I’ve been waiting for today. Today is my “New Music Day.” You see, this past year has been mostly dedicated to getting my writing career off the ground and moving my family from Ecuador back to the states, both of which were Herculean tasks. And while I still have much to learn about the publishing business and some pesky loose ends linger in getting resettled in North America, I am finally ready to get back to my piano.
Music has been part of my life since my father first sat down at the piano with me shortly after I turned six. He lovingly guided my music education for the next five years before deciding it would be better for me to study with someone else (claiming I was about to surpass him).
I went on to study with two very talented pianists and pedagogues during my teenage years, Cheryl Hamilton, a shy, multi-talented church musician, and Ann Guest, a woman who taught me as much about life off the bench as she did on it . Each of my early teachers provided a necessary piece of my musical puzzle: my father instilled in me a deep passion for the musical language, Cheryl taught me the value of economy and decisiveness in technique, and Ann helped me find ways to integrate my emotions into the music I studied without becoming maudlin (not easy for a teenage girl).
My favorite lessons were those right after a competition when my teacher and I would choose new music. I always looked forward to “New Music Day.” Now don’t get me wrong. I loved taking a piece, working it, memorizing it, living with it, dreaming about it, humming it, and bringing it up to performance level. But after eight or nine months of exclusively working on only a handful of pieces, I would be hungry for new material.
So Much Music, So Little Time!
I hate to admit it, but I am a bit of a snob when it comes to music and books. We only have “X” amount of time before we all bite the proverbial “big one,” so I want to make sure the limited time I do have is spent on scores and chapters that are worthwhile. I take my time (sometimes too much time) in choosing which composers and authors I give part of my life to.
So here I am, seated at my new Yamaha studio piano, a mountain of music books stacked in front of me. Luckily, some choices are easy. Like, Bach. Talk about longevity. You can never go wrong choosing a Bach Prelude, Fugue, or Invention. I always have a Bach piece going because it is the equivalent of working on a crossword puzzle in a foreign language while holding the pen in your non-dominant hand. Playing Bach is just good for your brain. And it doesn’t really matter which piece you choose because they are all hard. ALL of them. I’ve played most of the Inventions, but just realized I never got around to learning the second one in C minor. New Bach Invention, check.
Another no-brainer, at least for this month, is the Graceful Ghost Rag by William Bolcom. I have always loved the bittersweet, nostalgic pulse that runs through this haunting piece but I have put off learning it because rags are not necessarily my favorite genre. I thought I would become bored with this piece quickly, but I found myself humming the third section melody yesterday. And it really does seem appropriate to learn it with Halloween peeking around the corner. Graceful Ghost Rag, check.
I like having several pieces at varying stages going at any one time. That way, if I am really struggling with one piece, at least I can play something that is a little more polished and realize that even though I once struggled with that piece, too, I was eventually able to “get” it. So I will go back and revisit the first and second pieces from Schubert’s Moments Musicaux. Relearning music is kind of like reading a book twice in that you always notice something new the second time through. And I like that. Schubert, check.
Now, the hard part. Choosing a longer term project. A meaty, tough piece I will have to chew on for months, maybe even a year. Perhaps a Beethoven sonata, like the first one in F minor, or the pithy “Pathetique,” or the driving third movement of the “Moonlight.” How about Mendelssohn’s Scherzo in E minor? Or perhaps something Impressionistic, like a piece from Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. OR, maybe I should finally tackle the “Revolutionary” Etude of Chopin. That was one of the pieces my father used to play. Hmm. And all this time I thought I had surpassed him.
So how will I choose my next long term piece? I will sight read through the above candidates then wait and see which piece my brain wakes me up with in the middle of the night. Not exactly scientific, I know, but I have found that if I am willing to get out of its way, my subconscious usually knows what I should do next. I can’t wait to see which piece finds me tonight…
It was Mendelssohn! That Scherzo woke me at exactly 4:18 this morning and has been dancing around in my head ever since. Mendelssohn, check. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some practicing to do. I just love new music days.
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes adult parables and short stories as well as books about yoga and meditation. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.
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