Saturday, July 26, 2014

Old -- eight eyes?

I've worn glasses since I was 8 years old. At first I would sometimes forget to put them on when I went to school; as time passed and I became more nearsighted, they progressed from optional to necessary.

When I was about 20, I started wearing contact lenses, which worked for me until sometime in my 40s, which was when I became deeply embedded in my job that involved staring at a computer all day in a dry office. The contact lenses were more trouble than they were worth.

About 10 years ago, I noticed I was having trouble reading at close distances -- enter progressive lenses. These have served me pretty well. I eventually acquired prescription sunglasses, also with progressive lenses (after an ophthalmologist told me that if I didn't protect my eyes better I'd end up with cataracts sooner rather than later).

Sometime in the past month or two, I noticed I was having increasing difficulty reading music at the piano. I could see the music, but I couldn't focus my eyes well enough to take in its meaning. This really evidenced itself when I was playing piano duo music -- I was straining my eyes so hard that I felt dizzy. So back to the eye doctor, who, after some testing, wrote me out a prescription for "piano glasses." Within a day, I had my new glasses in hand.

They do indeed enable me to read music on the piano, and it's beautifully clear. But it's disconcerting to look across the room (to see what time it is, for example) and see -- a blur. At first when I tried them out for reading music while playing the cello, they they didn't work, but as my eyes have become accustomed to them, they help with that as well. I doubt if they would work in an orchestra situation because it would be hard to see the conductor. So I may not be done with adding eyeglasses to my life.

I have noticed, even in this short time, that in a strange way they help me focus on what I'm doing at the piano because I can't look away. I can look either at the music or the keyboard, but nowhere else. It made me aware how much I look around the room or away from the piano when I'm playing. With the glasses on, I become more tunnel-visioned on either the music or my hands -- and I think this is a good thing.

Friday, July 4, 2014

What happened to June?

I woke up yesterday and realized that it's now July and that I didn't write a single blog post in the month of June. But things have been going on -- in fact, this past weekend ended the month in a veritable whirl of musical activity.

On Friday, I drove out to the far reaches of Virginia for not one but two rehearsals. The first was with a pianist I've been working with on chamber music. For her benefit, we are doing some cello-piano duos, and for mine, some piano-four-hand duos. On this particular day, we were preparing three movements of the "Dolly Suite" by Fauré for a recital on Sunday. It's not terribly difficult, but playing four-hand piano is new to me and gives me a new perspective on the piano.

After an hour or so of that, I had to rush over to a rehearsal for a concert of Piazzolla tangos with a small string ensemble. This was the same group I played the absurd concert with in May. For this gig, we were playing about 20 different pieces with a bandoneon player, which was logistically challenging, and they were not all that easy, either. We rehearsed for 5 hours and didn't exactly polish everything, although I was again impressed by the level of playing.

Saturday, after teaching a cello lesson in between some frantic practicing, I put on some dressy black clothes and set out for the tango concert. This time we were in a beautiful performance space (a converted movie theater that now features semi-pop groups) with a great sound system. The gig itself was at 8:30 p.m., but we were supposed to be there at 5:00 for a sound check -- which meant a couple hours of cooling our heels until performance time. The one-hour sound check ended with some warm words (well, actually, yelling) between the conductor and the soloist. I never found out what it was all about, but by the time of the concert, everything was fine again. There were a few wobbly moments here and there, but overall it didn't sound too bad.

Sunday I participated in the final AMSF public recital of the season. My adult cello student played a Vivaldi sonata, and I accompanied her on the cello. Vivaldi wrote nine sonatas for cello and continuo, with the latter part being simply a bass line. The player of the chordal instrument (e.g., harpsichord, lute) was expected to improvise an accompaniment. So we were in fact playing the piece exactly as written, though maybe not as intended!

My piano duo partner and I played our three movements of Fauré also. In this genre of music, the "primo" is the person who sits at the high end of the piano, and the "secondo" sits at the low end and works the pedal, so the latter part is usually more difficult though perhaps less obviously so. I was playing the primo part.

My piano teacher attended the recital and made the interesting observation that I did great things with my very easy primo part, which consists mainly of the melody in octaves, so he was wondering how to get me to do the same thing with all of my music! We spent a good chunk of my lesson a few days later working on this with the Brahms Intermezzo I'm learning (Op. 119 No. 1) -- not just bringing out the melody line, but also shaping and adjusting it in context, and learning how to treat it as the vital element that it is. For some reason, this gave me a lot of insight into things we've been talking about for the past 2+ years. It's one thing to say "bring out the melody," but you have to experience what that means to be able to do it.

Speaking of doing, it's now been exactly a year since I gave notice at my job. It has gone by awfully quickly. I keep worrying that I'm wasting this beautiful time that I have now; I never feel like I'm accomplishing enough. But I have no regrets.