On a supposed pathological addiction

From reading my Twitter and Facebook posts, I think a lot of people believe that I have a pathological addiction to practicing piano. (I mean, it’s gotten to the point where I wouldn’t let myself go see one of my best friends in the world, who I hadn’t seen in a year, until I’d finished learning my Bach fugue. I have no idea why my friends haven’t dumped me yet.)

While I actually do enjoy practicing most of the time, a lot of my supposed self-discipline boils down to two things:
1. I go into agonies of deep self-loathing and unhappiness when I go too long without practicing or being productive, and
2. I strongly suspect that I am actually a horribly, incurably lazy person and that I have to make a huge effort to keep up with the rest of the world which has everything together.
Anyway, I’d write more, but I have to practice. Toodles!
Continue Reading

The new addition to my stationery collection

I have a slight stationery addiction. A few days ago I cleaned out a nightstand to use as a dedicated storage unit for my collection of notebooks, letter pads, cards, pens, stickers, etc. because it’s gotten to the point that they are in piles and boxes all over the place. I pledged not to buy any more stationery for a while.

…But then today I found myself in an Asian stationery shop and I was able to resist until I found a set of gold-embossed piano-themed letter paper. It was the only piano-themed set left in the whole store, and I had to get it.

(Sorry for the super funky coloring, this photo was super yellow and I color-corrected it really quickly.)

The thing is, after I bought it, I took a closer look and realized that the piano is backward.
See how the lid opens up on the left, and the crook (the curvy part) is also on the left? All grand pianos open up to the right, unless, I suppose, they are specially constructed otherwise. I can’t believe that the stationery makers got the piano wrong; maybe they hired a dyslexic piano-illustrator.
I’m now ever-so-slightly embarrassed to use this elegant stationery for anyone who’s an actual pianist. I guess I’ll only use it when I want to test amateur wannabe pianists. “You didn’t notice that the piano is backward? I hereby eject you from the Real Pianists’ Club! Good day!”
Continue Reading

Bad Book Review No. 1: If you’re going to write about music, know about music first

Okay, so I can’t sleep. And I’ve always wanted to write unofficial reviews of bad books. So naturally, 2:30 in the morning is the perfect time to put together a little rant about one book in particular that has always bothered me; and hey, this may become A Thing. I’m going to say, right up front, that I’m kind of a book snob. Sorry.

So for my Bad Book Review #1, I will tell you exactly what bothers me about Define “Normal”, by Julie Anne Peters. (Hey, this is like a middle school book report, only…better?)

Now to be fair, this isn’t a bad book. It’s your typical going-through-middle-school/uncovering-facades-type young person novel, and it touches on some dark topics like depression, abandonment, etc. Then again the characters use slang like “cronk” and “bode” unironically, so I guess you win some and you lose some. However, I did actually read this several times in my youth because it’s fairly enjoyable reading, except for one thing which has always really bothered me.

One of the main characters, a punk-type girl with a prickly exterior, is secretly a budding concert pianist. So as it stands, classical piano is an important element in this book. The problem is I don’t think the author knows anything about classical piano.

Let’s establish some facts here. Our thirteen-year-old quasi-heroine (who goes by “Jazz”) tells the protagonist that she wants to go to Juilliard. Great! Juilliard is one of the most prestigious conservatories in the world (with its latest acceptance rate at 5.5%), so good for you!

But hold on for a minute. If you want to have the remotest chance of getting in to Juilliard, you have to be brain-smackingly good. So this is where it all falls apart.

One piece that Jazz plays, which astounds the main character, is Bach’s Minuet in G.

Hold on, this Minuet in G?

This is the piece that every six-year-old plays once they learn how to read notes. But let’s give the author the benefit of the doubt; maybe this is some obscure Minuet in G that is really difficult. The best I could think of was maybe a minuet from one of the partitas, and there is indeed a movement marked Tempo di Minuetta from his G Major Partita.

But why would someone learn a tiny part of a partita and not learn the whole thing? It’s like if Justin Bieber only performed one stanza of “Baby” at each of his concerts. So I’m going to have to assume that Jazz is indeed playing a piece most often played by babies. And she wants to go to Juilliard. Well, okay. Nothing wrong with dreaming big!

Next, Jazz entrances people with her rendition of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn.” The author describes how our pianist’s rendering of the piece is so expressively powerful that the protagonist can clearly see a baby fawn frolicking with mama deer.

A few problems.

1. Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is an orchestral piece. (There is a version arranged for solo piano, but it wasn’t by Debussy.)

2. It’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” not “Fawn.” It’s all well and good that the main character can see the baby fawn so clearly, but this isn’t just a matter of spelling. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is not about frolicking fawns, it’s about a mythological goat-creature trying to have sex with nymphs.

 

Well, maybe Jazz’s repertoire is just very creatively constructed. The glowing jewel of her repertoire though, which she was slated to play at a competition in the book, is Chopin’s Polonaise.

But wait, which one? There are at least twenty-three polonaises by Chopin. Was it the one he wrote when he was seven? Or the Polonaise-Fantasie? All we are told is that Jazz struggles with it, which isn’t surprising if 1/3 of her repertoire is a piece played by the post-toddler set.

In a piano lesson, Jazz’s teacher tells her that the Bach and Debussy are “perfect,” but the Chopin is not quite there. And that’s it. He doesn’t tell her if it’s an issue with her technique, or expressiveness, or if she’s muddying the harmonies with the pedal, or needs to improve the clarity of the melody, or what. He just tells her it’s almost there, and leaves. If only I could get away with teaching like that! “Yeah, this one thing is perfect, and that one thing isn’t. That’ll be a hundred dollars.”

So to Julie Anne Peters:

Look, I realize that music isn’t the center of your novel, and you might not have been counting on a book about an aspiring concert pianist to be read by…an aspiring concert pianist. But it doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of research. College students do it all the time.

To all pianists who hope to go to Juilliard:
Don’t play Minuet in G.
Continue Reading