Saturday, February 27, 2010

Going Through the Motions

Quick post, since I may or may not be in the same place am my internet service the next few days. Quick, because it's 3 a.m., and I have to leave here at 7 to take care of aforementioned internet hook-up. I will be glad in another week or so when this back-and-forth is over.

I am literally falling asleep as I type this, so let's see how lucid and concise I can be:

This month has been much more about taking care of personal business than about improving my musical skill or moving my career forward. A friend recently reminded me of the quote "if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough," by which measure I'm certainly trying hard enough. If you view this project purely as a musical exercise, I am totally floundering. I've shown up most days and sort of looked at a song through my haze of distraction, but I don't think I've retained a single song in the past three weeks. And, memorize lyrics, what? "Sucking a little less each day" is stuck in neutral.

But if you view this project as a form of meditation, I'm doing ok. I'm showing up (almost) every day and at least going through the motions, and I'm becoming more familiar with my process of learning music and with all the ways I get in my own way. So... yay. I think.

What are the motions I go through? Usually I listen to the most famous recording of the song, and sometimes other famous versions or versions by artists I especially like. I print the lyrics and analyze the form and chord structure. Then I play it - sometimes in different keys, or different feels until I am doing it without looking at the music. That's the theory, anyway.

Tonight's song is "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)". The best part about the song for me is Whitney Houston's riffaliciousness, so that's food for thought as i work through it. Incidentally, according to wikipedia, this song is about leaning on your friends to ease the pain of a break-up. So a shout-out to Walter, Yare and Russ for helping me pack tonight - and not only that, but plyng me with food and booze and making a tedious and sometimes painful chore feel like a party.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.

People, I'm not gonna sugarcoat this - this project is not going well right now. I will leave out the gory personal details, but let's just say, I'm feeling a little stressed.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. My relationship with organized religion is mutable and tenuous at best, but I do like the way Ash Wednesday is observed at the little Lutheran church in the Bronx where I play. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a time that is traditionally set aside for cleansing, simplification, reflection, and, for the masochistic among us, giving up some luxury or treat. Refined sugar, in my case. What was I thinking!?!?!? All I can think about now is cupcakes!

The ashes are mixed with oil - both are substances which are traditionally cleaning agents. Usually the ashes are made from the previous year's Palm Sunday palm leaves. The circle of life and all that shizzle. "Remember that you are from dust and to dust you will return," the pastor says as she (in the case of my church) applies the ashes to your forehead.

A weird, kinda creepy, very Catholic thing to do, I always thought. We Presbies never did anything on Ash Wednesday. I think it was about three years ago that I was playing for the service and it hit me: Ash Wednesday is the Christian tradition's annual moment to say:

"Hey. You are mortal. So stop f***ing around, and take the next few weeks to scale your life back to the basics. Figure out what you really wanna be doing with your time in this body on this planet, because it's finite. To dust you shall return."

Ok, I'm listening.

There are a lot of things I want to cram into this finite lifetime, and I would like to make clear, in case the universe has misunderstood me in the past, that moving my piano from apartment to apartment within New York City is not - repeat, NOT - in the top 100. Nor is ending relationships.

I much prefer music. Music.

I "learned" "Desperado" - quote marks because ... well, I have heard this song a zillion times, and I didn't spend much time on it. So I already "know" it, and I probably didn't "learn" it as well as I could have. But at least I can sound it out. Love the chord progression - that IV-iv gets me every time. I only spent a short amount of time on it, because the lyrics are perhaps not what a girl who is going through a breakup wants to go over and over late at night. "You better let somebody love you, before it's too late." Well, f**k.

Um, so... arch form. Loosely, A-B-A-B-A. I've gotten so used to AABA or verse-chorus-bridge-esque. This song actually feels kinda long to me just because the structure is so symmetrical, compared to other pop songs. Anyone else experience that?

Yes, I must at least go through the motions of learning a song each day. I need that distraction. Gentle readers, thank you for coming with me on a journey that is not quite what I had bargained for. I anticipate returning to my usual cheerful self sometime in the near future. Meanwhile, if you'll excuse me, I have fences to ride.