Toss-Up Tuesday: Beethoven

Just because I don’t take lessons anymore doesn’t mean I’ve completely abandoned learning new pieces on my own. I have been playing this one off and on for almost 20 years now. I’ll pick it up occasionally and see what I remember and work out some kinks here and there. But then the choir director will throw something ridiculous at me and Beethoven goes back in my music pantry (yes, I have a music pantry) until I’m feeling appropriately melancholy enough to revisit him. I didn’t look to hard for a recording of the 1st movement to share, but the 2nd is my favorite anyway.

Toss-Up Tuesday: The Upside of Not Taking Lessons Anymore.

The #1 reason why I’m glad I’m no longer taking piano lessons: I don’t have to play these anymore. I loaned my Hanon book to a piano student, and we ended lessons abruptly, and I don’t think I’ll ever see that book again.

I’m not so sure I care.

I also can’t believe there are multiple YouTube videos of people playing frickin’ Hanon. HANON. For the love.


Toss-Up Tuesday: Sondheim

A former student moved back to Nebraska, and not long after he did, he contacted me to see if I would help him work up an audition book. I was completely unprepared for what kind of music he would throw at me.

Sondheim. Lots of Sondheim.

And it’s not only difficult to play because Sondheim clearly hates pianists and loves key changes. The content of the lyrics is tough as well.

At out most recent rehearsal, we spent the entire time rehearsing “Being Alive” from the musical Company. For 45 minutes, I listened to these lyrics:

“Somebody hold me too close
Somebody hurt me too deep
Somebody sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive…”

And it just goes on and on about all the dimensions of being in a relationship. By the end of Sunday’s rehearsal, I was a little emotionally exhausted.

But evil key signatures and heart-wrenching lyrics aside, I love playing these fantastical accompaniments. I have a blast each week we rehearse, and I look forward to every night at 9 PM, when my reminder pops up to practice the piano. Which is gonna happen in 11 minutes, so I better just hit publish…and I think this song will be the first one I practice tonight:

Toss-Up Tuesday: Nerves.

The first time I recall performing is kindergarten. On the last day of school, I played “Teddy Bear March” in the talent show. I don’t recall being nervous. 

But as I grew older and performances carried higher stakes like judges ratings, scholarships, or making choirs or soloists look good, I become increasingly nervous. About the only place I’m not nervous is playing in Primary for the kids, or playing congregational hymns at church. (Soloists is a completely different ballgame at church.)
Tonight I took my bundle of nervous energy to school a good two hours before I would actually be on stage, helping accompany the choir. I chatted with the school accompanist and asked her if I would ever not be nervous.
I should preface her answer with her credentials: she’s been the accompanist at our school for at least a decade, has taught thousands of piano lessons, and she has a M.A. in Piano. Performance, I think. 
“Oh heavens, no,” she said. “I still get nervous, because I never know what’s going to happen to my hands during a performance.”
I’ve been there many times. Frozen when a chord progression gets off by one note. Clunked through strings of accidentals. Came in a measure early (that infraction caused so much guilt on my part that I brought apology fudge to the choir director the next day for screwing up).
But tonight? Ah, despite the nervous energy, tonight was glorious. A taste of what I played? (Keep in mind my friend Ellen and I were playing off a score intended for a full orchestra. So be mildly impressed, but not incredibly impressed.)

Piano Practice

For the first time since my senior year of high school, I have a mandated nightly piano practice time. The next seven days, my focus is on three stupid measures of a Brahms piece written in E major (That’s 4 sharps. I can usually play 3 fine, 5 okay, but 4? My brain shuts down.).

I’m a second set of hands at a choir concert next week for the Brahms, and for selected movements from Carmina Burana (that one’s in F. One flat. Totally doable).

But that’s not all, folks.

A former student is back in town after college and a little bit of life lived, and wants to perform again, so every Sunday at 2:30, we meet up. He hands me music that I pretend to sight read while he sings beautifully.

Then during the week, I practice what he gave me the week prior.

(You think my brain struggles with 4 sharps? You should see what happened when he handed me a song written in C# major. That’s seven. SEVEN SHARPS. WHO DOES THAT?)

I’m loving it.

I remember decades ago when I thought I wanted to be a concert pianist, but the secret no one told me then is that being an accompanist is so much more fun. It’s slightly less stressful, yet I still get to perform, and my job is to be invisible.

It’s been fun to have a regular practice schedule again, and I’m a little more determined to maintain it after these “assigned” projects go away.