Saturday, August 18, 2018

Noodling on Cm7

This is the kind of thing I've been doing lately, now that I have Henry. I'll practice other things, but I fall back into "noodling"--just playing with a chord progression and pretending, I guess, that I'm at a piano bar, or maybe stuck in some elevator that has New Age piano music playing in the background.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Playing Musical Chairs (or Musical Clothes?) with Musical Instruments

Most of my life, I have focused on only one instrument: the piano. But then, in 2017, I decided to branch out. I wasn't playing piano that much anyway, and I'd always wanted to learn to sing and play guitar ... so why not?

I signed up for voice lessons first. It was December 2016, and a friend was taking voice lessons and encouraged me to do it. I signed up with a teacher at Asheville Music School, but I quickly learned that I needed a more experienced teacher. As a beginner, I didn't need to go to a conservatory, but I guess I've had so much experience with music teachers that I can tell a rookie when I see one.

At about that time, I also started taking guitar lessons, and my guitar teacher recommended a friend of his who was a classical voice teacher. So I called his friend, whose name was Andrew, and made an appointment.

loved Andrew. If we hadn't moved, I'd still be taking voice lessons from him. He helped me to be less "breathy" and to not be afraid to make some noise. I looked forward to our lessons every single week.

But then we moved. I found a non-classical voice teacher in our new town. She was very nice and I enjoyed working with her, but work took over my life and I couldn't justify spending $40 a week on voice when I wasn't able to practice. She was a good teacher, though, and she had a wonderful system for helping ensure I practiced what I needed to practice. I was sad to leave her, but money and time were tight, and it wasn't the right time for me to be taking voice.

I also looked for another classical guitar teacher in our new town. They were few and far-between, and no one's schedule could accommodate mine.

After we joined our church in January, I joined the choir. I'd always wanted to sing in a choir and thought this might help me to improve my voice. But really, I just felt worse and worse because I knew I couldn't sing well, and I felt like I was making the choir worse. (Truthfully, I probably had no effect on it whatsoever because I didn't sing loud enough for most people to hear.) And when you're feeling stressed (as I was), it's even harder to sing because your jaw and neck are tight from the stress (or at least mine are).

That's when I decided to get another voice teacher.

Right here in my neighborhood is a choir director who teaches voice. His prices are reasonable, and he's good. So I've been studying with him for, oh, about four or five months now.

Am I any better at voice? I think so. But there's a problem. (Why does there always have to be a problem?)

See, I have this new piano named Henry. And when I sit down to play Henry, all my stress washes away. I feel like I could curl up into the music and rest for as long as I need to. I lose sense of time from the very beginning. All I care about is the sound. I play Hanon to strengthen my fingers, then some Chopin, then some Bach, then jazz or hymns or Carole King or Billy Joel or Elton John, or stuff I wrote, or ragtime, and then back to my beloved classical, working on old pieces or sight-reading intermediate pieces from something like Music for Millions. I know my way around the piano, and I feel like I could stay there forever. The piano is home.

I would love for singing to feel like home. You'd think that would be an easier feat; after all, your voice comes from inside you, from your body, and what is more "home" than your own body? No giant contraption of wood and strings and ivory is needed to produce the sound; it's just you.

But for me, playing the instrument of voice is like wearing someone else's ill-fitting clothes. They're my own clothes, for sure, but they are scratchy, stiff, and uncomfortable. They need to be broken in, washed a few dozen times, cared for properly. That's all it is, right? I need to learn to wear them, and wear them a lot, and one day they'll feel like they fit.

The piano, in contrast, is the velvety-soft bathrobe that I've had forever.

I don't want to stop taking voice. That's not the question. The question is, Do I start taking piano? There are two barriers here: money and time. If it's $50 a week for piano, I can probably pull it off, though it wouldn't be easy. But time? I barely have time to practice voice. How will I make time to practice both? And if I sign up for lessons and don't have time to practice, what good is that? And what if I practice lots of piano but neglect voice-practice even more than I already do?

Many of my friends would say that I don't need piano lessons. And maybe I don't ... but I think I do, if I'm going to get better and play some of the pieces I've dreamed of playing.

So that's the question I'm struggling with. It's a lovely, first-world kind of problem to have: Do I take piano lessons? Do I make even more room in my already-overstuffed life for music? If I look at it practically, the obvious answer is "No." But if I look at it any other way--like from the perspective of myself as a 90-year-old wracked by arthritis, or from the perspective of someone who doesn't have an easy, first-world life--I think I'm crazy not to do it.

It's time to go wake up my daughter. Thanks for listening, blog!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why Things Don't Happen

Some of the fun from the past week: Playing in the water sprinkler

I have three blogs now: this one, my professional blog, and my piano-practice blog. None of them are updated on any semblance of a regular basis, though I was doing a pretty good job with the professional blog for a few weeks. I was blogging every Saturday morning, but ... my professional life got in the way. I've spent the past few Saturday mornings working instead of blogging. And so the professional blog appears to be in the middle of a long summer's nap.

I posted a couple of things to the piano-practice blog last week, after getting Henry (my new old piano) tuned. I was hoping to practice every day, even if it was just 5 or 10 minutes of Hanon or scales or arpeggios. I was hoping to post my progress. But ...


Things just don't happen the way I want them to. To blogging and piano practice, you can add exercise, voice practice, and quiet time in general. And cooking and housework--not things I want to do, but things that need to get done.

Usually the issue is work: I have more work to do each week, than I can fit in a week of 8- to 9-hour days. So I work a few hours on Saturday, and then another hour or two on Sunday. And I'm still not caught up.

But we've had a lot of visitors lately, too. My parents and my sister and her girls were here for several days, and then this past weekend we had some friends from the neighborhood over for dinner. And then yesterday, my brother and his family visited and stayed last night. Don't get me wrong; these were all wonderful visits. I loved seeing my family, I loved spending time with my neighbors, and I particularly loved seeing my brother, my sister-in-law, and their sweet little ones, whom I hadn't seen in over a year. But now I need some quiet time: a few aimless hours at a coffee shop where I can sit alone, write, and think. Or a few aimless hours at the piano, where I can do those scales, practice some Chopin, improvise some stuff.

Normally, my "quiet times" come on Saturday mornings. And/or Sunday afternoons. But I have something scheduled for most nights for the next couple of weeks, as well as for the weekends. I see no quiet time in sight.

And that stresses me out. And the stress makes me feel exhausted because my mind can't rest. When my mind can't rest, I can't sleep. And when I can't sleep, I can't wake up early to exercise or write. And when I can't exercise or write, I feel yucky. And I just wake up and go to work. And work all day. And then play my mom/wife role after work. And next thing I know, it's 11:00 at night, and it's been another day without a single quiet moment. And this is how life flies past.

I guess I'm having quiet moments now, though, taking time to write something.

I need to find some quiet moments where I can figure out a way to better plan my quiet moments. I have to plan them, because they won't happen on their own. They rarely do.

All righty. It looks like I might have a half-hour of quiet time right now. So I'll write a quick letter to my niece (who is at summer camp) and maybe practice a bit of piano.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Henry the Grand

This is Henry.

I am in love with Henry. He makes my heart feel like it's going to burst. He's a rickety old Everett grand piano, but even a rickety old grand can work miracles. His ivory keys are yellowed and chipped, and he has some water stains in the wood that I may never get rid of completely. But he's my Henry, and I love him.

George has been a good piano. He's the piano my parents bought in 1974, and he's the piano I've played and loved for more than 40 years now. He's been my solace so many times. And he's been moved from apartment to apartment, state to state, ever since my parents gave him to me to keep back in the early 1990s. I still have him, but he's going to go to a very good home soon.

And now I have Henry. I have so little experience playing on ivory keys, and I just can't explain how they feel under the fingers. Warm. Responsive. Like they're communicating with my deepest self. It's weird. Perhaps it's just my imagination. (Ya think?) And I write all this, knowing that I may eventually replace them all with plastic.

And the power of the sound ... it's nothing like ol' George.

Still, I will cry real tears when George goes to his new home. He is a part of my most profound identity. He helped shape it; he is part of my soul. When I give away George, I'll give away a part of myself.

But Henry is already part of me, too. He came to me free, from a church that didn't want or need him. Moving, cleaning, and tuning ended up costing almost $1,000, so he wasn't totally free. But now I have a gorgeous antique piano with a surprisingly good sound, and a magical feel under the fingers that just makes my heart overflow with love.

I know all of these descriptions sound a overly sensual, but that's what piano has always been for me.

Sadly, I am so out of practice. I'm tempted to start taking lessons again because I know I need them. Not that I have the time ...

I love Henry. Henry loves me. I've loved my sweet George for 44 years, and now he's going to go to someone who doesn't have a piano but is going to love him as much as I have for so many years. (Well, maybe not as much. But almost?)

Life is good. It really is. So why can't I stop crying?

Friday, May 11, 2018

Dark Place Today

I managed to make it through the day yesterday without having a panic attack. Not sure how I'll do today--my body is so tense, and my throat so tight, that I have to focus on breathing. By 2:00 yesterday, I was wiped out.

I keep thinking people are pissed at me. This is a common symptom of depression with me, assuming the worst about people's intentions toward me. But I made a mistake last year--when I thought a co-worker, one of my Girl Scout friends, and two of my neighbors were mad at me. I blew it off, sure that I hadn't done anything to provoke anger. And then it turned out they were all mad, and they all waited months to tell me. It turns out there were misunderstandings all around. But still, I don't know if I should trust my instincts, or not. I've lost faith in my ability to do that.

Of those four people, I'm still friends with my co-worker, and the other three are history.

I was super-sensitive as a teenager, but I kinda got over a lot of that as I grew up. But for some reason, the events of last year with those four friends (well, one friend and three ex-friends), really threw me for a loop. I have trouble trusting people now. Living in this new town, I've found that people are very nice, but I can't help but wonder what darkness is behind the friendly smiles.

So yes, I'm in a dark place, when instead of focusing on the good things in life (and there are plenty), I'm sitting here thinking about how friends betrayed me, and how painful the whole experience was, and how angry I am that my ability to trust myself and others were stolen. My husband would be able to just forget about it and move on, but I'm not so strong--or so forgiving, I guess.

Let's try to make it through the day without any craziness ...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Down, Then Up, Then Down Again

After my "I don't hate how I sing anymore" post of a couple of days ago, I'm now thinking of quitting choir.

I went to choir practice last night and had a panic attack. I was trying to sing, but I could only get out a squeak. I couldn't breathe.

A couple of things led up to it. I'm being super-sensitive here, but I'm going to write it anyway.

When we get to choir practice on Sunday morning, I usually put my purse in a chair and then go to put on my robe. Several times (at least four times that I've noticed), the person who would have been sitting next to me had gotten up and moved to another chair by the time I got back. Coincidence? Possibly. I mean, new people come in and people want to sit with certain people, or talk to certain people, so they'll move. But after this happened a couple of times, I thought, "Are they moving so they don't have to sit by me?" And once that seed of doubt starts growing, it's like a weed out of control.

Another thing I've noticed a few times: The person who is sitting next to me subtly moves their chair away so that they're closer to the person on the other side of them. And it wasn't because they needed to share music.

Another coincidence? Why would someone do that, unless it's because I was singing so off-key that it was distracting them?

Both of those things happened last night. And the weed of doubt was more like a vine wrapping my heart in a death-squeeze.

So we were doing this one song, and I lost my place. My mind started reeling, and I wasn't able to find where we were, even after someone showed me twice on her music. So I careened into a panic attack and I had to get up and leave. I waited until practice was over and most people were gone before I went back in to get my purse. No one noticed me, thank God, so I was able to leave without talking to anyone.

Am I that bad of a singer? I know I'm better than I was. One problem, though, is that I have trouble hearing myself when that many people are singing near me, so I can't tell if I'm hitting the right note or not. Even if I sing louder than is comfortable, I can't hear. I don't know if that's normal, or if it's related to my hearing loss.

I do know that I've gotten a lot better at singing on pitch. When I can hear myself, I hardly ever miss, and if I do miss, I know I'm missing. And it's usually because I got lazy and wasn't focusing. But in choir, I can't tell if I'm missing or not.

Of course, no one gives me any feedback, so I have no idea if I sound good or bad, or if people can even hear me at all.

All in all, the panic attacks seem to be coming at me from left and right, and I need to eliminate the unnecessarily stressful things from my life. Sadly, choir has become stressful, and I don't think it is a good fit. So I'm going to quit, at least for a while. I'll continue taking voice lessons. I'd like to join the choir again once I get past all of these anxiety/panic issues.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

DIY Mad Gab: Hee-ho Power

Overheard by my hard-of-hearing self at a product planning meeting today:
  • It's time for goose fat
  • Going over indeliments
  • It's another important dinner lane
  • We're gonna include Walt Wayne
  • It has a sort of hee-ho power
  • Does the song fit everyone?
  • Those are the twosome ponies
And now my brain is tired and I wish people all came with closed-captioning.

Noodling on Cm7

This is the kind of thing I've been doing lately , now that I have Henry. I'll practice other things, but I fall back into "noo...