Sunday, January 31, 2010

Buy Lara Downes' CD's and Help Haiti

Here is one last post in my series promoting piano recordings distributed through CD Baby. Remember that if you order before February 6, a portion of the purchase price of these recordings will be donated to support earthquake disaster relief in Haiti.

Lara Downes is currently Artist in Residence at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at the University of California at Davis. Her latest recording is called, Dream of Me: Daydreams and night visions. She sumarizes this collection of new solo piano music with the following description:

The musical journeys you take and can’t remember in the morning. This is distinctive, timeless music by some of the best New American Romantics, including William Bolcom’s “Dream Shadows”; Aaron Kernis' richly poetic "Before Sleep and Dreams"; Adam Silverman’s “Nocturnes and Reveries” and Dan Coleman’s “Burden of Dreams”

Both the music on this CD and the performances are stunningly beautiful!

For the next week you can order Lara’s recording CD Baby and a portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Haiti earthquake relief effort.

To visit to Lara’s artist page on the CD Baby web site click here

Visit Lara's web site by clicking here

For more information CD Baby's Haiti relief program click here

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

After Three Weeks and 20 Posts

So I have been writing this month. Well, after years of journaling
fanatically and religiously I have always written. The difference now is
that in at least this modest way I am actually publishing what I am
writing. A few days ago one of my mentors, Charrise McCrorey, asked me,
"So how is this writing business working for you?" It seems that whenever
we talk by phone during my weekly coaching sessions, there is always a
point in the conversation where I am completely at a loss to know what to
say. My brain just freezes and I struggle to utter even the dumbest
banalities. So after what seemed like forever, I blurted out that I was
surprised at the favorable responses I had received. What I had expected
to be a quiet little exercise to make my brain work differently than my
ordinary patterns, had begun to feed a part of me that felt pretty good.
Still, I was surprised to get these quick little messages on Facebook and
Twitter indicating that at least a few of the things were connecting and
resonating with people.

To any and all of you who have taken the time to respond to these blog
entries, I say "thank you so much for your encouraging words." If you have
suggestions for where you would like me to go with these explorations,
then I would love to hear from you. My goal is to use about 100 or so of
these postings to "workshop" my way through some material that has been
germinating in the well-fertilized soil of my consciousness for a decade
or so. If I develop the stamina to persist in the process and the thick
skin to ignore criticism, then my intent is to craft the sum of the parts
into a book manuscript over the next 12-18 months. The foundation for my
work is the Performing with Poise seminars that I have conducted since the
early 1990's but the material continues to morph over time. Stay tuned and
we will see where it all leads.

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Buy Grace Nikae’s CD’s to Help Haiti

This is the next installment in my series of posts promoting the recordings of pianist friends who distribute their music through CD Baby. Remember that if you order before February 6, a portion of the purchase price of these recordings will be donated to support earthquake disaster relief in Haiti.

Grace Nikae is an immensely talented American pianist who plays an astounding range of repertoire in a manner that simultaneously exudes mastery and nuance. I am particularly fond of her performance of the Scriabin Sonata-Fantasie in G# minor, op. 19 that opens her debut recording, entitled Fantasies. For the next two weeks you can order both of Grace’s piano recordings CD Baby and a portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Haiti earthquake relief effort.

To go to Grace’s artist page on the CD Baby web site click here

You can learn more about Grace Nikae from her web site by clicking here

You can see a video of a performance excerpt from the first movement of Brahms’ Concerto no. 1 in D minor here

For more information CD Baby' s Haiti relief program click here

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

Raising the Horizon Line

For the last few years I have been teaching a capstone course for our upper division music majors includes a focus on career development and related life skills. In the last year I uncovered a fascinating phenomenon as I listen to my students talk about their intended career paths and their individual aspirations. These kids could not bring themselves to the place where they could say in an audible voice, “I am a musician.” They would describe themselves as music students, or use their chosen degree program as an identification badge, but they struggled to use the word “musician” to label themselves professionally. When I first discovered this, I went apoplectic, blurting out things like--“How can you hope to have anyone else take you seriously if you can’t even say the words yourself.”

After I regained both consciousness and a modicum of sanity, I recognized that my students are following the same pattern that I have lived out myself over and over again. In life there is a very fine line between confidence and arrogance. And when our own talents are concerned, there is an even finer line between who we are and what we do. Our culture teaches us to fit in, to conform and to not stick out from the crowd. To make matters worse, that same culture has concluded that being a musician, or any other kind of creative artist, is just not normal. This week I have been listening to several presentations and interviews by Seth Godin as he talks about this phenomenon that he has called the “Lizard Brain.” The basic premise is that to be artists, which he loosely defines as anyone doing cool stuff that matters, we need to turn off and deny that part of our brain that resists innovation, growth and other related risky behaviors.

In my teaching I have seen this as a process that I call “raising the horizon line,” by which I mean we have to consciously cultivate bigger possibilities than we have allowed ourselves to think about before. Until now I have not understood how important this element of suppressing our internal resistance is if we are to move forward with our visions and deliver positive changes in our world. It may help to know that the Lizard Brain is really just trying to preserve the status quo to keep us safe. Still, this resistance doesn’t get us to where we want to go or inspire us to be who we want to be.

A video of a talk Seth gave in 2009 called “Quieting the Lizard Brain” is here.

Some other aspects of this notion are developed in an interview with Seth Godin by Merlin Mann on 43 Folders is here.

Seth Godin’s latest book the The Lynchpin can be found here.

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

A Tranquil Moment

It’s been a busy week and I have been getting stuff done. This morning I wanted to create some calm space to remember important things, so here is an image that I found inspiring.


Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Buy Fabio Parrini’s Music

Today I am continuing my series of plugs to promote the recordings of my pianist friends who distribute their music through CD Baby. Remember that if you order before February 6, a portion of the purchase price of these recordings will be donated to support earthquake disaster relief in Haiti.

Fabio Parrini has been a friend of mine for more than a dozen years or so. As a musician he is a consummate artist with an amazing capacity for both technical detail and interpretive nuance. Every time I hear him or listen to his recordings, I learn something new, about either the music he performs or how it really should be played. I especially recommend his most recent recording of the Schumann Fantasie Op. 17, which captures an absolutely visionary performance.

For the next two weeks you can order both of Fabio’s solo piano recordings CD Baby and a portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Haiti earthquake relief effort. To go to Fabio’s artist page on the CD Baby web site click here.

For more information CD Baby' s Haiti relief program click here.

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

Down but not Out

Life ran me over this week, like a Greyhound bus. And I had been doing so
well, too. Truthfully, I have been pushing hard to make some very cool
projects come to life and then yesterday my body just rebelled. Not an
all-out mutiny, but certainly a loud uprising that got the aging
dictator's attention. (Okay, I know that was an awkward metaphor.) So the
question remains, how do you build healthy boundaries into your life?
Those polite little caution signs that tell you, "This much I can handle,
but this is too much and might kill you." My way is generally more
extreme. My thinking tends toward--"If 4 hours of rehearsing at the piano
is a good thing then 6 must be better; and if 30 minutes on the elliptical
machine at the gym is helping me, then 45 would be so much better; And of
course, if two cups of coffee are great in the morning. . ." Well, you get
the idea. So yesterday, the body told me that it was time to slow down. I
will spare you the narrative of my gastrointestinal saga, except to note
that by midday I was at least three pounds lighter than I was the night
before—enough said. With some rest, the worst of the symptoms subsided and
by evening I was feeling human again. I was able to do a little bit of
productive work along the way, and I doubt there will be serious
collateral damage from the internal attacks. Still, I wonder about this
cyclical yin and yang of my work patterns.

The odd thing I am learning about the ebb of flow of my creative energies
is that I am very poor at predicting how things will work, or even what a
certain project is really costing me in terms of my time or physical
capacity. I really do believe that creative work is essentially
regenerative, meaning that inspired work has the ability to create energy
rather than sap it away. There certainly is work that is soul killing and
unfortunately I have experienced enough of that. However, in the language
of "flow psychology," there is work that serves to feed us at that soul
level, and in turn, it serves to make us more alive. This is, of course,
what we yearn to spend our time doing, and there has been some
enlightening work produced recently about the amazing benefits of choosing
to invest one's energy in purposeful work. Still, there is a boundary line
at a certain margin of our daily lives that distinguishes healthy
productivity from either maniacal dysfunction or rusting decay. As one who
regularly cycles through intense seasons of pushing hard, today I see that
I want to pay better attention to what that boundary line looks and feels

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

Monday, January 25, 2010

Buy Sandra Mogensen’s CD’s!

This week I would like to shamelessly promote the recordings of pianists who are friends of mine and who I think deserve significantly more recognition for their work. These folks also happen to distribute their music through CD Baby so a portion of the purchase price will support disaster relief in Haiti, if you order in the next two weeks

Sometime during the last year I asked the Twitterverse if anyone out there had experience organizing house concerts of classical piano music. Almost immediately I received a reply from a Canadian pianist named Sandra Mogensen, who told me that she had been arranging house concerts to raise money to fund her recording projects. In fact, she blogging about her process on a page that is titled, fittingly enough, Building a CD. To date her recordings have been devoted to Edvard Grieg’s solo piano music, which really does need to be better known by pianists and audiences alike. As it happens, she is a wonderful musician with a deep empathy for Grieg and I find her performances thoroughly enchanting.

For the next two weeks you can order Sandra’s two volumes of Grieg’s piano music from CD Baby and a portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Haiti earthquake relief effort. To go to Sandra's artist page on the CD Baby web site click here.

For more information CD Baby' s Haiti relief program click here.
Listen to a beautiful performance Grieg's "Tenderness" on YouTube by clicking here

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

Friday, January 22, 2010

Buy Music to Help Haiti

This afternoon I learned that CD Baby has announced that starting on January 25 they will donate $1 of their profits from every qualifying sale to the American Red Cross and Mercy Corps. The program will extend for 2 weeks and will potentially raise thousands of dollars for the relief work of these agencies.

As CD Baby is the online outlet that distributes my recordings and digital downloads, as well as those of many, many other independent artists, I have decided to match this contribution with $1 of my own for every dollar that CD Baby contributes from the sales of my products.

You can order copies of my CD's or download digital albums from my artist page on the CD Baby web site by clicking here

Donate directly
I also urge you to make your own direct donation if you haven’t done so yet. Together, we can make a difference. Please click below to make your tax deductible donation right now.

Please join with me in making a difference for people who really need our help.

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

5 Books about Fostering Creativity (Productively)

Pursuing creative work of any kind usually presents daunting challenges that often yield fascinating lessons about life. Of course these challenges are only fascinating as long as you are a dispassionate observer and not actually trying to get your work done. As both a musician and a writer I find that the birthing process of bringing a performance, or an essay, to life requires a very different skill set than seems to be required of other people who live around me, i.e. “normal people.”

The ugly reality is that inspiration doesn’t always show up at the time I have set on my appointment calendar. And, part of living this life is, to a large extent, a question of overcoming your personal demons, rather than expressing your innate talents. Toward this end, I have learned that the most important part of creating work that matters is to remain persistently engaged in doing the work. In other words, I need to stay with a given project long enough to see at least a reasonable facsimile of my vision come to life. As Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying, “90% of success in life is showing up.”

Here is a list of books that I have found incredibly helpful as I have worked to "show up" and craft my own personal work process around the rest of my daily life.

1. Bayles, David and Ted Ortland. Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (2001)

2. Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (2002)

3. Ristad, Eloise. A Soprano on Her Head: Right-Side-Up Reflections on Life and Other Performances (1982)

4. Shahn, Ben. The Shape of Content (first edition, 1957)

5. Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (2003)

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

Eating my Own Words (Revisiting "Is that Okay?")

They say that confession is good for the soul. Well, today I come before you guilty of an act of arrogant hubris. Friends, I humbly beg your gracious forgiveness.

A few days ago I was writing about a friend’s struggle to find her own voice as she was interpreting a Scarlatti sonata. She was seeking to play the music with a sound and style that sounded “correct” and still rang true to her musical sensibilities. Well, sometimes I need to be more careful about the pronouncements I assert so confidently. Just sooner had I so pompously advised my friend to blissfully follow her own musical instincts and to let go of her concern about being “correct,” in less than 48 hours I found myself in the throes of an almost identical quandary.

As I have shared here previously, I am performing a series of Chopin programs over the next few months in celebration of the composer’s bicentennial celebration. I love the music, it has been immensely satisfying to prepare, and I enjoy playing it very much. So far so good, but over the past few days I have fallen into a new creative crisis, and of course it is all of my own making. You see, on this program I am playing a set of Mazurkas that have become an absolute thorn in my side. These little dances are technically among the easiest bits of music that I am playing on this particular program and I have played them successfully for a long time. However, now I have started questioning everything about my approach to their fundamental rhythm, sound, and shape. A short while ago I caught myself actually asking myself the damning question, “Is that right?” I could have lived with “Is that the way I want the phrase to sound?” or even, “Maybe I should hear this differently?” But no, I was trying to be correct, which means I was really saying that I was afraid to be wrong.

Today I will spare you the narrative of my internal debate about the interpretive details that prompted my crisis of confidence. It is enough to say that in the process of making creative work happen, this question of being correct tends to show up with regularity. I suppose that my initial idea in challenging the need to be right was not to negate the question itself so much as to challenge our dependence upon the approval of external authorities. For a long time I have recognized that part of the maturation process as musicians, or just becoming a grown-up, is learning to trust ourselves as we live life and do our work. My own recent crisis of confidence is a solemn reminder that this business of learning to be bold in our choices comes at the price of doing it wrong, and probably failing often before we land on the solution that rings with the resonance of truth. Today I am praying for the courage to risk failing more often than I did yesterday, at least it will be more fun than worrying about being right.

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is that okay?

Last month I was at a gathering with a group of pianists and a friend of mine pulled me aside to ask me about a Scarlatti sonata that she was learning. She had not played Scarlatti’s music before and she was concerned that she was making the music too romantic or sentimental. Her concept of correct performance practice was that this music should be fairly strict in its tempo and should avoid expressive nuance. Fortunately, as we were talking in a social situation I did not feel comfortable going to the piano to demonstrate how the music “ought to go.” Instead, I simply told her that she should play the music as she heard it in her imagination and that over time she would probably land on a performance approach that worked for her.

Fast forward to this past weekend and we were together again and my friend had opportunity to play her sonata for the assembled group and it was really quite lovely. Afterward, her first word to me was to ask, “Is that okay?” It was clear that she needed a positive verdict to validate the work she had done in preparing her performance. Before I had opportunity to answer her question several other people gave a ringing endorsement of the beautiful tone she had created and the masterful shapes of her phrases. Okay, indeed, her performance was far more than okay, but why did she need us to tell her so.

This little micro-drama prompted me to wonder about this desire to be correct. As students of the piano, it is certainly laudable to be diligent in our learning to master disciplines of playing notes and rhythms accurately. There is also much to be said for becoming as literate as possible with the ways great musicians have solved problems of style or interpretation in the past. But it seems clear to me that there is a definite time to let go of the need to be correct. Far too often, being right becomes a safe substitute making a genuine musical moment.

Frequently, I have opportunity to coach a piano student who has become obsessed with being correct rather than saying something through her performance. On such occasions I often ask the student to remember a performance or recording that moved them deeply, and then to identify what it was about the performance that was so striking. Usually, they will say that the performance was intensely passionate or stunningly dramatic, but I cannot remember a single instance where the distinguishing feature was the performer’s accuracy.

Listen to this heartfelt performance of Scarlatti’s Sonata in B minor, K.87 here.

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My “To Do” List

I have this big “to do” list of things that I have very good intentions about. On January 1, I sat down to list different professional colleagues, concert presenters and other professional contacts that I felt were strategically important for me to connect with during the first weeks of this new year. Well, stuff happens. And more often than I want to admit, the stuff that I really intend to do gets set aside. So my list of 100 things I wanted to do promote my performances, build my concert calendar, and market my recordings has stagnated in a way that embarrasses me. Now some of this can be explained away by cool things that showed up in the interim, but a lot of my inactivity is due to my fear of failure, rejection, or the taunting voice of the “good enough” demon that lives in the lower left quadrant of my cerebral cortex. So as I look ahead at the start of a new week I am resolving to get over myself and get busy with working through my list. A friend of mine who was a master at persuasive marketing used to say about approaching sales prospects, “Some will, some won’t, but so what. . .” Check back in with me next week to see how I am doing with my list, and yes, please bug me about it.

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

Words Fail Me

Tonight I happened to be sitting in a quiet corner of my studio listening to Robert Shaw’s recording of the Rachmaninoff Vespers when I was simply overwhelmed by its beauty. Words fail me as I try to explain the way this music moved me. When this happens the verbal part of my brain just seems to simply seize up in a momentary coma-like state until a particular musical moment passes. This shifting of my mind into and out of this mode of awareness must be an ongoing, normal part of my every day experience as a musician, but I don’t think I noticed it much until very recently. The “coma-like” bit can be pretty inconvenient if it occurs at socially awkward times, but most people who know me well are not terribly alarmed if I go “vacant” from time to time. I once had an assistant who would ask me where I went during these episodes. When my answer failed to satisfy her curiosity, she followed up by asking if I was earning frequent flyer miles in the process.

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chopin Immersion

I suppose that we will soon be saturated with Chopin's music in the same
way that many of us have recently overdosed on Christmas music. With the
bicentennial of the master's birthday landing in a few weeks on March 1, I
am a little surprised that the ubiquitous hype machine hasn't made more
obnoxious noise about the event yet. Maybe I simply haven't been paying
attention to the proper channels. With my own celebratory concerts
scheduled I am as guilty of cheap exploitation as the next guy, so I have
been busying myself with mazurkas here and a polonaise there. The good
news is that I really love this stuff! Each day that I return to practice
this repertoire remarkable revelations have been waiting for me. This
music is truly wonderful. My first performances of my Chopin celebration
program for this season start next week with a school concert in La Jolla,
California. I really can't wait to play it.

Here are some pictures from an earlier performance visit to the Preuss
Charter School.

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous


Yesterday I was taking a lesson with my Alexander Technique teacher, Eileen Troberman and we spent much of our time working on breathing. She had just returned from a workshop in New York and she was overflowing with enthusiasm for some new things she had learned. Eileen is always working on something new in her understanding of how the body works and moves so I learned long ago to just go along for the ride. I credit my longstanding work with her for most of what I know about playing and teaching the piano with something akin to fluency or ease.

Breathing is such an inherent part of our everyday life experience that we don’t give it much attention until the process stops working the way we think it ought. And since playing the piano doesn’t require an exhalation to create a tone, unlike singing or playing a wind instrument. As a result I have never spent a lot of time thinking about breathing as a technical feature of my work at the piano. Years ago when I was a university music student I discovered that I had a tendency to hold my breath when I was struggling with some really tough technical challenge. In these moments I would also observe that the difficult bit would cause to me tighten up all over, to the point that it seemed that every muscle in my body was absolutely rigid with tension. I have since learned a myriad of strategies to cultivate physical ease in my playing and to counter this impulse toward rigormortis. Still, I rarely think about breathing as part of this process.

On the other side of the coin, there have been some wonderful moments when playing with other musicians when we would find ourselves intuitively breathing together as a single organism. This spontaneous empathic unity almost always creates an absolutely amazing musical experience for both the performers and the listeners alike. Organizing rhythms and phrases around the ebb and flow of breathing seems like such a natural thing to do. So why isn’t this something I think about customarily?

This week I am spending time thinking about these details both at the piano and away. I have learned that there is lot to this business of respiration that I don’t really understand, so I have been simply observing what happens when I breathe. For example, it has taken me some significant mental gymnastics to develop a clear understanding of how the diaphragm moves downward in space as it expands with an in breath. And conversely, that the release of the out breath has it returning upward towards its starting place. Also, it has been surprising to learn how flexible the ribcage is during the whole process, as it expands and contracts with each breath. A fringe benefit of this investigation is that there are few things found in every day experience that will provide as much restorative energy as a period of ten minutes of sitting quietly in order to simply observe your own breathing.

You can learn more about Eileen Troberman’s teaching here, and see samples of her work on Youtube here.

Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Where is the Fence?

Last month my next door neighbor made a special point to stop by to tell
me that the fence between our houses needed to be replaced. As he is a
practical guy, he came armed with a solution to this problem about which I
had been blissfully unaware up until then. Apparently, the fence dates
back to the 1960's and has provided an extensive feast for termites during
the intervening years. He proposed that we split the cost of materials,
and he would make sure that the work gets done satisfactorily. As the plan
did not require that I provide manual labor or use power tools it all
seemed like a great idea.

By the way, the thing about power tools is that I play and teach the piano
for a living. I made the decision a few years back that I really ought to
forgo using anything that might jeopardize the viability of my hands. I
remember shaking hands with more than one carpenter or high school
industrial arts teacher who was missing a phalange or two. The encounter
always included some entertaining story about fingers, saws and the
resultant disfigurement. So anything that demands the use of circular
saws, hedge trimmers or even some office paper cutters is just not open
for discussion for me anymore. I simply will not use them.

Oh yeah, about the fence. . . So the old fence came down about two weeks
ago and there are optimistic signs that its replacement will manifest
itself before long. The most telling of these signs was the appearance of
a large Home Depot truck last week that delivered a very large pile of
lumber. The pile seems to be about the right size and density to plausibly
constitute the raw elements of a new fence. A few days later some very
deep holes were dug at evenly spaced intervals along the property line.
And now a vertical post has been anchored with cement in each of the
holes, so I live in hope.

The point of all of this is that the presence or absence of the fence
would ordinarily be of negligible consequence to me. I probably would
never have given it a second thought, except I have dogs. Yes, two dogs
who are rather mature and quite set in their ways. Removing the fence put
them absolutely over the edge. Now these two have been coconspirators for
years as they have plotted and schemed to break out from the incarceration
of our back yard. In past years we have been summoned to retrieve them on
more than one occasion from the city's Animal Control Department because
they were picked up by the dog catcher while they were out on the town
carousing. When the fence came down all of this changed.

With the fence removed, the absence of a physical boundary seems to feel
dangerous to the dogs. They spend odd periods during the day in restless
fits, pacing frantically and panting heavily. For the first few days they
were up in the middle of the night barking because they wanted to check
what might be lurking into their territory. They seem to resent the fact I
now go out into the yard to supervise their outdoor time and it took some
doing to convince them the world was really going to continue turning
despite the missing fence.

Watching my goofy dogs go neurotic over the missing fence prompted me to
wonder about my own reaction to changes in structure and routine. At the
start of this New Year I am making some radical changes in my work
patterns and habits. In place of my usual load of teaching and
administrative work, I am spending the next few months rehearsing,
performing, researching and writing. How well am I adapting to these
changes in my boundaries? Do I really prefer more defined and limited

Throughout my professional life I have been blessed with an
unimaginable amount of autonomy about what, when and how I work. Honestly,
I cannot imagine myself living any other way, but I also know that I have
imposed fences of my own making around what I think of as possible,
probable or worthwhile. In the past year I have learned that much of what
I have seen through the lens of "I can't" or "That won't work" is really
just a story that is made up in my own mind. So I ask you as I ask myself,
where is the fence around your yard these days?

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shut Up and Play!

In her wonderful book, Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott describes a one-inch square picture frame that she keeps on her desk. She defines her daily task of writing as simply putting into words whatever she sees inside that frame. The big idea is that my creative work becomes overwhelming when I try to create an epic in an afternoon. In my musical work I often despair that learning new performance repertoire feels excruciatingly slow at times and I am sorely tempted to be overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task before me. If I forget to keep the perspective of the miniature picture frame, I will soon convince myself that 1) my memory just isn’t what it used to be, 2) maybe I have no real musical talent after all, and 3) God surely made a mistake when he created me in the first place so I really don’t deserve to live. 

These days my antidote to this musical version of author’s angst is to simply tell myself, “Go sit at the piano and for the next twenty minutes and see if we can make this page of notes sound more like our imagined ideal performance. . .“ My favorite euphemisms for this bit of therapeutic monologue include “focusing on process not product” or “seeking incremental improvement over time.” The far more effective version that I repeat often in my teaching studio is this: “Shut up and play!” Of course I say it with a smile in my voice and my students laugh about our shared melodramatic experiences. Still, the point is to get on with the work of creating the universe of our vision in increments the size of a one-inch picture frame.

You can see an interview by Anne Lamott my friend Dr. Dean Nelson here.


Posted via web from pkpiano's posterous

Monday, January 11, 2010

Deeper than We Know

I played at a memorial service a few days ago for an elderly friend who
died on Christmas Day. My friend, Les, would have celebrated his 91st
birthday had he lived through this past weekend. Not that it would have
meant that much to him, as Parkinson's disease and dementia had left him
frail and disconnected from much of life. Still a devoted group of
friends, family members and fellow travelers gathered on Saturday
afternoon to share memories and to celebrate the life of our dear friend
who is no longer with us.

It seems that I have played for more funerals in the past year than ever
before, and certainly more than seems appropriate. As I watch myself and
others process these experiences it seems interesting to notice how we use
music on these occasions to connect and communicate about things for which
words fail us. During the memorial service for Les we sang the hymn, "It
is Well with my Soul," and the gospel song, "Under His Wings." To the
assembled Lutheran crowd of mostly older adults, singing this music
brought comfort, assurance and hope. As they made their way through the
familiar verses, these people sang with ringing voices unlike what I hear
on most Sunday mornings. The heartfelt singing gave me goose bumps as the
sound reverberated through the sanctuary.

So as I remember Les today, I am especially grateful for his life and the
ways that it touched mine. And as I think about these things, I feel ever
so grateful for the ways music touches us, moves us and inspires us. I am
humbled by the privilege of serving as a musician who is called upon to
facilitate these moments that transcend the particulars of our individual
experience. Moments that move us to the point where we are drawn together
by a bond that is far deeper and richer than we ever expect.

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous


Mondays carry an odd sort of stress for me. It is my habit to see days,
well at least certain days anyway, as markers or signposts along some
metaphorical time line. The start of the New Year, the start of the
semester, the start of the fiscal year, the start of the month, and even
the start of a new week—these are all fictitious landmarks that serve as a
sort of boundary to be crossed and signaling a new beginning point.
Habitually, I invest these days with a deep symbolic meaning that
indicates that it is time to check my "progress," or relative lack
thereof, as I pursue my odd collection of endeavors.

This particular Monday is carrying an unusual burden because today I would
ordinarily be starting a new semester of university teaching. Instead, I
will be enjoying a sabbatical leave for the next six months or so, during
which I will be focusing on my playing and writing. One of my students
sent me a message on Facebook earlier today asking me if it was strange to
be away from school and to know that they were starting without me. My
predictable response was that, yes, the feeling is indeed truly, truly
strange, but that I would face the challenge bravely.

So as I start this new chapter of my life that will be defined by a most
generous gift of time away from my usual routine of teaching and
administrative work, I am savoring this time of new beginning. The
projects I have designed for myself are big ones and I have enjoyed the
initial phases of planning and starting the work. Looming in the dark
shadows of my awareness is a foreboding that I probably cannot do all that
I have set out to do in the time that I have allotted. Still, I enjoyed a
quiet day working at the piano, writing letters and relishing an unusual
oasis of solitude,

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

Saturday, January 09, 2010

“Push Reset to Restore Factory Settings”

Yesterday I had a day. It wasn't completely terrible, but is was one of the proverbial THOSE DAYS. Most of the agenda I had created for myself was delayed, deferred, or otherwise scuttled by events that were either unanticipated or out of my direct control. My usual pattern is to shake my fist at the heavens, drink another three cups of very caffeinated coffee, and then push F2 to start another game of Spider Solitaire.

I guess you could call this "all or nothing" thinking in that the internal monologue sounds something like this... "So if I can't finish this task, and I can''t reach that progress benchmark the way I planned. . . well then, the day is just a waste so I am not going to try to do anything productive." To compound matters, if I allow it this pattern can easily extend to a series of BAD DAYS, BAD WEEKS or . . . Well, it doesn't usually extend that longer than that.

My point is to recognize the negative cost of defining the quality of my experience with a value-based label. Calling the day a bad one just reeks of subjective judgments with sinister implications that all may not be quite right with the world. The day was just a day. Important things happened in lots of places, some even quite near me. In fact, much of what I did do was worthwhile and needed to be done, it just wasn't on the list
I made at the start of the day. Hmmm

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous