Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year winding down: Reflections

There are only about 60 hours left until the calendar turns to another year. In nature, this means nothing. For example, our cats give no thought to anything so artificial as the division of time into measurable units. They only know that we humans do roughly the same sorts of things on a regular basis (i.e., wake up, feed them, leave the house, come home, feed them, take showers, turn off all the lights and go to bed), and because they are genetically programmed to adapt their needs to those of the creatures they're mooching off of, they pay attention to that and come to expect it.

We humans, on the other hand, practically let the clock and calendar rule our lives. It's a constant struggle to balance the natural with the artificial. We can plug in and apply imaginary divisions all we want, but in the end we are physical, aging, changing bodies.

So on the one hand, I mark "the end of the year" like everyone else does, but on the other hand, it doesn't really mean anything beyond remembering to write "2011" on checks and letters and looking at a new Cat Lovers Against the Bomb calendar every day.

This same dichotomy between what actually is, physically, and how the actual is labeled, described, and divided threads its way through everything people do. I'm constantly aware of it in my musical endeavors. I think it's hard for a lot of people to on the one hand be in the moment with the music -- hear what you hear and feel what you feel -- and on the other keep enough distance to know that one day's practice, or even one year's performance, is only a small step. There is not one big goal, really, but rather many small ones that build up over time until the music is a part of how you think and who you are. I would equate it with learning a new language: each word, phrase, speech, book read or written, and so on, is a small goal on the way to becoming fluent, and becoming fluent is a means to being able to communicate in a new way, with people who would not have been able to understand you before (and vice versa).

Even something like learning to communicate in a new way is not necessarily the real goal, though; it is more that human beings seem to have a need to channel their energies into more than mere survival. To me, going through life without striving for something greater than the bare necessities seems like a waste.

I close my probably trite musings with someone else's similar thoughts:

Through the corridors of sleep
Past the shadows dark and deep
My mind dances and leaps in confusion.
I don't know what is real,
I can't touch what I feel
And I hide behind the shield of my illusion.

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall.

The mirror on my wall
Casts an image dark and small
But I'm not sure at all it's my reflection.
I am blinded by the light
Of God and truth and right
And I wander in the night without direction.

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall.

It's no matter if you're born
To play the King or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn 'tween joy and sorrow,
So my fantasy
Becomes reality,
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow.

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall.

--Simon & Garfunkle, "Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Beethoven's birthday!

The e-cital is up:

Ludwig van Beethoven: Celebrating 240 Years

My contribution here:

Sonata Op. 2 No. 3, First Movement

One thing's for sure: you can tell I didn't pirate this from a professional recording. But when I listen to this and remember how I was struggling with most of it a few months ago, I'm amazed. That's the magic of practicing.

If I had only done more slogging away a year ago, I might have been able to play all four movements by now.  But as I said to my husband, "It's a start."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Slogging away at Beethoven

A year ago, someone at Piano World decided to set up an online recital in honor of Beethoven's 240th birthday on December 16. I blithely signed up to play all of Op. 2 No. 3.

Months came, months went, and I still hadn't started working on it. I finally began focusing on it sometime in the summer. This is not an easy piece! I mentioned some of the difficulties with it here. The first movement alone has a whole bag of tricks you have to learn, with a first theme composed of a fidgety, nearly impossible motif involving double thirds, and a recurring bridge of trills in octaves, capped off with a closing figure of double broken octaves. Just that opening alone makes this one of the most impossible sonatas to manage reliably.  And that's just the first movement.

By October I shelved the idea of learning and recording all four movements for this occasion and have been concentrating on the first. With only a few days left to get something in digits, I am resigned to merely scratching the surface (if "scratching" is the right word here -- maybe if this were on the cello?).

The main thing I logged on here to say, though, is that even though my efforts fall far short of the ideal, just having the goal (date set to record and post) and some points of comparison (e.g., the Perahia recording I've been listening to) have pushed them way farther than what they could have been. Knowing I would have to sit down and play through the whole movement, with the repeat, without stopping, at somewhere near the preferred tempo, and have a permanent recorded record of it, is quite the motivator.

(And knowing that the professional recordings probably involve at least some amount of splicing and doctoring eases some of the frustration.)