Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Making Notes

The god of bad notes guards my piano. A friend gave me a carved African statue, saying it would swallow the missed notes I threw from the keyboard so other listeners wouldn't hear them.

Virginia grew yesterday. I've finally learned to jot down ideas when they come to me. Otherwise they may be lost forever. I keep bound journals everywhere I frequent so when the muse speaks I write. Handy little books, I found several at K-Mart long ago. When they were filled with good and bad notes, I couldn't find the same kind anywhere until I went online and ordered a couple dozen.

Speaking of bad notes, yesterday I filled the air with them. I lay the blame on worn out contacts, which I replaced this morning, an unfamiliar piano, a noisy room, and a lack of concentration. We, the Arrowhead Trio -- consisting of a violinist, clarinetist and me -- did a run-through of a concert scheduled for Thursday evening at DuPont Hall, Washington and Lee University. We played in the Commons of the university, where students and faculty dine and socialize. As we played, they hovered or passed by, quietly studying, noisily yelling greetings to friends, checking email, singing, humming, and mostly ignoring us in the corner. Kind of like playing at a charity fundraiser or wedding reception, it was a good way to expose the music of Hovhaness, Arutiunian, Milhaud and Shostakovich, all twentieth century composers, to a captive crowd. One by one, we goofed up, leaving no one person to criticize.

In the evening, when I arrived at the weekly practice of our community chorus, the men warmed up while the women completed a sectional rehearsal. One of the basses, who has opera experience, led us in five-note scales of "enns." Taking advantage of the opportunity to offer five-cents' worth of advice, he commented on how difficult singing is because it depends on human body parts that can't be controlled like a man-made instrument. Disregarding for the moment the fact that human body parts must behave in specialized ways to play any instrument and machines have a tendency to break down, I think of the many "untrained" singers who perform seemingly effortlessly. As the bass pointed out, while singing can be difficult, it can, at times, also seem remarkably and smoothly simple. Those are the moments singers live for.

I see, floating on the fringes, an image of a teacher who begins discussion of a new topic with the words, "I know this is difficult, but...." I recently read about a study finding that if a doctor tells a patient a procedure is going to hurt, it hurts more than when the doctor doesn't mention it. I think I'll vote for the banning of predictions of difficulty. Let's try to make things look easy.

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