Saturday, January 31, 2009

Enya has lots of voices. I needed only one.

Interesting fact about Enya's music: She doesn't use a choir. It's her voice recorded in multiple tracks, so she's harmonizing with herself.

I didn't need to do that, since I had Shannon. She wasn't quite as melodic as my missing copy, but I'm sure I'll enjoy this recording for a long time.

It's a little rough at the end, but not badly improvised in my opinion.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

So sad

Surprisingly I got a good recording of Watermark yesterday. Surprising not in the fact that I could get it done, but that I had time to do it. Wednesdays are generally busy and we had in Jacob getting to visit a friend that lives far enough away he needs an escort.

So without further ado, here's the song..... ER WAIT THE MICROPHONE WAS ON MUTE. Gah. And that's not really the sad part. The recording was good, but I probably would have redone it if not for one fantastic detail. My little girl was singing accompaniment. Now, I've lost that moment in time.

So sad.

But here's a picture that will make me happy:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Back to normal

Piano class went very well today. He was impressed with my Watermark performance, which really just means he didn't see my horrible attempts at recording it last night.

That one should be retired as far as class is concerned. We worked on the first two lines of Claire de Lune and he gave me the music from the theme to The Corpse Bride. The composer Danny Elfmann, has done a lot of work with Tim Burton specifically and a lot of work with Hollywood period. Check out his filmography on the link. It's a pretty impressive list.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Anna Magdalena Bach

Anna Magdalena Wilcke became Johann Sebatian Bach's second wife on September 22, 1701.  She came from a musical family and was influential in Bach's compositions both as an inspiration and transcriber.  It's suggested that she also composed a few of his pieces, though, it's undetermined on how accurate those suggestions are.

She's relevent to this discussion because of two notebooks that Bach presented to her as gifts.  The 1725 book started with two pieces by Johann, and then was filled with Anna's collection from other composers of the time.  Musette has an unknown composer, but guesses are that it was one of Bach's sons or Anna Magdalena herself.

Here's the best recording of it I can find.  It's a simple piece, but technically challenging.  There is a nice mix of stacatto left hand with right hand legato.  There are also big jumps on both hands.  If you browse through some of the other you tube clips you'll see a lot of pausing while people sight out the jumps.  

Friday, January 23, 2009

Night Song is finally complete. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to keep me from pissing myself off further. At the very end where there's a delay, that's called panic. I couldn't find the keys to hit that proper CEGC chord.

Ah well. I'll take it out on Watermark. Next in the pipeline is that or an Anna Magdelena Bach piece called Musette. I'll give you the low down on that when I can't get the next piece up in a reasonable amount of time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Longest lesson that didn't amount to much

Last week my piano lesson was cancelled since Larry got a flat tire and couldn't make it back home in time.  No big deal as he just planned on making it up this week, and we nearly always run 15 to twenty minutes long every week anyway.

This week I made the mistake of asking if I should be practicing scales each week.  His answer was "Absolutely" followed up by a 30 minute diatribe, er monologue, on technique practice.

He's correct, of course, but he could have shortened the lecture by 25 minutes and I would have understood.  

On the positive side, he was very impressed with Watermark finding only a few flaws (bring out the melody more; read the music so I don't get lost.. shocking, I know.)

He didn't give me a new piece, but suggested I start work on Clair de Lune.  Yikes.  Even if I start, don't look for that posted on here for months.

The frustrating part

Got quite a bit of practice in last night, but very little progress.  It's really frustrating to know all the parts of the song, but be unable to put the whole thing together.  It's especially frustrating in an easy song like Night Song.

Watermark presents another problem.  The left hand is an over an octave run.  There's only 4 or 5 variations but they are hard to jump to without looking.  Worse, the whole song is very easy to memorize.  So, instead of looking at the music, I look at my hands.  This is not a good way to get better.  Yes, when it comes to performance you're supposed to have it memorized, but for this point in my development I should still be reading.  For recording purposes, I should definitely be using the music as a notecard at the very least.

Anyway, we'll see what my teacher says today.  I think he'll be pretty surprised at my progress on Watermark as I haven't been the most dilligent worker up until lately.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thanks for all the reads

I'm happy to see that people are reading the blog.  It certainly encourages me to get to the keyboard and get some more material performed.  

I lied about my next piece not being Watermark.  It might be after all.  I've been trying to record either it or a tune called Night Song, which is really just an excercise, but it sounds nice and complicated.  Both are at about the same point so I'll just record until I can get one of them completed and then post.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tumbalalaika - Win

First, I apologize for the video quality. I didn't do anything different from the last one (exception: more lighting), but this has a wierd video glitch at the top and some audio popping. So weird.

Anyway. Success! I haven't yet decided my next piece. It won't be Watermark. I am very excited with how this is going though. I hope you're enjoying following along.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Recording Challenges

Recording Tumbalalaika presents a challenge.  It's a dance.  That means it should properly be played with a lot of energy and volume.  The only time I get good recording time is when the kids are asleep.  While Jacob wouldn't wake up before 5am if you blew a megaphone in his ear, Shannon isn't such a heavy sleeper.  No amount of personal pride in a job well done is worth waking her.

She does like hearing me play, while Jacob couldn't care less.  I'll just have to take advantage when the boy is out playing with his friends and hope Shannon doesn't decide to sing along.  Though, in all reality, it would probably make the recording better.

My choice of recordings are from a library I've been putting together of songs that I have learned over the last 4 years that I think are interesting enough (and that I've enjoyed enough) to want to perform.  Both Scarborough Fair and Tumbalalaika are from very early in my lessons, but played well they are still performance worthy in my opinion.

I'm trying to decide what will come next.  I have more older pieces, but my current class project is Enya's Watermark which is coming along much faster than I expected.  It's amazing what consistent practice will do for you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009



A young lad stands, and he thinks
Thinks and thinks a whole night
Whom to take and not to shame
Whom to take and not to shame

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbalalaika, strum balalaika
Tumbalalaika, may we be happy

Girl, girl, I want to ask of you
What can grow, grow without rain?
What can burn and never end?
What can yearn, cry without tears?

Foolish lad, why do you have to ask?
A stone can grow, grow without rain
Love can burn and never end
A heart can yearn, cry without tears

What is higher than a house?
What is swifter than a mouse?
What is deeper than a well?
What is bitter, more bitter than gall?

A chimney is higher than a house
A cat is swifter than a mouse
The Torah is deeper than a well
Death is bitter, more bitter than gall

Tumbalalaika is a Russian Jewish Folk song.  There's a really good performance on youtube here.  Sadly, the end is cut off.  I'd really like to know how old this song is, but I'm sure it goes way back.  There were Jews settling in across the Caucases as early as the 7th century.  By the 1400's their was a large presence in Western Russian and were granted settlement rights from the Lithuanians.  At least that's what this guys says.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Scarborough Fair - For real this time

There's a slight error in the first stanza and one right towards the end, but it's not catastrophic and will certainly pass for a first piece. I'll also plan better lighting next time, though I'm not entirely sure how to accomplish it if I'm recording at night.


Economics and Rock Band

I don't know how much random commenting I'll do, but I did see some relevence with this Freakonmics interview with Alex Rigopulos.  Alex is the co-founder of Harmonix, the creators of Rock Band and the previous incarnation of Guitar Hero.  It's unfortunate that Freakonics gives the headline to Guitar Hero, but that's a story best left to a different blog.

I love Guitar Hero and Rock Band.  In fact, for the second year running I hosted a Rock Band party for New Years and for the second time running stayed up until the sun rose with my brother and sister-in-law.  However, one of the issues I run into is that when ever Rock Band becomes too difficult, I see no reason to practice it when I have a piano in the other room.  I think the theory that it leads to studying a real instrument is convincing.  If I can ever figure out a way to have a 3 piece band with keyboard, bass, and drums, Eight Arms of Terror will become a reality.

In an unrelated argument that my brother and I had on the aforementioned Rock Band Party V, most of the critics I found feel Gerard Butler sings in falsetto in Phantom of the Opera.  However, there is some disagreement, and it probably can't be settled definitively without a direct comment from his voice trainer, him, or a scale.  Regardless, I'd say Don is right, though I could be persuaded back to the other side with some evidence.

Certainly not surprising

I could have recorded Scarborough Fair yesterday, but two kids running around aren't exactly conducive to a good sound environment.  The good news is that I got several good runthroughs of the song so confidence is high.

My piano teacher called though.  Apparently there's been someone in his neighborhood swiping checks.  I mail mine to him, but I think I was late enough that it shouldn't have arrived yet.  How easy is it to cash a check that doesn't have your name on it?

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Er sorry about that. If I can keep at it, this blog should do wonders for my practice time and performance.

Scarborough Fair

My first attempt at a quality recording didn't go so well. I say that, but I guess on the whole it was a positive. While I only came away with one decent recording of Scarborough Fair, I could tell that I'm trying a lot harder when I'm putting something together for presentation.

So, if I can keep with this .. oh look something shiny!

Friday, January 9, 2009


Welcome to Certainly Not Presto.  This is going to be a catalog of my attempts at learning piano, and the pace, so far, has dictated the blog title.

As a quick intro, I started playing a 5 years ago.  I had a small background in music with a few years in junior high band playing the trombone.  It certainly helped because I had had some theory, rhythm, and reading the music of course.  It let me get right into learning to play rather than learning to read.

My initial goal was to play Pachebel's Canon in D.  Two years later I played it at a recital.  Well, I thought I had anyway.  It was actually an easy arrangement of "The Canon" as my first teacher would have called it.  Since then I've gotten a couple more versions, and I really need to polish my most recent.

The next year I had a more ambitious goal with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.  It took me a year, but I learned it and felt pretty comfortable playing it with minor errors.  Unfortunately, playing it with pressure isn't the same as playing it for yourself and that recital didn't go so well.  But, I collected myself and finished it.  After that I left my teacher as I was in a rut and was neither adding to my library, nor making significant progress.  

Shortly thereafter I hired a new guy and he's been fantastic for my development.  I've gotten inspired again and have done well over the last 6 months.

My plan here is to share my progress for those that are interested, and by doing so build expectations such that I have short term goals as well as long term.

I should be able to host files up on youtube or podbean or whatever so that you can hear the pieces that I have learned.

I hope you enjoy taking this journey, even though it's pace is Certainly Not Presto.

edit:  One thing I should do is not assume my readers are familiar with music I reference.