Monday, January 21, 2008

Endangered Species' Revenge

Over twenty years ago, after a children's recital, one student's well-heeled dad came up to me exclaiming, "You're're a relic, an ARTIFACT!!" The guy exuded so much thrill over his new excavation that I did refrain from the proper response, which would have been approximately, "No, you are a LUNK."
I needed the money.

Yet from what I'm reading online lately, one does wonder. The thoughts flicker past electronics of course--singers chomping on microphones, guitar pedals, hearing-disabled kids--to the sheer VOLUME of life on Industrialized Earth today. It does rather resemble the takeover of an embankment of fern, violets and piggyback plant, by Himalayan blackberries. Once they've gotten a foothold, the bigger, more aggressive species do wipe out entire populations of gentler folk.

Unless they interbreed, of course, like the spotted and barred owls have supposedly resorted to doing...and like a lot of classically trained musicians do now, for a niche and an income. It's simple enough to do, because rock music is so mindless--a wonderfully vacuous set of impulses requiring no burden of talent whatsoever, beyond the conveyance of a sexual prowess or quirk, of some sort. Though perennially hollow, it can be extremely fun.

If Prissy Prim is sounding a little jaded, here, fear not. Today's
so-called Realities will only lead her to sit up straighter in her teacher's chair and enjoy a surge of pride at being, quite possibly, the last of the Passenger Pigeon People. Perhaps a different Administration will issue Endangered Species Acts on her behalf, or perhaps not. It's rather nice regardless, realizing that one is so "rare."

As for classical music's practical uses...well, one could always click back to the first couple of posts in this blog, for reminder. On second thought, how many people could actually tell you that the
reason everybody in the store is so grumpy, is that the music on the intercom is playing an amorphous 3/4 rhythm in minor mode centered on the lugubrious tone of 'A'?

Or that the neighbor's really annoying lawnmower (in January) vacillates over low 'B' and 'C#', and just can't settle on either?

Or that gurgling streams like to talk on middle 'C' and 'F' alot, which i
s why they sound so happy; while winds cheering in the trees above generally contain all of the known tones, subtly hovering around a noble 'E'-flat?

A chickadee's voice contains none of them, because it's so high and pure that it's off the spectrum of tone names.

And never, once, have I heard a 'G' emit
from nature's mouth.

Hmm. Maybe while the rest of the world is leaping off of its ridiculous precipice, the "Endangereds" could concoct a whole new realm of music--a realm far, far more intricate, sensitive, and rarified than what the hogs gobbled up. Wee, mighty chickadee would teach it, of course.

Because for all of their spectacular predations, our dear hogs have failed to factor in their singlemost vulnerability: Prey grown immune.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Madwoman of Cliffside

It finally happened. Prissy Prim flipped. Just ask the poor working stiffs who got stranded at 3:00AM the other night at the tacky starter-mansion that's been trying to be her next-door neighbor for the last 2 years. The men knew it the first time they glanced up and saw the bent cardboard tube with mirrors in it extending from the door to her deck. There was a large eye, reflected in that tube. Further scrutiny would have revealed long, straggly, silverish strands of hair catching in the sea breeze, just beyond that door that had slid open so silently.

But Oh! And Begorrah! Could this be? Could they actually be dismantling the Cliffside Cannibal Cavern? Our dithering damsel continues agitated for as long as the gents keep hauling out armloads of lumber. (It was only carpet, that first night. Mercy! Such hard workers! I hope they're being paid enough!)

Yet alas and's probably just another illegal remodel causing them to gut the place. Drat it all, if true. The house needs to go, you know. It's need
ed to ever since Mr. SlickoSleaze the Contractor came in, signed an agreement not to cut into the old-growth cedar covering that lot, then proceeded to clear-cut the works. "Sorry," he oozed, "just couldn't resist that view!" (We don't know how he got around the legalities, but he did.) I'm sure that the additional $5,000 added to the house's price was well worth the many-centuries'-old effort that those cedars had just expended. Ask President Bush. Er...Cheney.

What neither contractor, nor new homeowners with obscenity-shrieking kids and pink plastic FisherPrice yard decor, nor their three neurotic dogs could know (okay, maybe the dogs did), was that the house and lot were now haunted into perpetuity. That's why, within their first year of
residence-in-the-wrong-place, the parents found themselves--oh, surprise!--divorced. The wife and kids were scared poopless of the place. There were really creepy sounds at night, besides. (It's a spotted owl, stupid. You're parked smack in the middle of its shopping cart.) There were creekings, and groanings (those are fir and alder scratching each others' backs; besides, they don't like you). The storms were terrifying--way too much oxygen going on. The impeccably hydroseeded 55-degree embankment was impossible to mow, and was being overrun by bracken and prickly blackberries that hurt the darling bellowing children's tender feet whenever they stepped outside to kill each other. Besides, there were really, REALLY ugly, croaking big herons and things. Yeeeww. Gross.'t the house starting to tip rather precariously?

Hmhh. They all thought that if they moved in and took over Priss's rural bit of heaven, the grumpy, eccentric Old Guard would be properly overwhelmed and leave. I mean, LOOK at that weird old bat, the rundown A-frame not 50 feet from our fine new front door! Probably doesn't
even earn $50,000 a year! LOSER! (Probably a WITCH or something...)

Yup. Just Prim and the squirrels. MmmBUH-bye, folks. where DID my telescope go?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Problem of Fatness

Too many of us are suffering it, this time of year. But what few realize is what an insideous problem it is year 'round, for the humble piano teacher. Oh, there are a few blessed with overactive thyroids and genetically hyperactive nervous systems, who manage to remain little sparrows through thousands of lessons. But they're in the minority.

As one trained in performance, I'd never had much of a weight problem. Only after about four years of teaching fulltime, did I begin to notice disturbing developments, yonder. The most notable was the addition of a round sort of appendage directly above my lap; in fact, it seemed to sit on that lap whenever one sat down. Admittedly, it did make a nice, dignified resting shelf for folded hands while one stood, but bending over to pick up a dropped pencil had become problematic.

And so, as middle-age approached, war was declared on the Problem of Fatness. (The current war hadn't begun yet, so there were funds.)

First target was the coffee. It was stripped of its enhancements in a single strike. Then all fats were thrown in the slammer, no habeus corpus. Daily walks in brisk marching time were undertaken with gusto, and the regime was strictly observed for four months.

Nothing budged.

Evidently, this was a far more complicated conflict than what had been anticipated, and could only be brought under control via a troop surge of formidable proportions. Venerably pear-shaped pedagogues would hereinafter consume the day's primary meal--generally protein and a salad--in the early afternoon before teaching began, and the evening meal would consist of celery or a piece
of apple. But ONLY after a Jane Fonda or Paula Abdul workout had been completed.

Finally, af
ter three months, the pounds began to shed. Three of them. What was with this body? Was it STUCK? This war was not going at all like the pundits had said it should.

An urgent call went out for private contractors, recruited from an infommercial on late-night TV. Though expensive, they provided a state-of-the-art arsenal of deadly fat-burning capsules that Melanie Griffith swore would destroy the insurgents.

And wouldn't you know, Melanie was right. Within a month, suffering nary casualty nor side effect, our long-suffering soldier had dropped twenty pounds, KERBLAM. It was Shock and Awe's finest hour. The Evildoers had been wiped off of the map. The masses cheered. But the fireworks had only begun, folks. Never, ever underestimate the power of American advanced technology.

As time progressed and all remaining insurgents were obliterated, some rather disturbing collateral damage began to surface in the Press. Whenever Miss Priss sat down, the jolt of bones hitting chair harkened for her visions of Auschwitz. Then there was the matter of the numb feet. "Now, why would my feet be going numb, when they get so much healthy exercise?" she would ask. A team of investigators tried repeatedly to discover the actual ingredients in the deadly fat-burning capsules, but the contractors responded only with a stern, "State Secret!" Executive Order had forbidden public inquiry, citing Security concerns.

And then the suicide bombers began. While eating peanut butter toast and salad one day, our heroine suddenly became aware of a rock of some sort, rolling around in her mouth. Next she knew, she was staring in disbelief at a chunk of a molar sitting in her palm. A crater lay where healthy tooth once had grown and prospered. The following week, it happened again. The Shock and Awe campaign had spilled over into the homes of innocent civilians, and Miss Priss was hot on her way to looking like a meth junkie.

As this was a simple person, rather than an unwieldy nation, it took no debate whatsoever to enact a prompt, thorough troop withdrawal. Major disarmament treaties were signed, and all WMDs were thrown in the garbage.

If piano teachers can't stay trim through regular healthy exercise and diet, then perhaps they might simply try to enjoy the extra padding? Fat was once considered a sign of wealth, afterall, and there are a whole lot of people in Africa and India who'd give their eye teeth and even a molar or two, to have some of it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Art on Drugs

Question of the Month: What IS is that compels a soul to pay $14.6 million for things like Basquiat's psychotic doodles,

or $71.7 million for one of Warhol's doctored photos...

yet only $300,000 for an honest Wyeth?

One ponders the matter while mumbling along in dowdy clothes and sensible shoes, collecting all of $30/hr. for attempting to help people learn an art form that is, by most accounts, obsolete.

{sigh} Rather obvious who's in the wrong business.

But REALLY, gentlemen! $19.2 million for Hirst's medicine cabinet lined with colorful pills? Where's the 'imagination' in it? Worse, you couldn't even use the thing because it would have required some skill to build one that worked.

We can respect that it's been "all about the materials" ever since the Industrial Revolution brought an end to a) artists' mixing their own paints, and b) earthly dignity; but where's the 'genius' in steel, glass, or flies packed together with resin into a pot scrubber? Those are projects that my son would have tackled with relish, in the sixth grade.

Yet I'm certain there must be something to it, other than that Markets are controlled by clinically sick individuals. People who earn/spend that much money must be a whole lot smarter than we donkeys are, slogging around for our carrots, unable to afford things like vacations.

But lo! and hark! I did enjoy an epiphany the other day, while driving out to lessons. In a miraculous flash, it occurred to me that pitting a Wyeth against a Warhol would be analogous to pitting a nun against the NFL! Or a bicycle against NASCAR! (And we must not forget the acronyms...always in caps. Always shouting. Very important.) Nevermind Debussy vs. AC/DC.

Think I'll stick to the bike. Some of us just...never could get into that PILLS thing...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bach is Saved, cont.

Closed off that post before getting to the 'Bach' part of it.  Apologies.  I do have this nasty tendency to sit down at the computer around 7:00 or 8:00PM and then discover, thirty minutes later, that it's 6:00AM.  Dangdest thing.

But on to Bach's rescue.  A very, very belated thanks goes to the indomitable Mr. Denk for
his beautiful Bach Allemande donated to cyber-posterity last May, by way of Mr. D's own birthday celebration. OF COURSE there will be critics and grumps griping about this, that, & etc.; but if anybody ever wonders why some of us still carry such a torch for the old buzzard, just go listen to Jeremy translate him, for a bit. (It's best if you don't sit there with the score, playing Piano Teacher. Just listen. It's real Bach, a.k.a. Heaven's right here, not over there...)

Why some of us would feel such a kinship for one whose language is of an era so alien to our own as J.S. Bach's, is beyond the scope of this paper. Mr. Denk does a delightful job, in the posts prior to his MP3 offering, of illustrating Bach's music in terms that more contemporary sensibilities can relate to...but I confess that I've never modernized Bach internally, so much. I'm sure that our differing teachers influenced us a great deal, and mine--a Hungarian--was a man of few words. He did wax poetic one day, however, after discovering that I was the school's first Master's candidate since pre-1950 to have chosen Bach, rather than Beethoven, for my oral exams. He said:

"Vidz Beethoven, you are in the boat on the ocean. You ri-idingk each wave, is very excitement. But vidz Bach, you are bird flyingk OVER the ocean. You SEE ALLL of the waves, yah?"

Anyway, Beethoven wouldn't even have happened, but for Bach.

I must also confess here, before launching into other aural tirades, that although I never tried to embark on a concert career, I have one of those freakish sorts of ear (dulling with age), which may also account for the affinity with Bach's contrapuntal work. When I went to do my entrance audition at the Royal Academy of Music, they made you sightread and ear-test, as well as perform. After the ear-test--during which two stodgy gentlemen made me stand looking out o
f a window while they plunked various tones and intervals on the piano...and during which they kept increasing the dose until they were splaying great ghastly clusters of tones all over the keyboard and ordering me to name the lowest, highest, middle, all, intervals between, etc.--I turned around to see two formerly ruddy, Establishment Brits sitting there frozen into salt pillars, pasty white and staring at me in stark horror. It had been too easy for me.

The beefier of the two finally cleared his throat, then drawled in his perfect Queen's English, "Ahwell...I see why you don't sightread veddih well..."

The only time I ever threw a student out of my studio occurred years ago, in the name of old J.S. The student was a talented, likeable 14-year-old hotshot with well-heeled, arrogant, totally screwed-up parents--the kind who assume that if they can say, "Ya-ahhss, Bertie has to be to piano at a quarter-to," then they're Irreproachably Upperline Parents and all Hell's okay for the rest. 'Bertie' was blasting through a 2-part Invention in his usual GaaJustGetThisOverWithI HateIt fashion, when I asked him to establish a pulse in one of his a-rhythmic passages. The kid picked up where I pointed, then with hostile vehemence >SLAMMED< down on the first beat of the next measure. It had the impact of a bullet shattering glass...

Now, angers come in a variety of hues, I suppose. Some manifest in a bright rainbow of shouts. Some in deep purple wells of tears. Some smolder like greenish-ochre ooze. I rarely express anger toward my students, as there are usually much more efficient ways of dealing with 'misbehavior.' But there is one hue of anger over which I have little control, and almost never have reason to try to control, because it occurs so rarely. Like platinum, it might best be described as White.

And so it was, that poor Bertie suddenly looked up and inhaled a quick
gasp, upon discovering a strange, slow HISSS erupting next to him, spitting in stage-whispers, "Don't...EVER...HIT...Bach!!" The next sound to puncture the tender psyche of our gaping, now-ashen gangsta-prodigy, was a sonic sizzling that white-roared, "GET...OUT!!"

Poor Bertie gawked at the searing, white-hot finger stretched before his nose, aimed like a lightning rod at the door. And then in a desperate fumble, he grabbed his books and bolted so fast that he forgot to scoop up his designer gangsta jacket, on the way out.

Seconds later, I stood up stupidly, asking, "Uh...what was that?" I'd always really liked Bertie, if not his haughty parents.

Had it been anyone other than Bach whom our hapless hooligan had targeted for drive-by practice, I'm certain that Bertie would have continued to bolster his parents' sense of upscale righteousness, and to waste his normally amiable teacher's time, all the way into the merry mists of oblivion and the state penitentiary.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bach is Saved by the Blogs

After a few heartwarming days of playing Piano Teacher again, I awoke this morning to the whisper of rain in my ear (bed's in a loft) and an irresistable urge to see if Mr. Jeremy at think denk had added any new entries to his insufferably entertaining blog. (Check out No Time for Barney's.) Far better a read than the Sunday funnies. I'd swear the guy is Laurence Sterne reincarnate. I haven't laughed so hard at any writer's stratospheric flights of verbal virtuosity since the day I turned a page in Tristram Shandy, to find that its author had rudely erupted into Greek.

But so MUCH there is to learn, now! I found Denk through a piece by Alex Ross in The New Yorker (Oct.22, 2007) and from there-on-out it's been a veritable orgy of discovery via weblogs unearthed. Prior to discovering Ross & Denk, I had developed a severe reaction even to typing the word 'music' for any searches relating to music. 'Music,' like 'marriage,' has now been redifined. It has become a techno-toy, assessed for value by its decibel capacity, technological gimmickry, packaging, and marketability to various hearing-impaired constituencies. Under "Classical" you can find things like Wagner's Ring, "The World's Most Beautiful Classics," and possibly Jerry Lee Lewis.

Once, while trying to take an online survey, I made the mistake of clicking 'yes' when asked if I had bought any music during the past week. The next screen wanted to know what music I had bought, and gave a list of selections from which to choose. The only selections offered were CDs, DVDs, downloads etc., so I flunked out and got kicked off. Printed scores weren't even considered to be 'music' by the survey company.

Thus the relief of Ross, Denk & Co. Thank you, gentlemen. You do the World of the Still Hearing a truly great service.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Postmodern Piano Teacher

Sure it's an oxymoron. Anybody irrational enough to be a piano teacher in America is comparable to the Latin professor stuck teaching George W. Bush, or maybe Will Smith. (If you love Will Smith like I do, you'll understand the conundrum.) But allow me to explain my reasons for this blog...which, to be politically correct, really should be titled "Global Era Piano Teacher" except that 'global era' didn't start with a 'P'...

I've just come off of a four-year sabbatical from private piano teaching in suburban USA, where I had maintained a studio of 68-72 students weekly for 10 years. Not only was I burnt-out after listening to so much piano bashing, but the political climate had grown so hostile by 2002 that if I couldn't express acceptably 'patriotic' sentiments at all times to all clientele, then I was either going to be fired, or else incarcerated shortly at a terrorist holding facility of undetermined locale. I've always voted independently, leaning both right-and-left-of-center depending upon the issue. Yet here I was, in a place suddenly reeking of Germany 1938. Both appalled and disgusted, I wagered it was time to walk. Realfast.

So I did. I gave the good folks a year's warning, farmed them all out lovingly, and then skedaddled from that town. For an often entertaining rundown on some of the 15+ jobs that I've enjoyed over the past four years, peruse my website Jobs! Jobs Everywhere! What has happened to the Real World since I last labored 'out there' back in the '80's, is absolutely jaw-dropping.

Those adventures did shed a new light on the nerdy, quiet little piano teacher's world that I had left behind, at least; and the political climate has started to mellow now, so that it's once again legal to think. (I think.) So I'm building a new nest of students in a new place, but am starting this blog by way of keeping sanity and perspective, while doing so.

Teaching piano is like watching bread leaven. It is a miracle, what happens, whenever a human system overcomes any genuine musical hurdle. And it sickens me to see what's become of American culture as a result of real music study having been relegated either to LoserLand or else to citadels of the privileged. We've put all of our resources into the pipes, but let the actual water run dry.

I've taught every level of piano music to every age, with some very enormous scholarships claimed among the bunch. But the biggest revelations for me came via the 'slow' students. I had never been 'slow'. So watching a rude, remedial student with zero coordination and the ear of a pickle develop gradually into a gracious, principled human who happens to play the piano competently, was far more humbling for me than watching one of my whiz kids win a gold medal or a dumpster full of money. The 'slow' student was like a control specimen illustrating just how deeply music study affected the whole metabolism. Every single time that the student learns to coordinate right and left hands (and eye, and ear) in a new way, the circuits between those two little old brain hemispheres absolutely go "ZzZAPP!" as a new connection opens up. It's really, REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF going on there, guys. Lotta water for them pipes!

So welcome to this thoroughly untypical piano teachers' blog. It might even talk about music, sometimes. Although raccoons on the deck and the 400-year-old cedar towering over this hut can often be a lot more interesting...