Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gershwin's Swanee - Weekly Wish VIDEO!

The Gershwin at last. More soon - right now it is time for Plan B, Part 5, the going to have dinner portion of the evening. Yay.

Stay tuned also for the outtakes reel. Diesel the Guard-Kitten clearly feels he's missing out on his true calling as a movie star.

Gershwin, Take 4,936

My cousin left day before yesterday, so now life is back to normal (define normal) - with an addendum to my usual motto: try to suck down a little less booze each day.  (My night of heavy drinking with my cousin was three glasses of wine over the course of six hours - which I'm proud to admit to my parents and perhaps a little embarrassed to admit to my hard-drinking late-night cabaret friends).  Anyway, it's time to get back with my routine of practicing, Weekly Wishes projects, seeing local friends, and doing the bare minimum of housekeeping and working out.

Things are not going according to plan.  Well, most of life is.  Weekly Wishes - totally expendable in the business sense but important to me with my complete lack of business sense - not so much.  

I tried to record the Gershwin yesterday so I could post a video by the end of the month, but I didn't like any of the takes I did yesterday.  I hadn't practiced for a few days, so I could hang out with my cousin like a normal human being, and nothing was landing right on the recording.  All my bad playing habits - rushing, technical problems, missing the whole musical point of the damn thing - were out in full force.  It's amazing how recording something I intend to show others makes me pickier about my own playing AND makes my playing go in the crapper.  Grrrrrr.  I did kinda like the take where my kitty Diesel jumped up on the piano and made me lose my place, but only for the comedy.  Oh, and I haven't so much as listened to Ben Folds.  Too busy with gig stuff, and catching up on other work, and wanting to get the Gershwin video done without "wasting" another week on it. 

Ok, regroup.  New plan:
1. Give myself a short time slot to record - like a half hour from setting up to cleaning up - when I get home this afternoon. 
2. Pick the take that I like & post it.
3. Forget about Gershwin and all the things I wish I'd been able to do better, and move on to other work.
4. Be annoyed that everything takes so much longer than I want/expect it to.
5. Go out to dinner and forget about all of the above.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekly Wish 03/28/11

My piano tuner is almost done making my piano sound beautiful again!  He had to raise the pitch 12 cents, which is music jargon for "it was kind of obnoxiously flat."  Take that, neighbors who were blasting techno at 7 a.m.! 

Weekly Wish:
Heh... oh yeah, I learned the solo for "Lullabye", but I wish I knew what Ben Folds was playing during the rest of the song.

Last year I only ever had time to learn the structure of a song, and jam along to get the overall feel (which is what we classical-background babies tend to lack most) but didn't have time to listen closely to the details of what the piano player is doing.  The point of my Weekly Wishes project is to learn from piano players I admire by copying them. 

Maybe I've written about this before - I don't remember: I used to be the music coordinator for the Songs of Love Foundation.  One of the veteran songwriter/producers for that organization is also a wonderful pianist - plays jazz, club dates, in cover bands, all the stuff that I think is really cool but kinda suck at.  Once I was over at his apartment - think I was recording vocals for one of the verrrrrry few songs I wrote and sang (I mean, the organizations mission is to make the children feel better hearing their song, so...).  I asked him if he was still studying piano, and with whom. 

"Nah, I haven't taken piano lessons since I was a kid," he said.  I was amazed.  He gestured to his CD tower: "They're my teachers."

I wanna be like them when I grow up.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Just a Glance; or, An Hour at the Met

Finally had a little time to get up through the instrumental section of "Hard Times" today, after exploring Central Park and the Met with my cousin, and meeting her other friends for brunch (complete with mimosas and a dimwitted, surly hostess).  My goal: get through the first three sections of the song without worrying if they were perfect.

Have been getting hung up on perfectionism again, which makes me not want to practice at all, but rather wallow in my belief at how great it would be to be able to play like that, which surely I could do it if I just tried.  I affirmed my hunch that the fills in the second verse are much the same as the second verse, noodled my way through the instrumental section.  I was just finding a stopping point when my cousin returned.

My imperfect but productive session today was inspired, if not by the mimosas, then by our trip to the Met: my cousin and I were both dragged through museums as children - dragged slowly, while our respective parents took in EVERY MORSEL OF INFORMATION in the building.

"Mom, I'll be in the gift shop," I would say to my mom after about 55 minutes of well-behaved tedium.

"Mmm-hmm ok honey," she would respond, her eyes not leaving the information plaque she was reading.

Consequently, my cousin and I both evolved brain synapses that fuse after about an hour in any museum.  The attention span we do possess, we prefer to spend by walking at a moderate speed, making cracks about the things we see.  Today, we made up bawdy alternate titles for paintings and decided that the Romans used ornate marble bathtubs which they repurposed as sarcophagi at the end of life (matching lids, half off!).  Sure enough, after an hour, we grew quiet and pensive, our brains turning into culturally overstimulated mush.  Time to get out of there.

You may think that we don't appreciate art.  Other museum visitors who heard us giggling our way through the 19th Century European paintings almost certainly thought so.  I assure you, that's not the case - art adds so much joy and silliness to our lives - why should we have to plod through and take it all so seriously?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Delays and Distractions

Someone put this on facebook a while back. Sometimes fiction is so truthful.
A day bookended by travel delays: This morning rush hour, I was stuck in the bowels of the subway system for almost an hour on a train that couldn't proceed because a safety barrier was stuck.  We ended up having to go backwards a few hundred feet to get on another track.  My favorite part of the ordeal (I mean, what's not to like?) was when people in my car broke into weary laughter when the train operator announced, "The train. Is about. To mooooove!"  Someone shouted "Margaritas!"

As a self-employed contractor who relies on public transit in a city that would be crippled by traffic if the proletariat commuted above ground with the bourgeoisie, I have a lot to say on this subject, but for now I will confine myself to a haiku:

service cuts, delays
as infrastructure crumbles
my small business dies

Now my cousin is waiting for her delayed flight from San Francisco. She won't be landing here until well after midnight, which will be interesting for both of us when I have to leave tomorrow before 8 a.m..  Guess I'll draw her a little map to my neighborhood cafe, so she doesn't have to wake up at 5 a.m. her time.  By the way, who does HOMEWORK at a CAFE on their first trip to New York?  Apparently the addiction to workahol runs in the family.

Speaking of which, after a break which included the most amazing 15-min chair massage EVER and far too many fritos, it's time to get some work done so I can present my cousin with a bowl of chili and a clean(ish) apartment when she finally arrives.  On the agenda:
*run through rep I'm going to play for my teacher tomorrow at our approx-monthly lesson
*plan workshop I'm co-teaching tomorrow morning
*transcribe more Ray (try to get up through the sax solo)
If I stay away from Fritos, the internet, and other distractions, it should take about 3 hours.  So let's be real and say 4.  Which I know is a fairly accurate estimate, since it doesn't involve the New York City subway.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I am Officially a Music Nerd

It has happened, a whole new level of geekdom: I have been called a music nerd by strangers.  I got an email from the writer (?) on, notifying me that I'd been included in this article - a list of music theory blogs. Can you believe it? A whole list of other nerdy music blogs!  I am in heaven.  I can't want to have time to check them out. 

Today was a lighter work day, so I practiced a lot AND made potato soup and cornbread for dinner (be impressed. This is as domestic as I get.).  AND I also took a short nap with my Guard-Kitten.  He actually deigned to curl up by my tummy - he usually sleeps down by my feet, all the better to bite them when he wakes up and decides it's time to play.

Spent some time with Ray tonight.  (If you're just joining us, I'm working on Ray Charles' "Hard Times" this week - whether I deserve to be on first-name basis with him is debatable, but I'm working on it).  I quickly reminded myself of the chord progression (you may remember it was one of my songs last year), then I slowed things down a little with Quicktime and worked on the first verse.  Have decided to figure out the right hand part first, since I'm gonna have to add in a bass part for the left hand.  Practicing in slow-mo is fun, because I can hear every bend in Ray's voice.

Calling it a night - will have to live up to me music nerd reputation another night.  Definitely coming down with something, and tomorrow is Epic Wednesday, followed by my cousin's arrival Thursday night, followed by about 6 weeks without a full day off.  Freelance feast or famine: spring is harvest time.  Can't get sick!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Weekly Wish 3/21/11 - Ray Charles

I should skip it this week, I should rest up, tie up loose ends, not start anything new. I slept a lot this weekend - skipped a show I was supposed to go to, subbed out my church gig, postponed an arranging project.  I didn't really feel sick at all, just deep, deep, unreasonably bone-tired.  My tired bones are asking - demanding, actually - that I do a little less.  Just a leetle less. 

But I'm not getting a drumkit (at least not YET), and that is as much good sense as I can muster on this rainy Monday.  So:

I wish I could play the blues like Ray Charles.

The Means: "Hard Times" from The Genius Sings the Blues

He sings this with a band, so I'll have to find a singer to jam with, and I'll have to tweak the piano part a little bit to make up for the missing rhythm and horn section.  The main thing I'm going for is the piano fills though, so it isn't that big a deal. 

This song makes me think of my four guy friends from college, collectively called Arnold (long story).  Four music majors in one house: two cellists, two violinists, three of whom also played guitar.  Some of my best time at school was spent sitting on their front porch, drinking beer and listening to them jam out on the Beatles or Clapton. 

The thing about being a professional musician is that you really have to wanna play, even when you don't wanna play.  And listening to Ray Charles makes me wanna play.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Crazy Ideas

Running into obstacles with recording the "Lullabye" wish video: my drummer can't tote all his gear here, but offered either his apartment (way up in the Bronx) or his place of work (way out in Queens) to record.   Both the other guys live close to me.  I sent them all an email to see if they'd be willing to go leave Manhattan if I paid for us to take a car both ways and fed us well, or if it would be feasible for the drummer to bring his cymbals if I found a space near my apartment that has a drum kit and would let us record.  Either way, I'll be shelling out some cash to get this one recorded, on top of the giant favors I owe my friends for doing this for pocket change.

I'm so discouraged.  Of course I can't expect my friend to haul his stuff down here, and then up four flights of stairs.  And I can't expect my other friends to find the extra time to go out somewhere "in the boroughs" to record.  This isn't even considering the minor miracle it'll take for the four of us to have a couple hours of mutual free time to get the thing rehearsed and recorded. 

And there are a few things I want to do that will involve drums...
Not to mention the fact I've been wanting to learn to play the drums for a long time...
I'm turning 30 in three months... Life is too short not to have crazy ideas...

I want a drumset. 


To be continued...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish For a Day

Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow the fellow
Who follows a dream.
-"Look to the Rainbow" from Finian's Rainbow

Busy week this week.  Sitting in Starbucks right now, in between appointments on my Epic Wednesday (which currently goes from 8:30 a.m. until around 12 or 1 a.m., with no breaks long enough to go home).  Performances tonight and tomorrow night with Irish or St. Paddy's Day themes, both of which should be a lot of fun. Tonight is Irish night at Stonewall Sensation, so I'll be accompanying the contestants on songs written, recorded, or having anything to do with Ireland.  It's a broad category, which allows songs as diverse as "Lies" from the movie Once to "Ireland" from Legally Blonde the Musical.  My St. Patrick's day will begin there at 10 p.m. tonight, and end (punctuated by what is most accurately called a nap)...
...tomorrow night, when I'm playing for Trish LaRose in her cabaret act, Bulletproof.  Each incarnation of Bulletproof is a little different, and this one's about turning her turning thirty, which much-heralded event will occur tomorrow.  Ah, turning thirty... that epoch of life in which one examines how one is spending one's time, because one has realized one is actually going to DIE one day... Jobs, quit. Career courses, altered. Relationships, relegated to the "see-you-when-I-see-you" attic, or excised entirely.  What do I still have time for?

Ben.  Of course Ben.  Practiced "Lullabye" last night with the recording on Quicktime, where you can adjust the tempo down as far as 50% (or faster, but why would I do that?).  45 minutes, ok, pretty comfortable with the first half of the solo by memory.  Won't have time again until Friday, but will try to get a good chunk of time in then.  Better than nothing. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Weekly Wish 3/14/11 - ???

Ugh.  I don't know.  I have a headache, and I keep getting sucked in to news coverage of the earthquake plus tsunami plus nuclear potential disaster in Japan.  I awoke Friday to my sister's facebook update that they were ok (she lives in western Japan, far from the quake, but close enough to feel the tremor that caused the tsunami), but that they hadn't heard from my cousin, who recently moved to Sendai to teach English.  Fortunately, my cousin was able to get in touch with her mom and sisters a couple hours after that to let everyone know she's safe.  Shaken up, sleeping (or not sleeping) at the school, but safe.    

Anyway, wishing is the last thing on my mind today, after family members' proximity to natural disasters, how many other people's family members are not ok and safe, and of course the usual din of 10 committee meetings going on in my head at once.  All is underscored by a steady drone of TIRED and CRANKY.     

...I guess I'll go back to Ben Folds.  I don't want to; I'm busy this week and would rather work on this one when I have more time, because I like it.  But I don't feel like breaking my no-two-weeks-in-a-row rule to repeat the Gershwin, and I haven't had time to get my accordion fixed, and I don't feel like starting anything new this week.  So Lullabye it is.  Harumph.    

I wish everything didn't take so much more time than I think it's going to take. 

I wish I didn't have a headache.  

And I wish I could play Lullabye, including the freakin' piano solo, well enough to record it with my buddies.  So there.  

I'm going to dance class now.  Hopefully I'll feel better after.  At least I'll look better.  Though I definitely won't smell better.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Racing the Clock

I hate cleaning.  In fact, I hate any exercise that has to be done over and over but doesn't create progress.  Maintenance.  Yechhh. 

Nevertheless, a certain quality of life has to be maintained... I can get by for months tending to dishes, garbage, and very little else, but people do come over to my house for work.  So let's call today triage-plus, where I'll go the extra mile (ok, the extra 500 yards, then) to make my apartment comfortable. 

I will make it a game, Mary Poppins-style, and since I can't have a spoonful of sugar, I'll make up a game called Racing the Playlist.

The PLAYLIST: Right as Rain by Adele, Raise Your Glass by Pink, No Sleep Til Brooklyn by the Beastie Boys
10 minutes, 46 seconds

The WINNER: the Playlist. 
At least I finished scrubbing the toilet.

The 4-day Pile o' Dishes
This one will be a project, so I give myself 28:01 worth of Set Fire to the Rain (Adele), F**k You (Cee Lo Green), Blue Suede Shoes (Elvis), Bad Love - yikes, 28 minutes worth of bad love would not be nice - (Clapton), 1 2 3 4 (Feist), Novocaine/She's a Rebel (Green Day), and Maneater (Hall & Oates).

This room harbors a 4-day mountain of dirty dishes (as in, it would take four days to hike to the top), an archaeologically-interesting fridge, and various other yet-to-be-discovered kitchen detritus.  Triage indeed.  Do I treat the dishes that are about to give me a stroke, the pile of mail that is bleeding out through the stomach, or the gangrenous fridge? 

The WINNER: draw.
I was just dumping the last pile of floor dust into the garbage as Maneater repeated and faded out.  It was a good stopping point.  The gangrenous fridge will have to wait.

So now we're down to the rooms that don't get smelly.
10 minutes is it for now.  I refuse to do any more. 

All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You (Heart), Sex Machine (James Brown), Wave of Mutilation (the Pixies).  10:01.

...Um, please don't read too much Freudian stuff into that playlist. 

The WINNER: the Playlist. 

Much of my living room cleaning involved throwing handbags of various sizes into my bedroom, where I will now put them in a pile and deal with the more urgent piles of dirty laundry.  Again, 10 minutes.  But let's pick songs whose titles hint a little less at S&M, shall we?

Roxanne (the Police) and Love For Sale (Ella Fitzgerald).  Guess I'll exchange S&M for prostitution and try to get the thing over with in 9 minutes, 7 seconds. 

The WINNER: me!
I didn't make my bed, but that seems a fruitless exercise for a time-poor single lady, and I finished ten seconds before Ella was done mournfully plying her wares on the 9th scale degree. 

End note to belabor my point about pointlessness, and salute all the people in the world who do this FOR OTHER PEOPLE WITHOUT PAY (moms etc. - belated thanks, mom): when I cleaned out my bag from yesterday, I found my dirty lunch dishes.  Dammit!!! I HATE CLEANING!!!!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Valley of the Shadow

mmm... cake... ...*sigh*
Ash Wednesday yesterday, which means two things: I played a show at a gay bar last night with ashes on my forehead (Brandon, the show's host, is a preacher's kid and a big Sandi Patty fan), and I am once again about to discover how my mind messes with me when I try not to eat sweets, aka The Valley of the Shadow of Lent. 

It's nice to have a low-stakes environment in which to practice... I don't know what I'm practicing.  Not getting to have everything I want, I guess.  This happens all the time in real life, but the Lent thing is under my control: I'm avoiding a food category I really like but which is bad for me (in moderation, you say?  My inner cookie monster knows not moderation.) - it's my choice to give up sweets, and it's only for a clearly defined period of time. 

I'm steeling myself for my mind and body to mess with me.  There will be cravings.  I will be desperate for a cookie when what I really want is a nap or a day off or a boyfriend (cookies are easier to get, and more convenient).  I will rationalize that this is a dumb thing to do when I've got so many other things on my mind, that I need my mental energy and self-discipline for my career, and that I'm not a very religious person anyway so why bother... and other things that I won't recognize as mental chatter until after the fact. 

There's a lot of mental chatter when I play, too, and tuning it out is a skill that is as important to my playing as any scale or etude.  I've gotten better at it, so maybe that's why I'm sort of excited to see how I do this year.  Last year was a miserable failure on the Lenten discipline front, but last year I was going through a break-up.  I kinda had to cut myself a little slack when a kid I played for gave me two zip-locs full of homemade rugelach two weeks before Easter. 

Speaking of self-forgiveness, I've already (!) screwed up this year, when last night I took a shot to celebrate the birthday of one of the singers.   I wasn't tempted, I just forgot, until I was sucking on the sugary lemon after the shot.  Oops. 

It's gonna be a long six weeks!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Weekly Wish 03/07/11: Gershwin

You know it's been a long week when you're dreaming of happy hour at 11 a.m. on Monday. Freelance musician "weeks" sometimes stretch into the "month" neighborhood. Finally a bit of a respite today - just a couple short rehearsals and one lesson to teach.

This is by way of explaining why I didn't post my Wish last week. Last week was "I wish... I could play the piano solo from Ben Folds' "Lullabye"." It went ok - one of my favorite songs & I fell in love with the solo the first time I heard it. Never enough time to work on it, as usual - I continue to ask myself why I bother at all, when I should be working on my career instead. Networking, practicing audition material, updating my website blah blah blah... I don't have the answer to that, except possibly the answer "I suck at business".  What I do know is this: Wishing gives me something that I need to survive in the shark-and-disappointment-
infested waters of the music business.

This week's Wish:
Go back to the Gershwin "Swanee" transcription... More specific Wish: "I wish I could play it up to tempo." I've worked out a couple technical snags in it, so hopefully this is the week. Then I can record a video and go back to torturing my neighbors with the accordion.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oscar Medley Geekery

Ah, I love the taste of jargon on a rainy Sunday night - as promised (and only because I promised, because I'm ready to move on to another subject), my analysis of my Oscar medley:

The overall structure of my medley is AABA (my favorite!), with parts of "Coming Home" and "I See the Light" making up each A section.  Was it masochism that made me choose my two least favorite songs for the A section?  Not really - it was just convenient to use the first half of the verse of "Coming Home", which sets up the chord on which the chorus of "I See the Light" begins (the IV, what a useful little chord the subdominant is).  The choice was arbitrary, really.  I had unlimited options, and I was just fooling around, and finally had to go with something because I ran out of time.

I pinpointed out what bugs me so much about "I See the Light": I hate the melody.  Too much sol-fa-mi in the verse, too much la-ti-do in the chorus.  Insipid melody, paired with cloying Disney lyrics (maybe I'm descending into a crotchety, feline-fancying spinsterhood, but I've never liked sentimental lyrics).  Bleh.  All very subjective, of course.  Sometimes my commie-pinko self really likes a simple structure that anyone can grasp; other times I want to retch.  Obviously, this was the latter.

More objective observation: listen to the chorus (about 0:50).  The first three phrases start with the same three notes and the word "and".  Three times in a row, really?   At least they have the decency to reharmonize each phrase.  I will give kudos to them for resolving the III7 to the minor vi chord on "sky is blue" (blue = sad, remember?), and from the iii to the major IV on " has somehow shifted".  Yay!  Shifting to love!  Major chord, shaft of light.

Making lemonade: the offending phrase occurs three times.  So does the A section.   So I used each harmonization/melodic variation once. 

I used the chorus of "We Belong Together" as the bridge of my medley, and that is how I discovered that a chorus does not a bridge make.  A chorus is a destination.  A bridge is just supposed to be... a bridge.  It's like driving on an actual bridge - even if you're enjoying the view, you always have in the back of your mind that you're heading somewhere else - New Jersey, for example, or the final A section.  So my bridge didn't quite work, at least not as a bridge.  Oh well.  Side note - I think this is the same reason the cheater bridge from "Coming Home" doesn't work for me - it's also chorus material. 

I would like to have done "We Belong Together" a little more justice in playing it.  I sort of did a stride version that - had I executed it a little better - I might have liked.  I liked that song.  Glad it won. 

The final A smacks of desperation (mine): I stole the turnaround chord progression from my "bridge", and borrowed a block of boomchuck cheese from musical theater for the "Coming Home" half of the A section, so I could give the poor, tired ballad a little variation in the harmony and feel.  Tritone sub, railroad tracks into the "I See the Light" bit, then the tag -

- oh yeah - which brings me to "If I Rise".  I liked the song's main riff, and the production, but the vocal melody didn't lend itself to being used in a solo piano medley.  I only used the instrumental riff that begins the song.  This was my second favorite of the four songs, so I tried to make up for using so little of it by using it at the beginning of the medley and to seal it up at the end.