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I’ve been trying to post this for awhile and every version wavers between stupid or ridiculously pretentious. I am giving up and sharing it anyway.

Mum used to wonder, when I was a kid, where I got my love for the sad music from. We’re very different, me and Mum – she’s a cheerful soul, through and through. Not that she’s never unhappy – her life’s had its share of grief – but she’s fundamentally an upbeat person.

I’m not unhappy, but I experience the world a different way.

I gravitated to the music in the minor keys, with the haunting refrains; the passionate, the angry, the sad, the quiet mourning. I remember discovering Bela Bartok and Debussy and being thrilled by them. And later, my piano teacher giving me Michael Nyman’s sheet music to The Piano.

Neither she nor my mother had seen the film; I suspect they’d have considered it deeply inappropriate for teenage Emma.

Music was always an outlet for me. A mental exercise, something I could work at and get right. Something that makes me happy. Something that reaches right into my heart and lets me express what I’m feeling.

When I got access to the ‘net, I started acquiring my own sheet music. I remember finding Michael Hsiao (who no longer seems to exist online), and revelling in a series of three songs – Insanity, Rage, and After. My mother always knew when I’d had a bad day at uni – I’d come home and throw myself at the piano, and she’d leave me in peace to work the angry out.

The same applies to the music I listen to. Sometimes I like the sad songs. The ones about heartbreak and loss and grieving, anger and fear and doubt and trouble. In some way, they make me happy.

We’re not encouraged to talk about the hard things. If someone asks “How are you?” they expect “Great!” as a response. Even among friends, it’s hard to say “I’m struggling”. We can’t say we’re sad, we’re upset, we’re depressed, we don’t know what to do. Or even if we do know what to do, and we just need to be allowed to be sad for awhile while we work through it.

I think I like the sad songs because, in order to write them, someone had to live them. They had to experience sadness. They had to say goodbye to a lover, to a friend, to a parent or child. They had to live with fear and stress and depression. And they chose to take that experience, to voice the sadness and make something from it.

So when I gravitate to these songs, it’s not because I want to wallow in sadness. I don’t want to remain upset, hurt, worried, stressed, sad. I gravitate to them because in times of trouble, I’m reminded that it’s possible to take the pain and build something beautiful.

Originally published at kiwi geek. You can comment here or there.

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Our house has become quite musical lately. I’ve been making more of an effort with the piano, in between dance and my other commitments.

Then Tobermory, about six months? or a year? ago, discovered that a game called Rocksmith was due for release. It’s an Xbox/PS3/PC game; you plug in a real guitar (like, an actual electric guitar) to your console, tune it all up, and then the game teaches you to play guitar. It’s seriously FANTASTIC. Tobes played guitar, quite seriously, until he had a bad wrist injury a few years ago; and as with all these things, if you don’t practice you lose the skill.

So, Tobes got Rocksmith for his birthday, as it was released at roughly birthday-time. All three of us have been playing – Thaqui learned a little guitar in the past, as did I, and we’ve been variously cursing at it / each other as we slowly learn the basics.

Tobermory probably has the best approach – he’s actually practicing and repeating things, where Thaqui and I are happily bowling through the game without really refining our skills first. Hey ho!

Then Thaqui discovered a PC game called Synthesia, which teaches you to play piano. He also learned a little piano, so he went out and bought a fairly cheap 49-key USB keyboard for use with said game.

I’m really, really impressed. I’ve been playing piano since I was three, and started lessons when I was five; the game is very, very well designed. And if he does get bored with the constraints of the 49-key, there is most conveniently a full size piano sitting in the living room.

It’s nice living in a household that appreciates music. Not just listening to other people’s, but caring about creating it too.

emsk: (Default)

Tonight I am lonely and upset. I don’t have the words to frame my emotions, not yet, not that the story is mine to tell. I’ve always been a loner. Maybe I’ve mostly been alone. One way or another, I first learned to keep to myself, to keep myself in check, to walk through the world rather than in it.

Always, always, I have had the piano. I’ve played since before I knew what playing was, since before I was walking. I’m no genius, I have no especial talent, but there is something in my soul that knows what music is and cannot live without it.

And I come back to the piano, happy and sad, elated and for consolation, and my old friend is there. I watch my fingers in the reflection of the wood above the keys, and I reach to express the emotions I have no other way of expending. Amusement, ennui, pleasure, grief, insanity, rage; I play with my heart bleeding and until my fingers ache, and I let emotion storm and crash over me, and I stay there until I am calm. Tonight I do not have the words, but I don’t need them, not when I can pour out my heart and soul and rage into the piano and let her speak for me.

Tonight I can be lonely, but not alone.

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I’ve been working through my old sheet music, working through the lesson chains my piano teacher gave me. I’ve gone through from 1990′s lessons, and I’m about halfway through 1996 at the moment. My theory’s not as strong as it could be, and I don’t sightread with the ease I used to. But I do love playing through the old lessons and thinking back to learning these things the first time around.

Judy was a wonderful teacher – patient, thoughtful. She recognized the things I enjoyed playing and structured lessons around them. She introduced me to Beethoven, pointed me towards Bela Bartok and Stravinsky (neither of whom she really liked), got me listening to and later playing Debussy, Chopin; forced me to play scales and arpeggios, gave me exercise books that I grumbled about but still see the worth of. In my early teens she bought me the sheet music from The Piano, thinking I’d like it. I later found out that she thought the movie was deeply, deeply unsuitable for a teenager, but she knew the music would suit me.

Mum told me last night that Judy can no longer play. She had a major stroke about 18 months ago, and has had mini strokes several times since. (She’s well into her 70′s.) She can no longer make the connections between brain and fingers to play piano. Her short-term memory is shot, and her coordination is worse. She and Mum chatted for awhile; Judy asked after me, and made sure to tell me to keep practicing, keep playing while I can.

I can’t even imagine how terrible it must be for her.

Originally published at spinneretta.com
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emsk: (Default)
The piano has been a form of relaxation for me as long as I remember. When I moved up here, without one, it took me a long time to learn to wind down, without the piano to use as my emotional adjunct. I sung a lot more, mostly - and as my singing voice is not the best in the world, this is not really an adequate alternative. I love to sing, but other people don't love hearing me. (Although I sing a mean game of Rock Band, provided the stereo is cranked loud enough.)

The piano got me through some really tough spots. I'd come home from a bad day at work, or university, especially when I was in my worst spot with depression, or after I broke up with Cyclenut, and I'd play for hours and hours. Mum always knew that if I started off playing Rage, it was probably best to leave me alone until I worked it out of my system.

When I bought the piano in February, I had lost a lot of skill. This wasn't entirely surprising, owing to my three years without a piano. I could still sight read, although some of the notes out of stave and stave swaps are still catching me out - I can interpret them, but instead of my previous ability to subconsciously translate music->brain->fingers, I now have to stop, check, read, place fingers, continue. Practice is, unsurprisingly, helping.

I purchased myself the second volume of sheet music from The Piano. My piano teacher gave me the first book, years ago. I'd never seen the movie, but the music caught my ear from day one, the haunting emotiveness of it. I watched the Piano for the first time last month. Mostly, I've been playing the music correctly. Having seen the film, I can play the music better. It's taken me a while to return to skill levels where I felt comfortable attempting new music; I then realised that I'd underestimated my returning abilities. It was a good feeling.

In March, I tried a piece from Prokofiev. It's a piece I loved playing, prior to The Big Move. In March? I physically could not force my fingers to play the appropriate sequences quickly enough to even vaguely resemble anything musical, and the octave stretches required were a little testing.

A little testing? A lot. I cried, several times, in February and March, through sheer frustration at my inability to play, something that used to be almost as easy as breathing. I had to force myself through exercises that I used to be able to do with my eyes shut, literally. I'm still having trouble with octave reaches - either this piano is small, or my hands have grown, because I keep playing ninths instead of octaves. Playing scales in octaves is helping, if extremely boring.

Tonight, I tried the Prokofiev again. I manged to play it through. Not well, admittedly, and in retrospect playing glissandos with a large chunk out of one finger (playing with cat, did not move fast enough) may not have been my wisest ever move, but... I can actually DO this. My skill IS returning, I'm not just dreaming it.

I've been around music all my life. My mother is a pianist (although by her own admission, less technically proficient than I am - she is better at playing by ear, though). My grandfather played saxophone and clarinet. I remember sitting in front of a keyboard without legs, bashing away happily at the keys while I was wearing nappies. Mum has corroborated the memory, along with my memories of plunking at the piano she and Dad got rid of before I was three.

I love having the piano. I really can't express how much. I'm relearning music, and enjoying the simple academic achievement therein. I have the emotional release, where I can storm home on a bad day and work my way through Michael Nyman, John Williams*, Michael Hsiao**, Prokofiev, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy... anger and fear and upset and rage, temper and stupidity and irritation and frustration, working through to quiet and calm and peace.

Having the piano is really what's made this house home. I've played until my hands hurt, tonight, until the tendons in my forearms are painful, despite scales and exercises, until typing is difficult because I've just had to rewire my brain-finger connections for the third time today, until the cut on my finger was bleeding; and I am unspeakably happy.

* I have the sheet music from Schindler's List. The Krakow Ghetto and the main theme are in pretty much constant rotation.
** I found his music online years ago; the site doesn't exist any more, and none of the Googling I do can turn the man up. This is possibly Google-fu-fail on my part, but it is quite sad.

Originally published at spinneretta.com.
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Feb. 21st, 2009 11:07 pm
emsk: (Default)

It is not a new piano. It hails from 1956, in fact, assuming that the information I have on it is correct. It is a lovely piano - it's showing its' age here and there, but it has a warm tone. I found it in a local music store, sat down, felt upset when I realised I could no longer play anything from memory but plonked vaguely a bit, gawked at the price (incredibly reasonable, included free delivery and tuning), rang Tobermory and begged. He agreed that the price was reasonable*, and told me to go for it.

The store were quite surprised. I'd told them I'd have to run the purchase past my beloved; I don't think they expected me to arrive again fifteen minutes later cheerily waving my Eftpos card and demanding the exchange of funds for piano.

It appears that in the nearly three years I've been piano-less, I've not forgotten how to play. I am, somewhat worryingly, finding sight-reading difficult; I don't have my automatic "that written like that means my fingers do This" as thoroughly as I'd wish, particularly when my hands are dropping into the opposite clef. Still, practice will return that skill to me. I'm going to have to go through scales and drills again. Which I'm sure I won't enjoy, but they will be of benefit. There are little weird things I can't do right now, as I've not needed the flexibility in any other application of my hands.

Still, quibbling aside, my fingers remember what playing is like. They are rather sore right now, I suspect I've played for two hours? maybe more? since it arrived about 4.30 today.

I found moving back to a computer keyboard odd. Couldn't touch-type, had to play the old hunt'n'peck game for a couple of minutes until my fingers adjusted brain inputs again.

I knew I'd missed having a piano. But not how much. The ability to turn dry notes, dusty pages, wood and ivory, into coherent sound, into art or noise or emotion... I have missed that so much. For so many years, music was my hobby, my emotive outlet, my stress release, and I poured my soul into it. Reality dictated that living in the tinyflat, I couldn't have a piano, and I accepted that. But I missed it.

I'm heart glad to have a piano again. I can't think of a better way to put it.

* aka: realised that there may be tears if he said no

Originally published at spinneretta.com.
» Click here « to leave any comments.

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This morning, I got online and spent one thousand dollars of my hard-earned money. Now I get to spend days drooling over impending geeky goodness.

The purchase wasn’t without it’s share of adventure. The online store I purchased from (which, by the bye, has an excellent reputation) had a rather odd statement to make after the purchase was complete (yay, Mum’s credit card). I emailed them, rather shirtily.

Good morning to the [store] team.

I just made an order for the items I’ve listed at the bottom of my email – my name is Emma, and my mother used her credit card to pay for the order. In that situation, how do we need to go about verifying the credit card details? Neither of us have access to a fax machine, and she is not willing to allow PP to charge a random amount onto her credit card for verification!

If it’s impossible to verify the card, that’s no problem. Let me know, and I’ll simply buy the items I’m wanting elsewhere (I know [other store] has similar stock, albeit at very slightly higher prices – the reason I came to [store] in the first place).

Surprisingly enough, I got a reply within ten minutes, assuring me that wouldn’t be necessary, the order would be placed as was, and my items would be shipped stat.

Funny what threatening to take business elsewhere does.

I have to go over to WebBossMan this weekend again. Except, transport is rather an issue this time, as Workmate isn’t going.

So, I’m renting a car for the day. Boss is reimbursing me (yay Boss) for the $70 it’ll cost me.

Tell you something. People confuse me. The base cost of the car was… $50, I think. Close enough, anyway. That was for a day, including 200 kilometers. The insurance excess (given my age of 22) was $1500. But, if I pay an extra $15 (yes, fifteen) dollars, the excess drops to $250. Um, hello?? And for an extra $5, windscreen repairs etc are then covered. OK, sure, it’s an extra $20. But – what’s $20 vs a potential One Thousand Five Hundred dollars??? The possibility that people would not pay the extra – and I know people rarely do, I have a friend working at the place I hired from – simply boggles my little mind.

People are strange. Including myself. I spent the day (with the next two youngest of my workmates) on my feet imaging the new rollout of seventy PC’s at work. (Monday and Tuesday herald laptop imaging.) We laughed and pottered round and gossiped, blasted music (except when the phone rang), generally had a good day.

I caused amusement, because I forgot HardwareBloke could see through the (glass) wall into my workshop, and was merrily bopping around to Beegees tracks doing stupid 70’s moves and singing along with myself (quietly). Wasn’t till Hardware was unable to keep the giggles in, and then NewNotesDeveloper bopped into my little corner doing the best John Travolta circa Saturday Night Fever impersonation I have EVER seen, that I realised Oops, my buttwiggling and armwaving is VISIBLE in here.

HardwareMan then passed the comment “I gather you do get drunk occasionally? Because I’ve never known anyone who’s actually taken the trouble to learn those moves whilst sober.”

(Also, I had to ask Jamie what Saturday Night Fever was called. I couldn’t remember. I was listening to Night Fever at the time. D’oh!!)

I have sore feet (go, nine hours on feet non-stop) but it was a good day.

Also, impending new shinies. Yay!

Originally published at kiwi geek. You can comment here or there.


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