Friday, April 10, 2009

That and This

There's lots I could/should be blogging about, but it looks like we'll have to settle for another ramble:

1) I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying Twitter, although I harbor some concern that it will sap some life from this blog. Twitter is in such an interesting early stage - if it continues its success, it will inevitably become something very different from what it is now just as the volume of users increases. It's still a pretty quirky minority of people who keep it buzzing. For now, it seems most useful as an aggregator of interesting links - personally, I could do without some of the "I'm making a sandwich now" kinds of tweets, but I suppose such updates are important early on in keeping the information flowing - but, I also find it useful as a quick place to jot down something that doesn't seem blogworthy, or for which I don't have time to blog. (Follow me here.)

2) Piano Hero Level 5 was a big success, which is ironic because it was surely the least musically accurate of the events to date. Please note, that's not a knock on our guest collaborators - it's just that I'd stupidly underestimated how much harder it is to keep an ensemble of 4 pianists together, as opposed to the 2 of past performances. Because we were playing the very familiar Beethoven's 5th, and because I assumed (somewhat correctly) the parts would be a bit easier than the typical 2-pianist arrangement, and because it's not easy to get 4 pianists together to practice, and because of silly old hubris (mine), we didn't rehearse at all until about 20 minutes before the show was to begin. We didn't rehearse the 2nd mvt. at all.

As it turned out, we did have to stop once when things got off track in the 2nd movement. One of the tricky things about this kind of arrangement is that the pair at one piano can't see the parts for the pair at the other piano - it's a little like being in an orchestra with no conductor, except for one dark little secret: pianists aren't good at counting rests. (We rarely have to do it.) All in all, the fact that we only stopped once was remarkable. There were some tremendously exciting moments in the 4th movement when things were off, but we were able to keep banging away until everything got back on track. And let me be clear - I loved those moments. Must be a little like what it feels like when a play breaks down in basketball/football, and you have to keep your wits about you and make something work.

It was a pretty loud, bangy performance, which I (with little or no good reason) think Beethoven might have enjoyed. But the thing is, the audience seemed to have a fantastic time. We had a great crowd, partly because I sent out a campus-wide email and partly because Beethoven's 5th is inevitably a big draw. Especially gratifying is that there were many, many people from outside the music department. I think it was clear to them that we were having a really fun time and this wasn't some sacred ritual to be endured. (Let's face it - classical concerts can feel that way.) There is also something thrilling about that much piano action at once - just the sound itself isn't something you hear every day. So, it was an especially big success in proving that this kind of informal concert can have a unique sort of appeal. I hope to have some video samples up in a day or two.

3) Continuing to love the Airturn pedal. I didn't use it for this Piano Hero, because the double-landscape page format means I need to attach a monitor (like we did in Piano Hero 1 &2) and I didn't have the time/energy to get that set up. Plus, my keyboard partner had never played from a screen before, so I didn't want to confront her with that with virtually no rehearsal.

But, for last weekend's Opera Scenes program, the digital music reading worked like a dream. This is not to disparage the page-turners I've had in the past, but it's always been inevitable that there'd be some miscommunications about when to flip - sometimes I'd nod my head to cue a singer and suddenly find the page had been turned. (In fairness to the turners, I always nod to signal turns and beg for turners to pay attention to my nods, not the music.) There was a Wall Street Journal article recently that mentioned all sorts of ways in which the human page-turner can turn out badly.

A couple of mildly amusing Airturn tales: During one particularly hectic day of rehearsing, I happened to be playing from actual music for awhile because I'd forgotten to scan one scene in. The pedal was still on the floor, however, and at almost every turn, I found myself frantically pedaling until I remembered I'd need to lift the old-school paper to see what came next. Another time, a couple of weeks ago, I set the pedal up hurriedly to accompany a coaching. The first turn went fine, but I got nothing the second time. I stopped, tried a couple of things, and started getting really frustrated that nothing was happening since I knew I'd just recharged the batteries - until I realized I'd never put the batteries back into the Airturn after charging. There must've been enough charge left in the unit to make the first turn happen - or maybe I just imagined it. So, two free tips from MMmusing if you're going to use an Airturn: don't try to use it with paper scores and do use batteries.

By the way, I'm featured in the March Airturn newsletter as a testimonialist, but I really am a happy customer so far, and have even bought a second backup Airturn for that inevitable day when my almost 2-year old son rips the USB transmitter off my laptop (like he once did with another USB device). It's kind of fun to be a testimonialist. Maybe someday I'll live out my real dream and host an infomercial.


Frank said...

The sound of multiple pianos in full roar is amazing. I have an LP of a concert given years ago for the International Piano Archive which has an extraordinary performance of the march from Beethoven's Ruins of Athens arranged for eight pianos! What an amazing noise. One of these days I'll dig it out and rip it - haven't heard it for years. It also has a lovely performance by Victor Borge of one of Friedmann's Viennese dance arrangements.


I used to work at the IPA when I was in grad school. I seem to remember a few LPs of those old monster piano concerts, and I can remember reading the record jackets, but I'm not sure I ever listened to them, probably because the whole idea seemed silly to me as a pretentious grad student. There's so much I wish I'd paid more attention to when I worked there, but it was a pretty nice job.

Tim J said...

I think the minutiae tweets can be helpful or not depending on the situation—sometimes they help you build up a picture of how someone in a situation quite different from your own lives their life, and that can be interesting.

But for me, I mostly like the interaction and the way that Twitter connects me with new people I would never have expected to come across.