Sunday, March 25, 2007

wha happen?

Duology went remarkably well. Steve Schmidt from Fly on the Wall Productions did a digital recording and burned me a copy on the spot; haven't heard it yet. Somehow zeroing in on six different performers in six back to back duets worked out; especially cool because I had never done a duet with any of them. Ruth Zaporah and I met for the first time at 7:15 in front of the performance space. She called it a blind date.

I got comfortable eventually with the Yamaha grand. These expensive pianos are not properly maintained very often. Uneven action, in particular. There's a lot of great piano tuners around here because of the classical scene but where's the techs to build an even action across the octaves? Also, the preferred tuning locally sweetens the upper-mid register too much, again a reflection of classical priorities. The intonation of the lower two octaves is often so sloppy it's embarrassing. Finally, Yamahas are designed to cut through behemoth orchestras; the upper octaves are brighter than polished silver. It's a shame, because the quality of the box itself is high-- would a little warmth kill anybody? It's got that horrifying music box sound up there. I guess I need to win the lottery and buy a Bosendorfer.

Each duet presented unique opportunities and challenges. I drew the names out of a hat and Mark Weaver on tuba came up first. It's a shame anyone has to go first, really. But Mark wrestled that sucker to the ground. I had trouble hearing him for a bit and realized two things: I was playing too loud. I was in the low end too much. We locked eventually. Ruth Zaporah started behind me, out of my sightline, and yet I could feel the sphere of her energy radiating out, could listen and respond, intensely tuned (at one point the hair on the back of my neck stood up). Chris Jonas tore off the top of my head and handed me a new pair of shoes. Jeremy Bleich's oud playing brought tears to my eyes. Paul Brown's bass shifted, turned, elbowed angular lines. Mike Rowland played with astounding dynamic range and ferocious energy throughout...even in the quiet sections. I owe all of them a debt of gratitude.

Here's the thing: it's been a good while since I performed completely improvised music, especially so focused on the piano. I intentionally did not practice leading up to the show. I know that might sound strange but I decided to get in fresh, try not to bring anything at all (other than a pre-existing 25 year relationship of sorts with the piano). I had never performed a duet on piano with any of the artists and had never even met RZ. Needless to say I was completely and totally absolutely freaking out in the days leading up to this, especially yesterday afternoon. I used to drink a lot in an effort to manage those feelings of horror, nakedness, anxiety; the different thing is being with that set of demons and just riding it out. I kept chiding myself for not being able to center, to be peaceful and serene, and then I realized that was pretty damned funny.

Anyway I had a great time and the players and audience seemed to as well.

Duology Two in the works already. Jeremy suggested we try Triology One. What I wanted to do was call everyone up on stage and do a septet piece, but I didn't want to create an opportunity for noodling and aimlessness, which was mostly (miraculously) absent up until then. Maybe we can try a group piece next time.


the improvising guitarist said...

I intentionally did not practice leading up to the show.

As someone who practices, especially prior to a performance, fanatically (perhaps to the extent of overdoing it), I’m totally intrigued by this statement.
Out of curiosity, when you do practice, what do you practice?

S, tig

peter breslin said...

hey S- My piano routine used to be fairly over the top. 5-7 hours a day starting with the complete books 1 and 2 of a workout called The Virtuoso Pianist by Hanon, with several improvisations afterwards, then usually back to Hanon 1, 2 and most of 3. The Hanon I memorized so there was no attachment to the page. Anyway it's basically a set of finger and wrist exercises designed to make all ten fingers on both hands equally strong.

I also used to practice diatonic chords of the 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th in all of their inversions and many voicings in all "12" keys, chorded and with the chords of the 7th arpeggiated, both two-handed and with alternating hands. This is sort of a "Romantic" extension of Hanon which is mostly triads.

I did not incorporate reading into my practice except when I studied Western piano music for a year in Philadelphia, playing Clementi, Bach, Chopin, etc.

Themes developed during the improvisational part of practice would often become suite-like compositions and/or be orchestrated for ensembles, etc.

I was interested in confronting my control strategies around performance for this particular show and realized that of course technique itself is a control strategy. I was angling for maximum spontaneity and hoping I would discover something new in my relationship with the instrument. I discovered a lot but have no idea what.


Good Times said...

So you played piano? What about the drums? Do you still play the drums? Does drumming inform the piano-ing? Does the piano-ing inform the drumming?

Anyhow, Once upon a time at Steinway shop in Portland Oregon the salesman said it takes 11 months to make a Steinway grand piano and 11 days to make Yamaha. He said there were 5 pianos: Bluthner, Bosendorfer, Steinway, Bechstein, and Fazioli. Everything else is a PSO or "piano shaped object."

Did you make a tape? (said he who is yet to send the CD)


peter breslin said...

Hi GT- yes, I play a lot of drums too. There were several years when I was practicing both instruments about 4 hours a day each.

The drumming definitely influences the piano. The piano playing influences the drumming too. Sometimes I've performed improvisations where I play both, occasionally simultaneously (using the swiveling drum stool).

There is a nice digital recording of the Duology thing. Quid pro quo?