Archive for the ‘Piano’ Category

Fa la la la la…


Tis the season for concerts. 

Last night my choir performed one of our two Christmas concerts in a church in Woodstock, NB.  It was my first time in this church.  It is big; the crowd was a normal size and would have filled our normal venues but it seemed small in this church.  It is old; the ceilings are high and have the original wood panelling.  There is a big pipe organ at the front of the sanctuary but I was allowed to play their half or 3/4 grand piano (I’m not sure which it is). 

All of this lends to a rockin’ place for a 50+ voice choir to stretch their vocal muscles.  The choir has a huge sound on a normal day but the acoustics in this church make for an enormous, full sound that would make the hair on the back of anyone’s neck stand on end. 

As I get older, I appreciate more and more the effects of music on a person’s soul.  I’m not speaking of the soul in spiritual terms here but rather of that essence that is deep within each of us and makes us who we are.  Our self.  What makes us an individual.  We all have a soul, regardless of how deep it may be buried or how much attention we may pay it. 

Each of our souls is stimulated by different things.  What turns you on does not necessarily turn me on.  For you it may be watching a lively football game or pushing yourself extra hard on a jog.  If that gets your motor running, I’m glad to hear it. 

For me it is music.  And while I appreciate a good tune on the radio as much as the next person, in this case I am talking about making music. 

I have always been musical.  It has always been close to me and part of my life, whether it was piano lessons at age 6 or accompanying the high school choir at the parliament buildings in grade 11.  Lately, though, the effect it has on me feels much deeper, like it’s striking a chord within me that I didn’t know I had. 

At the concert last night, in addition to our choir, there were two solos performed by young girls aged about 7 or 8 I would guess.  They were simple Christmas carols.  Nothing fancy.  Maybe it was the acoustics in that church but I imagine that’s what angels sound like.  Their little voices were so strong and so clear and so brave (I did it when I was young but now I wonder how a 7-year-old ever drums up the courage to stand in front of 100 people, look them in the eyes, and sing).  As cheesy as it sounds, I saw my future daughter or son in those little girls and hoped that music would enter into their lives in some way.  The thought brought tears to my eyes. 

On one of the choir’s pieces I leave the piano to play a djembe hand drum alongside a string bass played by Wes, a high school student.  It is different but fun to set aside the exactness of playing a piece on the piano and switch to the randomness of pounding on a drum instead (although there is a knack to those drums; if you are actually pounding randomly, you might as well be banging your fist against the wall). 

The choir performs many selections but none of them are as stirring as the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  The accompaniment is complicated and loud and impressive.  The vocal parts are urgent and loud and perfect for a venue like that church. 

On a regular Tuesday, rehearsing at the high school (where sound is quickly swallowed by low ceilings and bad acoustics), the Hallelujah Chorus moves me.  In that church, the 50+ voices became 150.  Every high soprano note went straight through me.  Every strong bass line underscored the sheer scale of that song.  The music filled the high ceiling of that church and danced there. 

As the song moves along it just gets stronger and bigger and more fervent.  The final page is a melee of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts that are all made up of different notes but that come together in a passionate conclusion.  Voices are stretched and my fingers are pounding out the notes and then, in the third-to-last bar, everything comes to an abrupt stop for two beats. 

Last night, in those two silent beats, the voices of the bar before echoed through the church.  They echoed.  The only other sound was the gasp of someone in the crowd. 

It was awe-inspiring.  Impassioned.  The air was charged with the music we had created and it was such an emotional thing that, after the final two bars of the song, I was trembling.  My breath was literally taken away. 

There isn’t much that speaks to my soul like that. 

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Last night was one of those times when I really wanted to just laze around home. 

I was so very close to calling my piano students and cancelling last night.  I had no good reason other than just wanting to relax.  But I didn’t cancel.  I realized that if I cancelled I would not be doing any good for them, I would be walking away from a commitment, and that I would just feel like crap about it today.  Sometimes responsibility sucks. 

The kids were tired, it being the day after halloween, and they were all coming off of sugar highs, I’m sure.  The youngest girl especially (seven years old) was extremely tired and grumpy.  This all resulted in her feeling very upset that she hadn’t practiced during the week and would disappoint me.  The idea that this seven year old would care to impress me was quite touching, especially after all of the excitement of the week. 

We worked through the piano lesson though.  I poked and prodded her and she made it through, even after mashing her hands on the keys in frustration and crossing her arms, saying “I can’t do it!”.  (She really is the cutest thing)

My background is in computers; I’ve never had to sit down with a child and teach them something.  Even though I know my shit when it comes to the piano, my biggest fear is that I won’t be able to teach the concept in a fun way.  Knowing something and teaching it are two very different things. 

With a child you need to make it engaging and fun or their interest will quickly turn to the fly on the wall or the boy that farted in class that day.  This particular student is distracted and fidgety on a good day so, with 10 minutes left in the lesson and an attention span that was quickly dying, I knew I had to do something different to keep her with me. 

I always get my beginner kids to pick out keys on the keyboard.  Example:  “Play all of the Gs on the keyboard”.  Last night, at the last minute, it occurred to me to try something different.  I said to her, “Play all of the Es like a princess would”.  And then, “Play all of the As like a rock star!”.  It was enough to keep her going and, though I didn’t anticipate it, parts of her personality came out that I had never seen before!  I gave her a chance to stretch her imagination and saw a different little girl as a result. 

Apparently princesses are prissy and rock stars are really quite boring in her world. 

Anyway, the point of the story is that I’m glad I didn’t shirk my duties; if I had, karma would not have rewarded me with those good lessons, the smile of that little girl, and the feeling of satisfaction I had as I left their house. 

<Sigh>… if only every moment of every day were that rewarding. 

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My ink

I have alluded to a tattoo a couple of times… here, finally, are a couple of pics. 

I got the music note while attending a conference in Kissimmee, FL a few years back.  Sitting around in a hotel room?  Bored?  Why not go get a tattoo?! 

While I was in Montreal on training a couple of months ago I decided it was time to add to it.  No, it wasn’t because a few people decided that “music from the butt” was just too funny not to mention everytime they saw it.  Okay … so it wasn’t just that.  Believe what you hear … tattoos are addictive! 

So I designed the piano keys that you see, went to a tattoo parlor called Adrenaline on a Wednesday night, looked at many artists’ photos, decided on Ron (yes, that is an udder in his hand), and booked the appointment for Thursday evening. 

I liked his work, it was as simple as that, but Ron turned out to be the coolest guy … we found lots to talk about including the Dominican and some of the oldtime rockers he has met.  He was just all around easy to talk to.  I couldn’t have been more at ease and would definitely go back to him … no question. 

tattoo2_blog1.jpg        tattoo_blog.jpg

And YES… it hurt!  Let’s think about that for just a moment before asking me, mmmkay?  I can say it isn’t a crazy, unbearable pain … it’s more of an aggravating scraping that makes you grit your teeth a bit and then it’s done and he’s moving on to a different line.  The lines definitely hurt worse than the color.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 

I am definitely a fan of the Adrenaline shop.  It was very clean, not at all intimidating, and the staff was really friendly to me. 

I will would definitely go back when  if I get another tattoo. 


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… Carleton County Music Festival time! 

I love this week:  Young’uns all dressed up in their fancy clothes, walking confidently up to the piano to play the song they have practiced feverishly for weeks (well… some of them anyway).  It’s so great to see the pride on their faces when they’ve nailed the song.  And quite heartbreaking to see the disappointment all over their faces when they’ve struggled through a song due to nerves or simply not having enough practice.  I love going to the final concert on Friday nights and watching how children react to the crowd of people all gathered to hear their little song.  It’s priceless. 

It is so nostalgic for me.  I remember so vividly being one of those performers.  You get one shot to show them what you’ve got.  It doesn’t matter if you could play that song in your living room, in your sleep, backwards, and with one arm tied behind your back.  Sometimes, in the moment, your nerves get the better of you or you are thrown off by having just watched four kids play an interpretation of the same song or your fingers just plain out won’t do it that day.  It’s disappointing, knowing that if you could just get up and do it again… but no, you just have to walk away. 

There are those moments of perfection that make the hours of practice so worth it though.  To get up and play a piece well gives you confidence like nothing else I’ve experienced, especially when it’s a piece that you have really had to work at.  I still get a rush onstage, playing with the choir, when those few tough bars just roll off your fingers.  No one else in the crowd will ever know that you worked and were sweating over that piece but that doesn’t matter… you know and that is all you need to hold your head high and keep at it. 

The music festival was such a great experience that I will always urge my students to participate.  It gives them confidence, shows them what playing in front of an audience is like, and lets them hear and see other students at the piano.  It is an invaluable lesson when you compare it to the student and I sitting at a piano alone, hammering out a song. 

And another added bonus?  Having my piano teacher of many many years watch one of my students perform.  Whether they performed well or not, having the woman there that was with me from age 6 to age 17 is really special.   

I can only hope that some day my students will experience the thrill and satisfaction you feel when someone tells you that they really enjoy listening to your music.  This year I’m learning that it is as much of a thrill to watch one of your students perform well and, even more importantly, enjoy it.  That’s what it’s all about… sharing a love of music.    

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