May 19th, 2013 :: Performing Days
Last Saturday night was my studio recital, the touchstone every spring that heralds the end of the semester. “Are we going to have a theme this time?” several kids asked me. Last May we celebrated the works of our friend and fellow Albuquerque resident, Dennis Alexander. Last November we had an all-duet recital. This time there was no theme. “How about the theme could be ‘Let’s all play really really well.’” I suggested. The kids thought this idea was boring. Clearly, I’ve lost my creativity and any fun I ever possessed.
But, of course, what I know, and the kids do too if you question them hard enough, is that the recital is never the point anyway. The recital is merely the punctuation on weeks and months of hard work and preparation. That’s where the real growth takes place: the moment we realize we don’t really know the B section of our piece; the stumbles that humble us when we play for our peers in performance class; the corner we turn when we go from merely playing at the music to owning it. “I know why we have performance class,” one kid announced in the recent pre-recital class. “Because in performance class we all mess up sometimes and we know that no one is going to laugh at us or make fun of us.” Another kid followed up this comment with: “I know why performance classes are required.” (They are, and rightly so, very impressed with the idea of required classes.) “Because we play better at the recital when we have to play in performance classes. Like, the recital isn’t the first time we have ever played our piece for someone.” Yet another one had this advice for his classmates: “When you have a memory problem--I know because I have lots of them!--you should just think like Nemo. Instead of ‘Keep swimming’ you should think ‘Keep playing.’” Ah, these kids are so smart.
Really, it’s all I can do to keep up with them. Recently, one precocious 7 year-old walked into his lesson and before I could open my mouth said, “Miss Amy, I need to tell you about sharps and flats,” as if this was a world he had just discovered and he thought he better let me in on it. OK, kid, I thought to myself. Bring it on.
Not only have we been preparing for recitals around here, but also for festivals and talent shows and other events where someone will judge our work. One little girl sheepishly admitted, “I just don’t like being judged” when I encouraged her to participate in a local festival. Later I wondered if that wasn’t the smartest, most intuitive thing I had heard all week. I don’t like being judged either and breathe a big sigh of relief when talent show auditions and festivals and contests are behind us for another year. It’s not that I worry too much about how the kids will do---they will do fine, perhaps even show moments of greatness. Even the tiny kid who played his entire audition last Friday with his tongue stuck out in concentration, completely unaware of the chocolate on his pants, walked away with a proud ‘I’ rating from a tough judge. We can be judged and hold up well under the scrutiny. We just don’t necessarily like it.
Now that the required recital, festivals, and performance classes are behind us for the semester the road ahead is empty of pressure or deadlines. We can spend as much time as we want on sharps and flats, scales and key signatures, new repertoire and new techniques. I, for one, welcome the lack of judges in the months ahead. Spring may have just arrived, but summer—with all its liberating freedom—is just around the corner. Bring it on.
February 3rd, 2013 :: Performing Days
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” said John Lennon. Life, in this case, was shingles.
We had plans, the JimGreer Duo. Big plans. Our annual house concert scheduled for the end of January. The following weekend Jerome was invited to play one of the Mozart flute quartets with a chamber group on a music series in Gallup, and the Duo was asked to fill out the rest of the program. We had a new, ambitious program of American music—the Copland Duo, Griffes’ Poem, etc.--to learn over the holidays. Invitations for the house concert were designed; a case of champagne was purchased.
And then Jerome got shingles. Life is what happens.
The house concert was cancelled; the Gallup concert became tentative. Shingles is a nasty disease. Painful and ugly. Particularly nasty if you are a flute player and it affects the nerve to your lip.
After several questionable weeks, Jerome decided the Gallup concert was a go, if we changed the program. We scrapped the new works and pulled out of our repertoire old familiar pieces we could play in our sleep. The kind of comforting music one needs in difficult times.
But we kept the Copland. The Copland, we decided, was written for us. It was certainly written for a place like Gallup, New Mexico.
It begins with solo flute and those wide expansive intervals that only Copland could write. It sings of the open spaces of the American west. It gives cry to the emptiness and loneliness of the desert. For three short movements, fourteen concise minutes, it encompasses Copland at his most essential: the tuneful, rhythmic, idiomatic, organic. Written in 1971, the work looks backwards: it echoes Appalachian Spring, it harkens to Rodeo, it even has murmurs of the Piano Variations hidden in moments of the pointillistic third movement.
And so, shingles be damned, yesterday we opened our program in Gallup, New Mexico with Copland’s Duo for Flute and Piano. It is a new piece in the JimGreer Duo repertoire, but one that, I think, will be around for a long time.
Unlike the shingles, we hope.
October 7th, 2012 :: Performing Days
This weekend the JimGreer Duo was booked to play a house concert and a recital on a popular concert series in Plactias, a small village outside of Albuquerque.
This kind of weekend might represent the yin and yang of performing: the public and the private.
We gave our first house concert nearly four years ago. It happened almost by accident, really. Jerome had been pestering me to decide upon a recital space and I kept rejecting various halls because I didn’t like the piano. Finally in exasperation, Jerome asked, “What piano do you want to play on?” and without thinking I responded, “Mine.”
And so, just like that, the house concert was born.
Since then, every January has involved us putting on a house concert. These evenings include not just music, but also amazingly rich desserts and festive drinks. (“Give people enough champagne and sugar and they’ll listen to anything,” Jerome reasons.)
We are hardly the first musicians to enjoy the intimate setting of the house concert. “Salon” concerts were quite popular in the 19th century, featuring not only music, but also poetry and other readings. (And, I imagine, plenty of food and drink as well. Probably served by footmen in formal dress. Think Downton Abbey---wrong century, but same idea.) In fact, Chopin, who suffered from paralyzing performance anxiety, only played in people’s “salons,” and refused to play in more public settings. House concerts have seen a revival in recent years, probably part of the general interest in all things domestic and homespun (God bless Martha Stewart & Co). The charm of getting to hear live music close-up and personal (and sometimes this is indeed “close-up”!!) is a refreshing change from the formal and removed atmosphere of more traditional concert settings.
The JimGreer Duo hasn’t yet refused to play in public (in fact, quite the contrary), but the comfort of the house concert does have its appeal. We just need to find a few good footmen to join our entourage.
September 2nd, 2012 :: Performing Days
My friend and musical collaborator, Jerome Jim and I have just celebrated an anniversary of sorts. As of this month, we have been playing recitals and making recordings together for six years. Six. Years. Wow. Last summer we tied the knot, musically speaking, making it official: Together we are the JimGreer Duo.
For the past three years, every August the JimGreer Duo has given what is now fondly referred to as a “Friends” concert. This is Jerome and my excuse to rehearse and perform with musicians other than one another, which is always stimulating and fun. It also provides us with an expanded audience base and a wider range of repertoire options.
For the last two years, coloratura soprano Checky Okun has joined our duo. Turns out, Checky is quite skilled at treating her voice like an instrument (albeit one that can sing very high and very fast. Much, as I think about it, like Jerome and his flute). This year we were joined not only by Checky, but also by cellist Christian Garcia. The program included Sir Henry Bishop’s virtuosic “Lo! Hear the Gentle Lark” for soprano, flute, and piano (Yes, the one Miss Piggy immortalized) and the fantastic trio we discovered last winter for flute, cello and piano by Carl Maria von Weber. In addition, Jerome and I (sans friends) performed Friedrich Kuhlau’s “Grand Sonata for Piano and Flute” (note that piano comes first in the title. I love this.) and Samuel Barber’s “Canzone.” We closed the evening with the “Twinkle Variations on a theme by Mozart” arranged by Adam-Schmidt, which gave all four of us an opportunity to outdo one another in a grand showing of technique and fast and furious notes. (I won, I’m sure.)
But the Friends concerts have had another purpose beyond showcasing our technique and colleagues. The first year, the concert raised money for Blackhat Animal Humane Society. Last year, donations were given to Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless. This year, our designated organization was Casa Angelica, a home for disabled children run by a group of very cool nuns.
In all three years, the audiences have been enormously generous. This year we raised over $1000 for the good folks at Casa Angelica, money that will be allocated to purchase slings to help move the children in wheelchairs onto other equipment.
These Friends concerts are satisfying evenings all the way around: Jerome and I get to make music with people we love for a good cause. And after six years together, it is good to shake up assumptions and forge new musical paths.
“So did you bring me flowers?” I asked Jerome during our onstage banter a few weeks ago. “It is our anniversary after all.”
“Nope,” he replied cheerfully, not the least bit sheepish.
Thanks goodness for friends. The honeymoon period may be over.
August 5th, 2012 :: Performing Days
I turn my back for one minute, and the next thing I know Jerome is rescuing fish. That would be fish. As in betta fish.
I fear I might have started this madness. For Jerome’s birthday in June, I gave him a spunky red betta fish that my husband named Scarpia. Turns out both Jerome and I have significant birthdays this summer. Although Jerome is much, much older than me.
The next thing I know, Jerome has five fish, and then ten, and then a dozen. He admits to buying nearly dead betta fish at the pet store, just so he can give them a nice quality of life in their final few hours. By all definitions of the word, he is running a fish hospice.
I suppose I deserve this, I should not have turned my back on Jerome for so long.
But I have had other things on my mind. Aside from the rather daunting upcoming birthday, this summer I have finished a graduate degree in educational psychology (Jerome may be older, but now have the “plus one” distinction regarding useless masters degrees). I have been working on a couple of big writing projects. I have been teaching dozens of children to play the piano. I have been keeping the house going and the garden watered. Really, it has been all I could do to keep my own trio of betta fish alive.
And then there are the upcoming Duo performances, with all their subsequent publicity and musical details to worry about. Our next concert is on August 18, and we will be joined by two of our favorite collaborators: cellist Christian Garcia and soprano Checky Okun. This is a benefit recital for Casa Angelica, a home for disabled children run by very cool nuns. Rehearsals have begun, which should keep Jerome out of trouble and away from the pet store for a while.
At least we can hope.
But I’m afraid the betta fish are here to stay. Just last week, Jerome and I were playing a concert, and my husband, reading our bio, asked, “Where’s the mention of the fish? Aren’t you two all about the betta fish now?”
It’s a good point. The next JimGreer concert may need to be a benefit for the betta fish of America.
July 1st, 2012 :: Performing Days
-Source unknown, but brilliant
May 13th, 2012 :: Performing Days
Last Saturday evening (5/5 @ 5PM!) was our spring recital. I swear these recitals come around faster every year.
(“Is the recital going to be at that ‘Ten Thousand Stars Church?’” one kid asked me. “Well, yes, it is,” I answered with a straight face, liking the inflated notion that now my studio had its own church. I must confess that sometimes, I lie. Especially when it is funny.)
Some time ago, a student asked me if we couldn’t someday have a recital that featured the music of a single composer. I thought this a brilliant idea, and immediately tried to book Beethoven for the event. Turns out, it is hard to get old Ludwig to commit to a date.
Truth is, Beethoven would have been a highly inappropriate choice. Beethoven, in spite of his genius, did not write music for the young beginning pianist. Nor was he much concerned with making his music particularly “pianistic”. He couldn’t have cared less to write a piece that was heavily patterned in such a way to make it sound more difficult and impressive than it was. No, when it comes to those little things that give ease and confidence to young musicians, Beethoven was a tough cookie.
Which is why I am once again eternally grateful for Dennis Alexander.
Several years ago (six to be exact), my friend Anne stood in my kitchen and announced, “You will never guess who just moved to Albuquerque. Dennis Alexander!” To which I responded, “It can’t be that Dennis Alexander.”
To our great fortune, it was.
Since that time, Dennis has become not only a colleague and mentor, but also a friend. Indeed in my world, Dennis is right up there with Beethoven. Hardly a day in the last 20 years has gone by when I haven’t taught one of his great pedagogical gems.
Over the years, my students have had the great privilege of trying out music he has written before it has been published. He has guided me through thorny pedagogical dilemmas, offered feedback to my own performances, coached my students before important events. And as every kid knows when we play Musical Trivia Pursuit in performance class, “Dennis Alexander” is the answer to the question: “Who is the composer who recently moved to Albuquerque?” (Lately, however, the kids have been arguing this point, telling me that Dennis Alexander did NOT “recently” move to Albuquerque, but has lived here “a LONG time.” Just goes to show you “a LONG time” is different when you are 7 then when you are almost 40!)
But even more importantly than all those things, Dennis graciously agreed to come to our recital last Saturday night.
And so, the 5/5 @ 5PM recital featuring the music of Dennis Alexander was born.
Last Saturday there were performances of the old favorites from the Finger Paintings collections, which were among the first pieces of Dennis’ I ever taught.
There were several duets performed that night that came from a new, just published, collection of duets: Just for Two, which are duet arrangements of his popular Just for You books.
A left hand injury inspired me to teach the fiendishly difficult, but lovely “Arioso for the Right Hand” to one high school student. Working on this piece together led this otherwise cool teenager to exclaim, “Oh! It is so beautiful!” That alone was worth all the struggles we have gone through together for it was the first truly unguarded and touchingly vulnerable response I had witnessed from her in years.
My favorite moment involved a brother/sister team who played “Giggle Bugs” from one of the aforementioned Finger Paintings books. The older sister played the teacher part, exactly like I did for HER seven years ago on her first recital. It seems we have come full circle, and beyond that, it appears I might be teaching myself out of a job.
Afterwards there was the predictable punch and cookies, photos were taken, children ran around in recital clothes letting off steam, parents breathed a sigh of relief that yet another recital performance was behind us. Dennis posed for pictures and signed dozens of autographs. (One tiny child seemed confused by this concept, and kept bringing her program to me to sign. “Kid,” I finally said, “my autograph is worth nothing. Nothing, I tell you.”)
Even on evenings when I am not particularly anxious about the students’ performances, even when I can sit back and relax confidently knowing that the kids have got things under control, even when I can honestly say we are as ready as we could be at this particular time, even when all that, these studio recitals still take an enormous amount of energy. The good will generated at these events is worth every ounce of time and effort, but nevertheless it is somewhat a distraction from the work we otherwise do week in and week out.
It’s time to get back to the business of learning to be a musician again….
November 20th, 2011 :: Performing Days
It’s tricky business, programming good music.
Recently Jerome and I put another program to rest after performing recitals in Taos and Placitas. This recital sequence included works by Hue and Piazzolla, Weber and Barber. Some of this music we have played a thousand times and even recorded. Other pieces were new to us or last played far enough in our distant past to seem new again.
Just between you and me, it was the Weber Sonata for Flute and Piano that really kicked by butt this time around.
This piece has an interesting history. It started its life as the second piano sonata (Weber wrote four), and from what we have learned, shortly after its premier the composer was approached about adding a flute part to the solo piano work. In retrospect this seems a bit of an odd request, but Weber apparently was willing and began working with another arranger to sketch out a flute and piano version. Then, according to our research, Weber got busy, left town and took a job in a neighboring city with an opera company.
Sounds just like some musicians I know to skip town in the middle of a project.
Some time later, another composer/arranger (the translations actually say a “cranky, dying organist” or something like that, but that seems mean-spirited, doesn’t it?) took up the task and finished the work with Weber’s permission and consultation. Thus, this new piece was born.
It is devilishly difficult.
I could spend a lifetime trying to make friends with it, and, in the end, even after all that work, we might be barely speaking. It’s that kind of piece.
Which is why I am not shedding any tears to see this recent round of concerts behind me.
But as programming goes, there was a thread between these recitals and the next. Last weekend, Jerome and I performed Samuel Barber’s “Canzone” on a local lecture/concert celebrating the works of Barber. This is a piece we recently added to our repertoire and played in Taos and Placitas. Unlike the Weber, this piece and I were immediately best friends.
This one also has an interesting history. Barber originally wrote it under the title “Elegy” for a flutist friend, and later published it for violin and piano as “Canzone”. Then sometime later, stymied for ideas for the second movement of his piano concerto, he reworked the piece for piano and orchestra, probably the version best known today.
All of this colorful history about the origins of so much of our great music reminds me that to be overly pure and refuse to play pieces that might have had a life in another form is to miss the point completely. Composers, time and time again, have demonstrated a pragmatic and creative approach to their own works, rewriting them for the instruments available, or the limitations of a particular performance. It’s a good lesson to revisit when I am tempted to get too snobbish about what might constitute “real” authentic works. Ironically, it is performers that generally sport these hangups, not composers.
Which does beg the question: do they teach us to be narrow-minded about performance practice in our music schools along with the required technique and theory?
Yesterday I was teaching a lesson to an adult student. She had carefully learned a little Dello Joio piece, and had worked out the complicated rhythms quite accurately. However, in her performance, the piece lacked soul, because it was too accurate and clinical. “Ultimately,” I told her, “after studying everything on the page you have to step back and ask yourself, ‘does this work?’”
It’s a question I am considering a lot these days. I’m tired of worshiping the gods of performance practice. I’m weary and skeptical of too much composer idolatry. I’m suspicious of assumptions like: “if Beethoven wrote it, it must work” without allowing for the very real possibility that some music just doesn’t, regardless of who penned it.
And so, as I reflect on recent past performances and look ahead to the next ones, I’m asking myself the question “does this work?” as I consider new repertoire and learn new music. In doing so, I’m trying to shed years of assumptions and prejudices. It’s tough, this act of thinking and listening without preconceived notions.
No one said programming was easy.
August 28th, 2011 :: Performing Days
It’s the details that kill me.
And man alive, there are a lot of details to attend to. And I don’t mean in the music.
This weekend Jerome and I are playing a benefit concert with a soprano, Checky Okun. Donations accepted at the performance will go to Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, a wonderful organization that provides medical and other assistance with the goal of getting people off the street for good.
is the easiest part of this whole thing.
It’s the other stuff.
The publicity: the press releases, radio interviews, flyers and postcards. It is remembering not only the deadlines, but who is supposed to meet them. “I’ll post all over UNM, who’s got Nob Hill?” we ask each other. “What are we wearing?” Jerome wants to know. “Send the program to me to proof,” I remind him. “Did anyone remember to contact Albuquerque Magazine?”
This is the stuff they don’t teach you in school, but it is every bit a part of being a musician as the notes and phrases of our music.
To paraphrase, its the details, stupid.
But while its been easy to get distracted, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the music itself this week. As we were preparing repertoire, a theme emerged. It seems that in a number of the pieces we chose, there is this idea of music calling to us and offering solace and comfort and inspiration. In these pieces, this inspired awakening comes in the form of a bird singing or a flute playing (“Pretty much this concert is about me sounding fabulous,” Jerome announced when we were talking about this theme.), and it serves to remind the listener of the power music has to uplift us.
It’s something worth every damn detail.
July 17th, 2011 :: Performing Days
This is a shameless commercial advertisement.
After five years of performing and recording together, my musical partner, Jerome Jim, and I are making it official. We are becoming a musical duo. We are, in fact, The JimGreer Duo.
But as Jerome told a recent audience, “I have to get something off my chest. Some people may be wondering, but Amy and I are NOT a couple.”
“No one,” I shot back from the piano, “is thinking I’m leaving Matt Greer for you.”
We are nothing if not a bit feisty on stage.
I am writing this shameless commercial advertisement to let you know about a few things.....
First of all, you can learn all about The JimGreer Duo on our beautiful website: thejimgreerduo.com (clever, huh?).
Secondly, our latest CD has just hit the streets. This is a double CD that we recorded in March, during week that was both wonderfully intense and just intense. I have been told (albeit mostly by people who already love me, so perhaps it doesn’t count) that it is a lovely recording. The title track, an arrangement of the folk song “The Water is Wide” by composer Mark Hayes, is the last track on both disks. When Jerome was up to his eyeballs in the editing room he couldn’t decide which take to choose. So he put a different one---and they are shockingly different--on each CD. I love that.
You can buy this recording on the website, which feels just remarkably sophisticated. I might just go buy one right now for the pure novelty of the idea. (Something of MINE can be purchased on the Internet. Wow.)
You can also listen to a few seconds of each track of both this CD and our previous one. This is all so very fancy.
Thirdly, for those of you who do FaceBook, you can follow us there (although I can promise the FaceBook updates won’t be done by me. I am not that cool yet.) OR if you’d like to be kept updated on future performances and events, you can join our Constant Contact email list. We promise never to share your contact info with anyone. (Actually, I don’t really understand how all this works anyway, so I am about as dangerous as Jerome’s Chihuahuas.)
We have several performances in the next few months, and in our now official capacity will be looking to add more. Preferably in far-way exotic locations. Like Paris. Or on a beach somewhere. Or in a location full of good food and interesting people. If you have leads for us, or even better, run a concert series of your own, PLEASE send word. While I don’t do FaceBook, I can be reached via email. I am also a big fan of pony express. Or homing pigeons carrying messages.
Finally, from time to time we will be posting on our Duo website reflections about working together, about rehearsals, about performances, about our time on the road, so check in. While we are so NOT a couple, we do promise to be entertaining. As Jerome once wrote on a recital poster, “Disrupt your day. This is SO not your sister’s flute recital.”
December 12th, 2010 :: Performing Days
Last month, I went to concert given by a former student. I have to confess I had to bribe myself to get there. I had been doing back-to-back recitals and was in a string of late nights. I had been fighting a bad cold for weeks and was only starting to feel better. There were plenty of good reasons for me to stay home and skip this one. And honestly, I wanted to do just that.
I get way too cynical at times, and want to only bother with going to performances that I will get something out of, but this doesn’t represent the best side of me. I also get tired of music after long days of making and teaching it, and sometimes can’t stand the thought of having my ears subject to more sound. But lately, I have realized that the reason I need to be there probably has nothing to do with the level or the merit of the performance, and everything to do with the idea of supporting another person who is out there making music. After all, over the years, many, many people have supported me and countless others who now make their living performing. We all weren’t always so good at what we do. Many people supported us and sat through numerous bad recitals so we could be where we are. We owe it to the future of music, to the future of live performance, to do the same for other musicians. If we, as musicians, aren’t attending performances, how can we criticize the non-musicians of the world for not attending our events? We bemoan the lack of audiences at classical recitals, but we are not, in large numbers, supporting our own art form.
Even now, after a thousand recitals under my belt and countless ones ahead of me, it still means a great deal to have people I care about and respect come out and hear me play. I know that they must have better things to do, or that they may have heard me play a million times, or even that they probably own recordings of this music played better, but still their very presence in the audience means something. It means something every time. I never outgrow the boost I get when the people I know and love and work with come out to hear me perform.
My husband is far better at attending concerts than I am, modeling an example we should all aspire to follow. During one two-week period last Christmas he attended some eight performance by friends, colleagues, and students--a true grand slam of support. In comparison, too often, I am looking for any excuse to stay home. But on this particular evening last month, I knew it would be especially important to my student that I was there. As someone who once taught her piano lessons, my attendance at her recital was important sign of support. Besides, Diane deserves a celebration. She deserves support and a crowd; in the same way my best friend would expect me to be at her wedding, or at the funeral when her mother dies. We all need to hold each other’s hands more in this troubled world.
Last December I went to a Nutcracker performance. Now I like the Nutcracker just dandy, and enjoyed every minute of the sugar plum fairy and the Arabian dancers and the little girls wearing velveteen dresses sitting in the audience. But attending a Nutcracker performance is not necessary to make my Christmas. I went because I had a student who was dancing in the chorus and whose mother is the ballet mistress of the company. I knew that while I could easily forgo the Nutcracker that year, my presence that afternoon meant something to the student, and probably to his mother as well. In the future, it might make this kid think more about practicing the piano even in those extremely busy times, or give the family more incentive to make music lessons a higher priority. Or maybe not. In the end, it was enough that my attendance stood as evidence that I support this student performing in another, equally worthwhile art form. Because I do. And maybe by being there, I could demonstrate that I don’t think piano is the only important thing in my students’ lives.
What I too often forget is that I, as the piano teacher, become an important part of people’s lives. Sadly, I am often the only adult figure outside of family members who spends much time with a student in a one-on-one situation. I have a unique position of staying in people’s lives year after year, even sometimes after one of us has moved away or after a child has stopped piano lessons. Just this afternoon I was addressing a card to my high school piano teacher. As I did so, one of my favorite high school students came in the door for her lesson. “Look Kristy,” I said to her, “one day you will be writing cards to me and telling me about your adult life.” I was teasing her a little bit, but it’s true, as evidenced by the variety of communications I still receive from former students, that I might still have a place in their lives, long after weekly lessons have ended. Although I try to wear this idea lightly, I am reminded of this fact when I am asked to attend a performance of some kind by one of my students: it might be important to them that I am there.
Sometimes it is equally important for my life that I get out of my little protected world and witness live music. I always leave with something—some new idea about how to conquer the performing monster, some moment of sheer beauty or joy within the music, some new understanding of the performer or the music. I never regret having gone. And in a world that is overrun by our easy ability to download perfect renditions of any piece of music, it feels almost counter-cultural to go listen to live music. My husband reminds me that while his house has live music in it every day, not every home is so blessed. (Admittedly, I think he is somewhat sarcastic when he mentions this, thinking of the hours of practicing and lessons he endures listening to.) But in a world gone techno, it is almost rebellious to spend my time going to concerts when I could just as easily plug in my iPod.
I know that I won’t ever get to enough recitals, I’ll miss plenty I should have made, and I am sure many a cynical night will have me staying home listening to Over the Rhine instead. But the upcoming weeks give me plenty of opportunities to make up for my less than admirable attitudes. Santa, don't cross me off your list just yet.
September 12th, 2010 :: Performing Days
In the next few weeks, Navajo flutist Jerome Jim
and I will be performing in the following New Mexican cities:
Santa Fe: Saturday, September 25, 2PM
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Fe
107 W. Barcelona
Taos: Sunday, September 26, 4PM
St. James Episcopal Church
208 Camino de Santiago
: Friday, October 1, 12PM
Rio Rancho Presbyterian Church
1004 24th Street SE
Gallop: Saturday, October 2, 2:30PM
First United Methodist Church of Gallop
1800 Red Rock Dr.
Program includes music such as Kuhlau's wonderful Grand Sonata for Flute and Piano
(fantastic piece for both the flute and the piano. Not played in this country often enough.) and the Three Romances
by Clara Schumann. All concerts are free and open to the public. (I am especially looking forward to the part that will involve staying at the Taos Inn
and drinking margaritas in the bar.)
PS. Thank you
to all you readers who wrote to let me know about problems with the RSS feeder. We have been working on it, (By "we" I mean not me, but my web designer). We think the problem is at least mostly solved, so try again. If you still can't read it, we suspect that this is a browser issue. You could try another browser, if it is that important to you, or even better, write and tell me
what browser you use so we can further troubleshoot the problems......
November 19th, 2008 :: Performing Days
I am resorting to bribing myself these days
to get my work done. This is really a last resort, because
nothing else is working.
I shouldn't imply that I haven't been
working, because I have. Obsessively. All the time.
Morning, noon, and night. I am in a high energy cycle,
which is dangerous on lots of levels. Dangerous, because I
don't get enough rest, and because I don't allow any space between my
actions, thoughts or obligations. Dangerous, also, because I
get totally out of balance during these times.
I am acutely aware of this at the
moment, because I just returned from yoga class and every pose only
illustrated how out of kilter my body (and therefore my life) was.
My scoliosis makes finding symmetry hard on the best of days, but
today, I had no idea where center was. This, I should admit,
was the first yoga class in over two weeks, which is the first sign
that things have gone awry around here. I know better. I
KNOW BETTER. I know that in order to have some kind of center,
some kind of balance in my life I need certain things: I need
to eat well, get enough sleep, go to yoga regularly, bike and walk,
write every day, and practice. Of that list, I have been
managing decent eating, marginal sleep and way too much practicing.
And therein lies the whole problem.
Other things that help keep me
healthy and on top of my life: taking some time to do some
teaching preparation, instead of just winging it every day. (Yeah,
I'm good at winging it, but that's not the point.) My days
start better when I take time to do some reading as I drink my coffee
in the morning. My days end more serenely and contentedly when
I have dinner and conversation with Matt. But a close look at
that more detailed list only shows more holes, for the last several
weeks have been all about my fall studio recital, which took place last Saturday night. That is a big megillah indeed, requiring
serious attention to picking out recital
music, working especially hard in lessons on recital pieces, and then doing the program and organizing the reception. In
addition, no matter how confident and together my students generally
are, there is always an increased amount of hand-holding for both
parents and students in the week prior to any big performance. So
in answer to why I am not on top of teaching stuff I have two words:
And the rest? Well, I have been as preoccupied as the rest of the country with this recent election. I have read the paper more closely, watched more news than usual, and in general, given too much time to the whole thing, considering how little I could affect the process. ("Yes we can!") Election day itself, I baby-sat for someone doing voter rights kind of stuff, doing my extremely small part to insure that this state turned its rightful shade of blue. On top of all that, Matt has been gone the last week, taking any hope of my staying firmly anchored to my life with him.
So while some of the reasons I am
less than well balanced right now has to do with these very specific
things and my own energy fluctuations in response to them, the other
huge part of this equation is just the normal cyclical nature of
being a performer. Given all of that, I have lots of reasons these
days to be thinking about recitals and what they require of us.
Not only was Saturday night the fall recital in my studio; last
weekend I played a big recital with a flutist; this weekend I am
doing a recording project with a singer. Without a doubt, there are certain areas of my life I have to put on
hold in order to have the attention and focus required to do these
things. In students' lessons, I have no choice but to let many
important things go in order to simply have the time to devote to
getting recital pieces ready. I fall out of habit of doing
teaching prep work----picking out new music, reading through
collections, sending organizational emails and newsletters out about
upcoming events----because these things seem less pressing when we
are getting ready for a recital. In fact, to look too far into
the future when the present needs our attention is more than just
distracting, it can actually be unhelpful. Of course, now that
the recital is behind us, I find myself swimming madly to keep my
head above water. I'm out of habit of putting in the teaching
preparation time, and now I need to do so desperately. If we
are going to take this recent performance momentum and run with it, I
have to do some major catch-up work both in terms of picking out and
reading through new music, but also in terms of asking myself, "OK.
What does this kid need next? What have we neglected
lately? What do we need to circle back to? What should we
be revisiting now that we are playing at this new level?"
This is a lot of work for 25 students, but it has to be done.
And it is the same with all the other
things I need in my life---the writing, the exercising, the time with
my husband. It is so easy to get out of the habit of making
sure my days include all these things, and so painful to realize how
out of balance I have become when they are missing.
Which is a long way of explaining why I am now resorting to bribery. I don't have to bribe
myself to practice: That has never been a problem, and at the
moment the sheer pressure of the gigs in front of me is enough to get
my butt on the piano bench. But all those other things: the
exercising, writing, reading, teacher preparation and so on that I
need to do in order to not spin off this planet, I am now bribing
myself to accomplish.
I am a big fan of bribery and reward
systems, if not used by organized crime or our government. I
have broken bad habits by using rewards; I get myself to yoga class
and in front of the computer with the promise of chocolate or lattes. I may be too old for such silliness, but I have years
of evidence and piles of accomplishments to prove that it works.
At the moment, I don't even care about accomplishing anything, I just
need to find a way to slow down, breathe deeply, and gather together
the loose ends of my life and sanity.
Or at least that's the idea. But
in the meantime, there's chocolate waiting.
November 19th, 2007 :: Performing Days
Cecelia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily.
Oh, Cecelia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home.
Come on home.
It’s been one hell of a ride the last two months.
Of course, I did it to myself. In spite of what everyone -- from my husband to my father to my best friend -- thinks, I really have tried to cut back and practice the art of saying no. I had thought I was doing OK, with one big recital a month, but I miscalculated horribly on the timing, because suddenly I realized I had three huge recitals each two weeks apart. This put me in the position of having to practice and rehearse multiple recitals at once. I usually avoid this, if not to protect my hands and my sanity, then simply because I don’t have enough time to be doing rehearsals with multiple musicians or groups. I can manage three or four hours of rehearsals a week on top of my teaching and practicing, but that’s it. And three or four hours goes quickly when rehearsing a major program with a serious musician.
In September, I played a program with a flutist that I work with often. This included the glorious but daunting Franck sonata—a piece that has always seemed like a watershed piece to me. For years, I thought I didn’t have the technical chops or large enough hands to play that particular piece, then suddenly I find that I do. (My hands haven’t grown, but thanks to a new teacher
and a lot of work, my technique has.) I had plenty of time to prepare for that program, and plenty of rehearsals, so that recital went swimmingly. It was after that one that things got dicey.
I rather reluctantly agreed to play several pieces on a university choir concert in October. I agreed because it was one of those two rehearsals and performance kind of deals. In the first rehearsal, due to no fault of my own, I discovered that I had the wrong edition of one of the pieces, so had to sight-read a very different part. In another of the pieces, the tempo was incorrectly marked. Of course, it wasn’t in my favor: it ended up being twice as fast as indicated and unfortunately it was a tricky Bach reduction. I had two days to fix those problems.
Next, I played a recital with a graduate oboe student. Her preview in front of the wind faculty was the same week that I was struggling with the above choir music. The preview is essentially when a student’s recital grade is given, so it is a big deal. Regardless of the fact that we might still have two more weeks to pull things together (or finish learning music in my case), the rehearsing race is always to the preview, not to the recital itself.
Two weeks after that I played several pieces on an all-Brahms concert. I played a late solo intermezzo, and was one of two pianists playing the Brahms-Haydn Variations. I was also one of the duet accompanists in the Liebeslieder
Walzes with a small professional chorus. The first rehearsal of the Liebeslieder
was also the same week that I had to pull music together for the university choir concert and the oboe recital preview. I was the rehearsal accompanist, which meant I couldn’t wait until the week before the performance to learn the score, regardless of how doable that might otherwise have been. That same week was also the first rehearsal for the Haydn Variations. At that point, I was far from having that piece under my hands.
Both the Thursday before and the night after the Brahms concert, I played for two additional performances of one of the pieces from the graduate oboists’s recital: the Loeffler trio for piano, oboe, and viola. A great piece. Fantastic piano part. Needed lots of attention and maintenance even after getting one performance under our belts.
Two weeks after that I was scheduled to play another recital with the same flutist with whom I began this whirlwind of recitals. Included on this recital was the Fauré Sonata and the Piazzolla Historie de Tango
—both big, four-movement works. In the midst of all of these other performance deadlines, we were to begin rehearsals. Somewhere in the middle of this madness, my arms and hands started tingling. I would wake up at night with numb fingers. This was not good; even I could recognize the signs of carpal tunnel problems. I was convinced that it was not misuse I was suffering from, but simply over-use. Small comfort when I could not feel my hands.
Clearly I need to better perfect the art of saying no. But these were all great gigs, and at one big recital a month I thought I could pull it off. “Pulling it off” meant getting up at 6am to put in a good hour or two of practice before my 8 o’clock lesson. It meant practicing all day on the weekends when I was not teaching or in rehearsals. It meant sleeping less, eating less, and teaching from a less than balanced, centered place. This was not good. Matt began tip-toeing around me. The cats began whining and crying for attention. I had e-mails backed up and phone calls that went un-returned. I was far from being in my happy place.
During the first rehearsal with my flutist for our December recital, I admitted to the hand problems. “I’m sure I can get this under control,” I said breezily. He admitted to feeling a bit pushed to this next recital and suggested we postpone it until February. I jumped at the delay, believing that there might be light at the end of the tunnel after all. Suddenly, everything seemed possible—we would cut down rehearsals to one per week and stretch out the learning process to the point where we could, in his words, “inhabit the music.” Lovely phrase. This is the place from which I want to work and perform when I am not pretending to be superwoman and taking on more than I can really handle. I know this. I just repeatedly make the same scheduling mistakes, believing that maybe this time
I will transcend my human limitations and perform miracles.
In the end, all the concerts went fine. More than fine, actually. The Brahms concert was a huge hit—the performance stars aligning for me in a wonderful, mysterious way. Oh, I know that generally I play well, or I wouldn’t be playing this much (“you are only as good as your last performance,” goes that little voice in my head…), but every once in a while a performance is particularly special. This was one of those times. As my husband told me later, “You hit it out of the park.” God knows, that doesn’t always happen. I shouldn’t complain, because base hits get the job done. But a home run feels damn good.
Last Friday was our annual St. Cecelia party, in honor of the feast day of the patron saint of musicians. We have held this event annually for the last ten years, with the parties reaching a new significance now that we have been in New Mexico long enough to establish a tradition. In August, people begin to ask us, “When is St. Cecelia this year?” It’s always the Friday before Thanksgiving, kicking off the party season early. There are always lots of people of many stripes: people we work with, people we just like, musicians we know, and other assorted characters. We ask guests to bring offerings of wine, chocolate, or song—and the music goes on late into the night.
Blessed Cecelia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire…
There is not a year that goes by when I don’t secretly think that maybe this year we could skip St. Cecelia. We are always up to our eyeballs in obligations and this party is a lot of work. We design and send out invitations, eating up countless hours of addressing and putting together these small creations. The house is always a mess and needs to be dug out and transformed. We light luminaria along the sidewalk and courtyard walls. This year we had a fire pit in the courtyard. I bake cookies and cakes, and we put together cheese plates and gather and wash all 60+ wine glasses. We always use every glass and then some. It’s not only the preparation that kills me, but often the recovery. I have played recitals the day after St. Cecelia. I have taught five hours of performance classes the next day. One year I played for Santa Fe Opera auditions.
This year, I planted bulbs. Last weekend in between Brahms rehearsals I went and bought 100 bulbs: daffodils, alliums, tulips -- insuring that I can greet the spring with flowers once again. The thing is, there is not a year when I don’t need to raise my glass to St. Cecelia and toast the gods that allow me to earn my living making music. For all the times I get it wrong, (and there are plenty) there is still nothing I’d rather do.
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.
Contact Amy Greer at: firstname.lastname@example.org