November 20, 2012 § 2 Comments
Why is it so hard to read music? One reason is that doing many things at once, like reading and interpreting symbols, listening to the sounds you’re making, operating complex machinery at a high speed (that’s the piano, folks), coordinating 2 hands and 2 feet, 2 eyes and 2 ears in real time to a beat in your head, and trying to make sense of something you really care about, is genuinely HARD.
The other reason is that music itself is hard to WRITE. To simplify the process, lots of shortcuts have been made through the centuries. That leaves us with a system that is full of fancy repeats, symbols with multiple meanings, sporadic instructions (Key signatures? Accidentals?) and the things that try students’ patience and, fortunately, keep music teachers employed.
If it sounds like a lousy bargain, speeding up the writing but slowing down the reading, you have never written music by hand. It is a fussy, demanding job. And, up until computers, preparing the plates for printing was a laborious craft. Each mark on the page had to be made by hand, on a steel plate, backwards, perfectly, for printing. Every note, every stem, every slur, every dot, every flat, every sharp, every everything had to be scribed on the steel by hand. There is no moveable type for music. Gutenberg’s revolution missed us musicians.
This video, by the music publishers G.Henle Verlag, show the process in precise detail. The camera looks over the shoulder of a craftsman as he puts in the staff, knocks in the note-heads, rules the bar lines, scrapes, etches and punches his way through a line of music. It even shows how he corrects mistakes.
I could hardly breathe while watching this the first time. I knew it was an exacting craft, but I had no idea it was as demanding as this. This is the best video ever because it shows one reason why music is so hard to read: it is really hard to write.
September 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
July 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
I wonder what would happen if the athletes were told they needed to donate their labor. Seems like music and sports are roughly equivalent in terms of investment in training, personal dedication, expensive equipment needed, struggle and glory, etc. But we musicians get no help from sponsors.
Thirty years ago my husband got 400 bucks a month from Nike for being a low-tier runner in Eugene, OR. I think I’m a better pianist than he was a runner, but I would settle for the same rate today.
Nike, where’s my sponsorship?
June 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
Not exactly a piano, definitely not a kid, but possibly a bike or a bike-like object here in River City. Dezy Walls has brought his singing and piano playing to the streets of Portland. You can read all about it here.
Watch a video, listen to his songs, find out where you can next see and hear him here.
May 27, 2012 § 1 Comment
What are a performer’s worst fears? How about being ready to play one Mozart concerto and hearing the orchestra start a different one? This video shows the fine pianist from Portugal in just this situation. She shows amazing aplomb, calmly switching from one concerto to another, without the score or visible anxiety.
Something similar once happened to me. I was playing in the orchestra as a last minute addition. The piece was unfamiliar to me (a trombone concerto) and in those days before YouTube I had never heard it. The orchestra started playing and I was counting my rests, getting ready to come in, but-what the heck were they playing? It was nothing like what was in my part. They were in a completely different key, a different tempo and a different meter. Was this piece really that far-out? Did I miss something? Maybe I was not as good a musician as I thought. And why was the conductor flashing the peace sign at me so insistently?
Oh! Not peace-TWO! Second! Second movement! It seems that everyone but me knew that they were skipping the first movement and starting with the second. Surprise!
Luckily I was just playing the piano as part of the orchestra and the spotlight was on the soloist. But I can break out in a sweat any time I want just by remembering those first few moments of confusion. How Ms. Pires pulled off this calm switcheroo is beyond me.
To return your pulse to its normal serenity, here is Ms. Pires playing the lovely second movement to the fifth Bach keyboard concerto, BWV 1056.