Tag Archives: zentao music

Update on Me & My New Digital Grand Piano.

It’s happening. Finally, something’s kicked open that rusted, locked door in my brain, releasing the sleeping skills therein stored so long ago. After weeks of scales, arpeggios, and interval training, after struggling to play well-known favorites and failing to be able to sightread even some of what I consider to be rudimentary pieces — Hayden, Mozart, Bach 2-Part Inventions — finally, FINALLY my fingers are finding and playing advanced level music without me having to glance at them and adjust my position. I’m reading, my hands moving where they should, as they should. Of course, what is listed as ‘advanced’ on the music books isn’t really. It’s about on a par with what I was playing at thirteen and fourteen — polyphonic and polyrhythmic — but my eyes are reading the music, my brain instantly translating what is read relatively accurately to my hands. Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor is now within reach again, as are pieces by Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt….

Living in the Past Performance Video Released …Finally.

I actually started this a LONG time ago, but…. Heck! You know. Life, and all that. Mom deciding to up and head off the planet didn’t help matters. Well, by the time I got back around to this, the file had somehow corrupted, the visuals squeegeeing faster and slower than they were supposed to in chaotic, no formulaic, and, therefore, not easily fixable ways. Wound up having to start all over, something I’m never good at. I rarely procrastinate. Ever. But, when it comes to re-making something already done, then, yeah, I postpone, avoid, defer. But, a promise is a promise, so I beat myself over the head until I sat down and spent the two weeks necessary to redo the editing and splicing. So, here you have it. Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past, performed by zentao Music, namely me and Forrest. As ever, this arrangement is Forrest’s, who somehow manages to capture the essence of any piece he sets his hand to.

If you want to read about the flute playing in this piece, I talk about it here, in “Playing Tull’s Living in the Past“. That’s how I do it, but (…and here’s the biggy) it’s because I can’t get that airy sound that comes easy to Ian Anderson and to beginner flutists. I’ve tired every which way to try to make myself sound airy, but, to no avail. I guess I spent too many hours working very hard not to sound airy. I suppose I could sabotage my flute’s pads, but I won’t. 😀

[arve url=”https://youtu.be/WL0Ui8u0Eco” /]

In for a Digital Grand

So, for the last three months, I’ve been eyeing my pianos — my acoustic pianos — thinking, I really ought to get back to playing regularly …get back to serious practice. After all, I’m not writing novels or books, right now (though that itch has been making itself known, too). I’ve successfully resisted the idea, though. It would mean getting a piano tuner/piano repair person in to go through both instruments — expensive (VERY).

Yesterday, along comes my husband (via cell phone conversation), who asks: “What would you think about playing piano, again? …As part of zentao, the music. I mean actually performing.”

I gulp, thinking about all the work and expense that means, me getting my chops back along with potentially having to restring and refelt one or both of my pianos. I mean, they’re both antiques, now, the upright grand built in 1917, the spinet in the 60s. And they’ve been moved and moved and stored and moved, again.

Then Forrest starts talking his musical Geek Speak — MIDI triggering, patching into the sound system, and a bunch of other jargon that I don’t understand.

Ummmm….

He talks on, speaking dreams and wishes, visions and hopes. I listen, my brain reeling as it starts connecting dots here and dots there. He’s not talking acoustic piano. He’s talking digital. Wow.

As he elaborates, I’m getting more concerned, more wary, and, simultaneously, more relaxed to the idea. I have the training and skill, though, as mentioned above, I’m very out-of-practice. And I can hear his excitement at the potentials he envisions, the first tune he wants to do being a Michael Hedges piece. He’ll arrange it tonight for me to play.

Now, we own three electronic keyboards. But we don’t (…or didn’t) own a digital piano, which is a completely different instrument.

He’s set on a VERY expensive keyboard he’s read the specs on. Meanwhile, I’m frantically doing a search for digital pianos. The keyboard he’s talking about is or can be a digital piano. It has the weighted keys. But it is not a digital grand. It’s a professional keyboard, designed for triggering stuff I don’t understand. A digital grand piano, on the other hand, is, in fact, a fully sampled grand piano.

As he talks to me throughout the day, I feel the inevitability. This is going to happen. It’s only a matter of ‘when’, and, since we’re both ‘now’ people, I realize that, yep, I’d better find what I want, and it has to be something we’ll both be happy with.

Yamaha makes the very best digital grand pianos. I hit Yamaha USA. I study the specs. I also go check out the unit he wants, and, no, it’s NOT a digital grand piano, which is what I want. Back to the digital grands. I read through the specs, the features. I look at the reviews of the one that first caught my eye. I check out the one I tried over in Spokane in July, a unit sitting on the main floor at Hoffman’s Music. I liked that unit. A lot. And it wasn’t over-the-top expensive. My eye travels back to the top-of-the-line model. Sigh. It’s got the top-of-the-line sampling, the GHS keyboard, and the damper resonance enhancements, which makes it act, play, and sound like a top quality acoustic grand.

Without telling him of my decision, I order one, and I order the three pedal add-on, because I play Rachmaninoff, not just Bach and Chopin. I need all three pedals, thanks. Would feel lame without them. Deal done, I text him about it. He’s good about it. In fact, this morning, he’s excited — more excited than me.

Me? I’m okay with the idea. I’m resolved to the fact that, yes, once again I’m going to be working very hard to get myself up to speed …up to the performance level he needs for what he envisions. Luckily, the piano is an easier instrument to play than the flute. (Yes, really.) I’m in for a grand — a digital grand. It’s coming in Friday.

My Morning Funny

Dawn's Azumi flute

So, husband texts, asking which pieces I’d like to rehearse when he gets home. I give him a rather extensive list of well over a dozen difficult pieces. An hour-and-a-half later, when I’m working through number four on the list, he texts to tell me that he’s hit all of them, so we’re good to go, and he’s heading out …which means he’s starting his assigned heavy-haul KW semi- and heading toward customs to get back into the U.S.

I sit there staring at that text, thinking, ‘You hit that entire list? In an hour-and-a-half? Wow!’ Then comes my sigh of frustration.

Music is so totally in his hand, and so is his instrument. What I have to work weeks at, he manages in a few minutes, or, at most, a few run-throughs during his practice sessions.

Laughter strikes me. It’s only fitting, I think, that me, who spent decades in formal study, grilled and drilled, has to work very hard to come up to speed, while he, who had no formal education in music or his instrument, can toss off really, really intricate, difficult riffs like it’s nothing and hit them every time.

I used to be that good, but with a qualifier: only after years and years of determined practice and only by continuing daily practice, practicing every day, at least four hours a day, could I be that adept and agile, my sight-reading top-notch, my ability to toss off brand new pieces superb, and my repertoire flawless — four hours of practice a day. And that, my friends, is the difference between a virtuoso musician (him) and somebody who’s just talented.

Azumi flute

When the POG2 and the Digitech Throw Tantrums

DigitechRP1000, POG2, and Dawn, Strip

Like I mentioned previously, there’s a lag between playing a note and it sounding through the PA. It’s not much. It’s usually not that noticeable …unless I’m playing under heavy distortion or using the stomp loop to bring up the POG2’s multiple voicing to go along with some of the Digitech RP1000’s distortion or flanger or …whatever makes the sound ‘happen’. Then, it can be noticeable milliseconds of lag, requiring me to really lead the beat. Occasionally, though, the units actually throw tantrums.

I was practicing some difficult foot switching between patches on a piece where I’m playing some fast, upper register lines. As I switch between patches, I’m hearing wobbles the moment I bring the parts up to speed …which, admittedly, really gallop along. I slow the tempo down, and the wobbling disappears. Bring the tempo back up, and there are the wobbles, again.

I’m one of those people who looks, first, to themselves as creating or causing the problem. A check with effects off, though, showed that, I was playing the part accurately. Bringing the effects units back online, I tried again, only to find that, sure enough, at speed, the wobbles happened. Now, I knew that neither the Digitech nor the POG2 like the flute’s third register’s upper high notes played at speed, but this particular glitch hadn’t ever exposed itself to my hearing before …maybe because, stressed out about just getting the switches hit when I should, I wasn’t listening — all too possible. Now I was listening, though.

Trying the line without the POG2 didn’t improve things. Trying the line with only the POG2 on and bypassing the Digitech, also didn’t make things go smoother.  I began trying various other patches on the Digitech with the POG2 off. Okay. That worked. I tried other voicing on the POG2.  Okay, too.  It was both the Digitech’s patch and the voicing being asked of the POG2 that were throwing problems, and isolating one, the other, or having them both working together didn’t make any difference. They did not, either of them, like that line played at speed and were vehemently voicing their objections through the PA.

It made me laugh out loud to hear the machines in their grumbles. They were both having a devil’s time hitting the pitches that swiftly. Slow it down just a tad, and everything stabilized. Turn it up to burn speed, though, and both of them threw fits.

The funny things you have to deal with playing power-driven flute!

Digitech RP1000, the POG2 and Dawn

The Upbeat Man and the Downbeat Woman

(link to lossless flac file is below)

My husband is a rock musician. Through and through. Ask him to play anything ‘rock’, blues, even jazz, and he’s all over it. Ask him to play something more folk or classical, and he begins to suffer. He’s an upbeat man. I’m a downbeat woman. I look for the beat. He looks for the ‘and’ between the beats. Trouble brews. Always.

Most of what we play …because that’s what he arranges …is classic rock — stuff written to emphasize the upbeat. And, of course, I play it like the downbeat woman I am …which makes for lively sessions with husband waving his hands in the air, singing out the upbeats. (I’d love to catch him on video doing that, but, well, that’s not going to fly. He’d be giving me his Beethoven impersonation. You know, stormy eyebrows?!)

Anyway, we did manage to get In Memory of Elizabeth Reed laid down, so, here, in all its upbeat glory, despite the downbeat woman on flute, is the audio of the culmination of today’s efforts.

For those who have the capability to play flac files, which are better sounding than .mp3s because they’re lossless, here’s that file:

For those only capable of handling .mp3s, here’s that one:

Yes, We Might, But I’ve Got Red Light Fright

recording music and red light fright

I just finished a new page devoted to music here on the site, and, sharing it around, the question of whether we, that is, Forrest and I, are going to release an album came up. The answer is ‘yes’. Certainly, in time, we’ll be putting out one and several albums. And Forrest mentioned maybe doing a Christmas album this year. This would come after we get the rest of fifty-some songs and their videos on our release schedule out for free listening. For an album, though, I have to get over having my diaphragm seize up as soon as the red light comes on, because, right now, when that little red glow indicates to me that we’re live recording, suddenly my whole body becomes rigid, my fingers start to quake, and I can’t draw breath.

Flute playing requires the ability to breathe deeply, and breathing deeply requires a relaxed, engageable, working diaphragm, never mind that vibrato is impossible when the thing (the diaphragm) that runs the bellows (lungs) is in lock-down. Vibrato comes from control of that sheaf of muscles, and, when it’s seized up, well, it just doesn’t work. At all. So, getting over Red Light Fright is one of my major hurdles.

Red Light Fright is a lot like stage fright, in some ways, and I used to have really bad stage fright — so bad, in fact, that I’d pass out cold, toppling face down. The first time it happened, during a music jury, I damaged flute and my face, both. Henceforth, at music juries, they always had somebody standing next to me to catch my flute and me as I toppled stiffly, felled-tree-like, face-first toward the floor. (For those unfamiliar, ‘juries’ are when you perform, standing before your teachers and other conservatory staff whose job it is to judge you, your performance, and your progress since the last jury. For me, they happened every six weeks throughout the year.)

Over time, because of repeatedly being forced to perform on stage in front of audiences at recitals, juries, and in concert, I got over my stage fright. I remember the night it happened, when, suddenly, finally, I looked out over the sea of upturned faces all waiting for me to play Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #3 arranged for solo flute and orchestra, that I was unafraid, not tense, not frightened, but, rather, supercharged …exhilarated, even happy and excited to be there. And, when I began to play, it was like I was drawing power from that audience. This was such an unusual experience that that night is vividly branded in my memory. It was my first time ever as a soloist that I actually enjoyed playing the flute when somebody else was listening. (Orchestra performance was always a joy. I never suffered stage-fright when deeply embedded in the middle of an orchestra. Only when having to play as a soloist.)

How bad was my stage fright? Well, usually when stepping on stage to perform, I’d be quaking. I’d be blind to anything and everything, my soul, my spirit, and my brain crushed down deep inside this dark, internal cave, just overwrought. All feeling in my hands and body left. My legs would be lead. I would be inside a dark tunnel, barely able to see.  It’s why I always knew my pieces so well that I could play them even in that state …because I was always in that state whenever I had to perform, or even practice, around anyone, even just Mom, Dad, or a teacher, never mind some one or many strangers where the focus was on me. So, I always knew my repertoire so well that, no matter what happened …provided I was able to stay upright, on my feet (You play standing when performing as flute soloist.), I could play the piece flawlessly …on auto-pilot.

That night, though, for the first time in my life, I came out of my shell. I actually PLAYED, interacting with the audience, enjoying their reactions, their expressions, their attention, their empathy with me and mine with them.  Suddenly, the audience became my friend.  They were gifting to me their attention in exchange for me gifting to them the glorious sound of wonderfully composed music.  Our participation in the event of that music being released to the universe at that moment in space and time was a mutual expression of and participation in utter joy — a celebration of sound.

It was a huge breakthrough, and one I’ve never, ever forgotten. And, from that night on, I’ve never again felt embarrassed or shy of performing live in front of an audience, not even if and when mistakes happen.  Mistakes on stage don’t bother me anymore.

But the red light? Wow.

Red Light Fright — now that’s a whole different experience. It’s a fear of making a mistake and ruining the take. It’s the devastation of letting down the other player(s) who did get all his/her/their parts right. No matter how well I’m playing prior to that, no matter how relaxed I am, as soon as that little red light comes on, the terror rises, the freeze-down and shaking starts, and the stress level goes through the roof.  It weighs as soon as, and only upon, that little red light coming on. And getting Red Light Fright practically ensures that I am going to flub something. Guaranteed.

So, I’m working on getting over Red Light Fright by constantly doing it, by recording myself repeatedly, staring at that light as I record, that light that makes my body tense, my breath get short, my fingers quiver. This, like stage fright, will vanish. Somehow, someway. With time and effort and persistence. Call me resolute!

XLR cable