November 2008

Second Guessing First Impressions

November 29, 2008 02:55

Beginnings tend to leave a stain if improperly treated.  That's why I wanted so badly to win her over at the very first lesson.  We sat down at the piano, 88 keys presenting themselves like question marks, all waiting to be answered.  She played and I watched, hoping to find some clues about her past teacher, hoping to guess what was on the slate and what was yet to be slated.  Besides technical foundation, there was also the subject of personal taste.  What did she like?  "Do you like classical music?  Do you know Mozart?  Like Beethoven?  Recognise this little bit of Bach?"  I played for her and waited for a response. 

"How about we get on with the lesson?"

The curtness of  her remark slapped the question mark from the bubble over my head, which quickly filled with a scumble of steam.  "Okay then, turn to page 13."  Hoping she wouldn't notice if my face was pink, I grilled her mercilessly on the rhythms, lashing at every last flaw until the piece she had prepared for me lay in shambles, much to my satisfaction. 

So much for first impressions.

Every lesson after that filled me with anxiety as I anticipated the expectations she had of me, wondering if she wasn't that impressed with me after all.  She showed up at my door, and I was in fourth grade all over again.  I didn't know whether to snub her with authority or roll over and show her my soft underside.  I ushered her to the bench and assumed my wheeled chair by the desk, observing:

You have no grasp of your rhythms.  You aren't stopping to listen--why can you not hear the sound you make, how it differs from what lies on the page?  ...Though, I like your whimsies, the way you flip a phrase like it was a fishing line--as though care never existed for you--light and pink, like your notebook and your shoes and your polka-dotted tights.  You like horses, and so do I.  I'll let you pick the next sticker; you earned it.  I like frog stickers, do you? 

She came to me this week, and we sat down again in the studio.  I penciled November 26th into her notebook and shuffled through her books, dropping one or two on the floor in the usual routine.  I didn't notice she was digging into her bag for something.


She was handing me a Thanksgiving card, one that she'd drawn herself, lettered in crayon, signed with care.  "Oh, how nice of you!  What a beautiful card.  Thank you!"  She began the first notes of her lesson, oblivious to the fact that I was still lost in the thought of her unexpected act of friendship.   

It was silly the way I tried to hide the fact that I cared so much about what she though of me.  It hadn't even occurred to me that she felt the same way I did.

2 replies


November 19, 2008 04:22

I placed my skis uncertainly from the deck as my dog took off ahead of me into the darkness. Not much further down the road, I could dip down past the gate and onto the lake, which held a clean smooth pallette of fresh snow. This was where all the bobbles and stumbles ended. This was where I could really begin.

Clear skies had emptied the temperatures, and it took an entire lap along the outside of the lake before my fingers warmed past the painful stage and could hold their own against the cold. I didn’t mind so much though; Vega and the Pleiades twinkled merrily above. Turning off my headlamp, I released myself from the last obstruction between me and my solitude. The only thing left now was rhythm, dictated by the shove of each ski and the pace of my breath. In about twenty minutes, I finally settled in.

Steady stride becomes a pulse, which becomes the base for a myriad of compositions. Mostly it’s Bach that comes to my ears--not by choice, but by the summoning of the underlying current that carries all the muses and dreams. Fragments and phrases pass in a loop, yet I hardly pay attention to them. They simply present their intervals in black and white structures, free from opinions, stated as truthfully as the trees that edge the lake. If I pause to unzip, they pick up where they left off as soon as I proceed. Though not a soul would know of my starlit ski, I am never alone, for the music accompanies me all the way.

Back in the studio, I took a look at Bach again, hashing out the bowings and adhering to the fingerings. Suddenly, the editor had become an unwelcome guest, shedding light on a subject that needed no mediator. Spying the Urtext below, I shifted my focus to the original manuscript for a change, hungry for the unsolicited communion that I’d had previously, out beneath the stars.

This was where all the bobbles and stumbles ended. This was where I could really begin.

17 replies

Program Notes (written on the way out the door)

November 8, 2008 05:52


Schubert’s Sonata in D Major, one of his earlier works, was written when he was just nineteen. Since a Schubert lullaby was the very first piece I ever remember hearing as an infant, his music has always connected me to a feeling of deep-rooted innocence. Schubert’s youthful presence in this piece appealed to me, and its second movement is perhaps one of the most tender pieces I’ve ever played. The first movement will draw you into its story, and the last movement is simply charming.

The Double From Bach’s Partita in B Minor forms the conclusion to a series of variations on a mournful theme. In conversational instances, some people find that repetition can lead to mundanity, but some things I never get tired of discussing (for instance, the price of gas, the weather, or current politics). Don’t get me started on the subject matter in Bach’s B minor partita. By the time I reach the eighth movement, I’m all worked up. I could go on, but this is all he wrote.

Jean-Marie Leclair was a French composer and violinist in the early 18th century. So was his brother, who also happened to be named Jean-Marie. One of the two died a violent death, murdered by his nephew outside his own home (though the ambiguity makes it difficult to ascribe this demise to one or the other). In contrast, the Sonata in D Major speaks with clarity and rigor, bursting with liveliness. The piece contains an element of strong rhythmic pulse, which lends a dance-like effect to each movement. Be warned however: quick feet are required for the conclusion.

One day on a hunch, I looked up Stravinky’s home town and discovered what I already suspected: this composer lived at the same latitude as Soldotna, only one continent over from ours. This is the only explanation I can find that he was able to perfectly capture in Serenata the persistent length of boreal winters that plague both Soldotna and St. Petersburg. With each pulse from the piano’s bass, another day passes in muted shades of white on white.

Town and field lay hushed in snow--yet in each home a fire glows.

Bartok deserves the admiration he receives for being able to find rough-hewn folk tunes, cut and polish them, and place them in such settings that they sparkle at every turn of the phrase. His Roumanian Folk Dances do just this. The first movement is a “stick dance”, while the second is a “sash dance”–-use your imagination. The third movement requires even more imagination, since the rough translation means “stomping” “standing still” or “in one place”. It is the only piece I’ve played which consists entirely of harmonics, an effect that, on the violin, creates a floating, whistling sound. The fourth movement was originally played by a hornpipe, and the fifth and sixth movements meld together, beginning with a polka, and then picking up speed into Maruntel, which means “fast dance.” It’s a brilliant finish for any recital.

15 replies


November 1, 2008 03:31

I shook his hand today, right before he left to his next appointment. He was tired--that, I could tell right off. And all of those people kept taking photographs with him, with their family, with their friends, with their dog. I felt a little guilty asking for a moment of time after seeing the bombardment he must be getting, day in and day out. But this was too important for me to hesitate, and I needed to make sure he knew.

Here was a man who had just been found guilty. Here was a man who may not be. Or may. I'm not naive enough to believe that everyone gets a fair trial in this country. I'm also not naive enough to believe that authoritative figures are always honest. But that doesn't affect what I wanted to tell him. I moved toward him during a brief pause in the bustle.

"Senator Ted Stevens, I'm a violinist in the Anchorage symphony, and I just wanted to thank you for making this weekend's performance possible. I really appreciate it."

With the combined efforts of Ted Stevens and Ted Kennedy, a federally funded project gave birth to some very unique and amazing ideas with our conductor Randall Fleischer's creation, Echoes. This multi-media composition featured the cultural songs and dances of Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, Native American tribes of Massachusetts, and east coast sailors, and showed their connection with each other through the whaling industry. The production will eventually be used in CD-Rom form to teach children in public schools about trade routes and the whaling industry, and how cultures intermixed during the late 19th century.

I was excited to be a part of its premier, and I also knew opportunities like this don't come often. That's why I wanted to thank Ted Stevens for helping make it happen. The audience had received it with ridiculously thunderous applause, having been stoked with a sense of pride in American heritage.

I have a feeling that this world premier was the last thing on Ted Stevens' mind, though. With all that's going on lately, I doubt he got the luxury of sitting back and reaping the rewards of his contribution.

I'm afraid my thank-you wasn't very effective. A dollar in a tip jar just seems inadequate sometimes.

8 replies

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