Friday, January 9, 2015

Now that I've called you all here...

There's an old Peanuts cartoon in which Linus does a very peculiar thing. In the first panel you can see him making a snowball. Then that snowball turns into a snowman. But he makes another. And another. Pretty soon you can see he's got quite a collection of snowmen, all of them in a grid, facing the same direction. In the last panel, he's built himself a podium, and, standing at it, he addresses the snowpeople by saying "I suppose you're wondering why I called you all here today...."

Linus addressing a phalanx of inanimate snowpersons is not all that unlike posting things on the internet. You have no idea much of the time whom you are addressing, and most of the time they don't answer. Occasionally you'll get a comment or an email from someone, and then it is almost like having a regular conversation. But the real fun comes from checking your webstats and discovering the searches people did to find you. What questions did they want answers to, and were they likely to find them? The quotes below are actual search strings that people typed into their web browsers which brought them to pianonoise.

I've already written about this phenomenon here and here. But for the latest installment of mailbag, hang on to your seats, because here it is. Remember, these are letters people didn't actually write, so if I don't actually answer some of them, we're even:

"A major quote by a professional pianist that is very helpful"

This leaves plenty of room, doesn't it? So long as you don't ask for a definition of 'helpful.' What was the inquirer seeking, I wonder? Inspiration to practice? Insight into the musical process? A cure for cancer? Of just something to post on the bulletin board of your 6th grade music classroom?

I don't know what this person found, though I do recall typing the phrase "that didn't seem very helpful....but when a professional says something"--I think that's from my article on Bach's quote about playing the organ. Just a guess.

"ability to listen to music in head"

ok, I've written about that one here, if you're curious.

"Beethoven had trouble paying attention"

I have to wonder about the motivation of the interlocutor. Was this person looking for justification? It seems as if it might be the musical equivalent of "Einstein failed Algebra," which once furnished lots of little Einsteins with superior retorts to their parental units. I mean, if Beethoven had ADD, how bad is it if I have it, too? Not so much, right? It also reminds me of a story I read in childhood about some genius composer who was trudging through his piano exercises when suddenly, looking out the window, his fingers began to create a glorious improvisation based on how he felt about the great outdoors. Exercises be darned, this kid was expressing himself from the heart, and sincerely, meaning without practice. This is a pretty good example of how non-musical geniuses often see the process of creation, which is one part true and six parts without-a-clue-how-it-really-happens. Anyhow, I think the story may have been about Beethoven. And, naturally, it's the only part of the book I can remember, and it probably was completely made up by the author.

Somebody was looking for some sheet music for a piece by Yanni. Good luck finding that around here! Someone else was looking for a "church piano standard repertoire list." I might compile one of those some day but it wouldn't be very conventional. I'm not a big fan of the standard "church" repertoire for a number of reasons which I'll complain about in a future installment.

I'm really curious as to what the "bwv 543 Bach science project" is. The piece in question is Bach's Prelude (and fugue) in A Minor, catalogue number 543. What that has to do with a science project I don't know. I'll have to put that on my "when I'm bored here are some things to google" list.

Somebody wishing to send a question to my question-and-answers page here might want to know "good questions to ask piano players." I wish I had a list. You get asked a lot of the same questions, and people are obviously trying to make a connection after concerts and at parties but don't really know what to say. I wish I could tell them, although a simple sure-fire question probably doesn't get at the nature of the beast. If you know enough to ask informed questions you wouldn't need such a list, and they probably wouldn't work in all situations anyway. Here's an idea: follow my blog. Questions will come. You can even send them via the internet!

"How do pianists memorize so many notes?" I've written about that before. But it really is the wrong question. It is like asking how a Shakespearian actor can memorize so many letters. Letters form words, phrases, convey meaning. That's how you memorize. Figure out what those little bits add up to. And then spend a lot of time working hard at mastering the material.

"is transposing a good habit should one learn all the keys" I get a lot of questions asked out of context. That is, I have no idea about the experience or experiences of the person who asked the question, what their goals are, or their abilities, or their work habits. In different situations I would answer these questions differently. In a vacuum the answer would be yes. But there is quite a difference between preparing for an international competition and playing for fun in your own living room. Is taking the trouble to learn the patterns of all the major and minor keys worth it? It is for me. It helps me to understand the big picture. It helps me improvise, sight-read easily in any key, move a piece down to where a singer feels comfortable. It's about agility, and understanding. But it might be too much wasted time for a pianist who can't get there or just doesn't want to.

A lot of life's questions can't be answered on the internet for that very reason. Such casual and incidental contact between persons seems to rarely yield much value until time is spent in understanding and recognizing. And, eventually, maybe it will be. In the meantime, though, some of those questions can be pretty entertaining.

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