What’s the point of practicing the piano?

My brother-in-law gave me a copy of the classic book Playing the Piano for Pleasure, which I first read many years ago. The author, Charles Cook, advocates playing the piano for an hour a day and dividing up that hour as follows:

  • Forty minutes of working on your repertoire–that is, a couple dozen pieces that you want to absolutely master (including memorizing them)
  • Ten minutes of working on your technique–he considers this optional
  • Ten minutes of sight-reading

The question I’m facing is how much effort I want to put into absolutely mastering a bunch of pieces, as opposed to knowing them well enough to derive please from playing them. In particular, what’s the point of memorizing them?

Here’s a piece I’ve been playing–the Brahms Waltz in A-flat Major, played by Evgeny Kissin:

This isn’t a hard piece to play. It lasts under two minutes, and there are only a couple of moderately tricky measures at the end. I played it through ten times or so and I was pretty comfortable with it. But to memorize it, I’ll have to hammer it into the ground for a couple more hours, and then continually review it to keep it in my fingers. That’s assuming my aging synapses are still capable of such feats.

Playing the piano, of course, makes you constantly aware of how far short you fall from what has been achieved by the geniuses who lurk among us. This site tells the story of the teenage Martha Argerich learning Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto in her sleep, while her roommate played it in the same room. When she revisited the concerto later, she had to unlearn some of the mistakes her roommate had been making.

Well, as John Lennon said, we’re all doing what we can.

 

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Paperback versions of Dover Beach and The Distance Beacons

Turns out we now have paperback versions of my very fine novels Dover Beach and The Distance Beacons(An old, used paperback of Dover Beach is also available, but I don’t get any money when you buy one of those copies, so where’s the fun in that?) The covers look remarkably like the covers of the ebooks:

So now, along with Where All the Ladders Start, you can buy paperback versions of all three of the very fine novels in my Last P.I. series. Need I point out that a series of private eye novels set in a dystopian future after a major societal breakdown would make the perfect gift for that special someone on Valentine’s Day?

Also, I can get you these novels cheaper than you can get them from Amazon, so if you need a few, let me know.

Why would anyone root for the New England Patriots?

Some guy has come up with a spin on being a Patriots fan that got published in the Washington Post. He felt sorry for Atlanta fans last year, and he thinks Patriots fans have been made miserable by their success.

The typical Patriots fan, on the other hand, was miserable with success by then, our blood long since curdled and our spines crooked with the glut of good fortune. Anything less than a Super Bowl win last year, as this year, would be considered a failure.

Being a fan is an interesting psychological condition. For me, as with most people (I don’t know about the Post writer), it’s tied up with my childhood. For most of my Boston childhood, we didn’t even have a football team. We saw the Giants play on TV every Sunday, and that turned some kids into Giants fans. But what did I care about Frank Gifford and Y. A. Tittle?

Then we got a team in the American Football League, so I had to root for the Patriots, and the league. I saw them play at Fenway Park. I saw them play at B.C.’s Alumni Field. But the Patriots were no good. They were never any good. They played in the AFL championship game in 1963, and they got clobbered. After the merger with the NFL they still sucked. Finally when I was in my thirties they made it to a Super Bowl, and they got clobbered yet again. When I was in my forties they returned to the Super Bowl, and the clobbering continued.

Meanwhile coaches and owners came and went. Now it’s 2001 and I’m middle-aged, maybe beyond middle age, and my team has never accomplished anything.

Then came the Tuck Rule Game, and the football gods finally started to smile on the Patriots–40 years after I became a fan. It was about time. Seventeen years later, the gods are still smiling on the Patriots. Do I feel sorry for Atlanta fans and Philadelphia fans and Buffalo fans and all the rest? A little, I guess. Not enough to change my ways, though.

Go Pats!

Progress Report 2: Brahms

[Updated to correct an error pointed out by my smart brother.]

Here I talked about my resolution to learn Brahms’s Intermezzo in E-flat Major. I’m hard at work! Technically, it’s not especially hard. The sheet music I’m using for the piece grades the difficulty of pieces from 1 to 10, and this one gets a 5 — middle of the range. But, you know, my fingers aren’t what they used to be…

The piece is in standard ABA format. The middle section is in G-flat Major, which is also pretty standard. The problem is that G-flat Major on the piano has six freakin’ flats. Here’s what the beginning of the middle section looks like:

This is not hard music to play, unless you’re out of practice playing music with six flats, in which case you’re continually stumbling when you go to play a C and you realize that you should be playing a B, because the C is flatted in this key, and C flat is B. Right?

It also doesn’t help that Brahms has a pretty rich harmonic language going on here, so by the fifth measure of the middle section he’s temporarily turning those C-flats into C-naturals, and you have to remember that too.

The right thing to do is to just go ahead and memorize the piece so you’re not stuck trying to sight-read it. But, you know, that’s a lot of work. And I’ve got a novel to finish.

Progress Report 1: Second Draft

I see that Jeff Carver has a nifty progress bar on his website. He’s up to 91% complete on the “major revisions” to his novel The Reefs of Time. Yay! I don’t know how to do that progress bar thing, but I am pleased to report that I’m about 52% complete on the second draft of my novel. (Of course, my book is about a third as long as Jeff’s, so the tasks aren’t really comparable.) I’ve also cut about 2% of the first draft, but I’m now starting to suspect that the second draft is going to end up slightly longer than the first. Where have I gone wrong?

I figure I’ll complete the second draft sometime in April, if I don’t have any more bright ideas. I’m in the middle of a bright idea right now, and it’s certainly slowing things down.