Monday, September 20, 2010

Blogaversary and goals

It has been a year since I published my first post here.

I tend to take stock and compare with the year gone by more at this time of year than when the calendar turns in January; maybe it's my Jewish heritage coming out, or maybe it's just that I spent so many years in school. In any case, I've been thinking about what I've learned this past year and my musical goals for the near future.

Aside from a lot of pondering on philosophical questions, what I've actually done amounts to this:

September 2009: I played the cello at one of the English country dances at Glen Echo. I like doing these because the other musicians are usually very good, and it's a chance to practice improvising skills.

October 2009: I recorded Chopin Op. 27 No. 1, playing from memory. I felt that this was a good start on this piece. I think if I ever relearn it, it will be much better. I also played a concert with my chamber orchestra.

November 2009: I recorded the Bach Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major, Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, No. 3. I felt pretty good about this one. This is one of those pieces that I couldn't even imagine being able to play, let alone memorize, back in the day.

December 2009: I played the cello at two holiday folk events: an English country dance and a Scandinavian dance. These were with the large and loosely (very loosely) organized group that's been around for about 30 years, and they were what they were.

January 2010: I performed Dvorak's "Silent Woods" with an orchestra, playing from memory. This was one of the more satisfying cello performances I've done. The sound was close to what I imagined it should be, I felt comfortable in front of the audience, and I felt well prepared. This is also the first solo piece that I prepared for an important concert completely on my own from the beginning. It made me feel like a pro. On this same concert, we also played Brahms's Symphony No. 2, for which I coached the cello section, and I think we acquitted ourselves very respectably.

February 2010: I relearned and rerecorded Chopin Op. 55 No. 1. I felt good about how quickly I was able to redo this piece; however, I was not very happy with my performance. Though clean, it was just too, too fast. I should have recorded it a few more times, at least, to try to create a better interpretation. I think I was just feeling burned out about it and like no one really cared.

March 2010: I played the cello at an English country dance ball with two excellent folk musicians. I did a decent job, but nothing amazing. Not a high point of the year, though I'm glad I had the chance to do it.

April 2010: I recorded both the Bach Prelude and Fugue from WTC Book II, No. 2, in C minor, and Brahms Op. 118 No. 2. The Bach left a lot to be desired -- I think I just did not work on it correctly. I did too much fast playing and not enough slow playing. The Brahms, on the other hand, was gratifying because I finally memorized it and played it as well as your average anyone else. I continue to have the sneaking suspicion that I'm getting away with something by not having a teacher and not doing things the "traditional" way -- though of course, there are as many traditions as there are people, which is to say, a lot. I also played the third concert of the year with my chamber orchestra.

May 2010: I performed the Brahms on a recital. I didn't post the recording here at the time, but actually, I like it better than the one I did post here in April. It was more musical, even with the oopsies. I also played a long gig on the cello with our neighborhood group, where I felt I honed my improvisation skills a bit.

June, July, and August: In June, I played the final concert of the year with my chamber orchestra. In July, I played the Brahms in a master class for my old friend Brian Ganz, which was an interesting experience, and in August, I played the cello in a very large DC Youth Orchestra reunion concert at the Kennedy Center.

September 2010: Our neighborhood group played a gig that was relatively polished (if one can describe folk music as being "polished").

What I am happy about, looking at the list above, is that I continued to apply myself, both to continuing activities and to learning new things, throughout the year. Every month I did at least one musically engaging activity.

So what do I hope to accomplish in the coming year?

1. I'll continue to practice the piano every day. This seems to be a good thing to do. Though I heard this for years (i.e., "practice every day!"), what got me to actually do it was the MOYD challenge started by a Piano World member a few years back.

Click here for the link to the PW thread.

So there is some worthwhile stuff on the Internet.

2. I would really, really like to get better at performing on the piano. To that end, I will schedule at least a few performances on AMSF recitals. I can never decide whether it's better to do as many as possible, even if I don't feel prepared, or to play only when I feel as ready as possible. There are pros and cons to both approaches. One pro to doing lots of these is that you get a lot of experience at dealing with nerves and learning what to do to combat them. OTOH, bad performing experiences can have a detrimental effect on one's psyche; if you continue to have them, that's what you're practicing rather than playing music for people. So it's tricky.

3. I'm still going back and forth about taking lessons. What I'm contemplating now is going to someone to get help with specific pieces -- for example, the first movement of the Beethoven sonata I'm working on, which I would like to play on a recital in about two months, has multiple technical issues that I could use help with. And I'd like to see if there's a better way to learn Bach than what I've been doing. My experience with lessons throughout my life has not been so great overall; for one useful comment, I've had to put up with months, or even years, of not-so-helpfulness (or worse).

4. Other than that, I plan to just carry on carrying on.

If anyone is still out there reading (I know a few of you do check in from time to time), I hope you find at least some of my musings interesting, entertaining, or useful. Let me know! Comments are always fun to read.

So here's to another year.

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