[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.
This will slow down my writing:
I used to play the piano a lot growing up, but finally ran out of time for it when the kids arrived. They took lessons for a while but were never especially interested, so the old piano (which had been in the family since I was a kid and had seen better days) went to piano heaven.
I got to be pretty good in high school, but I never had the drive to get any further than pretty good. Now, we’ll see.
The music in the photo is the Arietta from Beethoven’s Opus 111 piano sonata. I am showing off–I can’t play the thing. Yet. Or maybe ever–it offers technical challenges that my fingers may not be up to.
While we’re on the subject, here’s a quick plug for my novel Summit, in which I get to imagine what it’s like to be a brilliant (and eccentric) classical pianist, in the mold of Glenn Gould.
Yup, I was there. Here’s what things looked like as we awaited the start of the show:
Note the Prudential Center lit up in orange.
Here Lady Gaga is singing a song that involved setting the stage on fire:
Here are all the cell phones lit up in a communal ritual of adoration as she sings “Million Reasons”:
And here she is at the end wearing her oversize cowboy getup:
It turns out that we are the best fans in the world, and she couldn’t do it without us.
Some more observations:
- I’m getting a bit old to stand up for two solid hours, even for Lady Gaga. On the other hand, 48 years ago I was pretty annoyed at having to sleep in the mud at Woodstock. So maybe it’s just me and not my age.
- The crowd was, by my estimation, 104% white.
- I have never seen fishnet stockings on men before. Maybe I need to get out more.
- Having said that, I also saw lots of folks who looked like me, including the gray hair. The crowd was basically PG and the show was PG-13.
- Lady Gaga is a good musician — she’s got a big voice, she dances well, she plays the piano and guitar. Her songs are high-grade pop. She also seems like a warm, pleasant person, in a show-biz sort of way. She had nice things to say about everyone in her family, including an aunt who died before she was born. She dedicated a song to a friend who died of cancer. I’d be disappointed if I found out she was a jerk backstage.
- I had no emotional connection to anything that happened onstage. Everyone around me knew all the lyrics to all the songs — and, what was more important, the songs seemed to matter to them. They hugged each other; they sang along as they swayed in time to the music… Me, I found myself checking the score of the Red Sox game in the Bronx (Final: Boston 4, New York 1).
Even though (maybe especially because) he apparently plagiarized parts of it from SparkNotes, of all places. Thus saith Slate:
In Dylan’s recounting, a “Quaker pacifist priest” tells Flask, the third mate, “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness” (my emphasis). No such line appears anywhere in Herman Melville’s novel. However, SparkNotes’ character list describes the preacher using similar phrasing, as “someone whose trials have led him toward God rather than bitterness” (again, emphasis mine).
And so on. For Dylan, plagiarism is beside the point. He isn’t just another songwriter; he is a force of nature. Here he is singing “North Country Blues” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, when he was all of 22 years old. He tells us all we need to know about offshoring and alternative energy sources and the working stiff:
Y’all like the Indigo Girls, right? Me too.
My music shuffle brought up “Watershed” the other day, and it occurred to me that it has some similarity to themes I find myself exploring in my Portal series.
Here they are performing the song on the Tonight Show a quarter of a century ago. We saw them perform a few years ago, and they could still bring it.
So many things to choose from.
- Clean out my garage. You’ve seen my garage, right? You haven’t? It’s a mess. Decluttering is all the rage. Maybe I’ll start there.
- Read A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. Reading about his theory clarified for me why I’m a liberal. But I’ve never read the book itself. It’s, um, long. And if I read it, maybe I’ll have to read all the books that have been written in response to it. And meanwhile the garage will get messy again.
- Listen to more Brahms. How come I got to be as old as I am without listening to his string quintets? They’re great! What else am I missing? I can listen to Brahms while cleaning my garage.
- Finish my novel. Faster. Luckily, my novel doesn’t have anything to do with politics. Of course, it’s entirely possible politics will sneak in before I’m done with it.
- Re-read Shakespeare. I’ve let that go for too long. Now would be a great time to start it up again. Also, there are a couple of Shakespeare exhibits at the Boston Public Library. How come I’m not there right now?
Of course, there’s always the chance that at some point I’ll rethink my current attitude. As that noted optimist Samuel Beckett famously said:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
Failing better is the American way.
I once took a course from a Nobel Prize winner. But this is the only Nobel Prize winner I’ve seen playing electric guitar while people shouted angrily at him for betraying folk music.
Here’s just one example of why Dylan deserves the Nobel Prize:
Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
There are, of course, hundreds more.
. . . so we might as well listen to “Visions of Johanna”, from Blonde on Blonde, which is now half a century old.
Here’s one of the stanzas. No one can write like Dylan.
In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane
Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place
George Martin has died at the age of 90..
I can’t begin to tell you how much pleasure George Martin has added to my life. Here is “In My Life,” which includes the famous piano bridge written and performed by Martin:
And this is how Wikipedia describes the bridge:
The song was recorded on 18 October 1965, and was complete except for the instrumental bridge. At that time, Lennon had not decided what instrument to use, but he subsequently asked George Martin to play a piano solo, suggesting “something Baroque-sounding”. Martin wrote a Bach-influenced piece that he found he could not play at the song’s tempo. On 22 October, the solo was recorded with the tape running at half speed, so when played back at normal pace the piano was twice as fast and an octave higher, solving the performance challenge and also giving the solo a unique timbre, reminiscent of a harpsichord.
It’s hard to believe that this song has been around for over 50 years.