Birthday blogging: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?, updated
By buying a ticket, in my case, since my music skills are not Carnegie quality. I started taking piano lessons when I was 11-12 years old, in an old piano that, no matter how many times you tuned it, the small octave b-flat key sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t. I really enjoyed playing the piano, and made good progress.
However, I truly hated having to play the piano for a parade of relatives and friends of my parents. The idea of playing the piano for the public was totally repellent.
When I left for college I packed up some of my music books and managed to practice at the rehearsal pianos of the music department, and years (and a lot of saving!) later I bought myself a nice Kawai baby grand that sounds really nice. Yes, the pesky small octave b-flat key works perfectly. So now I play for my own enjoyment. Most of my friends have never heard me play.
For which they are probably grateful. I’m particularly fond of Baroque music, which means the technique has to be in Good Shape. My technique isn’t — that’s for sure.
I love listening to live Baroque music, and up until two years ago, The Principality had two top-quality opportunities for the Baroque fan. The easiest to get to was Sunday Mass at Trinity Church. Dr Andrew Shenton, who was the organist, has flawless technique and supreme musicianship. The postlude after mass sometimes included Tocata in D, which is available on CD. Unfortunately for us, Dr. Shenton was offered a job as head of the church music department at Georgetown University (I believe it was Georgetown), and so much for that. The other opportunity for listening to excellent Baroque music was the annual visits to The University by the Concert Royal group led by James Richman. Richman is a brilliant harpsichordist and every year did one solo concert that was (to me) the high point of the season. Richman also was offered a very tempting position — in his case, in Dallas — and now one has to travel to listen to him (most recently, this past Saturday and yesterday in the Fetes Venetiennes – a commedia show – at Florence Gould Hall in NYC, which I wasn’t able to attend). So, for now I’ve been listening to CDs. Will have to pay more attention to the roster of visiting performers at McCarter Theater.
In the meantime, the quality of my own playing had reached a nadir such that I faced reality and dusted off my old practice books. It was time to get back to square one. Therefore, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been practicing
- two pages of Schmitt (Op. 16) Preparatory Exercises for the Piano. This has to be the most boring exercise book ever, so 2 pages is about my limit
- Two pages of Czerny (Op. 823) The Little Pianist, much more entertaining than Schmitt (but then, peeling wallpaper outdoes Schmitt on the entertainment values)
- Four scales and four exercises from Czerny’s (Op. 299) The School of Velocity
- Four exercises of Hanon’s The Virtuoso Pianist.
I’m sure those of you visitors who are purists are frowning that I’m not following the directions from any of the books, but the idea is to improve my technique while I’m enjoying the drills. With this menu, I’ve been managing a daily half-hour of solid, and enjoyable, practice.
Now I’m happy to report that last evening I managed to play (slowly) an easy version of Bach’s Solfeggio in C Minor (original version here) without actually blundering anything. This I call progress. After that comes playing the original version AND working on the faster tempo.
Next thing you know I’ll start working on the run-in sentences I’m so fond of when I write. But I’m not quite ready for that.
Update Robert says “often paraphrase Oscar Wilde when asked why I don’t play for people: The trouble with sight-reading is that when one plays well, nobody listens. And when one plays poorly, nobody talks.”