Piano Suite in Seven Movements
9, 3, 22 solo piano improvisation
Piano Suite in Seven Movements
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I’ve chosen, so far, not to say much about the music I’ve been making. One of the things about making music that appeals to me is that, as with painting, it’s not what you have to say that matters. It’s what’s there to be seen, or in this case, heard. I’ve been tempted to write about it. It’s certainly been exciting to jump into an art I’ve always loved to find that much of what’s involved in making music comes naturally or at least can be approached with the help of my experiences with painting and writing over the years.
While I’ve just been recording and posting music for a few years now; I have been sitting down with the piano and exploring a way into it for about a decade. My first insight was that playing piano is primarily a physical act, letting the hands and fingers explore interval and then, as this proceeds in time, finding rhythms, melodies and harmonies/dissonances. In this way drawing, and even design, have provided me with a lifetime of experience with both fine and more broad hand placement and precision that could be brought to bear. Having a “knack” for finding the right place “by eye,” and learning to apply that trust at the keyboard, gave me an entry into an instrument I first tried to “learn” in Fifth Grade when our teacher, Mrs. Poole set herself the goal of teaching the whole class how to play.
All my childhood attempts at music failed. Between my particular “learning disabilities,” and a lack of opportunities, by my early twenties I was convinced I’d never be able to play an instrument.
The love of music never went away, but it did get buried for long periods of time. For most of my thirties through fifties even I could barely remember how important music was to me or how many instruments I’d tried to learn to play as a child and given up.
It’s been through working to integrate all the seemingly disparate aspects of my life and my exposure to Coherence as a way of organizing experience that have made it possible for me to begin by admitting to myself how important music is to me and then giving me the tools of Navigating Coherence and enough self-care to be able to start sitting at the piano and letting things happen.
Curiously, I did have a precedent for this from childhood. Often, when visiting a neighbor-friend with a piano in his house – along with an incredible O-gauge Lionel train set! – I would sit at the keyboard and “play.” The often discordant sounds coming off the sound board reminded me of Japanese music, or the bits and pieces of Atonal Modernist Music; John Cage, or Alban Berg, Schoenberg, Webern…, I’d come across watching PBS. What I remember most distinctly is the feeling of home I felt at the keyboard. So different from my error-plagued anxiety while “trying to learn.”
This feeling was there for me as soon as I returned to the piano.
From there, it quickly became apparent that these gestures translated into sound by the piano found form. Not an imposed form, but a form growing out of the accumulation of moves made without being willed. As the “player” I witness what’s happening as what is heard coming from the piano leads to the next move and the next.
In painting, following Philip Guston’s lead, I’ve long felt that my “job” is to get from a place with infinite “choices” to a place where there is no choice. What is there has to be there and has to be the way it is. Not because I’ve willed it, but because it is necessary. The same thing happens before the piano, or now the guitar. If I can let each motion occur as it will, giving in to it wholeheartedly, what is to come next comes next.
Right now I’m posting this piece, along with the last few piano pieces, and more to come, because I’ve finally found an instrument whose tone and capacities let what happens when I play come across in the recording.
One other note:
This is a long piece, thirty-six minutes. As I’ve discovered and continued to read Ted Gioia’s substack on music I’ve been encouraged to follow my own instincts on the length of musical pieces. While there is a lot to be said for the concentrated dose that is the “Three Minute Song,” I find that the only way to really get inside of even a short piece is to repeat it so that the experience goes for at least ten minutes. Read what Ted has to say on the matter….
If music is to transport us, it needs time to do it. No music is instantaneous. It all requires time to unfold. A longer piece, if we can relax into discovering its pace and movement, has time to bring our systems into a synchrony with them. We enter into their temporal “space.”
Well, that’s way more than enough words for now!
OK, while we’re here…, one more thing.
Music has many forms. They can all be found to relate to Poetry. Some, like the Three Minute Song, are in short, rhyming, and repeating stanzas. The music mirroring/mirrored by the lyric’s form. Other types relate to long Epic Poetry. A series of embedded rhymes that build over a long stretch of time and use repetition and recapitulation to build and house an imaginary world. Still other kinds of music relate to a more conversational form, an open structure, a blank verse. Building on the early use of language by toddlers before they have words, we find that a series of expressions can proceed to “tell a story” that goes from here to somewhere else, leaving us with a distinct impression of having made a journey.
This is the best way to consider how my piano pieces work. It’s not “Ambient Music.” It’s not song. It’s not symphony. But it does say things. There is, when they work, a point. We travel.
I want to thank you for the time and attention you have given me by reading this far.
Let’s get back to the music…
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