A Composer At His Best

18 09 2013

Elton John at PianoI’ve always enjoyed the A&E program, “Inside the Actors Studio.”  The main draw for me is this, namely, that the show and its skilled host, James Lipton, focus on questions of substance dealing with craft.  None of the paparazzi-kinds of questions one would expect from TMZ or other news outlets dedicated to the inane and superficial.

Though focused on acting, actors, and actresses, and filmed in the presence of students from the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at New York’s Pace University, from time to time, Lipton hosts musicians.

A while back, I happened upon an interview with Sir Elton John, Lipton’s guest for this particular show.  I’ve been an Elton John fan since about 1975 when my parents bought me my first record album, “Elton John’s Greatest Hits.”  I was fascinated and eager to hear what he had to say.

I learned a few things about the habits of Elton John and his approach to musical composition.  Those of you familiar with Elton know that he writes music and has spent a good deal of the last forty-six years working with friend and lyricist, Bernie Taupin.  Bernie writes lyrics in sixty minutes.  Elton writes songs in thirty minutes, as a rule.  If the song does not come in forty-five minutes, he shelves it for a later time.

When I viewed the clip below, I was simply blown sky-high.  In it, Elton John shows how he can put any text to music.  It is stunning.  Enjoy.

A true craftsman.

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Bach, Mastery, Musicianship, and Practice

4 08 2013

375px-Pablocasals

“For the past 80 years I have started each day in the same manner…  I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach.  I cannot think of doing otherwise.  It is a sort of benediction on the house.  But that is not its only meaning for me.  It is rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part.  It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being.” (Pablo Casals, cellist)

I started reading a fascinating book nearly three years ago.  I’m resuming the reading today.  Practicing:  A Musician’s Return to Music by Glenn Kurtz, is the story of an aspiring classical guitarist who pursued a career with the instrument and then gave it up, largely through discouragement that he’d not be the next Julian Bream or Andrés Segovia.

The book, eloquently written, chronicles his reunion with the guitar.  This involved starting almost from scratch, though certain things come back with the same reliability of getting on a bicycle.  Some stuff never goes away.

I’ve been challenged to make room once again for my own pursuit of classical guitar as well as learning more on piano and taking up the violin once again.  In the mid 1980’s, I studied classical guitar privately as well as in college.  It gave me technical and theoretical skills that have held me in good stead to this day in other, less challenging forms of music.  Learning to play études by Fernando Sor and pieces by Bach and I. Albeniz makes playing “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas) and “Fire and Rain” (James Taylor) easy by comparison.

I miss the challenge, to be honest.

How about you?  Have you set aside a pursuit years ago that has left an ache inside you, something unfulfilled?  Perhaps it was a mastering musical instrument or learning another language.  Maybe you are in your middle years and want to complete your degree.  It’s never too late to keep learning and add variety, skill, and spice to your life.

Do it now.  You’re up to this and there is no better time.  You’ll not regret it.

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Baby Grand

1 08 2013

Baby GrandWe added a new “baby” to our family this afternoon.  A Howard by Baldwin baby grand piano, circa 1946.  Baby is doing well and the family is happy with the new addition.

My two daughters, my wife, and I all play piano.  So we were delighted to find this gem.  I’m reminded of the words of Irving Berlin:

 “I love a piano.
I love a piano.
I love to hear somebody play upon a piano,
A grand piano.
It simply carries me away.”

We look forward to lots of fun, creativity and new experiences with the joy that is music on this remarkable instrument.  Jazz, classical, pop standards, classics from the Great American Songbook, Broadway, ambient, gospel, and all sorts of other forms.  We love it all.

 “So you can keep your fiddle and your bow,
Give me a P-I-A-N-O oh, oh,
And let’s step right up to an upright,
Or a fine-toned baby grand.”

Ah….