-against-3 with ornaments and voicing in section 10, are cerebral challenges in themselves, so I just practiced those few sections with the metronome, going v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. I'm gaining a sense for the left hand's quarter-note "pulsing"--a sense that still wants to evaporate as soon as I switch my brain to whatever is going on in the right hand. But I'm holding on to it a little more successfully with each practice. It will still take a while before I'm completely comfortable with it, but it's coming along.

That's about it for tonight. Looks like I practiced for a total of about 100 minutes today.

Quick Question About Bloglines

Today I realized that three of my favorite blogs--Brandywine Books, A Circle of Quiet, and Promptings--have been absent from my Bloglines listing for ... who knows how long. I don't recall ever removing them from the blogroll, but I know it's been weeks since I've visited them.

If a blog update doesn't show up on my Bloglines account, then I'm not likely to visit it. I love Bloglines because it saves time and because I can see when all my favorite blogs are updated.

Has anyone else ever had blogs just disappear from their Bloglines listings like this? I'm perfectly willing to admit that I may have deleted them by accident while updating my blogroll, but you'd think I would have noticed. I don't add or delete blogs that often, and when I do delete a blog, it's generally pretty deliberate.

Anyway ... these three thoughtful, well-written blogs are back in my blogroll, I'm happy to say. If you haven't visited them before, I highly recommend them!

Light Blogging

I've been a busy girl and will continue to be so for a few days. Blogging will be light, both on this blog and on my piano blog, I'm afraid.

Hope everyone is having a good week!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Practice Log for Sunday, June 18

Spent a whopping 10 minutes running through some scales and arpeggios. It was an impromptu practice session because I didn't have time for a "real" one. I worked on F, Dm, C, and Am for the scales--easy ones. Along with scales, I also do chord inversions in octaves. That's kind of new for me (the octave part, not the inversion part) and has taken some getting used to.

Arpeggios are easy, whether I'm playing them in similar motion or contrary motion. I don't know why I don't have more trouble with them. The only keys that I'm sometimes sloppy with are, strangely enough, Bb major and B minor.

I'm headed to a music performance this evening (which will include a pianist!). If I'm not too tired, I'll have a "real" practice when I get home.

Who knows--maybe I'll be so inspired by the performance that I'll want to practice into the wee hours of the night!

Update: The performance was wonderful, but now it's 10:17 p.m. and I'm TIRED! Oh well, I'll just have to doubly-immerse myself in piano tomorrow, since I missed today. :)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

On Contrary Motion Scales

I don't plan to do a lot of linking between here and my other blog, but I thought some of you might be interested in "Cursed Animosity," a somewhat humorous little post I wrote last year on learning contrary-motion scales. I've come a long way since writing it, though the minors can still be rather ... contrary.

Starting Tomorrow

A new weekly practice log begins tomorrow. Rather than update existing posts (as I've been doing), I'm going to make each "practice report" a separate post. That way you won't have to scroll halfway down the blog everytime you want to see if it's been updated.

I'm new to this kind of a blog, plus I'm a writer, so I'm still trying to figure out the best way to present the information that I share here. Bear with me! And please, let me know if you have any suggestions!

Several people have already commented here, and I've received a few very nice e-mails regarding this blog. Thank you so much! Your feedback means a lot to me ... and I love the idea of "meeting" other amateur classical pianists. I believe in responding to comments on my blogs, and I'll do that a little later today, when I have more time.

Thanks for visiting!

The Big Recital

You may have noticed that I have a countdown to my "big recital" in my sidebar.

I've never had my own piano recital. I played in student recitals, from about 1977 until 1991, but I've never done my own thing. I was supposed to have a recital in 1992, my senior year of college, but I lost my mind that year and didn't find it in time for the recital. I had planned to play some Debussy, Dett, a Beethoven sonata (Op. 10, No. 1 in C minor), Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu, two Schubert impromptus, a Rachmaninoff prelude, and theKhatchaturian Toccata.

So much for that.

As many of you may already know, I didn't play piano much after 1992 (graduation from college) until a couple of years ago when I moved to the Asheville area. I started taking lessons again, decided I wanted to take piano seriously again, and ... got the idea for a recital.

I'm thinking of it as a music school audition. No, I'm not planning to go to music school. But I'm looking at the types of things music schools require for their auditions, and using those guidelines as I decide what I'll play for my recital.

I'm planning for October 27, by the way. In 2007.

Here's what I'm planning to play (so far):

Something Baroque: Bach, Prelude & Fugue in C# Major

Something Classical: Either a Haydn or Mozart sonata, or an early Beethoven. I think I would prefer an early Beethoven, since Ludwig is my short, misanthropic, deaf soulmate and all.

A Bunch of Romantic Stuff: I'm thinking a couple of Liszt transcriptions, since I'm already working on "Standchen" and it is gorgeous. Also, I'm supposed to be starting Chopin's Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major this fall. If I do a Haydn or Mozart for the classical piece, I'll see about doing a shorter piece by Beethoven, probably a Bagatelle.

Something showy and flashy and modern: No idea what I'll do there. Thinking about Bartok since I like him and all. I think that will be enough for a recital. If it's not, I'll see what else I can do. I certainly don't want to overdo it, though!

Anyway, mark your calendars for October 27, 2007. That date is not set in stone, but I do love the number 27, so it'll be the 27th of some month in late 2007!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Blogroll

I'm not planning to have much of a blogroll here, since I primarily go through Bloglines from my other blog. I have, however, added a few blogs to the sidebar that I think are particularly relevant for the type of person who would be interested in this blog--i.e., amateur musicians.

If you know of other "practice blogs" or have one that you'd like to see included here (hey, it might just move you up in the TTLB ecosystem!), let me know, and I'll be happy to add it here.

Enough fiddling with the template. Time to go practice!

Write. Or Get a Real Job.

I started working on my first freelance editing job of my new freelance writing and editing career today. I'll be editing a book. It inspired me to get off my butt and do some writing of my own.

So, after some work on editing job, I dug out an essay that I had started in 2005 but had never finished because I kept finding so many knots that needed unravelling. It seemed that, the more I unraveled, the more knots I found (and meanwhile, the nonfiction "essay" itself ballooned to near-novella length). I threw it aside in frustration last year, but I'm going to try it again this summer. It's one of those essays that really wants to be written. I just need to figure out how to do it.

The writing life is going sluggishly, but it did go today. And I didn't spend the whole day avoiding and procrastinating. This is a good sign.

While doing The Artist's Way this morning, I realized that, if I don't take my writing more seriously, I'll end up back in a soul-killing Real Job, either teaching or technical writing, before I know it.

My new mantra?

Write. Or get a Real Job.

Kinda catchy, huh?

Work Day

Today is a work day in the old Waterfall household. I have a lot of editing to do, plus my own writing. And, as always, George is waiting silently but impatiently in the Inner Sanctum for this evening's practice session.

I've started doing The Artist's Way again. I finally decide to pursue this big fiction-writing freelance career, and all I've done is perfect my avoidance techniques for the last two weeks. What gives? No clue. The Artist's Way has proven a successful tool for "unblocking" in the past, so I'm walking down that road once again. It's a cool book because it can be re-read and re-worked numerous times. I'm hoping TAW isn't just another avoidance technique. I honestly don't think it is.

In fact, I did some pretty good writing and thinking as a result of the "Monster Hall of Fame" exercise this morning. That writing and thinking led to a big of word-sketching, so ... who knows? Maybe something will come of that. I also realized a few important things ... but no need to go into that here.

For now, I have a Real Editing Job to tackle. Later, folks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Liszt: More Effective Than Drugs!

I am madly in love with Franz Liszt. Why must he be dead, and I married? (Just kidding, Hubster!) I would have been one of the women swooning at his famous piano concerts in the 19th century. I just know it. I was quite the Duranie in the early 80s, so I know I have it in me.

I practiced for three marvelous hours today. I was supposed to be doing other things. Oh well. What can I say--Liszt is addictive. So is Bach, but it was Liszt who hogged the practice session today.

Three hours of practice have made me feel all peaceful and happy and endorphin-charged inside. I'm playing better than I've ever played in my life, and it's so unexpectedly fulfilling. I'm so thankful--I never would have dreamed I'd "get it back" after not playing for twelve years.

At the risk of sounding vain, I've always felt like I had a lot of unrealized musical talent. Now I feel like I'm taking a few steps toward realizing it. I have a long way to go, but that's a good thing.

Now, if I could just feel this way about fiction-writing! (I think I have the unrealized talent ... I just haven't budged one inch toward it lately!) As much as I love piano and Liszt and Bach, I think today's practice marathon was yet another writing-avoidance technique.

Oh well. I guess it's better than eating my weight in bon-bons or taking drugs.

Playing Liszt is more effective than drugs, and it burns calories, to boot. The perfect combination!

Time to go write.

I will actually write.
I will actually write.
I will actually write.
I will actually write.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Link Gnus

My friend Clyde "Right Turn" Dodge will be starting his southbound hike of the entire Appalachian Trail in a few days. Crazy, backwards-hiking guy, that fellow. He'll be keeping an online journal here.

A Beautiful Theme is now Exposed Fifths. Thanks for the link, Garry!

I'm going to store my piano practice logs on another blog, since they really aren't of interest to most readers. You can find them here.

Miz Delphi Chassis, a faithful commenter to this blog, has started a blog about her graduate school experience, titled Grad School Groans.

Other than that, I haven't done a lot of tinkering with my list of links lately.

Week of June 11

This log will be updated daily, whether I'm able to practice or not. If you want to access the week's practice log quickly, simply click the link beneath the piano icon in the sidebar. Last week's completed log can be found here.

Practice Goals for the Week

1) Scales at 76 and arpeggios at 60
2) Suzuki Minuet 4 (by ear)
3) Play through Bach Prelude once a day
4) Learn Fugue hands-separately
5) Work on tone and voicing for Sections 12 and 13 of Liszt; begin learning Section 9

Sunday, June 11: Spent 70 minutes on scales, arps, Suzuki, the Prelude, and the Fugue. Scales and arps are sounding really good. When I write "scales and arps," I mean scales and arpeggios in similar and contrary motion, at increasing speeds. Also included are full-octave inversions for each. Today's scales were B major and G# minor, and today's arpeggios were Gb major and Eb minor. For Suzuki, I played through Minuet 3 and "learned" the right-hand notes of Minuet 4 by ear, which took about two minutes.

I can play through the prelude pretty well. It's very basic and just kind of falls into the hands. There are a few sticky sections that I'll need to spend more time on before my lesson Wednesday.

The hands-separate practice for the fugue is turning out to be easier than expected. The hardest part is synchronizing the rests in one voice with the held notes in another voice. I'm doing a lot of listening to separate voices, then playing two voices together, then listening to individual voices again, then voices together, etc. It would be easy enough to play the voices together without thinking of them as separate voices, I suppose, but that would defeat the purpose of learning the fugue. It's a mind exercise as much as it is a finger exercise, and I am loving every second of it. (That sublime mind-finger exercise thing, by the way, is Reason #214 to adore and admire Bach.)

Spent about 80 minutes on the Liszt (plus a couple more scales and arps to warm up). I'm only focusing on measures 91 through 115 (the last section of the piece, starting with the con agitazione measure). The big challenge for me has been the timing. I learned how to do 2-against-3 when I learned Liszt's "Consolation No. 3" in high school, but the 2-against-3 in "Ständchen"--with the changes from measure to measure, plus the ornaments, plus the voicing challenges--has been a real bear (with 2-against-3, one hand is playing a "1-2, 1-2" beat while the other plays a "1-2-3, 1-2-3" waltz-like beat). I must have played measures 99 and 101 a hundred times today--without the ornaments, with the ornaments, with the metronome, with a special focus on voicing, all together now, etc. And always slow, slow, slow. Imagine the runners in slow-motion in the movie Chariots of Fire. That's how "Ständchen" feels. I'm playing it with all the emotional power I can muster in the dynamics, but at half the speed at which it should be played. Very challenging, and the temptation to play it faster is nearly irresistible.

But resist I must. For now, and for my next few practices, I'll continue to play at a snail's pace.

Monday, June 12: Practiced for about 70 minutes this afternoon. I did the usual scales, arps, and Suzuki as a warm up (more to warm up my mind than to warm up my fingers), then moved on to the fugue.

Whew. I worked on the fugue itself for about an hour, hands-separately. I really want to learn this, and I don't want to cut corners. So I'm approaching it in several different ways. First, I went straight to the "red stars" I'd written in the other night when playing through to see which sections would be the most challenging. The toughest-seeming one is early in the piece--measures 6-11. So I began the drill: play one voice, then the other. Play them together, listening. Back up. Shut the piano. Play one voice on the piano lid, focusing on the fingering. Play it again on the lid, "listening" and imagining the keys. Do the same with the other voice. Do the same with both voices. Over and over again. Focus. Keep "playing" until it feels natural, both in my fingers and in my mind.

This "away-from-the-keys" practice taxes the brain, but when I finally open the lid and play on the keys again ... voila! It's there, and it sounds just as smooth as can be! Once I'm playing on the keys again, I run through those same measures 10 or 15 times each--or 20 or 30 or more, as needed. I focused really hard on measures 1-6 and measures 10 and 11 today. The plan was to do all eleven measures, but I'm not used to such brain-taxing, intensive work, and I had to stop because I was mentally tired.

So, I covered eight measures today. Sigh. The fugue consists of 55 measures. Actually, I'm looking forward to the work. As with my physical workouts, I'm sure that more of these types of practices will simply improve my mental endurance in the long run--as well as make me a better pianist!

I worked on Liszt for about 10 minutes tonight. I was too tired to have a decent practice, so I just played through measures 91 to the end a few times, very slowly, to make sure yesterday's awesome practice sank in. I found that, while I missed a few notes here an there, I have a much better sense of the timing--the left-hand "beat," if you will--and was able to keep it steady throughout the ornaments, 2-against-3 measures, etc. So that's good.

Tuesday, June 13: On the road all day. No practice. :(

Wednesday, June 14 (Lesson Day): About 30 minutes on scales, arps, Suzuki, and Liszt (about 15 minutes was spent on Liszt). Mostly just warming up for my piano lesson in the afternoon. Didn't have time for Bach. This evening, I practiced for about 80 minutes. Did the usual scales and arps as warm up, then got to work in earnest on the Bach. Very intense, focused practicing of hands separately. I've had to do a lot of fiddling with the fingering because the editor's fingerings assume that my hands are bigger than they are. It's also been a challenge to play with the notes detached rather than legato. I'd been practicing legato until today, when Deborah said to make them detached. Sigh.

Practicing the fugue literally exhausts me. When I finished it, I sluggishly moved on to the Liszt and decided only to work on the last couple of measures. They're not hard, but they did need a bit of attention, so I focused on them. Tomorrow in the Liszt, I start on Section 9 (the part with the arpeggios in thirds). Once I've gotten that section down, the rest of the piece will be easy in comparison. I'm glad I'm getting the most difficult sections down first.

Thursday, June 15: Worked on scales and arps for about 15 minutes. Then, worked on the Bach Prelude for about 45 minutes, Section 1 (measures 1-15). It's not a hard piece, but I'm treating it as if it is; otherwise, I won't take it seriously enough and will end up not knowing it as well as I should. Does that make sense? :)

I worked on the fugue for about 40 minutes, cementing Section 1 (measures 1-15) hands-separately. It's hard work, using the new fingering, using the correct articulation, etc. I'm playing it very s-l-o-w-l-y right now and am not speeding up, even though I secretly want to. (Heck, I secretly want to play it perfectly at speed, TODAY, but that's not gonna happen!

I took a break, then got to work on Liszt. I spend about 30 minutes of intense focus on the "flutter" sections in Section 12 (where the echoes come in with the grace notes), working to make them perfect mirrors of each other. It was a particular challenge today because yesterday at piano we decided I needed a new fingering. That always makes it hard, when you've been using a different fingering for a week.

After working on those small sections, I played through Sections 12-15 a few times (about 15 minutes), focusing this time on the Gestalt of it, from the agitated, energetic start to the sublime ending.

Next, I moved to Section 9 and worked on the arpeggios in thirds for about 15 minutes. It's weird because you basically are playing 9-against-4. I think I'm just going to have to spend a few hours drilling those arpeggios until playing them is as natural as breathing. Then I'll add the left hand.

Friday, June 16: Practice for about 90 minutes on scales, arps, and Bach. I've moved up to 76 on the metronome for scales and seem to be having a bit of trouble with contrary motion in the minor scales. Arps were a little sloppy, for some reason. Maybe I'm just tired tonight.

I worked on the C# major Prelude for just a few minutes, reviewing and cementing measures 1-15. I don't want to spend too much time on the prelude, but I do want to review a little bit each day, just to keep it fresh in my psyche.

The C# major Fugue was the major area of focus tonight. I'm still working hands-separately, of course. I reviewed and cemented Section 1 (measures 1-15), and it's sounding pretty good--very clean, in fact. Just ignore for now that I'm playing at about 30% of the recommended tempo. I think I'm gaining a much more acute awareness of--and a much greater appreciation for--the "clean" sound of Bach. It's a special touch, to try to render on the piano something clavier-like: sparse, not too rich in tone, etc., but still musical. I used to dislike Bach because of that very sound ... and now I seem to have gone in the opposite direction. I find that sound very calming and sublime now. The held notes add so much to the other notes beneath, and the rests are so perfectly placed ... if I accidentally hold a note when I shouldn't, it's as if the harmony of the universe is interrupted, and a harsh, discordant clang sounds upon my delicate ear.

OK, so maybe that's a bit overdramatic. But the greater awareness I'm gaining seems to be allowing for less and less "wiggle room"--i.e., sloppiness--when I play these small sections of the fugue. I actually cringe a little when the sloppiness creeps in.

That's as it should be, I think.

Spent only about 20 minutes on Liszt. Worked out a good (?) fingering for measures 62 and 66 (the arpeggios in thirds). Didn't worry too much about the 9-against-4 timing ... I'll start on that tomorrow. Measures 62 and 66 gave me plenty of work for the 20 minutes that I had!

Saturday, June 17: I hadn't planned to practice until tonight (crazy party girl that I am!), but I slipped into the Inner Sanctum for what was supposed to be less than a minute and ended up spending 90 minutes on Liszt.

This will probably sound really pathetic, but I spent a huge chunk of those 90 minutes on measures 62 and 66 (the 9-against-4 arpeggios in thirds). I couldn't wrap my brain around the rhythms and I didn't want to just fake it. So I drew pictures, colored stuff in, and even made a cool table in Word to get an idea of where the notes should fall, rhythmically.

This, my friends, is an example of what happens when a perfectionistic right-brained person sets her mind on figuring out an unfamiliar mix of rhythms:



This is the "score" I read while practicing the arpeggios. That's OK if you think I'm a nut for going to such extremes. But I can tell you one thing: My 9-against-4 rhythms are sounding really good! Once they're really cemented in my mind (after I play them a million more times), I'll feel like I've earned the right to rubato-ize (rubatize?) them a little bit.

I also worked on Section 10, which is the first half of the first "echo" section following the arpeggiated-thirds section. It's not too difficult, though the grace notes and voicings are, again, throwing off what I thought was my relatively good ability to play in 2-against-3. I'm sure I will adjust--all of this is just so new to me.

I feel good about my progress, though. The sections I'm working on sound good, in a just-learning kind of way. And that's all I'm asking for at this point. :)

This evening, I spent 90 minutes practicing. About 15 minutes went to scales and arps, and about 20 minutes went to Sections 1 and 2 of the Bach Prelude. The rest of the time went to Sections 3 and 4 of the Fugue. It was a very uneventful practice; Sections 1 and 2 are getting more comfortable in the hands, and Sections 3 and 4 have several tacets and are slightly less difficult. Maybe (gasp!) I am also getting the hang of this fugue thing.

I played the Liszt for about 10 minutes before closing up the piano for the night. I noticed the double-dotted quarter notes in Section 9 ... huh? Followed by a 3-against-2 with the first note of the triplet starting halfway through an eighth note in the left hand? Ugh ... this means ... MATH. Blech. As if figuring out the 9-against-4 wasn't confusing enough. I worked with it a little bit, but not a lot. Bach fugue AND Liszt math can be dangerous when ingested in a single 24-hour period.

TOTAL PRACTICE TIME FOR WEEK: It's been a record week, folks. I practiced for more than 13 hours total, for a daily average of just under two hours.

Week of June 4

It's time to revive my practice-logging system. I'll be logging my practice hours, as well as my own comments, observations, and reflections about practice sessions, here. If you want to share your own practice notes or read mine, feel free. If you don't, then you can simply ignore any post that begins with the piano image at the top.

If you want to access the week's practice log quickly, simply click the link beneath the piano icon in the sidebar.

So let's get started!

Sunday, June 4: Approximately 90 minutes of practice. I warmed up with the usual contrary-motion scales; today was E major and C# minor. Then I did arpeggios (Ab major and F minor). For Suzuki, I'm working on a Bach Minuet in G that I first learned when I was about eight. I have the whole thing by ear, so Deborah now has me focusing very intently on articulation. I'm also supposed to be listening to the next Suzuki piece so I can learn it by ear, but I haven't been listening. Bad, bad piano student. I just really don't like doing the Suzuki stuff.

Most of my practice time today was spent on the Bach Fugue in C# Major. My practice times have been so spotty in the last few months that it seems I'm going to have to relearn what I thought I'd learned earlier. I can play each voice on its own, hands separately, all the way through ... or I could. When I tried the voices today, my fingers were tripping all over themselves and I had to trudge through it super slowly in order to play it.

I ended up having to drill small sections, hands separately for most of my practice. I got through the first page and a half. I'll do the next page and a half tomorrow, and the rest of the piece on Tuesday. That way, I should be somewhat ready for Wednesday's lesson, when I'll (hopefully) start ... tah-dah! ... putting the voices together.

I worked on the Liszt a little bit, but it's late and I was starting to get tired. Rather than practice badly because of low concentration, I simply played through the two sections I worked on last night, very slowly, a few times. And that was it.

Since it's late and I'm too tired to practice Liszt, I guess I'll go to sleep!

Monday, June 5: Snatched 45 luxurious minutes to do scales, arps, a Suzuki run-through, and a bit of Bach. Practiced the bass voice of the fugue through the Episode II. Yes, I'm having to re-learn it--knowing that learning it all hands-together will be yet another re-learning. But, as they say at McDonalds, "I'm lovin' it." Or, as Bach might say, "ich liebe es."

I'm hoping to practice a few more hours tonight after I get home from graduation.

Tuesday, June 6: Took about 70 minutes this afternoon to do scales, arps, Suzuki, and Liszt. I now have the last page and a half of the Liszt sounding pretty good. Did quite a bit of drilling of the last half-page. It's actually one of the easiest sections of the piece, but those easy sections can be deceiving, so I made sure to drill it as much as I would drill a harder section.

I didn't get around to Bach. Hopefully I will tonight.

Wednesday, June 7: Didn't really practice today because I had a lesson. Because I'll be hiking for a few days, Deborah gave me small assignments: Start learning the Bach Fugue hands-separately, play through the Prelude once, and work on voicing in Section 12 of the Liszt.

Saturday, June 10: Worked for about 60 minutes on scales, arps, Suzuki, and the Prelude and Fugue. Played through the Prelude twice (it's not hard at all), and started working on the Fugue hands-separately. I'd thought it would be a difficult step from voices-separately, but it wasn't so bad.

TOTAL PRACTICE TIME FOR WEEK OF JUNE 4: 4 hours., 41 minutes

Piano Day!

Today was Piano Day. I love Piano Day.

Here's how Piano Day went. I wrote all morning, then I practiced for an hour before heading to Asheville. Went to Zen Sushi for lunch and more writing. Then went to piano.

I had a GREAT piano lesson. Oh, what a difference it makes when one has time to practice. Deborah had some really nice comments on my playing--comments I needed to hear after so many months of so little progress.

I really love where I am with the pieces right now: I have a lot to learn, and a long way to go, but I have a definite sense that I'm learning and improving--both on the pieces themselves and as a pianist in general.

I'm supposed to be working on an essay tonight, plus an editing job, but it's sooo tempting to just set all the writing-stuff aside and go lock myself into the Inner Sanctum for a few hours with George.

It doesn't help that I have developed a serious crush on Franz Liszt. It doesn't matter that he's a dead composer. In fact, it's probably better that he's a dead composer, since I'm a happily married woman and all. :)

OK. I'm going to steal a couple of hours with Bach and Liszt, and then I'll work on my writing.

Sketching and Scheduling

Yesterday was a break in my writing/piano schedule, albeit a pleasant break to visit my birthmom, Sherry, and my brother, Jonathan, in Lexingon, NC, about three hours away.

Today, it's back to the grindstone, though it's hard to think of studying poetry, fiction-writing, and piano as a "grindstone." Weird, because I'm a harder taskmaster on myself than any boss or Real Job could ever be.

For fiction-writing, I'm only working on a couple of small goals for now:

1) Sketching--This is my way of getting back into the "swing" of fiction-writing. Fiction Writer's Workshop and Fiction Writing Step by Step, both by Josip Novakovich, both have a wealth of useful exercises for "jump-starting" sketches, so I've been using those books as starters. Not surprisingly, I've already found a few "seeds" in the sketches that I'd like to expand on when it's time.

2) Scheduling--It's been a very long time since I've sat down to write fiction on a regular basis. Even when I was working on the novel last summer, I was never really able to establish a regular "work schedule" for writing. My mind isn't used to having three hours every morning for creative writing. If I just sit down and sketch, with the help of Novakovich's books, every morning for a couple of weeks, I'll get used to the rhythm of it. Then, one magical day, it will feel completely natural to sit down and start writing, whether I feel like it or not.

I feel a little selfish in imposing such a schedule on myself. Part of me knows that I should visit with family more, volunteer more, etc. But if I don't impose this kind of schedule on myself, I'll never get into the habit of writing. I'll never get to the point where writing is a priority. And next thing I'll know, I'll feel the need to get a Real Job (even though we've budgeted for otherwise), and that'll be the end of the writing dreams, once again. I don't want that to happen.

Enough of blogging. Break is over. Back to the writing desk I go!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Unedited Art Loeb Trail Journal

I've never let anyone read my unedited hiking journal entries. So this is an historic moment in my journal-publishing life. Now you will see why I never publish my daily trail journals. To make them slightly more interesting, I've added links. (I'll add links to photos as soon as my hiking partner, LiteShoe, has 'em up.)

I never wrote a journal entry for the final day, which was a half-day hike back into Camp Daniel Boone. After we finished hiking, we got a shower and met Hubster at Jukebox Junction, a diner-type restaurant nearby. That sweet ole Hubster. He was the highlight of my day that day.

June 8, 2006
Location: Rich Mountain
Mileage: About 12 miles

It’s Nick Rhodes’s birthday! He’s 44 years old today, if my calculations are correct.

We’re at a campsite west of Gloucester Gap. We started at Davidson River Campground around 10—later than we wanted to, but what can you do. Hub had camp duties and then we had breakfast.

Flag raising at Camp Daniel Boone (CDB). Met a woman named Karen who couldn’t believe that we would be in the woods for three whole days. And here I am thinking we’re about to do a short little three-day hike. She thinks she might be interested in hiking but doesn’t know yet. She’s in a good place to find out, working at CDB all summer.

Had biscuits for breakfast at CDB. We finally got out. Hub drove us in a white Ford Econoline. My dream car. A fine, fine vehicle. A fine, fine driver, the Hub.

We got to Davidson River and had to blue-blaze before we ever set foot on the Art Loeb Trail because of a downed bridge.

A good hike. Sun was shining and it wasn’t too hot. We just clipped away at the miles. Up Chestnut Knob, through a few gaps. We have similar hiking paces (me & LiteShoe), so it made for good hiking. We took a few breaks, but not many—we are both Trudgers. Trudged up and trudged down the trail until we got to Butter Gap Shelter.

The plan had been to hike to the campsite on Chestnut Mountain, which is about 1.4 miles from Butter Gap. It was so early (3:00? Neither of us have a watch) that we decided to make dinner then head to the campsite. It was still so early, so we rested and chatted then headed up the mountain with the idea that we’d just keep hiking until we felt like stopping.

We took a short break at the campsite. Part of me thought, “maybe we should stay here,” but it was so early and we both had plenty of energy, so we decided to move on. Kept hiking—very pleasant trail.

We got to Gloucester Gap, where I was sure there would be some sort of campsite. Rare is the road crossing that does not have a campsite nearby. There wasn’t a campsite, so we started the ascent that would lead up Pilot Mountain. After about 0.3 miles, we found a side trail that led back to the nicest little campsite. Fire ring, flat spot, sitting log—the works!

I am so happy to be out here. We’ve hiked about 12 or 12.5 miles (shall we round it up to 13? Heh.) and I feel great. Not tired or sore at all. That may change tomorrow, but I don’t know. I think all the elliptical training has probably done me some good. I didn’t even feel winded a single time today. Just kept trudging on. Sounds like a good bumper sticker: silhouette of backpacker going uphill, and the words “Keep On Trudgin’.” My body is definitely happy to be in hiking mode.

I miss Hubster and the cats. It was so good to see him at CDB. I just wanted to hold him and never let go. I can’t wait to see him Saturday.

Several times today, my mind kept trying to plan next year’s English classes, and I kept having to stop it. Amazing—it’s like I’m just conditioned to plan school stuff, every time my mind gets the tiniest bit of “free time.”

I think I will sleep well tonight. I’m going to do some stretches right now.

9 June 06
Trail junction just south of Shining Rock Gap

Good hike today. About 13 miles(??). Gorgeous weather. It was so good just to be moving. Pushing myself, … recalling myself.

I really miss my pre-Carolina, pre-Asheville, pre-teaching self. I love my trail self. Today I was in touch with my trail self. My Waterfall self. It was good. Good just stepping on rocks and around them, getting into the rhythm of walking with my poles. Good to let my mind just be blank and focused on whether the tree’s leaves are opposite or alternate, simple or compound. I love it. I miss it. I miss the AT life. My tiny Walrus Microswift tent. My own personal hiker funk. My daily mileage goals. My early mornings.

It has been a good trip—good weather, good trail, good conversation. We have about 7.6 miles tomorrow. Then Hubster.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Practice Log Updates

Just a note to let everyone know that I actually seem to be keeping up with my piano practice-log updates. It's really easy to do when I actually have time to practice.

The practice log will probably be very boring to 99% of my readers, but hopefully it will be of some interest to piano students and others who are learning and playing instruments. I'm open to suggestions for improving my practicing habits, and I'd love to hear what other people are working on.

If nothing else, the meticulously updated logs will be interesting to read in that Great Someday when George and I have pretend-set the classical-music world on pretend-fire with our brilliant renditions of Chopin nocturnes, Bach fugues, and Liszt song transcriptions.

Ah, I can just imagine it now ...

Dusting Off the Dream of Fiction-Writing

I have a general schedule that I want to follow this summer. I haven't really been able to implement it yet, but I'm hoping to begin this week. Today was a kind of "trial run." Tomorrow I'm off on a trip, but Wednesday life will be back to normal.

I spent most of the day writing. If I'm going to be a fiction writer, I need to get back into the writing habit. (That teacher thing? Old news. Over. In the increasingly distant past. I'm being a writer now.)

OK, the first sentence of that last paragraph was a flat-out lie. I spent most of the day procrastinating about writing. While procrastinating, I did some very important things: rearranged my pens, color-coordinated my notebooks, read a couple of short stories, picked at my face, folded clothes, did the dishes, vacuumed the office, slathered lotion all over myself, braided my hair, cut my toenails, and did many other vital tasks that could not wait any longer.

Finally, I sat down and wrote a scene of a conversation between myself and some wise, imaginary fiction-writing mentor in which I was berated for wasting so much time when I should be writing.

All this time, I've wished I had time to write. Now that I finally have time to write, I avoid it like the plague. Go figure.

Anyway, after the fictional berating session, I got to work. Wise Imaginary Mentor ordered me to write five pages of fiction--a scene, a character sketch, something--and said that I wasn't allowed to get up from my desk until those five pages were done.

Groan. Whine. Pick at toenails. Floss with chewed-up pen top. Scratch mosquito bites.

So I sat there for about an hour and filled five pages with a boring, rambling "story" (I use that term loosely) that wasn't a proper scene and certainly wasn't a character sketch ... but it was something. It was movement. Maybe it will become something more. Maybe it won't. But I wrote five pages.

I know that more ideas will begin to come if I simply get into the habit of sitting at the page and writing. Today was the first day of that.

I think part of me is scared that I'll get all excited about writing fiction (as I've done a million times), and then I'll have to get a "real job" again, hand every ounce of my time and energy over to The Job, shelve the fiction, and forget about all of the hours of wasted creative-writing efforts. I've done that same thing so many times. It's like I'm gun-shy now. I don't want to take the plunge into writing fiction because I'm scared I'll get yanked from it in mid-air. Again.

For now, my typical day will include several hours at my writing desk, working at my fiction. I have my in-progress novel, but I currently want to work on some short stories, some of which I began years ago and haven't stopped thinking about since.

I'm not excited yet because I'm wary. But maybe, once I've made daily fiction-writing a habit, one that goes on for more than just a few weeks, I'll get excited about it again.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

70 Short Minutes to Ecstasy!!

Sounds like a spam-mail heading, doesn't it. No, I'm not talking about R-rated things, though Liszt's "Ständchen" is sounding more and more "R-rated" the more I practice it, with its heavy-breathing rhythms, slowly building climaxes, and sublime afterglows. I'm in the afterglow, in fact, of practicing this wonderful piece.

As you can read in my piano-practice log below, I spent about 80 minutes practicing this evening--about 10 minutes on scales and arpeggios, and about 70 on the Liszt.

I am amazed at how much can be accomplished by just a few minutes of intensive focus. I mean, 70 minutes is not a long time in the great scheme of things, or even in the small scheme of things. It's just barely more than an hour. It's longer than I spend each day on the elliptical trainer, and just over half the length of a good, long movie. Seventy short minutes.

In 70 minutes, I went from being very confused and uncertain about the timings to playing 2-against-3 with the metronome. It's necessary that I be able to do this; only after I can play it with perfect timing will I be able to "stretch" or "compress" sections as the emotions move me. Kind of like a writer needs to know the rules of Standard Written English before he can break them to achieve certain effects.

In 70 minutes, I went from sloppily missing the ornamented notes to playing them perfectly and in time. In 70 minutes, I was able to play that tricky measure 101 gracefully. In 70 minutes, I was able to play measures 91 through 101 many times, listening for the dynamics, focusing less on hitting the notes, and concentrating more on communicating the emotional power.

After 70 minutes, I called my brother and played those measures to him over the phone. He said he could hardly believe I was playing it. "Ständchen" is a long way from Liszt's virtuosic pieces, but it has a virtuosic sound all its own--a virtuosic sound that I usually hear coming from a recording, and not from my own fingers.

What an amazing feeling, to know that all of that gorgeous music is flowing forth from my own fingers, with the help of George's wires, hammers, and keys. After 70 minutes, I feel like I'm on top of the world. Like I've taken illegal happy pills. Like I'm floating six inches above the ground. Like [insert cliche' simile of choice here].

Seventy short minutes to ecstasy, indeed. And I haven't even begun the "easy" sections--measures 1 through 90. I start those after my next piano lesson!

Practice Log for Week of June 11



This log will be updated daily, whether I'm able to practice or not. If you want to access the week's practice log quickly, simply click the link beneath the piano icon in the sidebar. Last week's completed log can be found here.

Practice Goals for the Week

1) Scales at 76 and arpeggios at 60
2) Suzuki Minuet 4 (by ear)
3) Play through Bach Prelude once a day
4) Learn Fugue hands-separately
5) Work on tone and voicing for Sections 12 and 13 of Liszt; begin learning Section 9

Sunday, June 11: Spent 70 minutes on scales, arps, Suzuki, the Prelude, and the Fugue. Scales and arps are sounding really good. When I write "scales and arps," I mean scales and arpeggios in similar and contrary motion, at increasing speeds. Also included are full-octave inversions for each. Today's scales were B major and G# minor, and today's arpeggios were Gb major and Eb minor. For Suzuki, I played through Minuet 3 and "learned" the right-hand notes of Minuet 4 by ear, which took about two minutes.

I can play through the prelude pretty well. It's very basic and just kind of falls into the hands. There are a few sticky sections that I'll need to spend more time on before my lesson Wednesday.

The hands-separate practice for the fugue is turning out to be easier than expected. The hardest part is synchronizing the rests in one voice with the held notes in another voice. I'm doing a lot of listening to separate voices, then playing two voices together, then listening to individual voices again, then voices together, etc. It would be easy enough to play the voices together without thinking of them as separate voices, I suppose, but that would defeat the purpose of learning the fugue. It's a mind exercise as much as it is a finger exercise, and I am loving every second of it. (That sublime mind-finger exercise thing, by the way, is Reason #214 to adore and admire Bach.)

Spent about 80 minutes on the Liszt (plus a couple more scales and arps to warm up). I'm only focusing on measures 91 through 115 (the last section of the piece, starting with the con agitazione measure). The big challenge for me has been the timing. I learned how to do 2-against-3 when I learned Liszt's "Consolation No. 3" in high school, but the 2-against-3 in "Ständchen"--with the changes from measure to measure, plus the ornaments, plus the voicing challenges--has been a real bear (with 2-against-3, one hand is playing a "1-2, 1-2" beat while the other plays a "1-2-3, 1-2-3" waltz-like beat). I must have played measures 99 and 101 a hundred times today--without the ornaments, with the ornaments, with the metronome, with a special focus on voicing, all together now, etc. And always slow, slow, slow. Imagine the runners in slow-motion in the movie Chariots of Fire. That's how "Ständchen" feels. I'm playing it with all the emotional power I can muster in the dynamics, but at half the speed at which it should be played. Very challenging, and the temptation to play it faster is nearly irresistible.

But resist I must. For now, and for my next few practices, I'll continue to play at a snail's pace.

Monday, June 12: Practiced for about 70 minutes this afternoon. I did the usual scales, arps, and Suzuki as a warm up (more to warm up my mind than to warm up my fingers), then moved on to the fugue.

Whew. I worked on the fugue itself for about an hour, hands-separately. I really want to learn this, and I don't want to cut corners. So I'm approaching it in several different ways. First, I went straight to the "red stars" I'd written in the other night when playing through to see which sections would be the most challenging. The toughest-seeming one is early in the piece--measures 6-11. So I began the drill: play one voice, then the other. Play them together, listening. Back up. Shut the piano. Play one voice on the piano lid, focusing on the fingering. Play it again on the lid, "listening" and imagining the keys. Do the same with the other voice. Do the same with both voices. Over and over again. Focus. Keep "playing" until it feels natural, both in my fingers and in my mind.

This "away-from-the-keys" practice taxes the brain, but when I finally open the lid and play on the keys again ... voila! It's there, and it sounds just as smooth as can be! Once I'm playing on the keys again, I run through those same measures 10 or 15 times each--or 20 or 30 or more, as needed. I focused really hard on measures 1-6 and measures 10 and 11 today. The plan was to do all eleven measures, but I'm not used to such brain-taxing, intensive work, and I had to stop because I was mentally tired.

So, I covered eight measures today. Sigh. The fugue consists of 55 measures. Actually, I'm looking forward to the work. As with my physical workouts, I'm sure that more of these types of practices will simply improve my mental endurance in the long run--as well as make me a better pianist!

I worked on Liszt for about 10 minutes tonight. I was too tired to have a decent practice, so I just played through measures 91 to the end a few times, very slowly, to make sure yesterday's awesome practice sank in. I found that, while I missed a few notes here an there, I have a much better sense of the timing--the left-hand "beat," if you will--and was able to keep it steady throughout the ornaments, 2-against-3 measures, etc. So that's good.

Tuesday, June 13: On the road all day. No practice. :(

Wednesday, June 14 (Lesson Day): About 30 minutes on scales, arps, Suzuki, and Liszt (about 15 minutes was spent on Liszt). Mostly just warming up for my piano lesson in the afternoon. Didn't have time for Bach. This evening, I practiced for about 80 minutes. Did the usual scales and arps as warm up, then got to work in earnest on the Bach. Very intense, focused practicing of hands separately. I've had to do a lot of fiddling with the fingering because the editor's fingerings assume that my hands are bigger than they are. It's also been a challenge to play with the notes detached rather than legato. I'd been practicing legato until today, when Deborah said to make them detached. Sigh.

Practicing the fugue literally exhausts me. When I finished it, I sluggishly moved on to the Liszt and decided only to work on the last couple of measures. They're not hard, but they did need a bit of attention, so I focused on them. Tomorrow in the Liszt, I start on Section 9 (the part with the arpeggios in thirds). Once I've gotten that section down, the rest of the piece will be easy in comparison. I'm glad I'm getting the most difficult sections down first.

Thursday, June 15:

Friday, June 16:

Saturday, June 17:

TOTAL PRACTICE TIME FOR WEEK:

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Visitor #40,000

Congratulations to my brother Jonathan, who was the 40,000th visitor to this blog!

Home from Hiking

I had a great hike of the 31-mile Art Loeb Trail, starting Thursday morning and finishing up Saturday around 1 p.m.

My hiking partner, Liteshoe, will be posting her pictures soon, so I'll provide a link here for anyone who is interested. I may also post my journal entries from the hike, although I'll warn you that my trail journals do not make for the most riveting literature.

It's good to be back. I slept like a rock both nights--no thoughts of school, no panic attacks, no tossing and turning. Just good, bone-tired sleep after hiking 12+ miles each day up and down the western North Carolina mountains.

Graduation seems like it happened a year ago instead of less than a week ago.

I love hiking. I've needed a good hike for a long time, and I finally got one.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Panic, Poetry, and Piano

In some ways, I've already adjusted to post-school life. In other ways, it seems I still have a long way to go.

The seething rage is gone, replaced by a sort of numb resignation. I actually moved my last "school post" to my other blog. Those of you who are teachers (or not) and want to read my final thoughts can check them out. They're not particularly nice. In fact, they're pretty bitter, which is why I moved them.

So, I'm letting go, but my nervous system (would it be my nervous system?) is having some trouble with the process. I'm still having these awful night panics. They yank me rudely from the precipice of sleep, three or four times a night, and they prolong sleep for yet another 45 minutes to an hour. Yes. That means I'm still not sleeping.

Lying there in bed, I feel like a spectator, even though I'm in the thick of the attack. I can feel it when it starts to come on, and I know exactly what's happening. "Here we go again," I think, and I prepare to wait it out. The senstion starts in my stomach and rises up to my throat. On the way up, my whole body tenses, my heart seems to skip a beat as it starts to race, and my throat closes up, forcing me to gasp for air. It's only the physical aspect of me that seems to panic, though. Mentally, I'm just kind of removed from it after a second or two, thinking, "OK, just wait it out." Kind of like when you start watching a rerun you've seen before--for a minute, you're really involved, then you realize you've seen it already, so you stop paying attention. It's a strange feeling--to be in a blind panic on one hand, but to be calm and collected and patiently waiting on the other.

The triggers aren't even major thoughts. They can be things as minor as, "Did I plug my cell phone in?" or "I forgot to call my sister today." Frustrating! I long for the day when I can wake up feeling rested again. I'm hoping the hike will help with that.

On a happier note, I've started writing poetry again. No, you are not allowed to read it. I haven't written poetry in years, but little turns of phrases and forgotten observations seem to be stepping out from behind hidden doors in my brain, making themselves known again. And this time I'm writing them down.

I'm also spending a lot more time on piano. Not as much as I'd like (story of my life!), but at least an hour a day. Once I'm back from my hike and I can follow a more regular schedule, I'll get 1.5 to 2 hours of practicing in per day. This thrills me to no end.

The best news for today?

It's piano day! Hooray! Hooray!

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

My Exciting Day

Here's what I did today:

1. Wrote in my journal for about an hour
2. Read poetry for a while
3. Went through some drafts to decide which fiction projects to resume
4. Practiced Liszt
5. Snuggled with the cats before taking an hour-long nap with them
6. Took a walk
7. Went to my poetry group
8. Watched "House"

Not a bad day. The only bad part was missing Hubster, who was at camp all day long.

It felt really good not to talk all day. A long, long time ago, back in my teaching days, I used to get so tired of hearing the sound of my own voice.

I just realized that I barely thought about school at all today. And the kids just graduated last night. Wow. Graduation seems like it was weeks ago already. I can hardly remember it.

Amazing. Talk about leaving the past behind!

Time for bed. I must wake up early for more journaling, poetry, fiction-writing, and piano-practicing.

Life is really good right now.

Bio-Family News

I skimp on e-visiting my biological family units for a few days, and look what happens. My brother Jonathan gets engaged and my cousin Stacey gives birth to a baby kitten boy. Congrats to everyone!

Mary Oliver on the Experience of Poetry

"Why is it important for students--for any of us, in fact--to have this experience?

"Poems speak of the mortal condition: in poems we muse (as we say) about the tragic and glorious issues of our fragile and brief lives: our passions, our dreams, our failures. Our wonderings about heaven and hell--these too are in poems. Life, death; mystery, and meaning. Five hundred years and more of such labor, such choice thought within choice expression, lies within the realm of metrical poetry. Without it, one is uneducated, and one is mentally poor."

From Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse

Monday, June 5, 2006

It's the Last Day of School

Need I say more?

Yippeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Practice Log for Week of June 4

Updated 3 times since June 5



It's time to revive my practice-logging system. I'll be logging my practice hours, as well as my own comments, observations, and reflections about practice sessions, here. If you want to share your own practice notes or read mine, feel free. If you don't, then you can simply ignore any post that begins with the piano image at the top.

If you want to access the week's practice log quickly, simply click the link beneath the piano icon in the sidebar.

So let's get started!

Sunday, June 4

Approximately 90 minutes of practice. I warmed up with the usual contrary-motion scales; today was E major and C# minor. Then I did arpeggios (Ab major and F minor). For Suzuki, I'm working on a Bach Minuet in G that I first learned when I was about eight. I have the whole thing by ear, so Deborah now has me focusing very intently on articulation. I'm also supposed to be listening to the next Suzuki piece so I can learn it by ear, but I haven't been listening. Bad, bad piano student. I just really don't like doing the Suzuki stuff.

Most of my practice time today was spent on the Bach Fugue in C# Major. My practice times have been so spotty in the last few months that it seems I'm going to have to relearn what I thought I'd learned earlier. I can play each voice on its own, hands separately, all the way through ... or I could. When I tried the voices today, my fingers were tripping all over themselves and I had to trudge through it super slowly in order to play it.

I ended up having to drill small sections, hands separately for most of my practice. I got through the first page and a half. I'll do the next page and a half tomorrow, and the rest of the piece on Tuesday. That way, I should be somewhat ready for Wednesday's lesson, when I'll (hopefully) start ... tah-dah! ... putting the voices together.

I worked on the Liszt a little bit, but it's late and I was starting to get tired. Rather than practice badly because of low concentration, I simply played through the two sections I worked on last night, very slowly, a few times. And that was it.

Since it's late and I'm too tired to practice Liszt, I guess I'll go to sleep!

Monday, June 5

Snatched 45 luxurious minutes to do scales, arps, a Suzuki run-through, and a bit of Bach. Practiced the bass voice of the fugue through the Episode II. Yes, I'm having to re-learn it--knowing that learning it all hands-together will be yet another re-learning. But, as they say at McDonalds, "I'm lovin' it." Or, as Bach might say, "ich liebe es."

I'm hoping to practice a few more hours tonight after I get home from graduation.

Tuesday, June 6

Took about 70 minutes this afternoon to do scales, arps, Suzuki, and Liszt. I now have the last page and a half of the Liszt sounding pretty good. Did quite a bit of drilling of the last half-page. It's actually one of the easiest sections of the piece, but those easy sections can be deceiving, so I made sure to drill it as much as I would drill a harder section.

I didn't get around to Bach. Hopefully I will tonight.

Wednesday, June 7

Didn't really practice today because I had a lesson. Because I'll be hiking for a few days, Deborah gave me small assignments: Start learning the Bach Fugue hands-separately, play through the Prelude once, and work on voicing in Section 12 of the Liszt.

Saturday, June 10

Worked for about 60 minutes on scales, arps, Suzuki, and the Prelude and Fugue. Played through the Prelude twice (it's not hard at all), and started working on the Fugue hands-separately. I'd thought it would be a difficult step from voices-separately, but it wasn't so bad.

TOTAL PRACTICE TIME FOR WEEK OF JUNE 4: 4 hrs., 41 minutes

Good Things in Threes

Today at church, I was told that I look "rested," "younger," and "happy." Three words I haven't looked (or felt) for some time--until this weekend.

The sponsor of today's agenda is the number 3.

1. Put coat #3 of Lantern Light on the Writing Wall
2. Work on the Fugue in C# major (#3 of WTC I)
3. Write for three hours
4. Play tennis with three other people
5. Go shopping for food for the next three days

Liszt Came Back

I bought the music to "Standchen," a Liszt transcription of a Schubert song, several months ago. I've been so busy writing tests, planning lessons, and grading essays that I haven't practiced it, save for intense mini-practices here and there on the same five or six measures. Back in February or March, I went through the piece and divided it into 6- to 10- measure sections. Then, I ranked the sections from hardest to least challenging. Then, I got to work on the hardest section.

Whenever I'd sit down to practice, I'd go back to the hardest section again. I'd make a little bit of headway into it, but then I'd have to stop, and I wouldn't touch the piano again for a week or two.

It's been a very frustrating way to (not) progress, but I imagine it's not that unusual an experience for adult piano students.

Last night, I sat down to start on the hardest section again, scared that Liszt wouldn't "come back" and I'd have to re-learn that section all over again, from scratch--like I'd had to do every time for the last few months. But this time was different. This time, (1) I wasn't stressed, and (2) I had two wonderful hours ahead of me for practicing.

After an hour, I was playing the hardest section and the second-hardest section that followed, and it sounded GOOD. I recorded myself, just to make sure I wasn't hearing things, and it still sounded good!

I was in tears. Liszt had come back! All those mini-practices must have done some good. In only an hour, I had the entire last page and a half of the piece. And you have to hear this piece--it's so unbelievably beautiful.

When Hubster got home from camp, I played the whole piece for him. It's about seven pages long, so five and a half of those pages were sight-reading. Remember, I haven't practiced any of this piece in months, except for the hardest section.

It sounded gorgeous. Of course, the sight-reading section wasn't perfect, but it sounded pretty darn good for a sight-read. I skipped notes here and there and kept tempo. Hubster got all misty-eyed. What an old softy he is. But Liszt can do it even to the most hardened among us.

So, Liszt came back. Or maybe I did. Either way, it's good that we're both back. I'll see if Bach comes back today. I think he will.

Life is good.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Things I Love. A Random Post.

I love George.
I love Liszt.
I love Bach. (Betcha didn't know that!)
I love Hubster most of all.
I love Truman Capote (but not as much as I love Hubster).
I love my kitty cats.
I love my coffee shop.
I love yellow paint.
I love having hours to write.
I love red wine.
I love being a writer.
I love "House."
I love being barefoot.
I love having long hair (I don't have it, but Bad Haircut is growing out.)
I love listening to old 80s cassettes while I paint.
I love the mountains.
I love my piano teacher.
I love blogging.
I love Walker Percy.
I love making up stories.
I love making music.
I love coffee.
I love the thought that I'm going hiking in a few days.
I love my iPod.
I love kissing my Hubster.
I love sushi.
I love hiking.
I love my sweet little sister.
I love my mommy.
I love Mr. Hugh.
I love chocolate.
I love snuggling with the Hubster.
I love silly jokes.
I love my science girls.
I love thinking.
I love Hubster's calves.
I love the fact that school is out.
I love life.
I LOVE SUMMER.

Morning Write, Lantern Light, & A Wall Of One's Own

Ohh, what a good day today has been! Other teachers told me it would take weeks for me to adjust to the relaxation and slow pace of summer, but I'm doing just fine, thank you very much. And school isn't even out yet!

I couldn't wait to get up this morning. I haven't been eager to get out of bed since October. But today was going to be a Writing-and-Piano day, so I had no reason to stay in bed.

I got to my coffee shop at around 8:30 and wrote for three glorious hours. Most of it was journaling, but I did a bit of creative writing as well. Once school is out and my hike is over, I'm going to go through earlier stories that I've started and never finished (due to jobs taking up all my time) and decide which ones I want to work on and which ones I don't. I'm so ready to do that now, but it would mean turning my house upside down as I go through all of my old notebooks, diskettes, etc. Too much disruptive activity when I'm going to be going out of town for a few days.

Next I went to Sherwin-Williams. I wanted paint my Writing Room. It's actually a half of a room. Actually, it's not even a half-room. It's really just a wall. My Writing Wall. It's ugly and dirty and uninspiring, so I wanted to paint it.

At Sherwin-Williams, I found the most lovely shade of yellow called "Lantern Light." I bought a big ole gallon of it. I came home and proceeded to spend the next few hours cleaning, spackling, and painting my Writing Wall. I'm waiting for the paint to dry now. "Lantern Light" is such a calming yet cheerful color. Just looking at it makes me happy. I love my yellow Writing Wall.

I'll probably put one more coat on tonight, and then a couple more tomorrow. Then, on Tuesday, my first "official" day of summer, my Writing Wall will be ready. It will be my own A Wall of One's Own.

I'm covered with Lantern Light, and George is calling me. Time to clean all this paint up, then go spend, oh, three or more hours with George.

No, I'm not having any adjusting to summer. No trouble at all.

Friday, June 2, 2006

What a Good Day

This morning all of my students went to another teacher's room to watch a movie, so I had the morning to myself. Took all my posters down, packed all my books in my car, sent in all the grades, etc. Now my classroom looks so ... generic.

It was a half-day at school, so I left at noon. Ran a few errands, then went to my favorite coffee shop. Sat. Wrote. Wrote some more. Wrote so much I had to stop periodically to shake out my hand. After four hours of writing (and 20 minutes of chatting with a poet friend), I called it a day. Went to my favorite bookstore and bought a book. I also bought a map of my county because I'll need it for a guidebook I'm writing this summer.

Came home. Put a load of clothes in.

I don't feel relaxed yet. It'll probably take a few weeks for me to wind down completely. Right now I just have this awesome sense of relief. It's not over yet, but it'll be over soon.

Penultimate Day of School

Today is a half-day. Today is a nothing day. Today my homeroom class will watch a movie (or something) and I'll go through turned-in books and assess them for damage and determine who needs to pay lifelong penance a measly fine for defacing their literature textbooks and Norton Anthologies.

I've graded all my exams, and I'm turning in most of my grades today. Most kids passed. Some kids did really well. I'm proud of them. I got to give English and writing awards out yesterday at the awards ceremony, and I loved being able to recognize those students who really excelled in my classes. Of course, I wanted to give out more than one award per class, but rules are rules.

After school, I get to go to ... another makeup lesson for piano! Then I get to spend the weekend ... hiking and practicing piano! Then I get to go ... hiking! Then I get to spend my summer ... writing, hiking, and playing piano!

It's almost here. Two half-days left, and the "I'm-so-tired" blog posts will be history, baby.

I'm getting ready to shut down my other blog. If anyone is interested in reading it, let me know (e-mail me).

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Finding Corners, Laying Down Tracks

It's human nature to want to cut corners. With practicing piano (or any instrument, I guess), the temptation to cut corners can be unrelenting. We want so badly to be able to play the piece as well as Horowitz or Gould or even our piano teachers, and we become frustrated that it's not as easy as they make it sound. If only Real Piano were as easy to play as Air Piano!

I must admit though, I'm probably not as bad of a corner-cutter as most. One of my "let-me-tell-you-how-anal-I-was-as-a-child" anecdotes has to do with piano practice. I would line up ten (or twenty, or fifty) pennies on the left side of the piano. Then, I would work on a measure, a set of measures, a whole page, or an entire piece. Each time I played it perfectly, one penny would move to the right side of the piano. Each time I made a mistake, the penny (or sometimes two, if I was feeling particularly masochistic) would move back to the left. I couldn't stop practicing until all of the pennies were on the right side of the piano.

Thankfully, I'm not quite that strict on myself anymore. Also, my concept of "perfect" has changed. Playing something through without making any mistakes doesn't necessarily constitute "perfect." What about the phrasing? What about the voicing? Did I hold that half note long enough? Now that I'm playing so much Bach, I've developed an intolerance for hearing two notes that aren't supposed to be played together. So all of that comes into play when I'm practicing for "perfection."

I think of my practices as being microscopic. Give me a measure or two, and let me explore it for twenty or thirty or forty-five minutes, the way one might get lost in observing a particularly fascinating drop of pond water under the microscope. Particularly with Bach, there is so much packed into the tiniest little "drops" of music. I forget time as I drill a measure or two. When I finally emerge from the almost trancelike intensity of the practice, I wonder how anyone on this earth can ever be bored when Bach offers so much to ponder in every measure of every page of every piece he ever wrote.

Back to cutting corners. There is one form of cutting corners that I am guilty of, and it always occurs at the end of my practice session: I feel compelled to play the piece (or the section I've been working on) at concert speed, even though I'm not ready for it. This is particularly a problem after I've had a good practice session; I'm happy with my progress, I'm feeling overconfident, and I think I'm somehow capable of zooming from my slow, deliberate level to that of the recordings I've heard. It never works. Experience has taught me that it never works, yet I repeat the same behavior every time.

One of my goals for my practices this year has been to not yield to that temptation. To make that goal more attainable, I've begun an end-of-practice routine that, I think, will help wean me off the habit.

Instead of zipping through the piece at the end of practice, I slow it down to about half the speed at which I'm practicing it. I play it through at that slower speed, listening very intently for the nuances as well as the notes--the voicing, the phrasing, etc. I pay close attention to fingering, too, if that's an issue. The goal is to play it as such a slow pace that I can play it "perfectly." It's possible; I just need to be willing to slow it down enough. Often that means playing it so slowly that it's virtually unrecognizable.

At the slower speed, I don't have to play it through fifty pennies-worth in order to get everything right. What's really interesting, I've found, is that, whenever I do this slow-practice routine, I end up playing the piece much better the next day (or the next week) when I sit down to practice. It's as if my brain remembers the "perfect" way to play it, long after I played it that way. As a result, I've inched to a new level and can begin my practice from there.

I've been doing this for several months now--enough that it's become a bit of a ritual. I call it "laying down tracks." I've also thought of it as "finding corners" (rather than cutting them) because, when I play it that slowly, I become aware of areas for study, particularly with voicing, that I didn't notice so much when practicing it before.

I don't know if this is end-of-practice routine is recommended by the experts or not, or if other people practice this way, but I've found it very helpful. If you're looking to improve your practice sessions, you might give it a try (and let me know how it works for you!).

(Just a note--my regular "practice speed" is super-slow as well. The end-of-practice speed is simply a lot slower. I don't want you, dear readers, to think that I'm speeding through my practices and doing the slow stuff only at the end!)