Friday, December 31, 2010

For Now

"For Now" from the musical Avenue Q contains not one, not two, but three key changes up a half-step - the obligatory musical theater modulation taken to extremes.  It's the finale of the show, though, so they deserve to milk it for all it's worth. 

So here we are at the finale of my own little project.  My sister and brother-in-law took the boys to an indoor play area so I could have some much-appreciated quality time with the keyboard.  I almost succeeded in holding in a meltdown last night after my sister suggested, in a subtle way that belies her non-Japaneseness, that the rhythmic thumping of the keys when I practice with headphones might potentially be loud enough to elicit a complaint from the neighbors downstairs.  I was ok until she came to apologize because she felt bad we hadn't made enough time during Normal Waking Hours for me to practice.  I wasn't upset with her, I was just frustrated, and I hadn't had my US RDA of alone time for a while, and -

Well, frankly, it has nothing to do with her or Japan or anything like that - I'm just a little frightened for next year.  I thrive on simplicity, like 12-bar blues, or learn-a-song-a-day - but now it's time to rebalance life, priorities, how I budget my time.  Which is a complicated, ever-changing equation.  I need to subtract song-a-day in order to add important things like write-a-book and find-better-paying-work, but I don't want to lose the traction I've gained this year.  I have a project planned for next year that's more abstract than the simple but time-consuming directive to memorize a song every day, and I'm worried that my little monkey mind won't be able to stick with it. 

Sigh.  Speaking of monkey mind, it's customary to do a sort of year-in-review at this time, is it not?  Let's swing over to that branch now. 

In honor of High Fidelity, I'll start with some Top 5 lists:
5. The Best is Yet to Come - great, interesting form.
4. Friends in Low Places - Vocal. Range. Well done, Garth.
3. Theme from Rocky - nice development of musical ideas.  Dig the combo of fanfare and electric guitar solo in the same song.
2. All I Want for Christmas is You - Discovered to my surprise that I like Mariah.  Won't spoil it by trying to explain.  I just do.
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit - awesome melody.  No wonder this is so coverable.

5. The Story - Brandi Carlile - would like to hear it sung by a man, suspect the melodic range would sit better than in a female voice.  And Brandi Carlile has no business singing about lines on her face, even if she sounds like she's giving herself nodes on her vocal cords by doing so.
4. If It's Magic - Stevie Wonder - don't know.  Maybe I'm jealous of the harp for taking over any of Stevie's repertoire.
3. Foolish - Ashanti - that piano riff really gets on my nerves after a while.
2. What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life - Bergman/LeGrand, various recordings - I prefer my schmaltzy lyrics and slow tempi not to occur in the same song.
1. Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman: - Bryan Adams - Worst. Lyrics. Ever.

5. Summer, Highland Falls (and a lot of other Billy Joel stuff)
4. Honky Cat (and a lot of other Elton John stuff)
3. Lullabye (Ben Folds - for the piano solo in particular)
2. Great Balls of Fire
1. Ribbon in the Sky (and other Stevie Wonder stuff)
0. honorable mentions... too many to mention! Ray Charles, Alicia Keys, Paul Smith (Ella's accompanist)...

As you may have inferred from that last list, doing a song a day had its pros and cons.  One pro - I am familiar with a lot of songs.  One obvious con: I didn't have time to absorb much more than the form and chord progression, and maybe a riff here and there. 

So did I succeed or fail?

Well ok, if you asked me to sit down and play (and sing! that was part of the objective! ack!) from memory down the list of 365 songs, we'd come up with a colossal fail. 

But I would remember some of them.  Maybe even a lot of them.  And I suck less than I did, which, you may recall, was the other objective.

I still wish I could beam myself to where I want to be, literally and musically.  But a journey doesn't just begin with a single step, it continues with further steps, little by little, sometimes assisted by wheeled or jet-fueled vehicles.  Songs: 365 sticks of dynamite (well, maybe a few M60s snuck in there) to blast Perfectionazis out of the way, bridges to connect people who may have nothing else in common, gemstones to decorate my life, companions when my kitten doesn't suffice and real humans are frustrating or unavailable. Three hundred sixty-five stepping stones to help me go, little by little, toward the seemingly-inaccessible town of Less Suckness.  Musical Omniscience is a mirage, like water ahead on the freeway, always out of reach, but Less Suckness is actually as accessible and common as Springfields -it's everywhere along the way! 

Process vs. Product.  We live in a product-oriented culture.  Humbug.  In the end, aren't our lives made up of a consecutive series of Nows, not products-that-we're-buried-with?  I still haven't found what I'm looking for, no.  I'd like to learn actual notes, not just form and harmony that I fake my way through with varying degrees of competence.  I'd like to review what I've learned, so I can retain it.  I'd like to suck less than I do today.  If everything in life is only for now, I'd like to spend most of my Nows playing with words and music (with breaks for family and friends, travel, and shoe-shopping).  Which is what I did this year.  So I'm calling it a success. 

Happy New Year!


  1. Hello. I feel like anything I could write to express congratulations for completing this project (phase one, anyway) would sound condescending or fatuous, so I will just say:

    Well done. I read it every day.

  2. Congratulations, Kat, on a monumental achievement. The only woman I know who is possibly even more maniacally driven than I am, I never doubted for a second that you would do this. But it's been wonderful to watch (and hear) you grow through the process. I definitely hear the difference in your playing and see the growth in your confidence.

    Honored to know you and hope our creative paths lead us to more collaboration (and soon).