Friday, May 31, 2013

Meditating on the Trinity

Last week, for Trinity Sunday, I played a couple of golden oldies by Michael Praetorius on a hymn prescribed for the day. These pieces are a long way from what I played last week--about 400 years older, and more subdued. I don't recall any compliments on the music after the service, either. They weren't meant to be impressive, but reflective.

Praetorius: O Blessed Light of the Trinity

Some of that will, of course, owe to the interpretation, which I will admit was probably not historically correct. The reason for that has to do with the construction of the organ. In the beginning, in the days of the Roman Empire, when the pipe organ was just starting out (it dates back to the 3rd century B. C.) it would have been small and portable, with only one bank of pipes, and probably would have sounded a lot like the piece you've just heard. But by the Middle Ages, builders were expanding the organ. In an age when large and unwieldy armor was in and Giorgio Armani was out (or, more correctly, not "in" yet), organ builders attached several ranks of pipes together and provided no way for the organist to chose to play some but not others, thus stopping the air flow to some groups of pipes and being able to change the sound of the organ at will. This is called "blockwerk"--everything together in one great block. It was all or nothing, which meant the instrument was loud all the time. Pretty subtle.

Later on, organ builders began liberating these ranks for one another. I'm not very informed about this history and am not sure when it occurred in each country and to what extent, though I suspect Mr. Praetorius had an organ that was capable of such tonal variations. He championed the idea of "polychoral" performances, which basically meant contrasting ensembles, both in choral performance and when writing for organ. Apparently this was still something of a innovation in his day because he attended a conference of organists from all over the German states in which he expressed this idea: it was a chance to discuss all the latest ideas with his colleagues, and this was apparently the hot compositional item of the day.

Whether Praetorius himself would have performed the piece the way I have (a recording I stumbled across on the internet recently takes a much more "blockwerk" approach, and is five times louder) it seemed to me, using the resources I have to draw upon, that this simple registration,which uses only an 8 foot flute stop, lends itself well to a contemplative, mystical quality.

But just like last week, when I mentioned the irony of celebrating Pentecost with a Babbel of languages, I'm not wholly comfortable with this idea, either. And the problem, for me, is the context.

A year or so ago, driving through the Midwest, I was listening to a Catholic radio station. The fellow on the radio was complaining about how the church had taken a wrong turn during the 60s and 70s. All of these radical troublemakers, he said, stirring things up trying to get equal rights for this group and that group, and talking about social justice and all of that rot, instead of just concentrating on those good old core doctrines. Somebody called in to defend some of that social action and he told them basically that they should just knock it off and "meditate on the Trinity." Now, it does seem like it is possible to care about the plight of your neighbor, to seek justice in the world, and to meditate on the Trinity. But here, as far too often, the two were very pointedly set in opposition to one another. Meditation was supposed to be a substitute for action. Don't complain about anything, people, leave the driving to us. Contemplate the majesty of God while another factory in a poor county collapses and kills hundreds of people because somebody didn't want to be bothered building it up to code because it would cut into their profit margin (which seems a little short-sighted now that production has stalled). Don't say anything, just read your Bible and think about Divine mysteries. And if your neighbor gets unsafe water and inadequate food, or doesn't get a voice in his or her government, or a decent wage, or the same legal rights as everyone else, or is treated like the enemy because they don't practice the dominant religion or have the wrong complexion, just...calm down and think about how terrific God is. And stop bothering us about that other stuff.

For some reason, I don't think the Trinity would be all that impressed.

Last week our pastor spoke about Memorial Day, and spent quite a lot of time advocating for peace, and not the "gee I wish we had some" variety, but the kind you have to really work for, the kind you have to wage, just as you wage war. If I'd known that a few days earlier I might have been able to cobble together some peace music (I have a few ideas under the topic in my "church music ideas" document). But one can't always plan too far ahead, and at the moment we don't really know what he is going to talk about from one week to the next, so I noted that it was Trinity Sunday and planned accordingly. So while he was crying out for peace, there I was meditating. On the Trinity.

I hope it helped some people. It bugged me, because I couldn't help noting the juxtaposition I outlined above, the one where doctrine is a substitute for living like an actual Christian instead of being a "healing teaching."

"Peace, peace!," cried Jeremiah. "But there is no peace!"

No there isn't, Virginia. But we can pretend.

Praetorius: O Blessed Light of the Trinity, verse two: This morning, God, We Praise You

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Marketing

If I had a marketing bone in my body, or paid much attention to what is going on in the entertainment world at the moment, I would have realized that there is a new movie about Liberace out there somewhere, and with it, naturally, there is going to be some interest in its star. So, naturally, my website has been getting quite a few hits from people who are wondering how good a pianist Liberace really was, and, luckily for my google-rankings challenged self, I happen to have addressed the question a few years ago on a page designed to answer the sorts of questions I frequently get asked at concerts.

If you're wondering, he was basically good enough to wow vast segments of the non-musically interested population, and not good enough to bore them with more than they wanted to hear. In other words, he "knew what [his] audience would stand for," as he put it.

He called it "classical music without the boring parts," which is a pretty important strategy to adopt if you want to be considered the world's greatest pianist by most of the population. Those boring parts might actually be some of the most sublime passages in the history of music, if you can handle them. If you can't, they are just boring. So you play the bits people recognize, and then you fill the rest in with your personality, which is a mirror for your audience's aspirations, namely being rich and famous. Part of Liberace's game was to celebrate being rich and famous. A large part of it.

I probably owe him something. It isn't because I saw him being a pianist and I thought he was really great at it and I thought I could do what he did some day. It's because, when I was growing up, he was really popular, and the kids at school knew who he was and he apparently made piano playing seem really cool. Then, when I played the piano in front of them at school assemblies and so forth, they thought I was really cool, too, just like him. I always wondered why I didn't get beat up instead, and I think it has something to do with him. So, much too late, thanks, Mr. L.

But as far as the rest of it, I obviously didn't go down the same path. Because I would rather play great music even if it is too demanding for most of us, and will never be popular as the watered down versions with a few spectacular sounding passages here and there to play on persons' natural desire to be impressed rather than enlightened or moved. I am not a showman. I do sometimes tell jokes in concert, and have even been told I should do standup. And I've been asked how my fingers can go so fast. But when it comes to the music, I don't shorten the pieces, ignore the musically demanding stuff, or play up the derring-do of the performer. I've chosen to be a musician instead. It's a tougher road, less travelled. Oh well.

This is music for specialists, for people who want to spend a lot of time at it, and naturally it will not have instant appeal to everyone. But one of the major experiments behind this blog is to see if people who haven't already been attracted to serious music might be able to love it if somebody who knows it can communicate  well enough what makes it so wonderful. Three days a week, for over five months, I've been trying. Maybe I'll start to get it right eventually.

It makes sense that a lot of people aren't going to be interested. And it's not just music. Take any field of human endeavor. Take, for example, cooking. If you want a cooking show to be popular, a show in which actual recipes are given out, and the viewers are encouraged to learn something about the subject, it's going to take somebody with a pretty big personality to get it to go down with a large audience, and then it is going to owe more to the personality than to the subject. If you want a bigger audience, create a reality show where chefs compete with each other to see who is going to get all the prize money. That way, the show isn't really about cooking; it's about our competitive nature, about the frequently nasty things people say about each other, about interpersonal conflict, about manufactured drama, and so on. If they created a reality show about pianists, it would be the same way.

Meanwhile, we will just have to be content with having occasional parts on police dramas and made for tv specials in which the main focus is on the artist's ego or their inability to get along (or possibly murder) a colleague. There might be a few bars of Chopin popping up here or there to make it seem like it has to do with playing the piano, but that is just for effect. The producers have to know what their audiences will stand for.

I don't have to know any better. I don't have a lot invested in this blog and I don't need to be famous. So I can go out on a limb and play some very difficult music and hope some of you will like it. Or be changed. But it's not like we can't entertain each other along the way. It doesn't all have to be deadly serious. Just some of the time.

This week I found the answer to a musical mystery that began last fall. I noticed that Pianonoise had been featured in "The Guardian." If you're wondering, that's a newspaper from the UK, whose featurette from last September, apparently a tie-in with something the BBC does every fall, had a link to one of my pages, a rather silly essay on page turning. That's become one of the most popular pages on the site, and I don't mind it that much. That essay manages not only to make goofy comments but also to actually tell a page turner what to do in the event of an actual page turning emergency. I figure it's a nice blend of entertainment and information and I stand behind it.

What's funny about it is they didn't tell me they were going to link to me (clicking on the "P is for Page turning link") so when someone sent me an email last fall telling me that "as a regular reader of the Guardian" they really enjoyed my article I said....what are they talking about? (I don't think I even knew what "The Guardian" was at that point.)

Just yesterday, about 24 hours after I discovered the link, as various vague memories were tossing about in my head, I remembered the email. Oh, that's what he was talking about!

Sometimes it takes me a little while to get something. Be patient.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Decoration Day

It's Memorial Day in the afternoon and I've found myself alone in the house and, in an attempt to connect with the holiday, listening to a piece called "Decoration Day" by American composer Charles Ives.

Holidays can be easy to lose, sometimes. One way to do that is to be too busy all the time and just keep on working straight through them. At a gathering of graduate students working through dissertations and Medical School and the like, several students confessed they hadn't even realized that the next day was a holiday at all. One thought it was next week. Sometimes in the scramble to meet deadlines you lose contact with the society around you and every day becomes every other day, which is exactly what Holidays are supposed to counteract.

Or, if you are a musician like me, a holiday like Christmas, one of the few that haven't gotten lost to me along the way into middle age--no longer a child and without children, many customs and traditions lie buried in my pysche gathering dust until?--even a holiday like Christmas, which can't be ignored, becomes, instead of a commemoration of something, an obstacle course of obligation. Gigs, concerts, rehearsals--once I loved Christmas; now I have to try very hard not to loathe it. Along the way there are usually just enough beautiful moments to keep the embers alive for another year.

But holidays are the ways society marks things, together. They are designed to make us stop our routines and reflect on whatever it is that needs to be remembered. The rhythms of the year, perhaps, or the significant events of the past that our culture considers important. Founding moments, pivotal moments, or cherished national myths about freedom and sacrifice.

So on this holiday, which even more obviously than most is about memory, I listened to a piece of music which was also designed to make a connection, to prevent it from being lost; to, as Ives put it, recollect "boyhood holidays." Ives spent a lot of time during his adult years trying to preserve those boyhood memories in music. Unfortunately, I can't legally post a recording of this piece, for full orchestra and still under copyright, so for the first Monday I can remember, instead of a piece of music I play for you you'll get merely a description of the music.

It's called "Decoration Day" and became the second movement from the "Holidays" Symphony. Decoration Day is the original name for Memorial Day, and it was meant to remember the soldiers who died on both sides of the Civil War. Ives begins the piece with a fog of string sound, interlarded, as so often in Ives, with bits of hymn tunes, Civil War tunes, and other songs familiar to the people of New England around the turn to the 20th century.

If you are not familiar with Ives, the music may strike you as very bizarre, even as not music. What is there to hang on to here? As a sonic act of recollection, there is no easily recognizable and hummable tune: instead, there are bits of multiple tunes, often sown together in unpredictable ways, as if, in the act of remembering the one, the narrator was suddenly reminded of something else, and jumped to it. Often different instruments remember different tunes at the same time and form a tapestry of many things going at once. This is the way the mind actually works, and it is shockingly disorganized, in contrast to the well-ordered, sanitized musical plot you are used to.

But for an Ives piece, this is one of the easier pieces to get your ears around on the first pass. The harmonies aren't that shocking, and the textures aren't that thick. Instead, much of the early part of the piece is a sad, unending melody. You won't be able to remember it, but it is still beautiful in its melancholy, and simply put and heartfelt.

What might have made this section more effective would have been recognition of tunes. Studying Ives in graduate school I found that I had a closer connection with him than my colleagues. It is one thing to point out that oh yes, there is the hymn tune called "Azmon" here, and "Erie" over there, and quite another to have sung the tunes, to know them, to have them part of your tradition. Ives and I both grew up in small town America and were singing the same hymns as boys in church a century apart. (What does that tell you?) However, either because my ears aren't that sharp today, or he is using a different set of tunes, they aren't stinging my ears in the same familiar way. But I have to say that when a bit of "Hail, Columbia" floated by about six minutes in I was nearly overcome with the tragedy of our now 150 year past Civil War. This was followed by a quite haunting haze of strings with a trumpet slowing blowing "taps" in the background. Ives' remembrance of the familiar cemetery remembrance that marks the holiday is followed by an abrupt transition that at made my hair stand on end with the first rumbling, ineffable chords. It sounded as if those dead were rising from their graves and made me think of the passage in Ezekiel, "Man, can these bones live again?"

But it turned out only to be the start of the parade down Main Street, complete with blaring trombones and enthusiastic percussion. After "the boys get going" as the composer describes a similar burst of enthusiasm in another piece (and there are many moments in Ives like it) the fog returns in a short coda and the somber, important act of remembrance, of solemnity, concludes the work.

Listening to Ives is unlike listening to any other composer. It may be, for most of us, an alien experience, since the music is of different stuff than we are used to. It is more psychological than melodious, it is unpredictable, and it is propelled by a love of the experiment and of "trying things out." It is sad that it is behind such a wall of unfamiliarity, though--a wall of our own insistence, I should point out--, because what Ives wants to do is share his experience, more specifically and more dramatically than most, and if you can hear it, there is much to hear. But like Decoration Day itself, it may not be easy. What is it all about? What is behind it all? It is buried in our history, our traditions, receding into a time when America was a very different place, and yet not so different, buried in those cemetary plots under the green lawns and the processions of white stones marking the place where lie the silenced voices that could tell you so much about this day and its meaning.but are no more. But Ives can tell you something about it...if you can hear it.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Methodist Flash Mobs and other theoretical impossibilities

This past Sunday something truly unusual, revolutionary, perhaps unique in the history of humankind occurred at a Methodist church in Illinois. Think I'm overselling a bit?

It was this: planned...Methodist....chaos.

Methodists don't do planned chaos very well. Unplanned chaos, sure, we're great at that. We can make chit-chat loud and long and fail to pay attention to the proceedings--in fact, the funny thing about the way our service opened on Sunday was how long it took for our pastor to get attention to make the morning announcements. There was festivity in the air. Lots of people in their flame-colored attire, negotiating flame-colored streamers on the backs of the pews and, probably, loudly observing the strangeness of all of this to their neighbors.

It was when the announcements were over that the chaos happened. At the words "turn and greet your neighbor" some persons began greeting one another in different languages. Then a few more joined in. There were the usual handful of volunteers, some speaking German, some Italian, some Spanish--I think we had at least one Asiatic language in there, and sign language--and additionally, the choir had fanned out into the congregation and about two dozen of them were adding their voices to the din, which kept getting louder, and LOUDER.

About a minute into this sanctified fracas came a voice. One soprano intoning the ancient pentecost hymn "Come, Creator Spirit." When she finished there came a thunderous chord from the organ and the opening voluntary began. At that point the flash mob was over and the choir gathered at the back of the church in order to process forward during the singing of the introit. They sang the heck out of it, by the way. I'd like to think the mood created by the flash mob and the ensuing organ music helped them to do that.

We've been doing some variation on the languages of Pentecost for a few years now. The story of a roaring wind, tongues of fire, the disciples suddenly speaking the gospel in different languages lends itself to some kind of dramatic commemoration and, as Methodists, we have a committee that tries to do creative things in worship. It is a sub-committee of another committee, naturally, and I think even those members are answerable to another committee.  But this sub-committee, RuacH, from the Greek word for Spirit, is, I would imagine, a fairly unusual thing for a church to have. We gather every couple of months on average to explore the themes for the upcoming seasons of the year and the new sermon series and find ways to incorporate poetry, drama, liturgical dance and so on into those worship services. In past years on Pentecost we've had people stand up front and deliver the gospel message in different languages one at a time, politely waiting until the person ahead of them is finished. Even the rushing wind sound is done solo. It's all very orderly, which is how Methodists like it. That's how we got our name.

So getting folks to all speak at once, or to talk over each other, and to do it loudly, and ON PURPOSE, was like breaking through the fourth wall of Methodism (no, not the Wesleyan Quadrilateral). I don't know if it's ever happened before, and, like a naturalist, I feel compelled to document it. Plus, it was pretty cool.

Of course, afterward, someone said to me that she would have preferred people do the languages one at a time, and I told her we'd probably do that again next year. And, as unexpected as the whole flash mob thing was supposed to be, the pastor kind of tipped everybody off by explaining it in the church email days before, and instructing everyone not to politely sit down until the organ came in. (We had decided to dispense with the usual Pavlovian chimes and go directly to the organ voluntary.)  Look, for a Methodist over fifty, that's about as close to a real flash mob as anyone is going to get! Don't knock it.

One other thing: I was meditating on the irony of the whole Pentecost celebration while putting my notes (/strategy) to the flashmobbers together, thinking about how at the original event everyone was astounded to be actually able to understand the disciples, because in this bustling metropolis of a thousand tongues the gospel was suddenly being shared in all of them, and how, in our sanctuary, it was highly unlikely that any of us would understand most of these languages. In other words, the celebration sort of reversed the event being celebrated. And then I got an advance copy of the bulletin, complete with a prayer of confession which contained the line "We continue the divisions of Babel, speaking in tongues that confound rather than clarify, hurt rather than heal, separate rather than unite."

True, confusion gets a pretty universally bad rap in the church, but besides taking at least one holyday in the church year and un-domesticating it a little bit, bringing back some of the wildness and awesomeness, I think a bit of off-balanced unexpectedness is not such a bad thing always. We in the church are so good at doing things the same way, getting comfortable with ourselves and our methods, that we seldom grow our skills of adaptation and understanding. How can we minister to the stranger in our midst if we don't know what their needs are? And how can we know that, or even empathize with that, if we don't understand them? And how can we understand something outside of ourselves if we don't try to come to terms with something or someone that we don't already understand? Knowing what we like and liking what we know is a good way to avoid growth; it leads to stagnation. They way forward involves learning to know the unknown; Karl Barth even referred to God as "wholly other." (I'd like to find out what that means sometime when I have a couple thousand free hours to read "Church Dogmatics.")

And effort indeed needs to be made to that end. Maybe on the first Pentecost the Spirit gave everyone the ability to speak in new languages just magically, but everyone since who has gone out to spread the gospel in other languages has had to take the trouble to learn them. And always there is at first a sense of floundering around in the new and the unaccustomed. But they get the hang of it.

So maybe getting people outside of the tranquil expectations of the orderly, not just by preaching about it, but by throwing them a little off balance during a worship service, isn't such a bad thing.

In any case, for a few moments on a Sunday morning, something slightly unusual happened within the confines of a Methodist church, the full effects of which are not yet known. We are forming a committee to study it.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why your organist is a cranky old guy


Imagine you show up for work one morning and someone is sitting at your desk and your boss says, “we’ve decided to go with somebody else for today. Come back tomorrow. Take the day off! Do something fun!” And then he beams like you should be glad for the vacation. “Do I get paid for my time off?” you ask. “uh, no.”

That may have happened to someone before, and it is, unfortunately, something like an abuse that church organists sometimes suffer. The way it works is somebody books the church for a wedding and then decides not to tell the pastor or the organist that they have hired somebody else to play the music. Sometimes they even decide to use another pastor.

When this happened at my church not that long ago the bride, in addition to deciding to use a different organist without telling anyone,  also decided to hire a few other musicians and schedule a rehearsal that went on for a few hours before the wedding rehearsal, so when I showed up to practice for Sunday I suddenly found myself out of an organ to do it on. This is after I had decided to let her go ahead with her bad manners and simply unhire me when we found out about her plans a few days before the wedding.  I’ve stopped being so ‘nice’ about those things now.

It’s called “right of refusal” and it is actually standard operating procedure in many churches including ours. The resident organist gets to play weddings (and/or be paid) unless permission is asked for and granted for another musician to do it. In case you are wondering why that should be necessary, there are a number of reasons, the first of which is that I would have put the wedding on my calendar and scheduled around it for months. If the bride tells me at the last minute (which is generally what happens) that I’m not needed—but do I really need to explain why that is a problem? Another is that extra services like these are often one way to supplement organist’s generally less-then-stellar salaries (churches can make this part of their “benefits” package in place of health care and other useless perks). The one about guest musicians damaging an instrument seems to me to be mostly baloney, although I suppose if somebody truly did not know what they were doing they might do some damage. It’s not likely, though. And a really good musician will know better than to reprogram your combination pistons and a poor one probably won’t know how to work them. Still, you never know what sorts of things will happen if you are out of the loop. As I mentioned above, it could unexpectedly cut into your practice time.  (I had to stay up rather late for a couple of days to get ready for services that weekend)

Most of this centers around courtesy and fair treatment and would not be hard for anyone to understand. However, some years ago at another church when I received absolutely zilch for playing a funeral I tried to explain to the pastor there why that was a problem and he said that he had done the funeral for free himself and didn’t see the difficulty. I think he forgot that he had a full salary and free housing from the church and that I was a graduate student getting along on $8,500 a year who had just driven halfway across town to get there and was probably missing practice, rehearsals, class, and whatever to be there. Things are not always equal.

I am well aware of the stereotype of the cranky organist, of the artistic prima donna who is temperamental, hard to get along with, not at all flexible, and just a pain in everyone’s existence.  It’s one reason I’ve not said much over the years when, for example I’ve gotten unhired for a wedding an hour before the ceremony or had to play for half pay because the bride thought I was getting too much (I’ve never gotten anything close to what the American Guild of Organists recommends, by the way)--both these incidents happened at previous churches. Unfortunately, sometimes those stereotypes are well-deserved. Recently I was on some organist forums online and witnessed some of that lack of respect. Organists who kept complaining about people talking through their preludes told with glee how they never listened to the pastor’s sermons, or kept referring to their clergy as “his nibs” (which is a term of disrespect they use in England). Some of these organists had legitimate gripes it appeared, but they certainly got their backs up pretty fast, and often did not seem to be very good at returning the respect they demanded from everyone else. These folks are not helping the cause any, I thought.

And so I try to tread carefully. But when someone who knows the rules is clearly trying to sneak around them, I get tired of it after a while. And I find myself getting older, and meaner. No more Mr. Nice guy. If you honestly were confused about our church policy, that would be one thing. But when people lie, I’ve found, they generally lie dumb. They always through in a few details that are supposed to make their case for them but actually give them away.  And it is this sneaking around that really gets my goat.

For when I am actually asked I have never yet denied my permission to let someone else use the organ or the piano and have surrendered my fee.  It is my right not to do this, but I like to be generous, and not territorial or overly protective. Some days I'm not sure if there is much difference between that and being a doormat. And I think that eventually I'm just going to turn into a protective, argumentative old cuss who is always complaining about his rights being violated. There is much power in letting things go, and 10 to 1 somebody is going to do something to upset you every day. Forbearance is golden, sometimes. But I can understand why it is in short supply with some people. And when we look at some of these cranky old veterans of the organ, let's not assume they were born that way. Maybe some of the rest of us had something to do with it. Just perhaps.

Fortunately I have a very supportive staff which has realized the importance of standing up for their organist. And, as incidences such as this one have piled up over the years, we are constantly trying to emphasize the language which is clearly spelled out in our wedding book given to every couple (if only they would read it!) and keep these things from happening again.

In the end it is important for another reason. We are a church, not a rental hall. It is the tendency of some of us, particularly at weddings, to think that everyone should give us whatever we want and that there are no procedures to follow. But we do have a pastor, an organist, a staff, and we are not simply a building for hire. We are responsible to each other and to our congregation, just as persons getting married here, whether members of our own congregation or people we’ve never seen before who think we have a pretty sanctuary, have both expectations and responsibilities to us. Persons starting out on a relationship of such importance need to be skilled in responsibility and caring for each other, not simply themselves. And it’s never too early to practice.



Monday, May 20, 2013

My New Favorite Fugue

I had a teacher once who said that her favorite piece by x composer was whatever she was working on at the time. In that spirit, last week I developed a new favorite.

If you, as a devotee of classical music, feel the need to cultivate your silly side (and you probably could use it) this might help.

On the other hand, if you haven't listened to copious amounts of classical music and are not, say, a doctor of listenology, this could also be the very thing. Particularly because it's a fugue, and, because the composer cheats a little.

Fugues are not easy things to get your ears around. Several things are happening at once, and our ears aren't really designed for that. Most of our music is built on predictable patterns with a lot of repetition so that we really only have to absorb one important thing at a time. But, in classical music, and particularly in fugue, there are three, four, maybe five lines vying for our attention all at once. 

But not in this case.

Dietrich Buxtehude (who had a very cool name) wrote a fugue with a very silly theme (or "subject," as we call it in the biz). This is the first thing worth mentioning. A fugue is often thought of as a very dignified sub-genre of a very dignified genre of a very dignified style of music. Very. Dignified. 

And. This. Isn't.


To me it sounds like a bird call.  Now these are very polite, Baroque birds, you understand. Not like the real life birds who got into a fight next to pipe room while I was getting ready to record this. Very civilized. Under those circumstances, you won't mind if I give you the birds for about four minutes.

Now a fugue likes to get going by introducing its subject matter in one voice at a time. First the one by itself, and then as each voice enters the others keep going. But not in this case. Mr. B. has written several rests in the middle of this theme, as you'll note.When the second voice comes in, it enters into a very civilized dialogue with the first one. Nobody is speaking at once; in fact, you have to really be paying attention to separate the new voice that is now carry the theme from the one which fills in all of the silent spaces in between each of those bird calls. It sounds like one voice with a lot to say, but it is really two alternating rapidly.  Even when all of those voices are sounding at once, they aren't really sounding at once. Instead, Buxtehude sticks his "counter subject" materials in the gaps created by that stuttering bird.

[listen]

The effect of all this is that, instead of actually multitasking, we can quickly shift our focus from one, solo voice to another group of voices and back. Which, I hope, will make this an easy fugue to listen to. All you have to keep track of is that silly bird call, and the little amen trio that follows it and you'll have at least half the material in your head already. And it's fun to listen to. Technically, I think he's cheating.

And with the mobile part for the feet, I got to dance around a bit, too, which was also quite a bit of fun. Sorry it's not on video. Just know that the lowest voice you hear (I used a medium length stop so it isn't really in the basement, it's just a light 8 foot flute) is being played in the pedals.

Enjoy your birds. The fugue portion begins at 2:26; I thought I'd include the prelude as well (no extra charge) which could well be an evocation of spring (note the written out acceleration around 1:33-:1:53)



Friday, May 17, 2013

A Grand old hymn for Pentecost

One of the exciting things this year on Pianonoise is that I am able to bring you music by living composers. Where last year many of the pieces that I played during church services were listed by title and then festooned with the ubiquitous copyright symbol, which, if you clicked on it, would explain that I couldn't legally post the music, this year there have been some changes in that department. It isn't because I've decided to go rogue: I have this bizarre idea that breaking the law is still breaking the law even though I probably wouldn't get caught. And since apparently 95% of music downloads on the web are illegal few of you seem to agree with me. But in situations where the copyright is owned by a small company and/or the composer, I have written to them asking permission to record and post their music. So far I've posted the music of three composers, and I hope that's just the start.

This is important to me because, while you would expect a catalogue of interesting piano and organ music to be weighted toward the past, it is, I think, necessary to include the present as well. Classically trained musicians can find all sorts of wonderful and effective music in past centuries, where our homework has already been done for us in sorting out the composers with the most to say musically, but it is a mistake to assume that today's composers aren't making interesting contributions. These composers have to make a living somehow, though, and unfortunately that sometimes leads to a wall of copyright protection administered by a forbiddingly large company which seems to have no awareness of the existence of the internet (they often insist on doing everything by snail mail). Thus far my efforts to obtain permission in these cases has resulted in being roundly ignored.

But in those cases where I've been able to talk to the composer directly, they have all been gracious enough to permit me to post their works simply by linking to their own websites. I wouldn't mind it a bit if listening to one of my recordings led to increased sales or web traffic (hint, hint). At any rate, this past year I've met several interesting persons online and been enriched by the musical experiences they've brought me.

One of these persons is named Vidas Pinkevicius. Vidas lives in Vilnius, Lithuania, which happens to be where a friend of mine from graduate school grew up so I sort of feel like I know the place (from stories) even though I've never actually been there. Vidas has a blog dedicated to helping organists learn to play the organ better. An organist at the university, and apparently a church in town which has an organ that dates back to 1776 and is currently in need of restoration (naturally enough, Vidas is leading the charge), he keeps himself very busy promoting the art of the organ in Lithuania, playing a series of concerts, creating all kinds of resources in the form of teaching editions of organ scores, videos, and blogs, and answering scores of emails. After I downloaded his score for the piece that I'm playing this Pentecost Sunday, I emailed him that I had some concerns over the score's legibility in some spots (if you've ever fought with a software music scoring program you'll know why) and some other minor issues. Vidas got back to me within hours with an improved score!  Vidas can make me tired just thinking about his industry.

This is the second year I've managed to play a work written in the past two years for Pentecost. Last year I found a particularly jazzy arrangement on Youtube; unfortunately the composer never got back to me when I left a comment on his channel asking if I could have a copy of the score; I never made a recording of it since I had no authorization. That didn't stop me from playing it in church, however! (worship service exemption, if you are wondering) I simply listened to the video and took dictation. Unfortunately, the composer has recently removed the video (as well as hundreds more--I think he was concerned with the sound quality and is effectively starting his channel over again).

On that occasion the entire congregation processed (or danced) their way into the church with colored streamers while the organ played. This year we are planning a kind of "flash mob" to occur during the passing of the peace right after the opening announcements--people will be greeted in different languages. The hubbub is supposed to increase while one choir member intones the plainchant "Veni Creator Spiritus" on which the organ piece is based, at which point I will interrupt the proceedings with a loud chord. That's the plan, anyhow.

Here is the music. It turned out to be trickier than I thought it would be--it took about a week and a half to learn. It is also nearly a minute faster than the composer's own rendition (see below for a link), and, now that I've given it a week to slumber and have come back to it a few days before the service, I think I played it too fast--particularly the opening, which needs more grandeur. In truth, I was a bit worried that the sectionalized nature of the piece might not hang together well if I didn't give it a sense of forward propulsion. That is why it is necessary to spend time with music, and allow time for your ideas to change, something that both blogging and a week to week church schedule don't really encourage. When there's time--probably in a week or two--I'll make a second recording, which more accurately reflects how I am likely to play it in church this weekend.

In the meantime, I have to run off to another rehearsal. This week I'm playing a bit of Handel on the grand organ at the University. We'll see how that turns out!

Veni Creator Spiritus    by     Vidas Pinkevicius  (2010)

Vidas' blog is at
www.organduo.it

the score of this piece, and a video of the composer playing it, can be found at
www.organduo/veni-creator-spiritus.html




Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bach, the not quite god


There is never a shortage of worshipful persons gathered around significant figures of the past, unreservedly declaring everything they have done without blemish and a clear summit in the progress of the human race.  In the case of Bach writers have gone particularly overboard, which is hard to do, it seems to me, considering what an incredibly accomplished composer he was.

Nevertheless, if you are a composer, it is helpful to know that even Bach didn’t always arrive at perfection the first time out, and that he often changed his mind, reworking music he wrote, even correcting mistakes. This statement of mine is in direct contrast to that of Phillip Spitta, his first major biographer, who was constantly declaring Bach’s unerring, unswerving, sure mastery from the start: That and Spitta's rampant nationalism make me want to gag sometimes. 

Which, again, isn’t to gainsay any of Bach’s massive achievement. It’s just that, the man himself apparently valued hard work above all else, saying that “anyone who works as hard as I did would get the same result.”

Ok, that might be a bit of a miscalculation in the other direction, but it still underscores something I’ve been noticing for a long time. Persons who are particularly accomplished in some area tend to stress the hard work required to get there. Persons who are not accomplished in something tend to talk in terms of talent and “just having it” and other magic. There might be a lesson in that.

The reason I was reminded of Bach’s work ethic is that there is a short chorale prelude, which just happens to be based on the same hymn tune. It is the shortest of what are commonly called the “great 18” or “Leipzig Chorale Preludes,” but as it happens, it was once even shorter. In fact, the first half of the Leipzig version exists in a shorter version in Bach’s “Little Organ Book.”  It is a setting of a single verse of the hymn and it takes only about 45 seconds to play. Apparently, Bach later decided to add on to it, setting a second verse.  Bach decided to move the hymn melody from the soprano to the bass, and change the surrounding texture. Essentially, it was another standard method of setting a chorale tune, which Bach then tacked on to the first portion with a bit of connective material, and a new piece was born, and a quite effective one, too.

At that point, actually, Bach had what has become known as the Weimar version of the chorale, because that was where he was working at the time, and only later revised it, even fixing a couple of places where the counterpoint (gasp!) was faulty. (I kid you not: the great Bach actually wrote parallel fifths in the first--or rather the second--version!) It wasn’t until a third reworking of the original chorale that he arrived at the Leipzig version that most organists play.
I’ll leave you with a recording of the second of these multiple versions, the one from Weimar, since I’ve taken a vow to learn all of the early versions before embarking on the later ones to study what Bach changed. 


This is far from the only example of Bach doing something like this, and it is a reminder to composers who have come up with an idea for a piece that seems too short or too ineffective, that it often takes a second look, maybe even months later, to realize the potential in that initial idea (not to mention an accomplished technique). Despite all the nonsense you read about great composers envisioning their music whole and perfect right from the beginning, or knowing exactly what they want and how to get it, because any amount of floundering in the dark, even for a moment, would somehow make them less great, don’t buy it. And don’t try composing that way yourself. It stunts your growth. It is the result that matters in the end anyway. If you are so worried that people are going to find out you had to work hard to get it, burn your sketches or something! (worked for Mozart)

As a teacher of mine, who clearly revered these musical immortals, once said, “they weren’t gods.”

But I think they did OK anyway. You?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Subsidy

Haydn: Sonata in F no. 3, Hob. 9 -- Movement three: Allegro Molto

You are listening to well over a quarter of a million dollars.

It isn't that I enjoy putting monetary values on things or that I'm trying to parade wealth in front of you, but since you might have been lured into the idea that since this music is available to you simply by clicking a button it isn't worth very much, I thought we should pause and consider where this came from.

The reason that I chose this piece to post is that I happen to like the way I performed it. It is a short piece, and not very difficult. All the same, to be able to play those runs evenly, get those articulations so lively, and scale the dynamics so carefully requires a bit of practice.

And I've had plenty of it. I've probably spent at least 10,000 hours practicing the piano in my lifetime, even if only about 15 minutes of that made it into actually preparing this little number. The blood, the sweat, the tears--I don't know how you can tell what that cost, and I don't know how you can ever really determine whether that cost is worth it. In fact, if you are wondering that at all you are probably asking the wrong question. All I know now is that all the preparation is paying big dividends every time I sit down at the piano a few decades later. But honestly I can't really imagine life any differently for better or worse.

Then there is all that money my parents shelled out for piano lessons--childhood lessons, and then four years at the conservatory. Adjusted for inflated college tuition prices, I wouldn't be surprised if we weren't talking close to 200 grand right there.

After graduation I started to foot the bill. College wasn't getting any cheaper then, by the way. Almost another decade of grad school until I had become a doctor of the piano. No kidding. That's some serious money there.

Of course, we mustn't forget that the piano I'm playing this recording on  (a hundred year old Steinway B) cost a pretty penny. And the recording equipment, relatively cheap by comparison, is still around a thousand dollars by itself. I bought it in installments because for a while I was a broke graduate student before I became a slightly less broke professional musician.

Every second, every nuance had how many hours of lessons, how many teachers, how many previous recordings listened to or books read that went into their preparation? Incalculable.

I could make this a story about how hard I worked and how much I sacrificed and how you all owe me a big pile of money for getting to listen to this music. But let's not forget that vast committee of persons who made it all possible: parents, teachers; professors who taught extra lessons or cheap lessons or grad school deans and voice teachers who made a graduate assistantship possible and with it the chance to get more education. I owe my doctorate to those last two.

And the list fans out from there. The people who built the piano. And rebuilt the piano nearly a hundred years later. They have their store a couple of miles away. I mentioned the microphones and the recorder, but not the computer and the software and the web host and the people who designed the interwebs. Happy 20th birthday to the world wide web, by the way.

We probably should not forget the composer. I don't recall whether Mr. Haydn's authorship is in dispute over this one. But somebody had to set quill pen to paper and set this whole process in motion in the first place. Although, historically, the person(s)--another committee--who invented the piano started the enterprise a bit earlier (1700 or so).

It's not like I had to pay licensing fees to all these people--or any of them-could you imagine the vast wholesale to retail process that would be involved? And the markup would be outrageous!

Most of these folks made or are making a pretty good living doing what they did or do, so I don't feel bad about not chipping in. Mr. Haydn had his princely employment, and so have many others, who didn't really invent what they invented for the express purpose of my using it, or even with the slightest knowledge. It's stunning what an anonymous process all of this is. It's really like the butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings and starting a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Can you blame the butterfly?

And I have my means of making a living as well, which is why you needn't worry about paying for the pleasure of those 50 seconds which, at a cost per second, would hardly be economical if it couldn't exist in mass production, or at least for mass consumption.

But it isn't about the cost, really, and it isn't about numbers. It's funny how people think you can put dollar values on things that seemingly have a cost based on some reasonable calculation of knowable factors when it really just comes down to what somebody is willing to pay for it, not to mention how easy it is to be blind to all of the various costs that have been paid to bring it to you by people you'll never meet. It's also astonishing how easily people come to think that they got everything they got by working hard and forget all the other people who worked hard on their behalf.

So today's selection, like every other selection you've ever heard on Pianonoise, is brought to you by a committee. Pianonoise is not a multinational corporation, with lots of employees working around the globe to bring you the very latest and greatest in piano music from all times and cultures, though it might in some ways resemble that. It's just me. And a whole lot of people that contributed, in various stages of unknowing where it would lead and what the product would look like when it made it to the shelf--or the web player.

We won't be having a fund drive. Some of you have already contributed. For that, thanks. And the rest of you can share in this gargantuan undertaking by just listening. And reading. Or leave a comment or something. Nice to have you around.

Still, in the immortal words of the advertisers, it is quite a deal, isn't it?


Friday, May 10, 2013

[Sic]

Our community choir is performing their spring concert this weekend, which includes a performance of the Faure Requiem. To mark the occasion, I thought I would post the complete organ works of Gabriel Faure:






There, that ought to cover it.

Faure was a church organist most of his life. And, for some reason, is among the ranks of composers who have decided to completely ignore that instrument, at least in terms of solo literature. But he loved writing for the piano and wrote quite a bit of wonderful music for the instrument (on Monday I posted one of his piano works).

I don't know exactly what it was about the organ that made Mr. Faure feel so uninspired; perhaps the rigidity of the official views on liturgically appropriate music had something to do with it. A Wikipedia article suggests it had more to do with the instrument itself. In any case, Faure played the organ every Sunday for years. What he played is a good question. Did he simply improvise everything and not write anything down? Confine himself to the works of others? Apparently he felt that his church position was just a job, and he saved his creative energies for something else.

Anyhow, I'd still like to post something French and unusual, so I thought I'd pick on another composer of the period, Jules Massenet. Last year I discovered a short piece of his on the interwebs. I think this little Prelude in C might qualify as the complete works of Massenet. Aside from being alive at the same time the two men don't have much in common besides ignoring the organ as a solo instrument.

Here it is:  Prelude in C   by Jules Massenet

There are times that one author, quoting another, and finding an error or omission in the source material, makes his audience aware of this fact by use of the bracketed term [sic]; thus it was, as if to say "that's the way I found it, folks, don't blame me." One curious effect of the strange collision of tones in the fourth measure (11 seconds into the present recording) is that I want to bracket it and write [sic] above it, saying "Look, I know it sounds like a wrong note, but the composer wants it that way; it's not my fault." It's a curious dynamic, because many times a composer writes a dissonance that, even if it sounds a little odd going by, turns into something wonderful by the end. But this may well be an example of a dissonance that doesn't really work. And so I'm issuing this curious little piece by the typically operatic composer with a little distancing. I don't really like this chord. And I'm not so sure about the one near the end, either. (it's at 1:45, and I'll give it this: it is a very interesting chord)

On the other hand, maybe I am being picky. Many people who point out flaws in other persons' grammar are. And sometimes they are even wrong. One book I read recently pointed out a flaw that wasn't there by anointing it with [sic]. Said infraction was of the its/it's rule. If you don't know how that one works (neither does anyone else) it is the one instance in which you do not put an apostrophe before the 's' if it is a possessive. That's because you would also have to do it for a contraction, and the way to tell whether the word is a contraction of "it is" or whether it owns something is not to use the apostrophe for one of them. It is the single case of the apostrophe s rule not being applied, and it throws everybody, including the esteemed author of the book in question.

So if you take your dissonance without cream and sugar you might wonder why I'm making such a fuss; besides, it goes by so quickly. On the other hand, some of us have much more dainty ears than others. I once had a woman ask me why I played so many wrong notes (she wasn't being rude, but you had to be there) and I think failure to appreciate these moments of intentional musical spice was the culprit.

All the same, I like to explore new and interesting bits of our expanding musical universe. If you do as well, you might not mind the two minutes it takes to listen to this orphan prelude. Then you can stun your friends by mentioning that the composer of Thais and other operatic episodes once upon a time wrote a short piece for solo organ, and that it sounds somewhat operatic as well, and has all the flavor of an Romantic character piece, which is the kind of thing you don't hear every day on the organ anymore.

Just remember, I warned you about that chord.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Case of the Missing Measures

This one is for composers.

I’m getting ready to post an early sonata by Haydn over at Pianonoise (click Listen). This is from the finale of the Sonata no. 6, or no. 13, depending on which catalog numbering system you are using.

Here’s the question: what is the difference between this phrase and this one?

I know, it’s me picking on a tiny detail again. Still, I find it fascinating, and if that makes me a geek, so be it. Frankly, I think it is also why we are listening to Haydn after a couple of hundred years.

You noticed it too, right?

The second phrase is shorter than the first by three measures. This gesture, which lasts two measures, fizzles out, and has to be started again (which is a dramatic way of saying he repeats it), is hurled headlong into the next gesture without pause. And this repetition isn't the only casualty. In the first example, this measure right at the end is repeated. In the second, it isn’t.

So what’s the difference?

Lots.  I don’t have a letter from Haydn, but I think this is what’s going on here: the first phrase is from the first section of the piece. In classical period music, balance is important. Balance can be most easily achieved by repetition, not to mention the notes are going by in a hurry and it helps to get our bearing by hearing small gestures twice before going on. But in the second instance, pulled from the piece a minute or so later, we’ve already heard the first section twice, plus a bit of middle-of-the-movement development. Now it’s time to head for home, and in this concluding section Haydn leaves out the repetition. We've already heard these gestures several times (if you include the standard repeat of the entire first section), so our ears don’t really need the reminder, and cutting the extra measures serves to streamline the plot, move the action forward a bit, and move the center of gravity to the next phrase, which begins with that lovely high G and continues splashing its way all over the keyboard to the end of the piece (sort of).

Classical balance, we've been told a hundred times in theory class, is important. But so is drama. And drama doesn't work very well if you have to repeat everything every time there is an opportunity. Drama works better if, after the plot and characters have been established and you are careening toward the final curtain, the action speeds up a little. Or a lot. Don’t tell us what we've already heard twice before. Just refer to it. And get on with it.

It’s curious how often master narratives we are told about the overall tendencies in musical production are belied by the music itself. Classical tendencies unfold one way; romantic, quite the opposite. And here, of course, in the field, in an actual piece of music, we have both. Which is not really that odd, and neither is shortening the return to the opening to sustain the drama. Importantly, what’s needed to qualify as repetition is there. We hear again what we need to identify it as the return to the opening, to bask in the familiar, and to recognize that signpost in the piece’s unfolding. A casual listener probably wouldn't even notice a difference; yet, somehow, our interest has been sustained by leaving out what was once essential material, and now is just getting in the way. A good composer can tell the difference.

Ninety-nine composers out of a hundred wouldn't bother with a detail like this. But then, with so much music having been written and continuing to be written, we can’t listen to everybody, can we?

Take note, composers.

Oh--I suppose you wouldn't mind hearing the whole piece now.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Now and Again

In contrast to the last four Mondays on this blog, in which a little music furnished a lot of commentary (Schumann's "Of Strange Lands and People, which is about 90 seconds if you repeat both halves; the first blog was all about one chord), today I'm going to offer more music and say only a bit about it.

Gabriel Fauré wrote 13 beautiful Nocturnes for the piano, of which this is the fourth. I want you to pay particular attention to the simple tune at the beginning. Often, in classical music, the opening tune functions a bit like a topic sentence in an essay. It tells us what the piece is going to be about, and as the tune returns, it is transformed, re-imagined, varied. If you lose sight of that tune you miss a lot of what happens later. It can be like knowing the principal character in a play or novel; watching what happens to that person under different circumstances, and how they are able to cope, or not.

In this piece, except for some very subtle similarities, the opening tune really doesn't seem to play that much of a role in what follows. Instead we are treated to several different musical ideas, and the whole vast emotional arc of the piece unfolds in its absence.

But in the end, the tune returns. It is the same melody, and virtually the same accompaniment. Or is it?

My question to you is, after listening to all of what happens in the middle, does it still sound like the same tune? Does it feel the same?

Architecturally, the piece is balanced. What we hear at the beginning is what we hear at the end. But emotionally, does it go somewhere? Where?

I can't give you the definitive answer to this question, for two reasons: one is that everyone will hear this differently, and the other is that, as delicious an emotion as the return of the melody provides for me, I can't describe it.

Fauré: Nocturne no. 4 in Eb

Friday, May 3, 2013

Time! Time!

Some elements from services at Faith this weekend:


EMILY: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"

STAGE MANAGER: "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”

                                    --"Our Town" by Thornton Wilder, Act III

Wondrous Gift   by   Evelyn Stell*

Prayer of Confession:
Gracious God, we confess our slowness to embrace the gift of life you offer.  You offer springtime to our souls, but we prefer the winter of coldness and indifference. We continue in guilt and self-doubt, rather than rejoicing in knowing your love for us.  We forget that we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  Afraid to die, we cannot fully live.  Forgive us our coldness, self-doubt, forgetfulness and fear, we pray.  Amen.



----
Evelyn Stell's music (posted with permission) is available from Fagusmusic.com.   Her blog is at www.forthinpraise.co.uk

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Courage to go to Lunch

Groan.  (Lift).  Groan.   (Lift).   Groan.

That could be the sound of me lifting weights at the gym. Or it could be my mental state when I practice the piano. Either way, it's not pretty.

Lots of people have found this out. Practicing is not usually that much fun. No wonder, every fifteen seconds, someone in North America quits taking piano lessons.


I completely made that up. But it doesn't seem that far off, somehow. Anyway, practicing is hard work, or it should be. And it never seems like the result will be worth it. Pity the poor persons who weren't prepared for just how difficult it would be and how long it takes to reap any rewards. Pity me.

That's right; even now, every time I start on a new piece of music I marvel at how much fun it isn't. Even now that, after years of effort and increased skills I can often learn a new piece of music in just a few days, even now the hours seem long, and the frustration always needs to be kept at bay.

But for all that, I have something truly strange to impart to you. I have trouble giving it up.

We are all programmed to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Practicing is pain much of the time, so why do it? And many of us would rather watch television and THEN we'll get around to practicing. Or we'll go out with our friends and THEN we'll practice.

For me, it's a job, and a way of life. I hit the practicing room virtually every morning, conditioned by long years at the conservatory of music. My practicing has gotten much more efficient, cutting hours from the time it takes to get where I'm going. But I wonder sometimes if, instead of stretching the pain quotient over longer time it doesn't just hurt more intensely in the time it has left to torture me.

Because eventually I'll get to the part where practicing is fun. The piece starts to come together and sound like music. I live for that. I've learned to recognize its coming. But I still can't rush it. My mind still has to assimilate all that information, like time lapse photography. I still have to sleep on it.

Which means that eventually I have to stop practicing and get out of the way and let my brain consolidate what I've learned. It takes a couple of days, usually. I need to back off, go to lunch, go home and do something else and let my subconscious work in its own good time, trusting to the results. Funny that quitting practice should actually be a hard thing, but it is.

I started a new piece today; I spent nearly four hours on it. It's in pretty good shape for the first day. But it won't be ready until I've slept on it a little and given my brain a chance to think about it at leisure and from many angles. Sometimes, when I go back to work it's thought of a new fingering or a new way to phrase something. Or the passage I was still having trouble with when I stopped practicing yesterday is suddenly not nearly so hard because I know which notes to focus on or I am thinking in gestures and the notes are taking care of themselves. It's amazing the sorts of things it comes up with, this silent partner of mine, working in secret, on its own schedule, without apparent effort.

If I don't give it enough of a conscious push first, though, it won't realize how important the new information is. That's the importance of working hard. But at some point, conscious work reaches a point of diminishing returns and one has to recognize that and not waste time. Now when I go home and watch television I am actually still practicing; my conscious investment is being matched by the hidden part of my being. Fascinating.

And humbling. And very cool. And if you understand how that works, then working hard and hardly working are actually two very important stages in the same process. Just make sure you get them in the right order!