Archives for posts with tag: piano

Hello, friends and family, old and new,

How are you today? Did you notice the new moon yesterday? I actually haven’t seen the moon in days… and I’ve been living outdoors and looking for it every day.

I’ve gone from days in the forest to days in a smallish town, to Washington, D.C. I’m sitting on the national mall as I write this. It’s a little surreal, actually, to be in a place of such… mythic importance to the culture I come from and modern empire. I’ll tell you stories from each place soon enough, but today I want to share something different with you.

I’ve been craving time at a piano. Every time I enter a new place, some part of me is always asking, “is this the sort of place that has a piano? It should be.” Well, Sunday, the Lutherans in Gaithersburg let me use their gorgeous instrument after their services were over, and I made a few scratch recordings to share with you.

It’s all pretty laid back. In fact, I think of the first two songs as lullabies. Why is the Desert so Lovely is from the Little Prince musical (with Gene Wilder). Tender Shepherd is from the Peter Pan musical. I played Michael Darling in it when was about 7 years old, and this song always stuck with me. I guess that was my first performance experience.

The Lone Wild Bird is a hymn I learned from my friend Aimee Wilson. It’s been on my mind lately as I have been trying to spend time in nature:

The lone wild bird in lofty flight
Is still with you nor leaves your sight
And I am yours, I rest in you
Great Spirit, come, rest in me, too.

The Water is Wide is probably the best known of the bunch. I want thinking of the progression of verses as I played through it this time; I was just looking for variety, but check out the marvelous descent from love to heartache in the lyrics.

And finally, there’s an improvisation on the spot. I had no idea what I was going to play when I hit record.

So there you are. Something a little different. Please let me know what you think.

Your wandering minstrel,



I haven’t much time to write today; I’m off to see a double feature at a drive-in cinema. I had no idea that you could still find those. I’m pretty excited, actually. I’ve never seen a movie at a drive-in, and tonight I’m going to see two. In excellent company. First up is Man of Steel, which I don’t care about at all but other people in our crowd are excited to see. I’m really looking forward to Now You See Me. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s the new heist/illusionist movie with Michael Caine in. That’s all I needed to know to be drawn in.

I’d like to share a few things with you that I’ve found moving. Let’s begin with Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait with a Straw Hat.

Vincent van Gorman

Last week this face greeted me every time I stood from the desk I was working at. And every time, I thought, what a lovely painting of Dave Gorman. If you weren’t previously aware of the genius that is Dave Gorman, you’re welcome.

I hardly know how to introduce this next piece. Close your eyes and listen to this video for a moment before you actually watch it.

And finally, a poem from one of my favorites, Ogden Nash.

The Beggar

(After William Blake)
Beggar, beggar, burning low
In the city’s trodden snow,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy dread asymmetry?

In what distant deep of lies
Died the fire of thine eyes?
What the mind that planned the shame?
What the hand dare quench the flame?

And what shoulder and what art
Could rend the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to fail,
What soft excuse, what easy tale?

What the hammer? What the chain?
What the furnace dulled thy brain?
What the anvil? What the blow
Dare to forge this deadly woe?

When the business cycle ends
In flaming extra dividends,
Will He smile his work to see?
Did He who made the Ford make thee?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get someone started playing music. One of the conclusions that I’ve drawn  is that learning to play music is a lot like learning a new language.

Now, I’ve read a bit about how we learn languages. I love learning about how we learn and language is such an important part of that! If you’re interested in learning a language and are looking for an alternative to years of classroom study, try searching for Benny the Irish Polyglot, Tower of Babelfish, or Where Are Your Keys. All three offer interesting tools and specific ways to practice your new tongue.

One of Benny the Irish Polyglot’s rules is “don’t be afraid to make mistakes.” Actually, on the contrary, he advises language learners to go out and make as many mistakes as they can. That way you’ll learn what doesn’t work. The key thing here is to just try. Instead of just worrying about having the perfect grammar and syntax before you’re willing to open your mouth, just do your best and be ready to be corrected. Have fun with people… and listen to closely to how they string words together.

Right now I have a very young friend who cheerily talks and talks to anyone who will listen. Actually, to be honest, I’m not sure she needs a listener. While she has a growing vocabulary of English words, when she really gets going, not very much of her communication is part of the grammar or vocabulary that I have. I trust, though, that someday soon things will click I will be able to apprehend more of what she has to say. I really look forward to that — she obviously has something interesting to tell us!

Parallel to that, I’m recommending to S- that she spend as much time as she wants to just *playing* at the piano. Try to make sounds that she finds pleasant. Try to make sounds that she finds jarring. Right from the start, I’ve shown her that even the same notes can express different ideas and I plan on leaving her each week with a new challenge to express an idea or image through music. Try and play a thunderstorm… or snowflakes… an excited puppy… a lazy cat, asleep.

Of course, my toddler friend isn’t just babbling with no correction or examples. She has people in her life who will slow down and enunciate the words that she’s almost added to her vocabulary and she’ll overhear conversations and hear books read aloud.

In the same way, with S-, I want to give her constraints for her free play to help her find what works more quickly. “Try starting and ending on C and playing mostly white keys.” “Use the same keys but play an A with your left hand.” “Try playing mostly black keys… what note seems to be the ‘home note?'” I hope that these suggestions, these constraints, help her to more quickly find pleasant combinations without just being overwhelmed.

And let’s listen to music like we dream of making! I’d like to learn to “speak” jazz.  S- is interested in classical music. So, just as our toddler listens to grown-ups, let’s listen to players who are already fluent in the language we want to speak. I think that I want to find two sorts of recordings for her. First, recordings of ideas that are within or just beyond our reach — like the words that we slow down and enunciate for the toddler. And second, brilliant performances that inspire us to dream about what we might be able to do in a year or two… or 10.

Next up, I’d like to write some about goal setting. It’s one thing to dream, but how do we find the path to live those dreams?

P.S. Listen to this *brilliant* performance of a familiar song. I think that it lives in both categories. Playing these notes is relatively easy, but Lisitsa makes them beautiful and elegant and graceful and alive in a way that’s outside of my present reach.