Posts Tagged With: music

Piano Lessons


There are pictures of me in every album, at every age: fluffy white-blonde hair sprayed into submission, floral dress over white tights or frilly socks and black mary janes, smiling at the camera with the black and white keys of a piano stretching to my left.  In some, I bow with my knees locked straight.  In others, my face is in profile while my hands lay static on the keys.  Sometimes there’s a patient smile on my face as I look up from the bench, that my song has been interrupted by someone I’m fond of for pictures.

Piano was a religion for me.  3 hours a day, waking up in the mornings before school to sit and force my muscles to remember that tight, fast fingering on the right hand in in Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turka; or stretch my left palm a little farther to get a cleaner octave in Joplin’s Entertainer.  I spent hours poring over theory books and listening to intervals.

It centered me.

And then I was doing it less.  And then I wasn’t doing it at all anymore, my fingers putting up a revolt when I tried to pick up a piece after six, maybe eight months absence.

I missed it less than I thought I would, though I still missed it.

“Do you remember?” Brian asked me about a month ago.  “You once showed me a few chords on the piano.  It seemed like it made sense.  It seemed easy.”

It is both easy and hard.

“Would you teach me?” he asked.

I remembered, fifteen years ago, when I was thinking of giving lessons for extra cash.  “Just get a book,” Christine, who had been teaching me since I was 4, said.  “Work through it in order.  Someone who wanted to be a serious musician would eventually need more, yeah, but you could definitely start someone off.  And a lot of experienced teachers don’t take anyone who can’t read music.  You’d be a great in-between.”

So I said “Sure,” to Brian.

We walked to a practice room at the college where Brian works.  The music building is one of their oldest.  It’s at the end of a tree-lined lawn, frescoes in the eaves of violins and flowers in a vase.  Inside a tiny room on the second floor was a beat-up Steinway upright that was still mostly black.  A grimy window looked out onto the quad beyond, the fronds of an evergreen brushing the panes.  There was no place for a teacher to sit.

I stood.

Our lesson went so quickly, I couldn’t believe it had been more than an hour.

I have never seen myself in someone I wasn’t related to.  But last night it struck me with a vengeance, the way Brian gravitates towards foreign pianos even in public places now, wanting to feel the slick white keys under his fingers, to fool around with the notes for just a moment.  The way he taps his hands on the table, a look of concentration on his face, both hands crossing at different times like they should.  “I had a bad day, but I practiced tonight and I feel fine again,” he said last week.

I don’t know what changed, but I watched him sit there, the negative of the image I used to be: long denim-clad legs tucked over the pedals, the cowlick in his dark brown hair standing tall, the black and white keyboard stretching before him, look of concentration on his face.  Somehow the universe seemed to re-orient itself into new tiers of importance.  This was at the top.  Not Brian, exactly, or even the piano, but the knowledge, the sharing we give to each other as we move through existence.

I grinned.

“What are you smiling about?” Brian asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

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Aurora at the Troubadour


I learned last Monday night that basically all of my fuddy-duddy propensities have coalesced and refined themselves into something way more fuddy-duddy than they used to be.  Brian and I went to an Aurora concert at the Troubadour.  I tried to enjoy myself, I really did.  And parts of the evening were perfect.  But, oh man, I’m definitely not their audience anymore.

I used to love a good concert.  It felt edgy and cool to put on all my black clothes, smear some gloss on my lips, and go dance with the other gals at the Ivy Walls concert, wherever they happened to play; the Troubadour with the odd burger stand at the back of the bar; the Silverlake Lounge with the massive lamé curtain that shimmers just right in the lights; the red, red Viper Room.  We’d dance until the show was over and even my bones were tired, and then Brian and I would speed home over the empty California freeways in the darkness.  I’d wake up for work the next morning tired, but with the conviction that it was all worth it.

We got there an hour early last night to wait in line for good seats.  The cue wrapped around the corner of an old brick building, and I leaned my back against it as I waited with Brian.  There was a group of kids in tight colored pants, high pompadours, and shirts with rolled up sleeves behind us.  I rolled my eyes when one of them said “yeah, I don’t care about Aurora.  I’m here for the opening band.” And then they lit up a joint.  In line.  On a public street.

I expect a little pot in those places.  I do.  But seriously? On a public street! (I told you – such a fuddy-duddy).

“How was work?” Brian asked me, and I also realized that most of the people in this line also probably didn’t have stories about their epic fight with the printer to get labels done so the student workers could send the invitation to the fundraiser.

Inside was only slightly better.  The cruddy railings and beat up seats no longer seemed edgy.  They just seemed gross.  I wondered what sort of botulism I was exposing myself to by only bringing my tiny clutch, instead of the purse with the hand sanitizer in one of the vast pockets.  (Hand sanitizer, self.  SMH).

The first band was really good, but had a bit too much of an R&B influence to be my favorite.  And then it was 9:30 and I realized, without even checking my phone, that it was past my bed time.  If I thought I could have slept on the bench in the back of the Troubadour I might have tried it.

It all faded away and became the perfect evening once Aurora stepped onto the stage.  All my crankiness and all the tired vanished. She’s such a funny, elfin lady with a tiny voice.  She dances along to her songs as if she was seaweed in a current, waving here and there.  She started crying when she heard us all singing along, and let us finish the lyrics to the last verse.  I had that “at one with the crowd” feeling.  Brian rocked out beside me so hard it made wonder if I wanted to admit to knowing him, which was basically the only goal for this evening.  Aurora is Brian’s favorite.

And then Brian drove home while I slept.  I have been logy and cranky most of the week, with the conviction that we were lucky it was worth it, but that next time I don’t know that I would say yes to that evening.

I mean, I don’t know who I’m kidding.  I would say yes if Brian wanted to go.  But still.  I am way too much of a fuddy-duddy for LA clubs these days.  I missed the kitten last night like you wouldn’t believe. All I want is 18 hours of sleep (Who have I become?).

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Spumoni Symphony


I took Brian to the Redlands Symphony last weekend.  It has been a long while since I’ve been to a concert with a full orchestra; and even longer since I watched an orchestra from that close.  We used to get to the Hollywood Bowl at least once a summer, but that’s been spottier now that everyone is so busy.  What with the moving into a new house, and starting a new job and all, I didn’t make it last year.  My mother is a trombone player, so I used to see an orchestra play often.  Like, almost once a month.  She played with the Claremont Symphony Orchestra and the Claremont Winds.  She also taught trombone, and the music school would often get free LA Phil tickets for less popular programs.  In Little Bridges, I would sit on the very edges of the balcony so I could see the strange faces the conductor made at the orchestra.  At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, I wandered the chandeliered hallways in a long black t-shirt dress I dubbed my “opera ensemble,” for extra fanciness. (I have also dated myself – no Disney Hall when I was in High School).

Brian enjoys a symphony as much as I do, but he doesn’t have the eighteen years of piano lessons and extensive exams to back him up on the theory of it all like I do. The program was Mozart’s Piano Concerto #23 in A Major, and Beethoven’s Eroica.  At the end of the Mozart, when everyone broke into applause, he turned to me.

“Now, how did everyone know that THERE was the spot it was okay to clap?” he said.

I pointed to the program, where it listed the three movements.  “You clap at the end of the last one.  It’s all one piece of music, so you don’t clap in between because it isn’t over.  It’s like a sorbet break during dinner.  The silence cleanses your palate for the next movement.  And then when it’s over you can clap.”

“Sorbet?” he said.

“Yes.” I said.

When we were stretching our legs during intermission, the conversation continued.  “So what’s the point of having a bunch of different movements, anyway?” Brian asked.

“They’re supposed to go together,” I said.  And then I realized that it was going to be a very desert explanation kind of night.  “It’s like spumoni ice cream, maybe?”

“Oh my God,” said Brian.

“No, this is a good one!” I said.  “Because spumoni is pistachio, strawberry, and chocolate, right?  Three flavors that totally aren’t like each other at all.  But you mush them together and they’re tasty…”

“ – That’s debatable.”

“… And they also become a single thing – spumoni – instead of flavors on their own.  So a concerto, for instance, is three different movements smushed together to make a single, tasty treat.”

“Spumoni is gross,” he said.

“Blasphemy,” I said.

But it’s sort of nice to know that my painstaking study of diminished seventh chords, culminating in a Senior Medallion from the Music Teacher’s Association of California, has provided me with a slew of desert metaphors to entertain others with.  Because that’s what it’s all about.  You know, that and the amazing sound of an orchestra tuning up, the single note breaking into a bouncing harmony that spreads over the hall and then falls into silent anticipation.  There really isn’t a better sound than that.

Sometimes I miss being the authority on all things music, although I know I’d never be as good at it as I was in high school.  Also, I should go to the symphony more often.  Beethoven is still just about my favorite thing ever.

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