Monthly Archives: March 2012

the year of playing the piano – smoke from ears

I had a close encounter with the bank today. It was a hideous experience. Our dealings with RBS have been an unmitigated vexation and irritation. I shan’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say that having been given wrong information in 2008, their service has gone from bad to worse. I daren’t write to complain. Last time I did, they wrote to apologise, and said they’d be sending ‘a gift’. Gift arrived. It was flowers of the most funereal aspect. Given that we own 85% of the blasted bank, it was the equivalent of me sending funereal flowers to myself.

Off to the great city of Leeds tomorrow. I may be some time.

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the year of playing the piano – advice to non piano players

Advice to non-instrument players: get cracking at once. There’s really nothing like the feeling of, well, just playing. But ‘just playing’ takes a mammoth amount of practice. Hours and hours. Then more hours, just to make it look as if you’ve spent no hours. But worth it. I’m really making an effort to get over my paralysis sans silencer. I force myself to do 10 minutes a day without the silencer on. The panic grips, then subsides, then grips again. It’s very weird. Anyhow, silencer or no silencer, when making your own music works, it works like nothing else. Of course I’m making somebody else’s music really: I’m no composer. But other people’s music is pretty bloody spectacular, and there’s enough of it to last several lifetimes. Come on! Fling open the piano lid; tune the dusty violin; cut a reed for the clarinet. Believe me, you really do want to.

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the year of playing the piano – a perfect day (so far, as Homer Simpson would say)

Today I’ve been warm. This is delightful. Writing in the sun is much better than writing out of the sun. The dogs move with the sunslips as the day progresses. A day of Goldberg writing. An alarming moment when I thought all today’s work was lost. I can’t quite get to grips with iCloud, but I suppose I will in time. I save my book, then can’t find the damned thing. I know in my head that it can’t have vanished irretrievably, but not being able to see it is pretty panic inducing. I did find it, in Downloads, just where iCloud put it, or I put it, or it arrived anyhow. Now the sun has hit the piano stool so that’s where I’m headed, though I’ve just had a cup of tea and may fall asleep.

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the year of playing the piano – sunny fingers

The sun is still here. This is an amazement. I practised this afternoon with warm fingers. It does make a difference. Fingerless gloves still on hand, if you see what I mean, but I didn’t use them. Looked down at fingers. Occasionally they looked like a pianist’s fingers. Occasionally they didn’t. What a strange word ‘fingers’ is. As you can see, the sun is so unusual for us Glasgwegians, it makes us go a bit doolally. But my Goldberg is bedding in. I also tried some Shostakovich. I’m glad to say that with some of it, if I did play it all of a muddle, nobody except an expert is likely to know. And Shostakovich, of course, but luckily he’s dead.

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the year of playing the piano – ducking and diving

Though I’m pathologically risk averse in most respects, I do appear to thrive on the uncertainties of the freelance multi-jobber. Not that everything at the moment is uncertain. I know where I’ll be two days a week, and I know what I’ll be doing on a third. But what the days will throw up is a different matter. Today I’ve donned at least two hats and am about to don a third. (Wife and mother don’t count.) If I had my absolute wish, though, I’d write and play the piano. At least that’s what I imagine. I don’t suppose any of us know what we’d do if we really did had the freedom to do as we pleased. I mean, what does please?

We’ve just purchased some more premium bonds. This is becoming a habit. They seem so comforting, in their unmodernised state. They’ve been called premium bonds, and acted in just the same way, since the ark rested on Mount Ararat. I associate them with picnics and lashings of ginger beer. Not so the ghastly lottery shoutout. To me, that’s cheap larger and throwing up in the street. Premium bond money is clean money, all neat. Lottery money is sticky money, all crumpled. Not that I’d make any kind of distinction, were I to win the Lot. If I do, I think that will please. Yes, I’m pretty sure that will please very well indeed.

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the year of playing the piano – inside outside

A sunny Glasgow poses dilemmas. Sit outside, since it’s Scotland, so bound to rain tomorrow; doze over the papers; pretend to be working. Sit inside, at piano or mac, really working. So far, I’ve compromised, reading the papers outside standing up so I’ll fall over if I doze off. Now I’m in, since neighbours must be out, so I may just attempt a Bach variation or two without the silencer on. Oh, what a confusion Sundays are. What a hopeless weekender am I. Don’t know from where my Protestant work ethic originated since I’m neither a Protestant nor from work-ethic parentage – at least not in the conventional sense of the phrase. I expect it’s Catholic guilt. No matter how far away our school days are, convent girls major in that. It’s not very useful, but I suppose it’s as well to major in something. I should attempt a new variation today. I think I’ll make the son banana pancakes instead, then I can feel guilty on the one hand, but not on the other: a perfect Jesuitical compromise, entirely appropriate for a Sunday in Lent.

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the year of playing the piano – new decisions

Nothing like going away to make some new resolutions. Today I resolved to organise my eLife properly instead of just randomly clicking and swiping and then swearing when the wrong thing happens. I’ve also tied my iPad in a knot to remind myself that you sometimes have to scroll down for options. The hours I’ve wasted trying to discover how to delete a iCal entry! What a nitwit I am. Anyhow, today I’ve learned a few things about google mail, a few things about my iPad, the odd thing about iCloud – and I’ve done the washing. Somehow cleaning, always a favourite procrastinatory brain-cosh, has been resisted – so far, as Homer Simpson would say. Doubtless I’ll seize the polish in the middle of the night. Practice has been undertaken. In keeping with a new pianistic resolution, I played the Goldberg Aria without the silencer on. It was not altogether disastrous, in that it was recognisably the Aria. I’m not sure I’m consistent with the capital letter here. Is it ‘aria’ or ‘Aria’? Are they ‘variations’ or ‘Variations’? These are the worries of someone who clearly doesn’t have enough to worry about. That’s a pretty worrying thought. Maybe I’ll do some brain-cosh cleaning right now after all.

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the year of playing the piano – drink was taken

After a lovely two night break of champagne cocktails and scones for tea, the return to practice is disastrous. End up apologising to the piano. If I had one wish, it would be to possess, for one day, or even an hour, a proper pianist’s hands. I’d like to know what it feels like to be master of the keys. There was a piano in our delightful hotel, but such is my dependence on the silencer that without it, fingers paralyse, memory vanishes and I’m turned into a jellyfish. Resolution to self: must play at least one small work without the silencer each day. Strange that it should be almost as much a penance for me as for the neighbours.

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the year of playing the piano – drink will be taken

No practice until Friday. This is wise: drink shall be taken today and tomorrow. If the Phantom is still with me, I reassure that I’m using the time to study again the chapters he has so kindly sent on playing the Goldberg. Armed with my iPad’s virtual piano I’m may make a little progress. Depends, of course, on the drink. My husband is not a man to stint on either quantity or quality. I’m expecting a superior hangover.

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the year of playing the piano – bird and bee

Practising is a solitary activity in that you do it alone – or in my case, with the dogs, and accompanied by the budgie. It’s never lonely though. One of the marvels of music is that it’s all absorbing. You don’t notice the time pass. Sometimes, I doubt I’d notice if the house burned down. That’s a marvellous thing for anybody prone to anxiety. Playing an instrument allows you to escape from yourself. Another marvel is that even if you’re a pretty crap pianist, you can occasionally turn a pretty phrase. That’s enough to cheer you for a week. I also find, now I’ve done so many days (I’ve tried to count, but always arrive at a different number), that achievement is beginning to be solid. This is almost entirely due to the Phantom’s advice, to look at the music inside out. I physically practice every day unless it’s completely impossible – I feel uncomfortable if I don’t – but I also try and understand how the variations are put together. Goodness, but Bach was a clever cove. The variations are not only musically intriguing, they also run you through all manner of pianistic techniques. I do believe that if you can play all of the Goldberg, you can play anything. Don’t think I’ll quite achieve that. Some variations will always be beyond me. That doesn’t stop me having visions of shuffling into a bar and causing a small sensation like that chap in Shine. In truth, sometimes when I’m looking ‘all absorbed’ in practice, I’m actually imagining playing The Flight of the Bumble Bee in the local cafe bar.

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