Friday, August 18, 2017


Two weeks ago, my Aunt Joyce passed away. She was 94, but it was still a shock. I always thought she'd live to be at least 100. She played a big role in my life as I was growing up, but I hadn't seen her much since moving away 14 years ago. The last time I saw her alive was last Thanksgiving. I figured we'd see her again this Thanksgiving. But instead, I traveled to Louisiana last week for her funeral.

I flew back to Georgia Saturday and was home Saturday night and all of Sunday. On Monday, I was up at 4:30 a.m. and on the road by 5:00 to drive to Asheville for three days of work. On Wednesday, after a long day of work, I drove back to Augusta and got home around 9:00.

And then yesterday, Thursday, was a full day of working from home.

I'm tired. And sad. I need a break.

Yesterday I had my acoustic guitar lesson, after two weeks of barely picking up my guitar. As I played through the simple pieces, I wondered if I really needed to be taking lessons for $20 a week--particularly since I'm also taking classical guitar lessons for $25 a week.

So, I think I'm doing to stop the acoustic lessons. It was something fun for the summer and my teacher taught me some very basic things that I needed to learn. But I'm tired. Right now I give up three to five lunch hours a week for either music lessons or regularly scheduled work meetings. And I'm tired.

I haven't gone back to voice lessons, and I don't know if I'm going to go back. Not that I don't want to, but ... I'm tired.

Am I sounding like a broken record? I feel like one. A broken something, at least.

Yesterday we went to Portman's, the local music store where Anne is taking drum lessons. While she was in her lesson, I plopped myself down in front of a Yamaha clavinova/keyboard and played for a half hour. I love to play so much, and I love that I can still make magic come out of my fingers, even though I don't play regularly. I'm thinking ... if I don't do acoustic guitar lessons and I don't do voice, then I would have time for one thing I really want to do: play piano at local assisted living centers and nursing homes.

And I can play guitar and sing whenever I want, just not formally.

But still, I'm just so tired. My new year's resolution was to get back in touch with my musical self, and I've done that, to a great degree. But it's taken a lot of time and effort (and money).

One thing I won't quit is my classical guitar lessons. I'm not good at it yet, but after a few years, I'll be able to enjoy it the way I enjoy piano. I'm certain of it. And it can bring me (and others) the same peace and joy that piano does.

So, this blog post doesn't really have a point, other than to tell my four readers that I'm tired. And kind of sad. And wishing I had more time for music, while also wondering why music has to take up so much of my time.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Time for a Music Update: Piano

With the move last month (or was it two months ago?), my musical life had a bit of an interruption. But now that I've been here for eight weeks, I've fallen into more of a routine. I've also started working out in the mornings (5:30 a.m.), so it's been a challenge to wake up, work out, and still make time for music practice before the rest of my family rises and shines.

Oh, and I have a music room now.

Let's talk about piano first, since it's my first and best love, and the only instrument that I can play with some skill. I recently discovered Sheet Music Direct, and oh my ... it has put a dent in my "fun money" account (I don't have a "fun money" account, actually. But if I did, it would have put a dent in it.)

I've decided that I want to find a few nursing homes or assisted living facilities where I can play piano for an hour or so a few times a month, doing something of a rotation every other week. With that thought in mind, I started finding songs that would be appropriate for that. Of course I have a decent repertoire of hymns, and a few simpler classical pieces that I learned as a child and never forgot. I also have the Bach's G minor sinfonia and Chopin's B-flat minor nocturne, along with a few jazz and ragtime pieces. So I have enough of a repertoire to play for an hour ... but I need more than that.

Nursing home residents can range from my age (or younger) to somewhere in the 90's or even 100 or more. So we're talking about people born between, say, the 1920's and the 1960's ... with musical tastes formed in around the 1940's to the 1980's. That's everything from Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller to Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis, to Louis Armstrong, to the Beatles, to Carole King, to Billy Joel and Elton John. That's a lot of music! I can play a little bit of everything, but I need to up my piano game. I need to build my repertoire. So I've begun building a list of songs I want to learn, and once I start volunteering, I'll ask the residents what they'd like to hear, and learn those songs.

I think part of me wants to be kind of a para-professional--not a paid pianist, but good enough, and professional enough, to be one. I know I have it in me. I just need to practice, and I need to start getting some "volunteer gigs." I have a list of facilities in front of me, and I'm going to start making calls next week.

As far as what I'm working on right now, not necessarily for nursing homes but for me:
  • Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis)
  • I Feel the Earth Move (Carole King)
  • Re-learning Bach's C#-major prelude from WTC I
  • Polishing up Chopin's B-flat minor nocturne (Op. 9, No. 1)
OK, onward to instrument #2 ... guitar.

Time for a Music Update: Guitar

This post is part of a group of posts, the first of which is my piano update. Now it's time for guitar. I need to divide this post into two parts: classical guitar and acoustic guitar.

Classical Guitar

When I told my guitar teacher I was moving, he said, "No problem, we can do online lessons." I wasn't so sure about online lessons, but I said I was willing to try.

They've been OK. Definitely not as good as in-person, but ... in some ways, better. For one thing, it's nice not to have to lose 30 minutes driving back and forth to my lesson each week. And, thanks to a high-octane internet connection, I haven't had any technical problems. And here's something weird: I used to leave my guitar lessons feeling kind of dejected, like I wasn't cool enough for this teacher because I didn't care about power chords or electric guitar or jazz improvisation (yet). With the online lessons, the focus is solely on classical guitar; we have less chit-chat, and we go on fewer tangents.

Because I have to go back to Asheville every four to six weeks for work, I still have the occasional in-person guitar lesson, which I think is good.

I'm currently working on "Mary Hamilton," a Scottish folk ballad arranged by Peter Hudson. If you'd like to hear the version I'm learning, you can watch this YouTube video.

This piece has brought me so much frustration! I've been working on it for three months, and it was only a couple of weeks ago that it started to sound like an actual song and not a painful stumbling through notes. I think the piece is above my level, and when I told my guitar teacher that, he said he thought it was perfect--just enough to make me reach and get better.

I understand that. I understand that you need to challenge your students, and I need to challenge myself. But I still felt like I was jumping from Kindergarten straight to third grade, and it wasn't any fun. It was three months before "Mary Hamilton" began to be recognizable as a song and not some tortured finger exercise. When he assigned a second song ("Simple Gifts," arranged by Richard Summers) that was at about the same level, my frustration levels increased as I practiced the same tricky measure over and over again with very little progress.

So I got on the phone with my guitar teacher and said, "Look, this stuff is too hard. I need something easier. Baby steps." I have the feeling that, because I know theory and can play piano, there's the idea that those skills and knowledge are somehow transferable to guitar technique. Maybe they are in some students ... but I can't do it. Guitar is so different from piano, and so much harder. The white keys on a piano, and even the black keys, feel like football fields compared to the tightrope wires of the guitar strings. And on piano, everything makes sense--low notes to the left, high notes to the right. Middle C is middle C is middle C. On the guitar, there are half a dozen or so middle C's, and your fingers have to move and forth along the fret board just to play a scale.

So, we're going to ditch "Simple Gifts" for now and come back to it in six months or a year once I've mastered a few more Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade pieces. It's a beautiful piece and I want to play it, but now is not the time.

Acoustic Guitar

While classical guitar is my main focus, I also want to be good enough at acoustic guitar to lead and play songs. A woman in our neighborhood has been giving me informal lessons, working from some old Alfred and Mel Bay books. Some of the stuff is really easy, but I'm also learning some things that I wouldn't have learned (or I wouldn't have learned as quickly) in my classical lessons. It helps that my neighbor is an elementary school music teacher who has made a career of leading kids in folk songs.

So I'm working on some basic scales, practicing (and learning!) some folk songs, and working on simple strum patterns. For acoustic guitar, this is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, and I feel fortunate to have found someone who can work with me at that speed.

OK, that's it for the guitar update. Now on to voice. (Sorry, didn't have time to do the voice update. Not that there's that much to tell, as I haven't really picked it up again since moving. I'll do an update soon ... or in a month.)