December 2004

December 4, 2004 23:44

My aunt, the one with the perfect pitch and the degree in music performance, came to visit and requested me to play for her. Boy, did I learn a couple of things today! I haven't played etudes or scales for two or three weeks now, only an hour here or there of bare maintenance, which consists of running through familiar pieces to keep my fingers from completely atrophying. The last time I played, my lack of a practice schedule was truly starting to show.

So, when I tried to whip out my Bach, it was atrocious, to say the least! I finally hadto stop a few measures in because I felt so disoriented, as though I was playing on a cello, or in the key of D-flat instead of E Major. Then it occurred to me: I had tuned flat while practicing with my mother's dulcimer the other evening in order to spare her a long tuning session. It wasn't much, perhaps an eighth of a step, but it may as well have been a galaxy away, that's how I felt when I played. We've previously talked on this site about keys and colors and recognizing pitches. I do not have the same familiarity with all pieces, but I have spent so much time hearing E and seeing yellow and singing those notes carefully in my mind as I rehearsed slowly for accuracy that I couldn't hear it any other way--morning, noon, or night. I know the E Major prelude. I heard it played by Bela Fleck, an accomplished banjo player, the other day, and he had transposed it to C Major, and it spun in my head as though it was not even the same song. Like writing left-handed or looking in a spoon and finding a flip-flopped image, that's what it feels like to hear a familiar tune in the wrong key.

So, I retuned my instrument and proceeded to play a horrible rendition of Bach,apologized profusely, and answered a request to play Danse Macabre, after which I again apologized profusely. It's been a while since I've played for people, and two weeks of non-stop caffeine didn't help my nerves. I can't shift worth a flip when I'm tense, and the intonation gets so bad it absolutely repulses me. It took the better part of the second piece before I regained enough composure to even begin to listen to the acoustics, which were wonderful. After I finished and my little audience got on with their other things, I ran through the Bach again, so that they could wander around and listen casually. This time, the notes came out mostly as I remember them sounding before. I wish so badly that I could sound that way the first time through! I suppose getting to that point could take years!

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