Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A fun game for the kids?

You know that game in the comics section of the paper where you are supposed to find six differences between the two panels? I feel like I've been playing that a lot lately.

Preparing for a concert can be a tricky business. Preparing for one on an accelerated schedule is even more fun and games. But Gottschalk is there to help--sort of. There is a lot of repetition in his works. You can play the same thing four times in a row and it sounds just like a pianist practicing something over and over to get that gesture just right but you are actually playing it straight through the way the audience will hear it in concert!

On the other hand, many of Gottschalk's "repetitions" aren't exactly the same. I submit for your inspection this passage, in which the first three measure are identical and the fourth isn't:


Did you notice the difference? It comes down to one single note missing in the bass. It's such a small difference I didn't notice it the first time I listened to my recorded example, either, and I know where to "look." (the 2nd beat of the fourth measure)

Then there are details like this passage, which is played three times the first time it comes up, and only twice later in the piece. Twice also the third time it comes up toward the end of the piece. It's obligingly repetitive in its original guise, but isn't repeated the same number of times as everything around it, which means you have to pay attention to that slight difference too!


No wonder I'm going a little batty. This is all from a piece of Gottschalk's called "The Banjo," and the passages in question are really more atmosphere than anything else. They suggest patterns of plucking on the banjo, and occur as buildups and interludes rather than the places where there is any real melody--it's just that two-thirds of the piece occurs this way, as rhythm and verve but no tune. An interesting concept, but tricky to memorize.

Gottschalk does like to put on a show, though. People always like to sit on the keyboard side at piano recitals, which I can understand, but you are really going to want to do that for this concert. The composer's choreography is vital. Here's a passage from a piece called "Bamboula:"


Now just listening to it you might be under the impression that my right hand is playing the notes in the middle of the keyboard and the left hand stays down in the bass. No such luck. The left hand does play the bass note, then leaps up to join the right hand, not to cross over it, but to play the same notes that the right hand has just played. Everytime you hear a rapid dum-bump you are listening to my right and then my left in rapid-fire combination. I've got a wicked left, by the way. That piano doesn't stand a chance.

These kinds of acrobatic leaps are essential to Gottschalk's keyboard approach, and both the piano and I are really getting a workout. One final passage today for you to hear mainly because I'm relieved that I am finally able to play it with some decency. It occurs only once near the end of Bamboula, and there is, as usually, quite a bit of jumping around (the right hand pinkie in particular has to keep reaching up to snag that high C#):


It isn't quite all there yet, but it's starting to come, with two and a half weeks to go until show time. What a relief!


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