It’s a little pathetic that the only thing that compelled me to step into my music room yesterday was to practice my orchestra music, which I was performing at a concert that same day. I kind of practiced the piano and violin simultaneously to make sure I really knew a phrase from Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor. After doing that as a sort of warm up, I did focus on Love Story. That morning my YouTube searches had lead me from Anastasia’s Once Upon a December to Chopin’s Spring Waltz to Love Story in the style of Beethoven. I had noticed that the Chopin piece had a similar accompaniment as Love Story, which, in addition to Beethoven’s Love Story with lots of falls and drums, inspired me to get practicing the piece on my own piano. Because this is the final Twenty Time, I have decided there is no way that I could ever get the chords right anytime soon, so if I decide to play the piece during my presentation, I will just play the top notes.
Above is the insanely difficult Bruch part (probably because I didn’t actually practice until two weeks before the concert). But if you look at the four-measure phrase starting at the poco piu vivace, it does somewhat resemble hell.
Twice over the course of a three-day weekend I managed to practice Love Story. This is quite an accomplishment for me, and I actually kept true to my intention of practicing outside of Twenty Time! So my most recent practice session, I jumped right into Love Story, and played until I got to the challenging part. From there, I practiced one hand at a time through the chords and turns, which involved a lot of slow repetition and figuring out bass clef notes. And I admit—I wrote in some note names above some of the progressive bass notes. I also tried to practice the chords, and I found that the only way I could hit all of the notes in a chord with confidence would be muscle memory, which might take a while to achieve, so I considered leaving out a couple notes in each chord. I will have to consult with my brother and decide which notes to keep, but I think I will definitely have to cut out a few notes unless my audience can bear to hear dissonant chords that are not supposed to be dissonant. After practicing for forty minutes or so, some of the notes in Love Story reminded me of a classical song that I knew. I couldn’t remember the name at the time, but I did recall the first few measures of the piece. I started to play the melody, and I even figured out the left hand accompaniment as well! Later I found out that it was Mozart’s Sonata in C, regardless of whether I had been playing it in G or not.
Finally, I managed to really practice the new part (I could not find any time for extra practice). I first played through the part that I knew then moved on to the new section. When I was playing the first part, however, I noticed that I wasn’t really looking at the music as I played and instead looking at the keys. This is not that big of a deal, as most beginning piano players have to look back and forth between the music and their fingers. The only problem with this is that I am not keeping up with where I am in the sheet music compared to what I’m playing on the piano, which makes it hard to get back on track when I’m not sure about a note or a phrase. So from now on, I will try to follow along in the music as I’m playing, especially during the turns in the new section. Speaking of the new section, I practiced the left and right hand separately this time. Except for the chords at the beginning, the treble clef part is not that bad until you get to the turns, because that is where the bass clef transitions to the treble clef—the turns start on the bottom then in the middle it continues but in treble clef. This is not terribly difficult, because even though you have to switch from bass clef to treble clef in the same phrase, I am still reading bass clef in treble clef. And by that I mean I cannot get out of the habit of taking the notes in bass clef and converting them into treble clef, so instead of reading an A in bass clef, I read it as an F and go two steps up from there, which is not only bad piano-playing and music-reading, but I am failing at my goal to be able to fluidly read bass clef. Fortunately this will not really matter in terms of presenting my piece if I just practice a lot.
Today is the day that I truly saw how much work I had laid out in front of me. After doing a little bit of simple scales, I played through the first part of Love Story and prepared myself to really practice the new section. As I moved from the known to the unknown, from the easy first part to the difficult second part, I realized that the new part needed a lot of practice. Although the chords are not too complicated, I need to make the transitions between chords smoother, which goes for the first part as well. And the coordination between the left and right hand needs improvement, which means I need to practice the bass clef and the treble clef separately for now. I also need a better rhythmic flow throughout the entire piece, which will just take practice and going through the piece. Speed is not something that I am concerned about, as Love Story is a quite slow piece, so I can go as slow as I want. Overall, I just need lots and lots of practice to master the second part in order to reach my goal, and I might need to work on the piece more frequently than I currently do, which is less than once a week.
I really should have practiced more violin than piano today… For this project, that was good; for the fact that I had a violin lesson for the first time in over a month, not so much. Nevertheless, things worked out—tomorrow I get a new solo piece and new orchestra music, and I needed this piano practice today. As soon as I stepped into the music room, I couldn’t help but play Place de la République again. I’m not very good at picking favorites—a favorite book, a favorite movie, a favorite food—, but if someone were to ask me for my favorite song, I would say Place de la République by Cœur de Pirate. As I messily played the piece, I wondered if I could get it good enough to make a part of my goal. Because it is a song with lyrics and singing, the piano part is not very difficult and also quite repetitive. This means that I probably would not be able to make it an actual goal piece because it would be insanely boring to any audience. So the only way to showcase this chanson in any way would be to have a singer in the piece, and I am interested in pursuing this idea, although it would take some practice on my part. However, my main focus is still Love Story, and I did work on it today. At this point, I have the first part down, so I focused on the new part that I decided to undertake as of my last practice session. The chords had not gotten easier, and I didn’t quite get to the turnovers, but I will make it decent with enough practice. On the other hand, the rhythms and left hand work in the first part have only small mistakes that can be quickly fixed.
Today, even with three quizzes, one test, and an essay on my planner, I found myself wandering into the music room again, not because I realized that I desperately had to catch up on my Twenty Time blogs and practice sessions, but because I really, really wanted to play Coeur de Pirate’s Place de la République on the piano at that particular moment. So on my phone I pulled up a pdf of the piano sheet music written by Béatrice Martin herself and starting tapping away at the piano. My playing of the piece overall was not perfect, most phrases repeated several times so that I could get the notes and the feeling, but I was fulfilling my impulse to play one of my very favorite songs, if not my actual favorite, and it sounded beautiful to my ears as I sang the French lyrics in my head. Not only did playing that song make me happy, but it actually helped a lot with my left hand and right hand coordination. After that, I attempted to play Love Story, with the pedal, from memory, and I succeeded! Once I played the first two sections (my goal length) twice through, I tried again to brainstorm a sufficient ending for my part. I went to my brother for help, and there were certainly some viable, music-theory-law-abiding options on how to end the piece, but we both agreed that none of them seemed quite right. And so, my brother, like many times before, urged me to continue through the rest of the piece without ending it after the first two sections. I’m not quite sure why, but this time, I decided to humor him. I tried the next few measures, which started with chords (oh, the horror!), but surprisingly, they turned out to be not all that bad. And even more surprisingly, the names of the chords that he wrote in for me helped and made sense to me! Because of this, I was hopeful. I asked Sam if he could show me how to play the rest of the piece, which he gladly did and with much patience. He advised that I stop at the key change near the end of the second page, because after that is basically all chords, which even he could not play without a lot of practice and still not cleanly. So my new goal is to be able to play decently well up to the key change, which means lots of practicing chords, inversions, and quintuplet and sextuplet turns.
It has been a while since my last practice session because last time was the evaluation and in addition to that, I am behind on practice and blogging again… However, I just practiced some Lai, and this time I managed to play the pedale through the entire section. It was difficult to remember to press the pedal at the right times because the pedale is marked at the beginning of each measure, but the last note of each measure for the top part is tied to the first note of the next measure, so I need to coordinate the pedale with the left hand. Despite my messy pedal-pressing skills, I did remember (for the most part) to keep the weight of my foot at the heel, not on the pedal, just like I learned when I was five or six. The chords still need some work, but I have definitely improved since my early practice sessions. On a different note, after Googling the composer of Love Story, as I had momentarily forgotten somehow, I found out that Francis Lai is a French accordionist and film score composer, who is still alive today at a sprightly age of 84, and the song that I am working on is actually the theme from Love Story, an American romantic drama film from 1970.
Today, in English class, we did our Twenty Time Mid-Year Evaluation. While going over my goals, progress, and commitment, I realized that I had some far-fetched goals at the beginning of the year. I had been aiming to master two pieces, and be completely proficient at bass clef. So far, I have gotten about a third of my first piece, and I cannot even imagine trying to prepare another piece on top of that. My level of commitment did not surprise me, although I realized that I could make an effort to blog more regularly. I have not missed any blog posts, but I have been quite a bit late on a few of them. I do, however, have definite evidence of my progress, in the form of the first two sections of Love Story, assuming that I can keep working on it and improving it. So taking these things into account, I definitely need to re-evaluate my goals, although I had not really thought about my original goals as I progressed. As of right now, my goals are to master the first two sections of Love Story and to keep practicing bass clef.
After a few sessions spent without working intensively on (i.e. avoiding) Love Story, I finally returned my focus to the piece at hand. Love Story is actually proving to be quite difficult for me at my skill level, no matter how many times my brother lectures me on its simplicity. I will stick with it because I have done a lot of work on the first page, which sounds pretty decent except for my counting, some rhythms, a lot of the bass clef, coordinating the right hand with the left hand, and chords, all of which I will work on, and then maybe I could even incorporate the pedale written in the music. So I went over the first page, paying attention to the chords and rhythms. Then, I attempted to go on past the first two parts that I had been practicing. Soon, my left hand could not keep up with my right, my bass clef note recognition still being slow, but I continued through the second page, until I realized that I would not be able to learn the bottom part in the allotted time. So I went back to the part that I knew and sought help from my brother to figure out a cadence to end the piece on the first page. We have not come to an agreement on what chords to use to end the piece, but we will find one soon.
When I wandered into the music room this time, I started by trying to play parts of some songs that came to mind, songs that weren’t made to play on the piano, but songs that I listen to like Place de la République by Coeur de Pirate, Ich lass für dich das Licht an by Revolverhead, and so on. I actually do this quite often, when I’m bored, but usually not as a part of any of my formal practice sessions. These escapades generally consist of me searching for the right notes to match the ones in my head, not sounding like much else than disjointed notes to anyone who might hear. Sometimes I get lucky and mostly hit the right notes on the first try, but more often than not, that does not happen; however, it all comes together after a few tries. Then, I went over the Flea Waltz a couple of times with ease, as it is a very simple tune. After this, I dug up some old piano books from many years ago when I was learning the piano, and I chose some familiar songs to play, including Habanera from Georges Bizet’s Carmen. They were more difficult than I had expected, which goes to say that my six-year-old self was a better pianist than I am now.