Performance

Piano Music… novelty?

Written in 1923, this incredibly catchy song was one i grew up both listening to and playing.  Recently my youngest son was sniffing around for some new music.  I played a few bars of this from memory and his eyes lit up.  Edward Elzear aka “Zez” Confrey wrote what was called ‘novelty’ piano music.  In later years, he composed more for jazz band.  What i didn’t know however was that he only died in 1971 with quite a career in composition.  His other famous song was entitled “Kitten on the keys”.  If you need a challenge for more advanced students… let them loose on Dizzy Fingers.  It’s a musical tongue twister and is supposed to be performed at break neck speed. 

BTW, you can still order it online and have it shipped to your door which is what i did. 

Without further adieu… here it is performed by none other than Liberace.  He embelishes the ending but is still a wonderful performance.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORxE6uoQvyg[/youtube]

Piano Stage Fright

Recently i was having this discussion with a few friends.  Some think i’m crazy while others relate COMPLETELY.  This is Glen’s theory of stage fright. I believe that i get nervous 100% divided by the amount of players on stage.  So… if there are 5 of us on stage, 100/5 = 20%.  Yep. I get only a tingle of nervousness.  If however, i’m doing a duet, 100/2 = 50%… i get a bit more of the jitters.  If i’m going solo i carry 100%.  Stands to reason right? If i’m in a 100 voice choir, i hardly get nervous at all… maybe 1%.  See where i’m going with this? Actually… to be honest… hahaa i’m not going anywhere with this.  This is just something i’ve noticed in myself over the years.  About 20 years ago now i read a book called the Inner Game of Music.  He asks the question “If you were to play a simple song like… happy birthday on the piano, would you get nervous?  What about if you were to play the same song in front of thousands in a concert hall.  Would you then be nervous? What changed?  The song is the same and yet somehow we become more frightened at the thought of playing in front of other people.  He then suggests:

Performance = our maximum potential – internal distractions

Our performance equals our very best less any internal head games and distractions.  As teachers we push push push maximum output… we push skills, technique, repertoire.  In the book he wrote, “Why not also minimize distractions?” Huh. Interesting.  I’ve had very little time over the years being taught to perform… to analyze the stage… with the exception of Thomas Manshart.  He said “You need to OWN the stage.  You have been given the opportunity to interact with an audience… quite possibly to shock them, to make them pay attention to beauty… to sit at the edge of their seats.”  I believe that often as performers we are battling our wits than we are owning the stage – thinking about what we are communicating.  A retired concert pianist here in town doesn’t believe in recorded music.  Hahaa he calls it “information sound”.  “Truly” he told me once “music is a moment in time where you, as a performer interact with an audience… something recordings will never do”.  Interesting.  OK i’m blathering on now but i find i do find the concept of performance interesting… a topic we barely give air time to.

Brahms Rhapsody in Eb Major Op.119 No.4

I once watched a suspenseful movie… can’t even remember the title. Very interesting concept (bear with me) where these kidnappers would take high profile people, drug them. When they came to they were in some sort of maze with a map of the maze in hand only the map didn’t lead to a way out. It made people delirious to the point of confusion and exhaustion. After a week they were then drugged and put back into society. Bizarre concept, i know but here’s where it got interesting- when this group of kidnappers wanted to “take out” one of their victims, they would simply show this person the same maze map and (in the movie), they would die of heart failure at the thought of the extreme conditions they were in.
Why do i tell you all that? Well… i had a similar incident happen with my mother. Y’see… back when i was 17, i had a very short time to prepare a Brahms rhapsody for a piano competition – 2 weeks to be exact. “Attainable” i thought…”i just need to practice upwards of 5 hours per day for the next two weeks”. Hmmmm doing full-time highschool, i calculated that i could do 2 hours before breakfast, 1 after school and 2 in the evenings. The clock struck 6AM and i started into this song. For those of you who may not know the piece… here it is:
[youtube width=”318″ height=”258″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNSE0S3w2uM[/youtube]

 

Well… that song at 6AM led to my Mum coming down the stairs in her nightgown. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?” she asked. “Why yes it’s 6AM… Mum i only have 2 weeks of this”. So (hahaaaaa) for the next two weeks my Mum bolted outta bed every morning at the sound of this. It became the standing joke in the house… kinda like the movie, if i ever wanted to raise her blood pressure, i only needed to play the first line and she would come racing down the stairs, rolling pin in hand… hahaaa ohhhh the power… lol. Just want to remind her that i DID win the competition 😛

Piano Practice… Until It’s Done

Vancouver Island, Canada

So… i’ve had many students… MANY who have asked… “Well, how long do you want me to practice this for?”  To which my usual answer is “I dunno… ’til it’s DONE!”  Self explanatory right? Or so you would think… Seguay

Recently i’ve taken up trail running.  When i first started running only about 5 years ago on a treadmill, i thought 15 minutes was a breakthrough for me.  No sooner had i been doing that when i realised that i should have a goal.  Victoria (located on Vancouver Island), the city where i’m located has a 10Km race every year where THOUSANDS of people… like 14,000 run.  I thought… hmmm this would be a decent goal.  Knowing that this was an outdoor race, i switched from treadmill to outdoor running.  After running outdoors, no one could PAY me to go back indoors to run.  Victoria is on an island where there are beautiful boardwalks with ocean and mountain scenes.  Why would i even consider doing anything different?  I then started mountain trail running.  Most recently i did a three hour run/hike with an ultra marathon runner.  “Ultra” runners run through forests, scale mountains etc.  I thought i knew the meaning of endurance until i did this.  At one hill, this lady running ahead of me just kept plodding.  I had this overwhelming feeling somewhere between exhaustion and vomitting that i thought… this is CRAZY!  Only problemo… we were halfway around the run.  So stopping wasn’t an option. 

Summit view

By the time we got back to the parking lot my thoughts had changed to… “Wow let’s do that again!” Funny though… you don’t often enjoy the fruits of the labour until you push through the difficulties.

Back to piano… i have this motto that i ALWAYS get raised eyebrows from.  I was recording in a studio this last week… a musical marathon of sorts writing and recording for World Vision.  At the end of one late session (until almost 1AM) i turned to the engineer on the project and said “Well… you can’t love it ’til you hate it”.  He laughed.  But the sentiment is true.  Until you knuckle down and learn how to press PAST the easy stuff… press PAST the fun… press PAST the feelings of “DANG IT! MY FINGERS DON’T WORK LIKE THAT” and continue on to strive to completion, you’ll never become proficient at the instrument.  Being a professional is one who puts aside feelings if not momentarily to accomplish the goal. 

There have been MANY times i’ve recorded under the gun, played in bands, finished scoring for some project… or even… for that matter, practiced as a kid some Rachmaninoff prelude for festival.  It’s all the same… endurance to the finish line.  And once completed, you can then enjoy the fruits of labour… you can love it after you “hate” it.

The Reason I Play the Piano…

On a recent flight home from Toronto, i decided to take a few days in Winnipeg and visit my parents.  They’re still living in the same house i was raised in.  It’s quaint and everything seems much smaller (as i grew to be the tallest in the family)… even my parents are shorter than ever! hahaa… Anyway, i had forgotten about the conversations that happened not during dinner but after.  In this hustle bustle world of instant everythings, i presently throw all the dishes in the dishwasher, press start and walk away.  Not so in my parent’s house where they’ve never owned a dishwasher.  Post-dinner conversation led into doing-the-dishes conversation.  As we laughed and reminisced, i finally said to them “Y’know why i play the piano today right? Well… after dinner as a teenager Dad would always say ‘Who’s practicing piano and who’s doing the dishes?'”  Hahaaaa as a teenager, if you have a choice between cleaning up or playing the piano, my vote was always practicing.  I’d like to think that i somewhat enjoyed the piano when i was growing up but truth be told, it was part of the daily regimen… the fabric of our lives back then.  And without the technology of the dishwasher in our house, i learned escapism at the piano.  SMILES.

Songwriting… and what it’s NOT

In one of the songs i was asked to write, the lyrics were as follows: “I wanna go where the peaches hang low, the green grass grow and the sweet streams flow”.  Now lyrics evoke emotions correct?  So the starting point to songwriting is the emotional content.  What then are the feelings of the aforementioned lines?  Well… they speak of the country – peaches, grass and streams.  When you think back to the age of innocence, what does that sound like?  How does one put musical notes to feelings? Well you can eliminate what it WON’T sound like.  Almost like the sculpter with a block of marble, you chistle away the unwanted to retain the wanted.  So things it won’t be: fast, driving, electric.  The country sounds more simple, unhurried and uncomplicated.  Due to the nature of this show, the 3rd world countries are more organic, more home-grown.  And so to me, it expressed almost gospel-type choral parts.

So this musical clip is 1st rehearsal (in other words… don’t be critical hahaa) and it’s also a capella – so no instrumentation.  But it has that feel i heard in my head.  Enjoy!

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The Other Side of The River

There’s a folder on my desktop entitled TOSOTR (The Other Side of The River) which contains page upon page of sheet music, soundtracks and lyrics.  Back in October a buddy of mine asked “Hey Glen do you want to take a shot at being a writer for a youth musicale?”  Fifteen years ago i used to write music for theatre but that was a lonnnnng time ago.  Being the “sure whatever” kind of guy we submitted our names for tender.  A few months passed and we compiled demo reels, sheet music and resumes.  After making the short list where 7 others were considered, we were asked to have a short interview.  Not long after we were awarded the contract. 

So the last few months have been reading scripts and writing music about this show.  What is it? In brief, World Vision has commissioned a theatrical show demonstrating the disparity between first and world nations.  The aim is to not only entertain but educate highschool students and bring an awareness of the world in which we live. The Other Side of the River is a highschool musical.  If you are a music director and have interest in the show, you should contact world vision Canada. 

And so how do you start writing music for a show like this? I’m going to discuss that in the next blog… the basics of writing… the way i see it.

On the Fly

 

Santa Clara

Santa Clara

I once attended a seminar on piano – i’m surrounded by teachers and the guest lecturer posed the question “What is the definition of a professional?”  Many answers were thrown out on the floor like “one who is accomplished in their field” or another added “if you have enough skill to be compensated monetarily for your abilities”.  I’m thinkin’ to myself…if that’s the case, i woulda been a pro at age 5 when the senior in the old folks home tossed me a quarter for playing the piano.  lol.  Still others thought that it was the amount of years in the discipline.  Others suggested degrees etc.  Finally, the clinician offered, “In music, amateurs practice until they get it right.  Professionals practice until they can’t get it WRONG”.  Hmmm interesting.  I understand the concept – i understand the intention of practicing until there is a ‘safety net’ of instinct to fall back on.   But more than that, despite my best efforts in preparation, i believe that the inevitable happens and things go terribly wrong;  the slip of a finger, a distraction, a technical difficulty – and it’s that split second decision, that moment when you feel utter panic and then figure out on the fly what you’re going to do that in my books makes a professional.  As far as i know, the term “on the fly” refers to a flywheel which is a wheel that in the mechanical world moderates change in torque.  Quite often it’s constantly spinning but has the durability to withstand change.  In music, playing on the fly refers to making changes instantaneously.  So, to me, the definition of a professional is one who can play on the fly – one who can respond.  I’ve many a time heard people exclaim “oh that music is so easy… i could do that”.  Oh really? I read a book once called “The Inner Game of Music” where he asked “if you had to play happy birthday on the piano… could you do it? And now play that same song in front of 100,000 people.  Would that be different for you?”  My answer is YES!!!  I’d be way more nervous.  I’d be rehearsed – i’d know the song upside down and inside out.  Why? To ensure that i would be able to handle the situation.  Despite the difficulty level of music, it’s the preparation for ‘what-ifs’  that counts – it’s the ability to play on the fly.  Recently i was playing a gig in a band and my entire keyboard setup went up in smoke.  Split second of panic. Split second to regain composure. Split second to make a plan of action all the while i’m continuing to perform.  The music didn’t change, but the situation surely did.  It’s the multitasking and the reaction that makes the pro.  I absolutely LOVE what Oscar Peterson said once “there’s no such thing as wrong notes – just bad recoveries”.  Aye there’s the rub.

Retro

 

James Brown on one of his recordings said when asked for the next tune “i don’t know…but whatever it is, it’s jes gotta be funk-ay”.  I tend to like songs that are not only fun to listen to but also fun to play.  There’s just something about swing, funk & blues that bring a smile to my face.  Sometimes when i play, the pure mechanical feeling at the piano is exciting.  It’s almost like a musical puzzle – a tongue twister but once accomplished, it’s most satisfying.  This collection of songs is a sampler of various genres from the 1920’s to the 1970’s.  It contains laid back jazz, dixieland and even a bit of boogie woogie.  If fun is what you’re after, it doesn’t get more entertaining than this!

Repertoire

  1. Just in Time
  2. Dig It!
  3. Funk-ay
  4. Out Walkin’
  5. Chicago
  6. Checkers
  7. In Such a Flap!
  8. Riff Raff Blues
  9. The Moon and Back
  10. Cherries on Top
  11. Bullfrog Blues
  12. Afro & Bellbottoms
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