That wide apart chord

I can manage it only if I completely ignore my left hand and trust it to just whale that F# octave. If I focus only on the right hand, I can get it perfectly. The minute I quail a bit and try to sneak in even an atom of awareness on my left hand, it screws up both hands.

Oy, gott.

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“What it takes” — Nicholas McCarthy

I’ve heard more than a few people — all of them amateur wannabes — make the following observations about the one-armed wonderboy of the UK, Nicholas McCarthy.

Now, full disclosure — I really like his work. Not only do I love the era from which most of his rep originates (late Romantic), but I think his inherent style suits that era very well. He’s in the fortunate position of not, for example, being a Baroque stylist by nature but fitting in the era he has little choice but to perform … well, (left) hand in glove.

In addition to fitting the aesthetic of the era well, he also fits the aesthetic of left-hand rep very well. Left-hand piano rep is almost always hugely difficult to perform, either because it was written for existing pianists who lost the use of their right arms or because it was written as show-off stuff for two-armed pianists who wanted to make everyone gasp over what they could accomplish with “one arm tied behind their backs.”

And I think he exudes an aura of aristocratic negligence that suits this sort of sentimental “I’m not even breathing hard” rep very well.

But whenever someone comes along in that sort of situation, there are always naysayers who crowd around.

“There isn’t enough left hand rep to perform as a concert pianist for all of one’s life.” Said by someone who thinks that Ravel’s Concerto is all there is, or who obviously feels that classical performance is limited to dead-guy music, with new commissioned works and performer arrangements considered less valid.

“He’s very good but he’s just got a career because he only has one arm.” (Ah, the pity card.) No, he’s got a career because he’s a stubborn bastard who works his ass off and was capable of sitting in an 80,000-seat stadium and performing for a worldwide television audience without crapping himself — and when he was only in his early 20s. That all matters a thousand times more than pretty much anything else.

He’s an excellent musician, has a ton of rep to perform, has great visibility to commission new works, and clearly has a head like a rock and the stomach for travel and performance venues that would send anyone else into fear-based fits.

He’ll be fine. I look forward very much to what he’ll do next. No more of this presenting others at the BBC Proms; I want to see and hear him onstage next time.

Letting the left hand sort itself out

… is what I kind of determined last night. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to manage a big leap apart in both hands on a strong chord that will stand out like a fart in a confessional if I get it wrong. The end determination was that I need to focus more on the right hand chord and let the left hand sort itself out since that’s only hitting a fairly simple octave.

It’s very hard not to focus on my left hand. Especially in this part of this piece, that’s where all the fun stuff is happening. It feels unnatural to me to “see” my right hand instead.

But if I do this slowly and deliberately, it does get better and more accurate, so I’m pleased with that. It’s just going to take some work to burn it in.

Left-hand piano festival

Leftitude — This. Looks. AWESOME. Wish I could go. 😦

It’s getting me thinking about left-hand-only piano work. I’ve already said that my stuff is probably recognizable as written by a left-handed musician. Nothing at all that I’ve written would be challenging for a conservatory-trained pianist at all, but there are parts of it where the melody ping-pongs between the hands, and where the bulk of expression is in the left hand, even parts (simple ones) where the left hand is the only one playing. Again, none of it would be considered hard by any well-trained pianist, but a left-handed one might at least feel some of my pieces to be a bit more comfy than others.

I might just give this a shot — left-hand only. Will be fun to see what happens.

And how lovely that there are no right-handed pianists freaking out and ranting at them to stop! “The Piano is a Right-Handed Instrument! The melody belongs in the right hand! It’s actually easier for left-handers to play the melody in the right hand! Stop that at once!” (It reads better if you imagine a violinist pursing their lips like a chicken’s butt while saying this.)

Ryan Thomson — a.k.a Captain Fiddle

4stringjoe on YouTube

You’ll find videos here of him playing on both sides; a natural right-hander, he came down with focal dystonia and could only manage by re-teaching himself to bow with his left hand. As a result of his experiences, he became a strong advocate for people bowing with their natural dominant hand, saying that after many years of playing left-handed, he was still nowhere near as good as he was as a righty. The videos showing him bowing right-handed are, of course, much older than the current lefty ones.

Left-handed string playing continues to bring me joy and make me smile just watching it. 🙂 As a lefty, you sort of get resigned to seeing everything done bass-ackwards from how you’d like it because let’s face it, we have no choice. So seeing more left-handed bowing — and by a right-handed ally — means a lot to me. He’s a wonderful guy as well, and any left-hander who is interested in learning a string instrument and bowing with the proper hand for us is encouraged to check him out.

Clicking on “left hand” in my tag cloud will also take you to some of my various posts on the topic of left-handed music making as well.

Organ annoyances

Okay. I tend to ignore the parts of my body that are not my brain, hands, or mouth. I love languages, I love thinking, and I love making stuff. The rest of me I regard as necessary peripheral crap to cart the brain, hands, and mouth around, and keep them going. Organs don’t work so well that way — you need a broader awareness of your physical self to play this thing. Either I will settle out as one of many amateur organists who aren’t very good, or my awareness of my physical self will gradually expand.

I can see why Cameron Carpenter states that dancers make good organists and why he chugs down a gallon of whole milk a day to keep from becoming underweight. Playing just these simple little pedal studies (I’m talking simple here) reminded me of the very few times in my life when I’ve been on the back of a horse and had to use muscles that I didn’t realize I had. I can easily see why a good organist at that level would need 5k Calories a day to keep from going gaunt.

I’m also becoming irritated at the placement of the Great and Swell stops. I like using my right hand on the Great and my left on the Swell, and if this were a touch-screen VPO, I could probably reverse the stop banks and get this. Instead, I’m stuck adjusting to yet one more device built the total opposite of the way I want it built. Yes yes yes, it’s a right-handed world. No kidding. After 46 years, it’s beginning to grate.

Getting out of the Beltway

I’d love to be part of this conversation, but his goddamned comments are broken. Again.

So I’ll just opine here, and maybe he’ll get a pingback. I imagine what I have to say would make him rip his hair out anyway.

Part of his statement here is that, given that he is — to his own ears — redolent of his idols anyway, he experienced a significant amount of why-bother angst. He has settled some of this, if the post is any indication, but I think there’s something else at work here that reminds me of the phenomenon of Beltway Thinking.

That tendency to imagine that the rest of the world is locked in the bit of it that you inhabit, where everyone is soaked in the minutiae of whatever your passion is.

They aren’t.

When he says — paraphrased, “Why should I bother? I sound just like Famous Bassist X anyway,” I want to yell back:

“I’m not a bassist! I don’t even know who that other chucklehead is! When I hear a fretless bass, I think ‘hey, that’s like Jeff Schmidt!'”

It’s not just a matter of feeling free to be inspired by someone else. It’s also recognizing that just because you eat, sleep, and breathe your own inspirations doesn’t mean the rest of the world even knows who the hell those people are. (Although I must say that I was thrilled by his mention of my own personal font of inspiration, Gabriela Montero.)

As a pianist, I have no idea who this Jaco dude even is. Schmidt might scream like a little girl if he heard me say that, but it’s true. Meanwhile, I’m fearful of sounding too like the composer Mikhail Glinka, who lots of other people wouldn’t recognize but who is a major inspiration of mine. (George Winston, too — but most people do know who he is.)

At any rate, I found Schmidt’s music by going to YouTube, searching on “Bach prelude,” and clicking through the many and varied instruments on which the famous cello prelude was played. One was a fretless bass, which had a soft, cottony sound that entranced me. That caused me to search on “fretless bass,” and I clicked on Schmidt’s videos for one reason only: he’s left-handed, and I’d just come off of having been hung up on by some idiot chippie who advertised viola lessons because I told her I would play mirrored and she practically peed herself in fear over the phone.

And the first thing I clicked on was his jaw-dropping “Apotheosis.” I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve sent that link to. It still strikes me as one of the great genius-level pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I really could not believe what I was hearing the first time I listened to it.

Michael Manring? Other than the fact that Schmidt plainly idolizes him and in fact dedicated the piece to him (I believe, anyway), I’ve never heard of him. I’ve never heard him, either. Nor whoever this Jaco person is. Like I said, it might make him cringe to hear me go, “Whoozat?” in response to a comment about someone he thinks walks on water, but there you go.

I’m outside the Bass Beltway. Bass weenies are not the only person Schmidt appeals to, but he still seems to feel that the majority of his appeal lies there. There’s a distinct possibility that music weenies in general are his home habitat, but that’s a much bigger space than just bass weenies. I’m not sure he realizes that some classically trained pianist who listens to Journey and Styx, arranges operatic arias meant for guys with no balls for piano, and who has never touched a bass could possibly be enamored of his music, or could even have found it.

I mean, the path by which I found his stuff was random and completely unrelated to the geeked-out details of bass guitars. I simply liked the sound, searched on it, and clicked on his video for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with bass guitars.

I still haven’t searched on Michael Manring, mind you. Again, while I am a music weenie, I’m not a bass weenie.

But I’m still a Jeff Schmidt fan.

And that’s what happens with inspiration. These other people’s inspirations have gone into the past, and they are here in the present. Schmidt found inspiration from them, someone will find it from him, and so on. There’s no single root inspiration from whom we all spring — it’s just a constant wave that absorbs people as it move forward, and then lets them go when it’s finished, and it heads in all directions, and everyone sees it from a different vantage point.

Anyway. I wish his goddamned comments would get straightened out. I got thinky on something else he said a while back, too. That’ll be a post for tomorrow, maybe.