Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fixing a Hole

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
and stops my mind from wandering
where it will go

I had my piano lesson today. I started playing two and a half years ago, made progress quickly, and then stalled, mostly because I've been running up against the limitations of the bad habits I have picked up from never really learning how to read music. I've been compensating by playing pretty much everything by ear, studying the notation only in the early stages and then relying on my ear and rote memory to pick out the notes as I look at the keyboard. Unsurprisingly, the results have been pretty dismal. It takes me forever to learn each song, and I still can't read music well, because I haven't been practicing THAT, despite lots of tactful little hints. (My teacher is maybe the most tactful instructor I've ever had. She habitually refers to my most spectacular blunders, supportively, as "improvisations.")

So today, when I finally had gotten to the point where I was frustrated enough to finally listen, my teacher took me back to to basics and basically asked me to turn my method inside out: instead of watching the keys and using my ear to guide me, I need to watch the music and use my fingers to find the notes. So tonight I was practicing that way, and it wound up being a lot less difficult than I thought it was going to be. I was able to block out the passages I've been working on so far, and after half an hour or so I was starting to be able to find my way, looking at the music, almost as well as I could without.

Then I decided to practice the rest of the my own little pieces, the ones I do make up more or less by ear, which are mostly simple binary chord sequences in the left hand with arpeggios in the right, with my eyes closed, again relying on my fingers rather than my eyes to guide me. That also resulted in an immediate and dramatic impact in the musicality of what I was playing.

I'm filling the cracks that ran though the door
and kept my mind from wandering
where it will go

I'm starting to get weirded out by Google Reader. Every day there is so much interesting stuff that arrives in my aggregator, and I wind up storing the links as starred items or sending them to, on the theory that at some point I will Go Back and Revisit Them. As Freaking If. I've got my classes to teach, and their paper to correct. I've got my department to run. (Right now I'm just finishing up scheduling for next year.) I've got to exercise and do my breathing every morning to stay loose enough to walk, and I've got to walk every evening to keep from turning into the Pillsbury Doughboy. I want to keep this blog going. We're in mid-production for the literary magazine, working through more than 150 written submissions and 60 pieces of artwork, after which we have to lay it all out, proofread it, and get it to the printer by the end of the first week in May. I'm trying to practice piano every day. I want to read some actual books once in a while. My wife likes to exchange pleasantries once in a while. So when exactly am I ever going to get back?

I'm painting my room in a colorful way,
and when my mind is wandering
there I will go

There was a time when I was keeping only a physical, handwritten commonplace book. After I started this blog, there was about a period of about two months when I was keeping them both. Then as I got more into this, I basically fell out of the habit of keeping the physical commonplace book. It's sitting right now in my big green bag in which I cart my laptop and my papers and books back and forth to and from school each day. Stashed inside it are maybe twenty things I've torn out of papers and magazines as idea starters and artifacts for when I pick it up again. Which I need to do soon. What I did there was broader-based and generated more different kinds of writing than what I'm doing here. I miss that.

I'm taking my time for a number of things
that weren't important yesterday
and I still go

(Random, but nonetheless true, factoid: one of my students has been threatening to buy me an iguana. She seems to feel that there's something iguana-like about my facial expressions, and she apparently thinks either a) that it would do me good to have a kindred spirit around me or b) that it would be a funny thing to be able to give me a hard time about.)

I don't know what kicked off "Fixing a Hole" in my head this afternoon, but suddenly, there I was, singing it softly and obsessively to myself as I walked upstairs to my classroom, and later on my way to lunch. This happens all the time. I'll hear someone make a remark that will remind me of a couple of words from a song and then for the next hour I won't be able to get it out of my head. I assume that happens to everyone. But what's up with that? Often I will get a somewhat eerie sense that There Is a Reason why the reptilian part of my brain is kicking This Particular Song up at This Particular Moment. But what's the reason? Who knows? The reptile isn't talking.

1 comment:

Lara Cowell said...

Hey Bruce,

You know you've been a musician too long when seeing a photo of a musical score triggers melody in your brain. Laughed reading your comment about "improvisations"--I took piano for 11 years, but having lived for 8 years, sans piano, I've reached the playing nadir where the simplest Mozart piece sounds like weird atonal dissonance. It's a truly humbling experience to think, "Aigh, I USED to be able to play that music!" One thing's certain though--practice does have benefits! So slog on. =)

I'm continually amazed at your prolific and thoughtful writing. Thanks for sharing your blog with all of us.