velvetpage: (Default)
I was teaching "My Favourite Things" today (I'm starting a series of songs in waltz time, having taught 4/4 time successfully most of the fall) and that led to a Sound of Music-themed earworm.

On the way home, while singing, "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" I realized something: the way the nuns describe Maria in that song is a perfect description of someone with ADHD. The nuns who are driven wild by her behaviour are those who see order as key, and her disturbance of their order a major crime; those who see her as sweet, kind, gentle, and fanciful see character as based first in how she treats others, rather than how she behaves, and they advocate for the good in her.

The result, for me, will be humming that song every time I'm trying to deal with an ADHD child who just will. not. sit. still. They won't get the reference and it will help me deal.
velvetpage: (gromit knitting)
I was packing for my music teaching conference that starts tomorrow, and realized that, since I was going to be learning more about teaching music, I should probably take some of the sheet music I've got that I often teach from.

I gathered it up and put it in its binder, and then realized that if I had the binder there, I might want to add more sheet music to it if I was given some. So I added some page protectors to the binder.

I sat down to play the music, and remembered that all the songs in that binder are easy to play on the recorder, and realized that the recorder is one of my best tools for teaching music. So I dug up my wooden recorder and set about looking for a case for it.

Then I realized that the wooden recorder is slightly larger than any of the plastic ones, and their cases don't fit it.

It's two and a half hours later, and I have a case for it half-knit in the round, out of some of the lovely pale teal wool that [ profile] kisekileia sold me, most of which will be made into an afghan.

There's a thread on Ravelry for, "You know you're a knitting dork when. . ." I think I need to update it.
velvetpage: (keyboard and sheet music)
Clocks by Coldplay. I've barely touched this one. It's easy to play.

The Raindrop Prelude by Chopin. I can play about two-thirds of this before it becomes obvious that Chopin had bigger hands than I've got. I think this is the piece that set off the carpal tunnel last fall. It's leaving me feeling well-exercised but otherwise fine.

Waltz in C# Minor, also by Chopin. I've been working on this since Thanksgiving, and I'm finally getting to the point where it sounds like I want it to sound most of the time. The third page is almost memorized, too.

Samson by Regina Spektor. Completely, totally different from anything else on this list. I love it.

Apr├Ęs Moi by Regina Spektor. Very easy to play. I'm working on being able to sing while playing this. It's a lot harder than it sounds to play and sing at the same time. I don't know if I'll ever get that UUUG sound she does, though.

20 Years of Snow by Regina Spektor. I'm starting to get the hang of this song. It feels less like sight reading and more like using the music to show me what part to play next. But it's nowhere near as smooth as I want it, and this song has to be perfectly smooth to work at all.

Chant Sans Paroles by Mendelssohn. I love this piece of music. It's a hymn to peace set on the banks of a gentle stream. I can get a feel of playing church music without the baggage. It's also deceptively difficult. I can mostly play two pages out of five, but not at speed.

And last but not least, I dipped into this. Elizabeth would be more impressed if I could play along with the game. It requires some jazz chording - sliding off black note chords onto chromatic white note chords, a technique I haven't ever used officially. I can't even remember where I learned it.

I haven't touched a fake book all week, but I'll need to get back to that eventually. At the moment, I'm having a lot of fun with this.
velvetpage: (Default)
It's a very different experience to listen to an album while reading through the sheet music for the songs. You see and hear things you don't when you're just listening or just playing. When I take the time to do stuff like this - read through the music I want to play while listening to it - I'm always reminded that the dividing line between oral, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles is never cut-and-dried.

You'd think it would be obvious. Learning to play an instrument seems like it should be first an auditory pursuit and then a kinesthetic one. Really, though, it's a perfect fusion of all three. You can often become a decent musician if you're weak at one. A not-very-co-ordinated person can still learn to play an instrument if they avoid certain musical styles and develop their muscle memory through memorization; a non-visual person can play by ear or from fake books; a tone-deaf person can learn to play from the music, though I would question why they'd want to. But to really get it, to really make the music count, you have to have the whole package.

Anyway. I read through the Soviet Kitsch album with the sheet music open in a PDF in front of me, and heard things I would have missed otherwise. It was a much more active form of listening than what I usually do, because I need to be doing something with my hands or eyes while I listen, so my attention is often divided.

My conclusion: I can play her stuff. I can probably sing most of it, though some of her vocal acrobatics do not fit my skill set. Her range is very similar to mine, and I can make it sound good, if not quite the way it sounds when she sings it. Some of the songs don't appeal to me much - Poor Little Rich Boy, for example - but several of them are intriguing. I'm going to have fun with this.

First, though, I need to clear out the kitchen sinks and do some contrast baths on my arms. I've been warned by my wonderful massage therapist that if I really do glue myself to the piano, I'm going to totally mess with my forearm flexors, and I doubt she has a lot of emergency appointments available.

I need a piano icon. I don't even know where to go to get one. Any tips?
velvetpage: (Default)
The assignment was to try something completely new for five hours over the last few weeks, and write about where the math was to be found in this new thing, and how learning it gave you insight into your students' issues with trying new things in math.

Fortunately, I've started learning to play hand drum in that time period. )
velvetpage: (Default)
I can't believe I never discovered NPR before. Thanks, Twitter!

Anyway, the next find of the night: Vampire Weekend's new album, Contra. Enjoy. I've been bopping along to it for half an hour now.
velvetpage: (Default)
Hate Pachelbel's Canon? You're not alone. Well, have a listen to this and see if you still hate it.
velvetpage: (Default)
I occasionally (or not so occasionally) come across people who believe that the way they were taught math before all this problem-solving mumbo-jumbo was superior, not because it worked better at the time but because, after learning the steps without understanding them, they developed the ability to problem-solve and reason mathematically later on. Their reasoning: kids don't need to learn to reason mathematically from the outset; they'll learn to think procedurally and then as their brains develop, they'll fit their procedural knowledge into a growing problem-solving framework. The end result will be adults who reason well AND are good at arithmetic (these are usually the people who believe that New Math creates kids who can't add or multiply, to which I say: then the person who was teaching it didn't really know what they were doing.)

I used to think this way, because in math, this is what I did. School taught me the traditional algorithms, my dad taught me to add and multiply quickly in my head, and I made connections between concepts without being encouraged to. (When I first learned fractions, they were already old friends - I'd been seeing them on sheet music for two or three years at that point.)

It occurred to me last night, in conversation with [ profile] wggthegnoll, that there is a better metaphor in my life for old math versus new math: music.

Now, I have some natural talent for music. There was never a time when I couldn't carry a tune, and some of my earliest memories are of singing interesting and difficult music at the Salvation Army, sometimes before I could read. I started taking piano lessons at the age of eight, and continued taking them until I was sixteen, at which point I started teaching piano instead. My training on the piano was classic. I was given a piece of music in a book geared to the level I was supposed to be at. I read through that music with my teacher there to point out anything I didn't get or some new technique for fingering. Then I went home and practised that piece of music until I could play it well. When I was done most of the songs in that book, I moved on to the next one. My education in music theory was mostly taken care of at music camp, and I ended up skipping Grade One Rudiments entirely (though I did do the Grade Two exam - it was necessary to get a high school credit for my piano lessons, along with my grade eight piano exam.) I learned my scales, I did fingering exercises, I knew how to play tonics and dominant sevenths and minors harmonic and melodic.

However, I was not the kind of kid who thought outside the box that was presented for me. I didn't start listening to the radio until years after my friends did, and I was fifteen and already had my grade eight exam under my belt before it occurred to me that I could play music that didn't come out of a Royal Conservatory Repertoire book. I rarely tried to figure out for myself how something was played, and other than a few hymn tunes, I had little experience with playing anything that wasn't classical. In short, I never learned to play by ear, and more importantly, nobody ever drew for me the connections I would have needed to develop that talent (which, btw, I have when I'm singing, though it's undeveloped.) I never learned about modes; no one pointed out to me what standard chord progressions were and how I could play with them to make them sound different using those arpeggios and scales I'd memorized so assiduously. Though my dad pointed out that I didn't have to play a hymn tune exactly as it was written, I could break up the notes for better rhythm, no one showed me what the chord notations were or how to read them or how they connected to each other. The advanced harmonics, which I was perfectly capable of playing, were not taught to me as something I could reason my way through.

I was taught the arithmetic of music. I was taught, "If you follow these steps, you can play any piece of music you pick up. You'll learn how they work later." I was not taught to think critically about the form of the music I was playing. All of that was saved for after I had the rudiments; it would have come about during Grade Three Harmony, which I started but never finished. It was assumed I'd pick it up on my own - but I never did.

Because of all that, I'm a very limited pianist. I know the most basic chord structures, the ones that show up in most pop music and a wide variety of hymn tunes, and I can generally figure out how to make them sound cohesive if I work at it. I can read music, though I can't sight-read very well - that is, if you put a piece of difficult music in front of me and ask me to play it, it's going to take me a week of painstaking work to get to the end of it and be able to play it back to you. (That one is a confidence issue: I don't like to keep going if I make a mistake at something, but when you're sight-reading, that's exactly what you need to do so that the person you're accompanying doesn't have to stop in confusion when you break rhythm.) I still know very little about modalities and harmonies. I still can't play by ear or even chord by ear most of the time, though I can come up with vocal harmonies with no trouble at all. I can hear in my head what it is supposed to sound like, and I'm frustrated trying to bridge the gap between how it should sound and how I'm able to make it sound.

I'm going to bring this up with my uncle when he starts teaching Elizabeth in the fall. I've taught the way I was taught, and passed on these same errors out of ignorance, but I'd prefer that my daugthers' talent for music ends up better developed than my own, so I'm going to talk to him. I want to figure out how to apply New Math strategies to elementary music, and I won't take the platitudes - they'll figure it out on their own later, don't worry about it, one step at a time, basics before critical thinking - at face value. While it may work for some kids, it didn't work for me. I don't settle for, "They'll pick it up later" when I'm teaching math. Why should I settle for that when teaching music?


Jan. 30th, 2009 05:15 pm
velvetpage: (Default)

The ultimate fake book for half the pop/rock repertoire is I, IV, vi, V. It's exactly that simple. (I think. I'm rusty on chord progressions - have I got them in the right order?)
velvetpage: (chalice)
Sure On This Shining Night

Sure on this shining night
Of star-made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.

The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.

Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder
Wand'ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

- James Agee


Nov. 10th, 2004 09:31 pm
velvetpage: (Default)
I was thinking today about some of the experiences that formed me as a musician. They are actually relatively few, but their very rarity was a large part of their power.

The first happened when I was about six weeks shy of my eleventh birthday. I am very sure about that, because it was the day my grandfather died. After I had cried until I had no more tears, I went downstairs and played one piece over and over again. It was from the grade 4 Royal Conservatory book, and if I had the book in front of me I could turn to it; it was in list C, near the back. It was by Tchaikovosky. I could hum the melody right now.

I had been taking piano lessons for nearly three years at that point. It was the first time I had used music as an outlet for something I couldn't talk about. For years thereafter, I would go back and play that piece every time I thought of my grandfather. I doubt he ever heard me play it; in fact, I doubt he ever heard me play at all. That wasn't the point. For the first time, my feelings had fuelled my music, and music became a powerful force in my life.

The second time I really remember happened about four years later. We were living in Toronto by then, specifically in Don Mills. My brother and I took music lessons, piano for me, cornet for him, from a music teacher who belonged to the Salvation Army. Our teacher lived in what was then the outer reaches of Scarborough, at Finch and Morningside, in a brand-new subdivision. It was a good half-hour drive at the time of day when we were making the trip, though it was often shorter coming home.

My father has always been a classical music buff. For his birthday, which I think had just passed, those of us with a bit of money (read: myself, and two bucks each from each sibling) had bought him a quite decent Montreal Symphony recording of Tchaikovosky. Entirely by accident, we had managed to purchase a recording which, at the time, was the standard of comparison for those works. On that day, I remember it was pouring so hard that my dad was driving rather slower than usual. He popped into the car stereo the brand-new cassette of the fifth symphony. Most of it passed almost without notice, though I enjoyed it. I still love the waltz from that symphony, but the waltz was not the part that drew us in that night. It was the final movement, the march. Dad cranked the stereo, to the point where the noise of the rain was just a backdrop. The music filled that car in a way I've never been able to match. I think all three of us had the same reaction to it, and I think that if Tchaikovosky had been aware of our reaction just before he died, he would have passed on satisfied with his work in life. We were entranced. From that time on, I was able to stop whatever I was doing and play that march back in my head, note-perfect, the way I heard it that day. It was the true birth of my love of Tchaikovosky, who is still my favourite composer. Ever since, I have been trying to recapture the magic of that first experience. I've never been able to do it. And yet, fifteen years later, the power of that memory has me listening to Tchaikovosky every few weeks, with every atom in my soul.

The third time was when I was seventeen. I had temporarily left the Salvation Army, and was attending another church in Hamilton. This church had a youth choir called Unison, in which I sang mezzo soprano when there was one, and lead soprano when there wasn't. The choir only had 16 people in it. Every single one of them was capable of carrying a part on their own. The piece we were to sing in church that day was called "O Sifuni Mungu", a Swahili rendition of "All Creatures of Our God and King." At its widest point, there were ten parts. Ten parts, and sixteen singers. There were even two solos. Not only did we manage it, we sang it better than I have ever heard it sung. It flowed in a way music often doesn't in larger groups. We were so attuned to it, I doubt any of us looked at out music at all.

But it wasn't "O Sifuni Mungu" that was the deep musical experience of that day. No, that happened before the service, during the sound check. Philpott Memorial is a large church, and the sound system was nearly new at that time. We got there and assembled a bit late, after people had started to come in, and our leader decided we shouldn't do the sound check with the song we were actually going to sing. Someone, I think my ex-boyfriend (then my future boyfriend, Rodney, one of the basses), suggested we sing Amazing Grace instead. The leader played one chord on the piano, counted us in, and we sang. We sang in six-part, spontaneous harmony, four verses, in perfect tune when we started and when we ended. I took a descant line that I'd learned somewhere, the other two sopranos took the melody, and everyone else found a note somewhere in the middle. By the time we got to the fourth verse, people had come in from the foyer to listen. When we finished, there was not a single sound in that sanctuary. It was a good ten seconds before someone coughed and broke the spell. It was one of the deeper religious experiences of my life, as well as a deep musical one.

Those three experiences have formed everything I love about music. There have been other powerful ones, and thousands of mundane interactions between me and my aural world, but those three have been the backdrop and benchmarks for all the others.

June 2017



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