Monday, June 3, 2013

Where's my agent, anyhow?

Today I flipped a switch and became a concert pianist again.

For those not familiar with my "lifestyle," over the weekend I ran a 10k, had a wedding and a funeral, played four church services, rehearsed "Missa Solemnis" with a choir, snuck in a little piano practice and another short rehearsal and a brief nap. Also played a set with a rock band I'm in (outdoors and just before the thunderstorm moved in!), and tonight I had to pretend I remember how to be a restaurant pianist for 90 minutes at a dinner to benefit cancer research. Good thing it's summer and the livin' is easy.

Since I've been learning so many organ works for church services this past year (I estimate that I play the equivalent of an organ recital about every six weeks) I've been neglecting the piano. And we have a perfectly good (actually perfectly wonderful) seven foot Steinway in our sanctuary that has been practically begging me to play it since Christmas. But no more. I have a plan to give it a workout this month.

On Sunday, June 30th at 3pm at Faith UMC here in Champaign Illinois (that's 1719 S Prospect) I'm going to give a recital of the works of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The reason for the choice of program is simple. Gottschalk was a fascinating fellow who toured the United States giving concerts right in the middle of the Civil War. This July 1-3 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which Gottschalk nearly got himself in the middle of (he was at a safe distance by the time the battle began). I'm going to play probably about a half dozen of his pieces and also read some of his own writings about his travails, including how close he got to the war. If you can't make it to the concert, you can follow it on the blog. I plan to make some recordings as well as share my thoughts as I prepare for it. For now, you can get an introduction to Mr. Gottschalk over on Pianonoise. I wrote it over 10 years ago, and its about time I added some more music to the page, don't you think?

Now four weeks is a freakishly short time to prepare a piano recital, particularly if you are not feeling too ambitious (what can I say; summertime blahs). But I think I can pull it off, mostly because I'll only be playing about 35 minutes of music and spending the rest of the time telling Gottschalk's story, and also because Gottschalk's music is not as hard as it sounds, though it is still difficult. Most of the pieces, however, will be ones I have played before in some capacity or other, though none for very long or for a major occasion: at least I will have them somewhat under my fingers. The major exception to that is a piece called "Bamboula" which I've never played before, and I decided I'd better start with that one. I'm already violating my rule about having everything memorized a month before the concert--in this case I've decided I'd better get comfortable with everything in the next two weeks so I can polish everything in the last two. That means I'm going to have to take on a piece every couple of days. And today, as I said, was "Bamboula" day. For nearly five hours today, in three sessions, I ran over most of the pieces I plan to play, with a special emphasis on this piece, and, by the end of the day (about 10:30), I had the piece nearly memorized, and at an occasionally halting performance speed. Not too shabby for the first day. I ought to practice like this more often. If only I could! I'll share some of the early results on Wednesday.

Sometimes Gottschalk's audience got a preview by purchasing his music in sheet music form and playing it themselves. Sometimes they'd never heard any of it--or even heard a piano recital before. In some cases they'd never even seen a piano. Gottschalk was often their first exposure to anything that even resembled his art.

If you've never been to a piano recital before, this is a good place to start. The music is very listener friendly, with plenty of repetition and pianistic flair because Gottschalk really knew how to put on a show. I came to realize that from the very first few bars of "Bamboula." You will too. Have some fun with me this month.

on to part two

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