When the Design Blogs Are Useless: a Thorough Guide to Decorating Your Musical Home

So this post has been a long time coming. My “How to Soundproof an Apartment with a Piano” post from a more innocent time (2013) is one of the top hits of this blog, and since writing said post I have learned so much more about making a home with musical instruments (and moved a whole bunch of times). “Write a better, updated post” was on the mental to-do list in the neglected back office of my brain for years.

Getting around to crossing that particular item off my to-do list was not on my list of priorities last week, and then I made a terrible life decision. I visited Apartment Therapy.

I stopped reading Apartment Therapy years ago when I realized the writing was terrible and the advice so-so, but sometimes the “I Want to Live in the West Elm Catalog” bug bites you and you will do anything to scratch that itch. I was delighted when I saw a post titled “7 Ways to Make Your Musical Instruments Feel Like an Intentional Part of Your Design Scheme.”

Just to make it clear, there is a market for articles like this. The world is full of nerds and dilettantes and, oh yeah, actual working musicians with instruments of all sizes, trying to figure out how to integrate things that produce large sound vibrations into their homes in the way that makes at least some sense. I have wrapped my brain around the placement of a grand piano and multiple keyboards in half a dozen apartments now, each time wondering why it was so difficult to solve a problem that surely other people had figured out.

Unfortunately, the Apartment Therapy article was a nasty surprise—beyond not remotely addressing issues with acoustics, it straight up recommends ruining your instruments, as you may have seen in a Twitter thread I popped off. I will save my unpleasant opinions about Apartment Therapy’s content-churning ethos for another time and just tell you, blog reader, this: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT DO ANY OF THE THINGS IN THAT ARTICLE.

Before we go on: I hesitate to make sweeping recommendations to all people with all instruments, but I’m writing this guide because 1) my Twitter replies indicated that a lot of people could use a guide like this and 2) I’m definitely a hell of a lot more qualified than Apartment Therapy. In addition to being a professional classical pianist, I played the violin, took a course on acoustic physics in college (and then promptly forgot a lot of it; please note I am NOT an acoustics engineer), have a visual arts background, and minored in design.

Those are my “credentials”—you can make the educated decision whether or not to take my advice.

I’ve loosely organized this post into sections, based on a hierarchy of priorities:

  1. Is Your Instrument Going to Be Okay: how to not ruin your instrument; folks, this supercedes everything else.
  2. What Do You Do With All That Sound: some quick and dirty basics of acoustics and soundproofing that you should keep in mind when incorporating musical instruments into your home.
  3. Actual Tips on Actual Design With Actual Intention: with a bonus rant on what design actually is, I give actual, practical recommendations for designing your decor around your instrument.

I’ve written this as broadly as I can, and the “expertise level” basically goes up as you read; if you’re not a musician, the first two sections may be really helpful, while professional musicians can probably skip the first two sections completely. Feel free to skim or skip over things as they apply to you, and remember, this is a guide based on my own personal experience and expertise; your needs may vary.

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Adventures in Fear and Discovery: Learning Music Outside the Canon, Part 2

Before we get into it, I’m going to be totally honest with you guys: I was floored by the reaction to my last post. The subject was so niche and I thought the issues were so dense and complex that I figured maybe three people would skim it, and I would have been thrilled—thrilled!—if one person eventually said something nice to me about it.

I did not expect the link to get liked and tweeted hundreds of times, both by professionals in the field who I deeply admire, and by total strangers who sent me messages saying they had experienced the exact same things. (I got enough of these messages and comments that I realized my assumption that there’s no demand for published non-standard historical works was totally wrong. There is a demand, and it’s high time publishers did something about it.) I did not expect people in music to write to me telling me that I’d changed their perspective on their work, or people outside of music to tell me that they’d learned a lot about classical music from my post. I did not expect to get messages of advice and support from librarians, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside because, man, I love librarians so much.

It all made me painfully cognizant of one thing: I was a dolt who had referred to an esteemed composer as “my homegirl” and said things like “my dudes, it was real bad” in an Intellectual Piece of Writing that actual smart people read, you guys.

However, because it would be poor form to suddenly change writing styles on you, you’re going to get more Glib Millennial Writing in List Form Complete With GIFs©, because I must preserve the integrity of the Art.

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So, let’s pick back up where we left off. We’ve been over some of the weird, specific hurdles that stand in the way of playing music by non-canonic composers (which in my experience is women composers, but this also applies to POC and LGBTQ+ composers.)

It would be disingenuous to claim that it’s all downside. I’ve only just embarked on this journey—and I’m in awe of all of you out there who have been doing this work longer than I have—but I’ve already discovered so many beautiful, wonderful benefits to wandering off the beaten path.

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Adventures in Fear and Discovery: Learning Music Outside the Canon, Part 1

It’s been a hot minute since the last time I wrote here—between then and now there have been thousands of miles of air travel, a lot of faffing about on Instagram Stories, even more unprofessional faffing about on Twitter, a whole new language learned(-ish), many performances with and without other people, a move to a new city, a wild midterm election, a truly terrible season of House of Cards, several excellent high-grossing movies, some awful movies that made a lot of money anyway, some excellent movies that didn’t make enough money, the discovery of an awesome TV show, and the slow realization that although I haven’t had enough time for all the sleep I should have gotten this year I somehow had the time to watch a lot of movies and TV.

Hmm.

When I wrote last year’s post about branching out of standard piano repertoire (recap: it’s all by white dudes) to explore music by women and people of color, I’ll admit I had a secret little fear that I wouldn’t be able to follow through and that my good intentions would wilt and I’d go back to my usual diet of Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin.

Well, I’ve been chugging along at my personal crusade of searching out and learning music by female composers, and I’m happy to report that 1) I haven’t given up, and 2) I have a lot to say about the journey so far, which has been a roller coaster of fear and discovery (hence the blog title). There are a lot of unique challenges that come with straying from the canon, as well as a lot of really special bonuses that you don’t get playing music from the standard menu.

This post will be a two-parter, because I started writing this and it got…really long. So Part 1 will focus on the challenges I’ve encountered so far, and Part 2 will be all about the wonderful, magical parts of the process that (spoiler alert!) make the challenges worth it.

So let’s get into this, shall we?

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