Friday, December 6, 2013

Series IV

Completed another tune for piano recently. Tricky little thing to play and I am going to have to put a bit of work in before I can do so. It can be obtained from here where the rest of my scores are available also.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Pianoteq Revelation

It had never occurred to me that at some point in time I would prefer playing an electronic keyboard over a good quality acoustic upright? This extraordinary situation has happened since purchasing the basic Pianotec Stage modelling software and discovering the magnificently rendered range of keyboard sounds available. I am finding it hard to be bothered playing my U3 now that I have connected up the laptop to my Yamaha 88 note weighted synth to enjoy a panoply of options ranging from clavichords and harpsichords, fortepianos, uncanny sounding classic electric pianos rhodes/clavs/wurlys and a classic grand in Pianoteq's modelling of the Steinway D. Many of these models have a variety of different iterations and extraordinarily, some of these great keyboards are available as free add-ons.
I have gained a much better appreciation and understanding of the music I have been playing recently. Bach on a harpsichord or clavichord suddenly takes on a whole new guise and playing one of Beethoven early sonatas on a Graf piano is a sublime experience. I don't currently play any Chopin but I can imagine it would be rewarding to do so on a Pleyel. You can try Pianoteq out completely free with all the sounds albeit with a restricted range of notes and for 20 minutes at a time before having to close and restart  to keep playing.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Jay's Songs

My longtime friend Jay, an extraordinarily creative person, who I have long chastised for toiling away much of his life in the public service, has finally got around to expressing himself.
So important if you are creative, and for Jay, who could turn his hand to any creative endeavour, it has manifested in the form of music. Having disciplined himself to taking guitar lessons, a little while back, his burgeoning skills on the instrument have allowed him to become a prolific songwriter resulting in a current project to record them.
In his inimitable way, he has convinced half the able musicians in the region to contribute their time to the project including myself. Knowing of my endeavours on the piano, he invited me to add keyboards to three of the tracks which I have just completed and thoroughly enjoyed.

Apart from my wonderful big black Yamaha U3 upright piano, I also own an 88 note Yamaha S90XS digital piano synthesiser which is the perfect tool for this job married with Apple's brilliant digital audio workstation (DAW) Logic Pro 8.
Jay and his recording team, Mick,  live some distance away and not being keen on the idea of travelling to complete any recording, I was intent on finding a means to complete the tracks without doing so and Mick kindly sent me the template track for each song.
This allowed me to record using a midi track, rather than audio, and utilising Logics soft instruments with the S90Xs as a controller. 
I chose this environment as having completed the recording, I could use Logic's export 'All tracks as audio files' (retaining all the midi information) to save both the template and the midi track and upload them to Dropbox. All Mick has to do then is download them, drag and drop them in to his DAW and chop and change the track as required, including changing the keyboard sound I have used, if Jay prefers. Brilliant!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Beethoven and I

Apart from Bach, my other great piano related passion is Beethoven. A further frustration with being a guitarist related to the weakness in the repertoire's classical period sonatas. They existed but they were just not in the same league that was on offer by Beethoven and an additional reason I was keen to learn to play the instrument. So the other day, when I was again listening to the radio on my way to catch a few waves, my ears pricked up when I heard Brendan Ward talking about his book "The Beethoven Obsession".  This fascinating book tells the story of how the greatest piano music ever written acquired an Australian voice, played on a revolutionary grand piano that shook up the conservative music establishment.

Translated this refers to the first recording, by an Australian pianist, Gerard Willems, of the complete cycle of 32 sonatas, 5 concertos, Electoral sonatas and the unpublished Fantasia sonata on a very special grand piano designed and manufactured here in Australia by Wayne Stuart. Apart from being a most interesting read, ranging well beyond the recording of the works, it is a flag bearer for the excellence of the e-book. If you purchase this book to read on your iPad, which I highly recommend, you will also be able to enjoy the embedded links to relevant pictures and music examples distributed throughout the book dramatically enhancing your reading experience. This book has inspired me to now start work on my Beethoven journey and I have chosen the second of the Op 49 easier early sonatas.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jeremy Denk on program notes, J S Bach and other things

I listen to the main classical radio station here in Australia, ABC Classic FM, pretty well anytime I am in the car going anywhere. The other morning, a pianist I have never heard of before, Jeremy Denk, was being interviewed. As it became apparent that he was a fan of J S Bach I became more interested and even more so when I heard that he had achieved some notoriety in the classical music world for a tirade against program notes. I think this post made on Jeremy's most interesting blog back in May 2007 is the one in question. Do take the time to explore it further as he is quite prolific on many subjects and I have added it into NTLTLP's blog list so as I can continue to read what he has to say. I conducted a litte further research and found this review of Paul Elie's Reinventing Bach, yet another book that is going to end up in the queue on the iPad, for which he has also attained some interest.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bach and I

Like many, I have always been fascinated by Glenn Gould. I cannot remember when I first became aware of his existence but I am sure that it was sometime during my years as a guitarist. I loved to play the Bach transcriptions most of all and one cannot be into Bach and not discover Gould!
Although I enjoyed a long, fruitful and passionate relationship with the guitar, I had always been frustrated that the repertoire was so limited in breadth and quality compared to the more mainstream instruments.  Eventually, as you would well know, if you have visited here before, I ended up giving the guitar a way entirely and choosing the piano so as to give myself the opportunity to explore that instruments huge repertoire and particularly to explore the vastly greater availability of music by Bach. In the last half year my abilities have improved enough so as I could spend time exploring 3 Inventions and 2 of the Preludes and the Cm Fugue from WTC 1. This has been most rewarding and definitely further aded to my technique. Apart from choosing to play Bach because I love to, I am also particularly doing so to gain the greater degree of hand independence that playing contrapuntal music provides. This is so as I can apply it to my ability to improvise which is probably my raison d'etre for being a musician in the first place.
Back to Gould. When he plays you can see how deep he gets into that expressive space as he sings voices, sways his upper torso around and conducts himself with his left hand if it happens to be free.

That is the place I also strive for when improvising and if I know a non-improvisatory piece of music well enough to do so also. These mannerisms of Gould's have caused so much controversy over the years but for me it merely adds to the experience of watching and hearing him play. I empathise very much with his need to physically express the music. This has been another frustration I have had with the classical guitar as the movements required to play it are all so small and the sitting position so constrained that much of the time I felt it tempered my ability to express the music I was playing in the way that I wished. Standing up and playing and improvising on the electric guitar suited me far better and I am constantly on the move as I am unable to stop myself from physically manifesting the emotion I am feeling as I play. Although also a little more constrained as one is sitting too, I find the piano far more liberating than having to keep control of a guitar on the lap. Ironically, considering I have dedicated so much effort and time to the guitar over the years, I think the piano is actually a more suitable instrument on which to express myself musically.
The main reason for the post though is to let you know how much I have been enjoying reading Kevin Bazzana's biography "Wondrous Strange - The life and art of Glenn Gould". Apart from gaining great insight in to Gould the man and his activities during his life, the experience of reading it had been added to immeasurably as I have it downloaded to my iPad mini. This remarkable device allows me to instantly explore as I wish beyond the book when I ever I read something of interest that I would like to more about. It is far lighter than the standard iPad and it has become my constant companion.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Inkling! - Possibilities?

I have just completed my most recent composition which was inspired by the news that I might have a second grandchild on the way. Hence it's title and the tentative nature of the main melody. Just yesterday the news was confirmed so the timing is perfect. If you are on the look out for new things to play all my compositions are available here and this particular piece can be viewed and downloaded from here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Denmark - A heads up to Chick Corea's Spain

I composed this tune for Jazz quintet in 2010 and posted about it here that year also. I have since reworked the piece for solo piano which I have presented here. There are a few slips and I need to learn to build my solos and control the tempo but this piece does really needs to romp along a bit. The staid correct and much slower effort I originally recorded just did not cut it in that way. So warts and all this is my take on how to decorate the changes from Chick Corea's Spain. The dots for both the original quintet version and this version for solo piano can be obtained here and here respectively.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

It has been exactly 4 years since............

....... I embarked on this learning the piano journey. If you have been following this, of late extremely intermittent blog, you might remember that formerly, I was a classical guitarist and made the decision to eschew that instrument in favour of the piano. In the main, I did this as I had always been so envious of the wonderful repertoire that the piano offered in comparison to the guitar and wanted to gift myself with the opportunity to explore it. And OMG? Talk about opening a door! Well, I am claiming that I have now made the transition from guitarist to pianist and this blog will now be set alight with a far more regular posting regime as I show you proof of the fruits of my endeavours. As well as thoroughly and utterly enjoying exploring the classical repertoire, I am also attempting to become a reasonable jazz pianist too as I have finally realised that improvising is fundamentally my raison d'ĂȘtre for playing music. I found the guitar a little limiting in this respect adding a further reason to make the switch to the piano.
My first offering is a piece I composed in memory of one of our local Arts community luminaries, Andy Ducker, who passed away a year or so ago. It is called "Andy's Song" and is an improvisational like melody based on an ostinato like arpeggiated chord sequence in the key of F minor. I also use it a lot for improvising using the F minor natural, C minor pentatonic and chromatic scales. Even if I say so myself, there is something special about this piece of music and I never tire of playing it. You can get the dots for it here.
This was recorded on an iPhone 5 running in IOS 7 Beta 2 using a Glif tripod adapter from Studio Neat mounted overhead using a microphone stand. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Play it again!

It's been too long! I can barely believe it has been 6 months since I lasted posted here. That is just appalling. It's not like I have given up playing the piano or anything like that. Far from in fact as I an as keen as ever and have progressed well since I last posted. More on that for another day as this post is about Alan Rusbridger's great new book "Play it again". In the main the book is about Alan's extraordinary quest, being an amateur pianist, to learn the horrendously difficult 1st Ballade of Chopin within a year! Interspersed with much detail relating to this onerous challenge is some other most interesting reading as it just so happens that he is also the editor of one of the UK's most prestigious newspapers. The Guardian! Alan has chosen a pretty momentous year news wise to mount this marathon learning task for himself as it is the year the Guardian and others collaborated with Wikileaks to report the leaked US State Department documents, the phone hacking scandal and the Libyan crisis occurred. This has meant that a  session of only 20 minutes was possible early in the morning and often he was not able to fit it in.
The book is such a great read and most informative as along the way as he speaks to many other teacher's and pianist's, both professional and amateur, about their take on the piece and how to practice a work of this level. 
Well worth your while to grab this book if your are in to the piano in anyway at all!