September 17, 2008

Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak*

On The Current this morning (CBC radio), Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed Daniel Levitin who believes music is what makes us human. It was a fascinating interview. His new book, The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, is an anthropological study going back at least 6,000 years in the history of music. He was talking about how music has the ability to comfort and connect us to a larger community of people of similar states of mind. Music actually shapes the evolution of our brains, thereby shaping civilizations.

He sees music and songs as metaphors for ideas, feelings, emotions that we share. Stories, music, art all have this capacity. I can’t say I agree with his choices for memorable music, but I do like what he is saying.

Somewhere in the interview, Levitin mentioned that Pete Seeger, who still strongly believes in the power of music, is ninety-five years old. All I could do was keep saying over and over, ninety-five years old, Pete Seeger is ninety-five years old. He was a major part of my youth. Besides the influence of his songs and his philosophy, his father and step-mother lived a few block away from my home. Peggy Seeger was a year ahead of me in High School. And I went to their house to take piano lessons with Mrs. Seeger. The father was a musical archivist and their home was always filled with music, in books and sounds. I really liked Mrs. Seeger. She was warm and generous of spirit. She wanted to teach me about improvisation, something I still want to learn, but my parents were strict about my learning classical music and so, they being the ones who paid for the lessons, I had to change teachers.

Now, the real bummer is our current Prime Minister. Mr. Harper decided to cut funding to arts groups in Canada because, as he feels, why spend money on things people don’t want. He is, in truth, just underlining how uncivilized he is. Without culture, who are we anyway, Mr. Harper!

* English playwright William Congreve

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July 20, 2008

All that jazz

Yesterday's jazz concerts were beautiful. In the afternoon I went to a concert by the Creative Music Workshop students, a two week study of contemporary jazz creativity/improvisation. The first group was wonderful; the drummer was the son of a friend of mine and superb. I want to introduce him to Damian (my grandson who is a genius on the drums) when he is here is August. The second group played such cacophony I had to leave. My jazz piano teacher (one of the group leaders but unfortunately his group was last) said to hang in there but I couldn't. Then when I turned the radio on in my car, there was a discussion of a book about criticism and what we love. Do we love easy pleasure or do we love to be irritated. The examples they used were from music. Perfect!

The evening concert was Sheila Jordan, a contemporary of Miles Davis. Seventy-nine and three-quarter years and still cookin! She reminded me of my aunt Marcella who lived to 102 and saucy to the end. Sheila played voice and bass duets with Cameron Brown. Her voice was spectacular and she sang stories spontaneously. Sometimes singing to the bass (instrument) or to the bass player, and sometimes telling the story of her life. An inspiration! After the concert, I spoke to a friend who said Sheila Jordan has always been her favorite singer and she'd email me the title of her most favorite CD. Looking forward to having a CD of hers in my home library.

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July 16, 2008

Jazz time

The Atlantic Jazz Festival is on this week in Halifax. I went to see Holly Cole sing Sunday night. Laila Biali was the opener. She played the piano with such ease; I don’t know how she does it. It was inspiring. Her singing is good too, but the piano play, awesome!

Then there was Holly Cole. What a voice! Man, can she sing! And perform. It was spectacular, watching her. The only thing I would have liked is if her choice of songs was a little more intense to go with her intense voice. The songs were just too easy for my taste. But when she sang The Tennessee Waltz the (older) woman in front of me was crying. Memories. Interestingly, the median age of the audience was definitely over fifty.

Aaron had given me a CD of Holly Cole’s for my birthday. I’ve been listening to it and without her strong stage presence, the songs themselves are softer. Her performance is fascinating, her voice one of the best.

Yesterday I hung out at the Main Tent, saw the very good Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band perform. A day-care had brought a group of three year olds and they were dancing up by the stage and throwing themselves around. So free, so very cute and so sweet.

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June 26, 2008

Speaking of teaching: My piano lesson

So Skip finally figured me out. When he came in last time (he comes to my house which is great because I still have the beautiful 1927 Steinway grand I’ve had it since I was twelve.), he told me he had spent the night with me that week, all night, he said. I told him “I wish I had been there!” He said he wished he were twenty years younger. Sweet.

When we got down to the music, he said he wanted to approach teaching me jazz piano in the same way I learned to paint abstract. Learn some basic methods, a foundation, then break all the rules. Yes!

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May 26, 2008

Backing up

I had a piano lesson with Skip Beckwith last week. I was ready to quit, give up the idea of learning jazz piano. It’s very hard. I’ve played classical music since I was eight. Jazz is a very different way of thinking about music. It seems so spontaneous yet there is a basic structure to learn before being able to fly free.

Skip is not only a fantastic jazz musician (he plays bass in groups), he is also a wonderful teacher. After every other approach failed (miserably!), he decided we should start with the blues. There is a definite blues scale and series of progressions as a base from which to move out but I would keep getting lost in the process. I just couldn’t put both hands together and keep myself connected to the time and chord series. So Skip had me go back to the beginning, do the basic, fundamental groundwork, learn the left hand well, learn to play it with my eyes closed, make it part of my body, part of my whole being. Then, perhaps, I can improvise on top of that. And I think it’s working. It doesn’t even feel tedious.

I can relate to the pleasure he must get from trying to figure out how to impart his knowledge to a student. All the many possible angles, approaches to achieve the desired result. It’s something I miss about teaching but is something that happens all the time when painting. If you do this, that happens; if you do that, this happens. And you don’t really know until you try it.

Once recently when teaching, my mechanical pencil (I love mechanical pencils) wouldn’t give me a new piece of lead even though I could hear it rattling around in the pencil. We were doing homework critiques at the time and I kept trying even while standing up in front of the class. Finally, after about ten minutes, it worked. So persistence does bring success!

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January 05, 2008

The sound of our music

Yesterday Yoko came over to visit. I had taken care of their house for a few weeks while they were both away. Her husband in Denmark, she in Japan. Both working. So they missed the recent deluge of snowstorms we have been having.

It was good to see her again. Until a couple of years ago we would get together once a week to play duets—Dvorak, Grieg, Satie (my favorite). Then we were both too busy to continue. Yesterday, we ended up playing some jazz pieces together, four-hand piano. We were improvising as we went along. As she has studied music, has perfect pitch and also teaches piano and saxophone now, she could help me along.

I’ve been struggling with learning jazz piano for the past year or so. Being classically trained, knowing how to read music, play what is written, put in my own expression, etc. hasn’t helped one bit in playing jazz (well, at least I can read music!). Jazz is much more complicated, requires more presence. I have so much to learn. It’s either exciting or daunting, depending on when you ask me. Playing with Yoko was exciting. And we made a date to get together every Friday afternoon. That’s even more exciting!

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December 20, 2007

Miles of smiles

I’ve been reading Miles by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe. It’s one of those books I could stay up all night reading. Written as he told it to Quincy Troupe, the language is quite colorful, that jive language where “bad” is “good” and a “sh*t m*therf*cker” is the best. (The ***’s are here to avoid the G**gle tentacles!) He is very direct, honest, and more or less open about his life, his loves, and especially his music.

I love jazz and Miles Davis is one of my very favorites. When I was in art school, a friend introduced me to his music. Over the years I’ve listened to him more than anyone else. Once, in New York, a friend (who also played jazz at the time) took me to the luncheonette on Broadway In the 70’s where Miles often ate. Unfortunately he didn’t come in that day.

I’m only up to 1952, about a third of the way through the book. So far I’ve learned more about him than I expected. He lived for his music. In his early years, music was almost all he thought about. By age fifteen he was playing with other great musicians. His father was a dentist and very supportive of Miles. When Miles decided to quit Juilliard, he didn’t just call his father; he went home to East St. Louis to tell him in person. His father understood and continued to send him money so he could pursue his dream.

The years I am reading about now, 1950, 51, 52 were hard years for Miles. He was into drugs and finding it hard to stop. I know he did stop (only did it for four years) and am waiting to see how. Basically he was a very good person, helping other musicians whenever he could, no matter what color skin, caring only about their music. In the years I’ve been reading about, he is looking for his own voice. He knows it won’t be fast like Charlie Bird Parker or Dizzy Gillespie. His own slow, languid pace is what made his music unique.

Reading about his one-pointed passion for his music is inspiring. Jazz is a collaborative art form. So much of Mile’s story involves who he plays with, learns from, talks to. When he wasn't playing music, he would go from club to club to hear music and then talk all night to friends about the music. I couldn’t help comparing it to painting, a very solitary art form. But it too needs that kind of obsessive energy to find the right voice, the expression of a personal vision.

I’ve been trying to learn how to play jazz piano, taking lessons recently with Skip Beckwith now and again. It’s hard. After so many years of playing classical music, just reading the music and playing, this is so different. It’s a different way of thinking about music. I know I’ll never be a great jazz musician. But I do love jazz and am determined to learn how to play some, in my own way. It helps to read about Miles Davis and his thorough immersion in a life of music. If even a tiny bit rubs off on me, I’d be happy.

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August 04, 2006

It's hard!

Beginning to study jazz piano reminds me of when I began to paint (or try) abstract paintings. It was hard. I knew before I went to art school that I wanted to do abstraction, but my studies in school were all based on learning, using color, to create form, mass and space from objects placed before us, as students. The focus was on color, using it in ways that we choose, in ways that would create an object in actual space—the space part being as important as the object. What I wanted to do was to use the same understanding of the elements without the external references.

People often think abstraction is easy: no image, no thought. But it is very difficult. No image; no references, nothing to fall back on. Just what’s on the canvas. Just the paint itself. When there is something out there, an image to represent, it’s more about the image, even if it is distorted, rearranged, inverted. It’s still a familiar image. There is often nothing familiar about an abstract painting. Except, perhaps, the history that brought it to fruition and, perhaps, emotions it generates. But then, everyone’s emotions are different. There isn’t one “proper” reaction to “no image.”

With jazz I’m having to learn scales again, just like I’m beginning music lessons for the first time. Then there is the basic “rules” of how harmonies work in a jazz piece. Then there is the “putting it together” part. I’m used to reading two lines of music at once, the bass and treble clefs. Here I am given just one line, the melody, and the rest is up to me. It’s definitely opening up some new brain cells. After my first lesson, I thought I could come home a play some jazz pieces. That was mistake number one. I might have some understanding now of what the elements are that make up a piece of jazz music, but I have a lot to learn, AND REMEMBER, before I have any fluency in the process. Interesting.

Posted by leya at 02:01 PM

August 01, 2006


So . . . I had my first jazz piano lesson Monday. I can sum it up in two words: It’s hard! I never was good with scales and remembering theory. And here I have to know what key and all it’s progressions and combinations all at once. Along with the fact that there is only one line, the melody, and all the rest is up to me. Wow! But I do love a challenge! There is so much to learn.

Sometimes when practicing I feel I can’t do it but then I take a small step in understanding and am eager to get on with it. I took “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and fiddled with the melody and it wasn’t too bad. It’s mostly getting the harmonies going in the right places with the right notes. At this point, playing classical music, with all the notes written out, feels like a cinch. Pieces that were very hard last week don’t look so hard this week!

Yoko came over Sunday for a swim, boat ride, and duets (four-hand piano). It’s been a while since we played and as usual we had some good laughs with our mistakes. She also plays (and teaches) the saxaphone and we talked about playing some jazz pieces together. When I learn what it is all about I can teach her!

The best part of this, so far, is that a couple of friends have been inspired (by my enthusiasm to learn a new musical form) to take up an instrument again. I’m thrilled to be the stimulus for them.

Posted by leya at 07:16 PM

July 21, 2006

The tunes they are a changin'


The Halifax Jazz Fest is on now! When I returned from Annapolis (late) Friday afternoon, I went to see Mose Allison play at the Holiday Inn. He’s 78 years old and totally wonderful. A good role model for anyone. Jerry Grenelli (on drums) and his son Anthony Grenelli (bassist) were also playing, along with slide guitarist David Tronzo. Everyone played their very best. Mose Alison’s passionate piano playing and intelligent, insightful lyrics were so inspiring, I kept thinking I wanted to study jazz piano just so I could be closer to him, understand his music better.

On Sunday afternoon I went to see (and hear) Peter Tagny play jazz piano in Mahone Bay. It was a beautiful setting, in a private home on the Bay. I love listening to Peter on the radio (weekend mornings on CBC): his conversations, his studio banter, his choice of CD’s to play. It was an afternoon of pleasant jazz commingling and improvised around classical tunes.

When I left that concert I knew it was definitely time to act on my long-time yearning to play jazz piano. I’ve always thought I wouldn’t be good at it, but at this time in my life, that is no longer the point. I just want to play. And lately learning and playing classical music hasn’t been as exciting to me as it used to be. So the time is ripe. I called a friend who has studied with someone in Halifax and I will call the jazz teacher as soon as the jazz festival is over.

Posted by leya at 03:34 PM

October 02, 2005

Some things just feel right

If you look around, want to find out, are curious enough, there are a lot of interesting, unusual things happening in the little town of Halifax. It�s not like New York, not like Montreal, where it's frontal, in bold type, where there is so much to choose from. Here it is pockets of exquisite surprises.

Last night my friend Inge took me to an �event.� She had told me to dress warm and bring a flashlight. That was all I knew beforehand. (Well, as it turned out my flashlight, a fancy one I had bought to get me through all the possible blackouts in the future, the batteries faded just as I needed them!) We had dinner first and then went up Citadel Hill, into the fortress, across the field, up the ramp, around a corner, down some stairs into a dank basement gun room, once a prison, now a concert hall lit with candles. And, to my surprise, one of the performers was Peter Togni, the moderator on the CBC Weekender program, one of my favorite shows, one of my favorite voices on the radio, on of my favorite Canadian composers. And furthermore, it turns out that the Tognis had been the previous owners of Inge�s house and their children had gone to school together. This is when I love living in a place like this, when the links grow longer and more intimate.

The concert was entitled New Music In New Places: Comtemplative explorations on Gregorian Chant, presented by the Canadian Music Centre. The performers were Peter Togni, Jeff Reilly, and Christoph Both. They played their improvised, abstract, continuous, sometimes wailing, sometimes gentle, sometimes melodic music for an hour without stopping. There were times when I would have liked to bottle the music and take it home with me. At other times, I was happy to leave the strange music within the confines of the strange concert hall. As we slowly found our way down the hill in the dark, the evening felt warm and perfect, even without the flashlight.

Posted by leya at 08:00 PM

July 19, 2005

A beguiling songstress


The Halifax Jazz Festival is in full swing (pun intended!). Sunday night I went to a performance by Keren Ann, the Parisian singer now living in New York. She has a beautiful, deep voice and her phrasing is exquisite. She kept the audience waiting for each word. And she used the microphone like an instrument. It was a mesmerizing performance. I bought her new recording, Nolita, the next day.

She seemed very young, in her manner, looks, presentation, and I thought she was probably twenty-one, no more than twenty-four, but I read today that she is thirty-one, which in that field is not too young. I had heard a Montreal musician saying (on the radio) that he prefers to listen to English songs over his native French ones because French music is about the poetry, with long involved lyrics. English songs, on the other hand, are about the music, the beat. Where else could you make a song that repeats one sentence over and over and over. (�She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah�) Keren Ann�s lyrics and style didn�t have a lot of variety, but they did have a sensitivity that was enchanting. I�m looking forward to hearing what she does next.

Posted by leya at 06:12 PM | Comments (1)

June 10, 2005

The body is a world of percussion instruments

Wednesday evening I went to one of the Scotia Festival of Music concerts: Aiyun Huang (playing solo and also a few duets with Mark Duggan) is a Taiwanese-Canadian multi-award winning percussionist who has played with many famous artists worldwide. She is currently a Faculty Fellow at the University of California, San Diego.

She gave an electrifying performance of contemporary music on an array of percussive instruments, including drums, a large keyboard, clay flower pots, marimbas, and her own body (try it, it's fascinating, the sounds you can make by patting, thrumming, stroking and humming on/with your body). The most intriguing part for me was when, after an almost demonic performance of challenging music, she would look up at the audience with the most angelic, priceless smile. At times like this, it�s hard to believe you are in (what often seems like quiet little) Halifax.

Posted by leya at 07:01 PM

November 24, 2004

The piano lesson

Today Yoko and I did really well when we were playing Satie, enough to give ourselves a big congratulatory smile. But when we played the Grieg, which we had known well just a while ago, it was not so good with mistakes tumbling over each other and our smiles turned to laughter while playing.

Then I told Yoko that yesterday I showed some slides in my figure drawing class (and then projected some onto the model to create interesting compositional elements). One of the slides was Matisses Piano Lesson. I told the students it had been a favorite painting of mine early on. It reminded me of the days in my youth when I was practicing the piano, feeling trapped behind the keyboard, with a parent in the next room saying (because I used to like to improvise) (and I repeated to the class in a very funky nasal reprimanding voice): If you cant play it right, dont play it at all! And one of my students said I have a good doctor if you need one.

Well, I still play and not always right. So thats right!

Posted by leya at 04:36 PM

October 25, 2004

Shall we dance on the keyboard while a mouse squeaks on the floor

Saturday night I went with my friend Inge to an amazing , riveting performance, a concert of totally improvised contemporary music in its best form. The main performer was Lee Pui Ming, formerly from Hong Kong, now from Toronto. She played the piano with childlike abandonment, her fingers flowing over the keys. She also used the instrument like a total percussive instrument, tapping it, strumming it, rolling metal balls over the strings, playing with the overtones. Her energetic dancing body was a major part of the music. A joy to watch. She sang too, using her voice as yet another percussive instrument.

She was joined by the beautiful playing of Norman Adams on the cello and Erin Donovan on various percussions, such as stepping on a squeaky toy mouse while blowing on whistles or playing a childs keyboard. There was wildness and dissonance, yet the melodic reverie was a thread that sewed ones ear to very eerie sounds.

Just last week, Tom Allen on the morning music program had dissonance as his weekly musical word. He was saying how dissonance needs consonance to be dissonance, the contrast is what makes it be dissonance. And also that each generation finds the music that came before it easier than the one it is in. Schoenberg said at some future point after the ear becomes accustomed to the sound it will no longer be considered dissonance. People walked out of new music concerts (as they did with his Rites of Spring) by many composers who are now considered mainstream.

(I know people who are so accustomed to dissonance in their lives that they consider it concord, natural, dont notice it. A couple of years ago a friend came to visit with her mother. As they sat there on my couch talking, I noticed how her mother expressed frequent little critical comments towards her daughter. And I know that the daughter expresses similar little comments to her partner. They get so used to the barbs that it becomes natural.)

In this case, the music was improvisation where anything goes! And the communication between the players was seamless. When we went up to him after the performance, Norman Adams showed us the score which looked like a drawing for dance steps across the stage. That was all. The rest was in their intuitive, skillful talking to each other in the language of music.

Listening to the CD I purchased of Lee Pui Ming playing the piano in her unorthodox and passionate way, I miss the visual component but can easily recall the experience. That feeling of sitting in a concert hall with a big grin on my face and an eagerness to hear and see what would happen next.

Posted by leya at 06:03 PM

October 21, 2004

There is music in the air

Youve heard of air guitar, no doubt, and Damian & Tamar play air hockey, but have you heard of air recorder? Last week Yoko came over for our weekly duet session (four hand piano) and after dinner I brought out my alto recorder. Since Yoko had left hers at home, she accompanied me on a tube of toothpaste. A new jumbo tube, so she also played alto. She even took the other part so we played a mean duet!

When I was in LA Damian, my drummer boy, accompanied me on his recorder while I practiced on mine.


Posted by leya at 07:08 AM

August 08, 2004

Jackson Pollack as sonic boom

Ive been listening to American Mavericks on Sunday mornings (CBC radio), an award winning program hosted by Suzanne Vega, the singer/writer with interviews with composers by Michael Tilson Thomas, the artistic director and conductor of the San Francisco Orchestra.

This morning the focus was on the relationships between art and music. The show was called If Jackson Pollack Wrote Music, and was subtitled Musics Abstract Expressionists. The website describes the topic:

Contact with the abstract expressionist painters after World War II inspired many American Composers to look for a new American language in chaos, complexity and freedom.

Music from composers such as Cage, Brown, Feldman, Wolff were played (and can be heard on their website). The emphasis was on freedom, chance, improvisation for some, and structure and scientific models for others. Jackson Pollacks paintings are referred to as a model for the music.

Considering that people will line up and wait for hours in line to see an exhibit of Robert Rauchenburgs latest work but it is hard to fill an audience for a new music concert, the conclusion was drawn that music is more personal. Im not sure about this. In fact, Rauchenburg is now a main stream contemporary artist and John Cage is a household name (well, in most households where the arts are of importance) equal in stature to Rauchenburg and Merce Cunningham, I think perhaps this is an over-generalization. We hear often of great painters discovered after they die poor and unappreciated. Painting too is very personal. When something is new, be it music or art, people too often think they have to understand something to enjoy it. It is true that the eyes are a major vehicle of communication and we see art more often and often more readily, whereas contemporary music does take a different kind of understanding and is not as available either in the everyday listening or in concert. It needs to be sought out.

When it comes to making art or music, the process is stated well by Jerome Kitze, a composer for 32 years, quoted on the website as saying:

I think you find your audience by not thinking about that very much. Youre doing your job and doing your work and not worrying about, lets say, being rejected or accepted.
Posted by leya at 05:25 PM

July 22, 2004

Animal songs


Yesterday must have been Animal Day. In the morning I saw a deer in my (long) driveway, munching on the leaves of bushes. He noticed me but took his time before bounding off. Then later as I opened a window upstairs I heard a rustle in the woods and saw another (I think different) deer quickly leaping away. In the evening when Yoko and I were playing the Grieg Norwegian Dance No.I (four-hand piano) we were accompanied by a squirrel outside the window who kept time with the rhythm of the piece. When we played the Norwegian Dance No. IV, he wasnt so interested and didnt play with us. It didnt have the same rhythm that the squirrel was attracted to. Amazing! We had a good laugh there!

Posted by leya at 09:26 AM

June 17, 2004

Playing with Satie

Playing Satie (four-hands piano) with Yoko is an amazing experience. Satie must have understood intimacy. His music goes straight to the heart. And there are times when we cross hands and other places where I take a note from Yoko or she plays the one I have just left. Amazing.

Posted by leya at 05:39 AM

June 03, 2004

Making music

Yoko came over last night and we worked on the Satie (four hand piano) pieces we are learning, 3 Morceaux en Forme de Poire. Again we were often doubled up with laughter at our mistakes. We took turns making (the big, obvious) mistakes. The music is a language that transcends the fact that I dont speak Japanese.

It is so fascinating to me that Saties harmonies are so unusual and yet playing a wrong note is so very wrong. It really taxes my attention, but when the playing goes well (i.e., right), it is so very beautiful.

I (really) cant sing or play the guitar, but what a luxury, to spend an evening playing Satie.

Posted by leya at 07:43 AM

April 20, 2004


Sunday evening Yoko and I got together for our weekly piano duets. We have begun studying Saties Morceaux en Forme de Poire. It is so hauntingly beautiful, mesmerizing. We were transported to a mysterious, mystical realm. Yoko thanked Satie for writing this piece. When we played Dvorak after that it sounded so strange, so heavy. It took me a while to adjust. But then I was able to enjoy the differences.

We bought the CD of Saties music and I have been playing it on the repeat setting. I suppose that is one good thing about living alone. I wont drive anyone crazy with my obsessions!

Posted by leya at 08:10 PM

March 21, 2004

Playing It Right

Theres that mystical/magical place called The Zone. Im not sure what it looks like, being someone who slips in and out of staying in the present, having often lived in a very real fantasy zone. I dont think that is what they are talking about. This magical zone is said to be where things work, where work is not effort but smooth, the silk fabric of the mind and body coordinating. I know that feeling often when I am painting. I expect it, I nourish it, I enjoy it. When playing the piano it is more difficult to maintain. Probably because of childhood associations. When the music flows, that is where I usually then freeze, stumble.

This afternoon Yoko came over with her husband Hiro. My son Aaron was visiting. He had been here last summer when Yoko and I had first started playing duets together and she wanted him to hear how we had improved. So the two men sat on the couch while we entertained them. The first piece, a Dvorak, flowed perfectly. No mistakes. Very expressive. A real duet. At the end we spontaneously raised our thumbs to each other.

The two other pieces, by Grieg, were not so perfect. On the last piece I made a mistake on the second page and started laughing so much we had to start again. Once when I was young, my parents had ridiculed me in front of company when I made a mistake. I didnt laugh then. I cried and left the house, thinking I would never return. I often now have a hard time playing for people even though I want to. Yoko is more of a performer but I intend to learn.

A few years ago I read a wonderful book by Noah Adams, Piano Lesson. He had decided, at age 51, to learn to play the piano. He chronicles his various attempts over a year to teach himself, ultimately realizing that he needed a teacher and also, ultimately, learning to play. During that time he wanted to learn Traumerei by Robert Shumann and play the piece for his wife as a Christmas present. When he had hesitated playing for people in the course of his studies, one of his teachers had said, in a very memorable and tender passage, that playing for someone is a rare and special gift. This book is a true love story. His story often sits down with me when I play for someone. Its not just about playing it right. And that makes it right.

Posted by leya at 08:34 PM

March 19, 2004


Yoko and I finally were able to play duets tonight. On Wednesday, when my driveway was so thick with snow and we were trying to negotiate possible plans, through my window I saw her at the top of my (long) driveway talking to me on her cell phone, she beside her car on the road, me on my home cordless phone. What joy, these modern toys!

Tonight my driveway is clear (although there are walls of snow along the sides) and we played right through any mistakes either of us made, listening to each other and enjoying the flow of the music. It felt like a big accomplishment, not to be intimidated or misdirected by mistakes. I find it so interesting to notice when I make mistakes. Usually it is when I start thinking how good it sounds. Then oops, distraction/mistake. Sometimes it is just reading too far ahead, not being with the notes I am making. Tonight, once, I found myself playing without reading the music, suddenly not knowing where I was but playing along anyway. Like stepping off an embankment but landing safely on the ground. Music is real food for me. One of the necessities of life, like sleep and books.

Posted by leya at 10:14 PM

January 21, 2004

Tuva Singers

Friday evening I went to see/hear the Mongolian throat-singers, the group called Tuva. Being there, listening to beautiful music in a beautiful old church with high ceilings and good acoustics, the experience was transcendent. I felt transported, part of the nomadic culture these men come from as they sang. Their singing was magical as they manipulated their vocal chords to produce and manipulate overtones while singing.

As I sat there mesmerized by their music, I also tried to decide which one of the four beautiful, lusty men on stage singing I would like to take home with me. At the intermission I saw three of them outside (in the 24 C. cold night) smoking cigarettes. Maybe that is their secret. Not caring for cigarette smoke in my home, I bought one of their CDs, Huun Huur Tu, and brought that home instead and am enjoying them often. An adequate compromise.

Posted by leya at 12:54 PM