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Music

Bach’s Italian Concerto

In 2007, I purchased a Korg C303 digital piano. It was a good size for the condo that I lived in and the ability to plug in headphones was a huge bonus. The headphones are still paying off since most my playing is done while Elijah is in bed.

Anyway, when I bought that piano, I didn’t have any music so I headed to Half Price Books. I somewhat randomly picked a book of some classical favorites. I got home, opened to page 1 and it was the first movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto. Umm… way over my head. At some point, I struggled through the first page and got to where I could sort of play it.

Fast forward to May 2019 and I was watching a video from Mike Boyd about how to stick with really hard learning challenges. He used learning a difficult guitar song as his example and for some reason the whole thing reminded me of that Bach piece. I decided to actually learn the entire first movement well enough to play it in church. How hard could it be, right? As Randall Munroe said in his latest book, “Playing the piano is easy. The keys are in order and easy to reach. All you do is memorize which keys make what notes, then play them in the order written on the sheet.”

The good and bad thing about the internet today is that you can fire up YouTube and see tons of examples of people doing all kinds of things extremely well. This piano piece is no different, so after watching videos of 10 year olds playing the song in a little over 4 minutes (from memory), I set a timer to see how long my first attempt would take. 25 minutes and it didn’t sound even remotely like Bach. I had a long way to go.

For six months, I’ve played that song almost exclusively nearly every day. I played and I played and I played. And then I played and played and played some more. I think it’s fair to say that I averaged about 20 minutes of practice per day for 6 months.

This had clearly become an obsession for me, but no matter how many times I hit a wall and eventually broke through it, I could never get the level of polish that I wanted. Eventually I decided that me learning this song was like the average person sitting on their couch and deciding to run a marathon. They’re not going to win the marathon but finishing alone is a huge achievement.

So I set up a date to play it in church and went for it. Was it perfect? Nope. Not even close. If you want to hear how it’s supposed to be played, there are lots of other YouTube videos that are perfect renditions. But I feel like I’ve accomplished my impossible goal. Not only am I proud of the accomplishment… I’m very excited to start playing something else!

While not unique to learning this specific song, a few things struck me:

  • At least early in the learning of the piece, I felt like I retained more if I practiced close to bedtime than if I practiced earlier in the evening or in the morning. There are some scientific studies that back this up as well.
  • It’s a really weird feeling when you realize that you made a huge leap in learning from one day to the next. It’s hard to explain but there are some days where a previously difficult passage suddenly feels dramatically easier.
  • There’s some sweet spot of concentration that is difficult to maintain. I often find that I play worse in public than I do when practicing because I’m concentrating too hard. But if I don’t concentrate enough, all of a sudden I’ll find that I’ve lost my place on the sheet music and my fingers ran out of notes to play. And if I think about not concentrating too much, that doesn’t work either.
  • Through the process of playing the song over and over, I memorized probably 90% of it, but aside from the first page (and the last page which is a repeat), I’m not confident enough to play without music. I think to totally polish off the song, I’d need to memorize it completely and not be staring at music along the way.
  • If I was going to really get serious about this, I’d need some serious therapy around playing with other people present. Just trying to have Tyla stand next to me and turn pages brought out tons more flubs in my playing even when she wasn’t doing anything. And when I finally get to the point of playing it in church, I end up a bit sweaty and shaky by the end of the song.

Ticket Stubs

I don’t remember what prompted this, but I thought it would be fun to try and list off all the concerts that I’ve been to. I wouldn’t count myself as a frequent concert-goer, but this list is surprisingly long. Many of you have been to concerts and shows with me. Which ones did I miss? Where possible I’ve linked to blog posts about the events.

Pre-College:

  • AVB, Acapella and Point of Grace
  • Downhere

College:

  • Mark Lowry
  • Annie and Kelly McRae
  • Third Day
  • Purdue Christmas Special

2002-2006 (New Jersey):

2006-2013 (Washington, before Elijah):

2013 (Washington, after Elijah):

  • Caspar Babypants (twice!)

So I guess the natural question is: what are my favorites? Honestly, I really liked almost all of them. I’ll flip it around and choose the ones I wouldn’t do again. The Kenny Chesney concert was too loud, too many people, and too long. Matt Nathanson was … meh. I love his music but I didn’t love the concert. Maybe it was the venue. The Zane Lamprey and American Chopper shows were about as dumb as you’d expect them to be, but still entertaining enough. Jack Johnson was a fun experience but I’m too lame to do concerts at the Gorge, especially if I’m camping there afterwards.

There are lots of good memories in that list! I had forgotten about a lot of them until I really thought about it and tried to write them all down.

The Arcadian Wild – Hers

If you were in church on Sunday, you heard me play the video in the link below. It’s from a band called “The Arcadian Wild” and I’ve had their album on repeat for the past month or so. I was thrilled to see that they have sheet music available for sale for the instrumental track on their album. I bought it to support them and then realized that the piece was pretty far over my head.

I wish I had a recording of my first attempt. It probably took me 10 minutes to get through the whole thing and the result was almost unrecognizable. I played probably played this 200-300 times over the course of a month, and it was really fun to be along for the ride as my muscles would develop the required memory and different parts would start to click. That happens with every piece I learn, but I really noticed it with this one. I, of course, didn’t get a perfect version on video, but every once in a while I make it through without errors.

Anyway, here’s my recording of the piece, but you can find it on Spotify and other music services if you want to hear the real version.

2017 Music

I’ve written before about how I send all of my listening activity to Last.fm. You can see my public profile there and see what music I like. I just got an email from Spotify suggesting that I try out the 2017 Wrapped website which generates some stats based on your Spotify account history. You know how much I love stats so of course I participated. I have multiple Spotify accounts so I ran the stats based on the account that I use at work (so it doesn’t include all of Elijah’s music.) Below is the final summary that was generated from the site. It’s a pretty accurate list of some of my favorite songs and artists.

Parental Albums

Are there albums or songs that remind you of your parents? When I think of my parents and music, there are pretty clear associations.

For Mom it was Chicago’s “Greatest Hits 1982-1989” album. I remember her putting that album on while she cleaned the house. (It’s not available on Spotify but somebody built a playlist to piece all the songs together.) I think she had this one on CD and we didn’t get into CDs until the mid 90s.

And Dad? I remember riding around in his Ford Probe listening to the “Happy Together” album by The Nylons. That one got a good workout. I know he loved the 8 track system in his Gran Torino Sport, but I was too young to remember the music that got played in there.

Random sidenote: The song “Happy Together” was used in Ernest Goes To Camp (easily the top movie of my childhood) and since Dad was always playing The Nylons, I assumed that they had written the song. Nope. It was from a band in the 60s called The Turtles. So now I get why they had to sing that specific song to the turtle to get it to unclamp from Ernest’s nose. Whew, took me a while (decades) to get that one. It’s the movie that keeps on giving.