Updates of All Kinds!

Hello and welcome back!

If you’ve been watching this site, you’ve undoubtedly been bored, as nothing has happened here since January.

But now things have kicked off! I’ve done a fair amount of revision over the last few days, and there is more to come. It will take me a while to get everything cleaned up and consistent, but it’s something.

In addition to site updates, here’s an unfairly brief summary of my life recently.

Big Changes

In March, I found out that I had been accepted to Shenandoah Conservatory, to study conducting there. This program has been highly recommended by several people who I respect, and I jumped at the chance to be involved.

I accepted the offer and resigned my job at Magnolia West High School. I finished out the end of the year (earning a UIL Sweepstakes trophy in the process!) and moved to Winchester, Virginia. I’m renting a house with several other grad students, and I’m sitting on the couch as I type this.

I’ve spent the time since my move working with Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, the summer stock program run by the conservatory. In addition to showing me around the school, I’ve had a chance to interact with faculty and staff who I will be working with during the year. Needless to say I’ve spent plenty of time at the piano and in the library.

I was awarded a partial assistantship, which was recently converted to a full assistantship, which will cover many of my expenses in exchange for my work. I’m excited to see what that will lead to!

Other Events

At the same time, I also left my job at Advent Lutheran Church, where I’d been playing since December of 2018. I am incredibly thankful and blessed to have worked with Pastor Kim and with Scott MacAdow there, and I learned a lot. I also finished my studies with Dr. Dave Englert, and earned my Service Playing Certificate from the American Guild of Organists.

Before I moved, I had a chance to go one last time to UIL State Solo & Ensemble. I accompanied about 20 students, including covering for two students who I had never worked with but found themselves in need.

The move went smoothly and I enjoyed seeing many parts of the country. You can check out my Instagram feed for pictures of the travel.

Looking Forward

My time with SSMT has nearly ended. I’m still playing for some occasional rehearsals while David, the main rehearsal pianist, is busy with shows. But it allows me many free days and not much to do.

So with the remaining summer, I’m making a point of sightseeing and preparing myself for the fall. I’m playing plenty of piano and reading a lot. I hope to visit friends in Washington, D.C., and possibly even in New York City before the summer ends.

And of course I’ll be updating and filling this site in as well. No excuses, since I have plenty of free time.

100 Days of Practice: Day 1 Comments

So, I’ve decided to get on the #100daysofpractice bandwagon.

I have plenty to work on, especially as I’m now a resident organist at a church, plus preparation for grad school auditions (more on this during my “Year in Review” post on Monday).

But there’s a rather unique twist to mine: I’m a multi-instrumentalist, and at least one of my instruments is not easily available for me. I have only limited access to the organ, so I can’t practice it every day.

My understanding of the challenge is that I should be putting in daily, consistent work. So I’m broadening my definition of practice to keyboard skills in general. So I will make a point of describing what I’m doing each day, but be prepared for a lot of pictures of one of my organs, or of the many and various keyboards and pianos I have access to at school.

I won’t post to this site every day, but I’ll be posting to instagram, so follow me there if you want to see all the details.

See you on Monday for a year in review!

Bach, Beethoven, Chopin

Next week is a big one for me! During my Thanksgiving break from school, I will be making an audition video.

I’ve never done this before. In preparation for my undergraduate audition, I prepared an audio recording for two schools, neither of which invited me to audition. But I’ve never done a video, and I have never auditioned on piano.

How did I get to this point?

Over the last year, I have been preparing to apply for my masters degree. My few years of teaching have been amazing, but I discovered a passion for musical theater, and for musical life outside the school, too. I decided that I wanted to try my hand at music directing at a professional level.

Since I’ve always loved being a student, the idea to apply for a masters degree seemed obvious. I visited schools, talked with professors, and have a short list of schools I’m applying to this winter. All of them require videos of leading rehearsals and performances, and all require some degree of piano competency.

This last part worried me the most. I enjoy playing piano, and especially accompanying, but I’ve always been a kind of “journeyman” pianist: competent but not particularly stellar. But I needed to build my classical piano skills, so I enrolled in piano lessons for the first time since 2011.

Working with my teacher was an intense experience. Sometimes it was exciting, sometimes I left lessons in tears feeling inadequate. But the results speak for themselves. These days, I feel more confident than ever at the piano, and I’ve noticed some serious increases in my manual dexterity and ability to be expressive at the keyboard.

This audition video is meant to represent my ability to play as a kind of concert pianist. They are looking for three things, essentially: technical skill, expressiveness, and memorization. The program should represent a variety of piano styles, so my teacher advised me to choose works by Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin.

My first selection, chronologically, is the Prelude and Fugue in C Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 847, for the curious). It’s the first one that I memorized, and it’s been a lot of fun to practice. I’ve never played a fugue on the piano before, though I did play one on the organ.

The prelude is surprisingly challenging. The hand shifts on the page are not complicated, but the harmonic progression is not very obvious. It’s loaded with seventh chords and chromatic progressions. The whole thing is a virtuoso showpiece, including an incredible progression of sequences toward the end that is a minefield.

The fugue is such fun to play. Although it’s a minor key, it’s somehow sprightly and witty. As with all fugues, it’s filled with sequences and scale passages, but it’s fun and exciting to play. It can be rendered with extreme delicacy, or aggressively, and it works either way. I have a tendency toward the delicate side, which has caused my teacher some annoyance. On a heavier touch piano, the delicate notes don’t sound if I’m too light.

The next piece on my program is two movements of Beethoven’s Sonata in F Minor (Op. 2, No. 1). The first movement is actually a kind of revival for me. I played it my senior year of high school, along with the third. Both of these were part of my senior recital back in 2010, and I’m sure my mom has a recording somewhere.

The first movement has been surprisingly challenging to revisit. Because of my new teacher, my mechanical approach to the keyboard has changed, and I had to almost begin all over again. I knew how it should sound, but the act of making the sound was completely new. There’s some nearly choral writing in spots, but there are other sections that could only be performed on the piano.

The final movement is both the most technically challenging and most interesting movement I’m preparing. It’s noticeably more complicated than any of the other movements, mostly by virtue of the perpetual motion triplets in the left hand. The middle portion is challenging because it is so completely different from the outer sections. It’s got longer note values, and a completely different harmonic motion. I tend to rush this portion. But it’s also got some incredibly orchestral writing. Specifically, I can point two three distinct motives and tell you what instruments they have (strings or flute/clarinet, trombones, and horns). The faster outer sections are purely virtuoso pianism.

The final work I’m preparing is a nocturne by Frederic Chopin. My teacher suggested Op. 72, No. 1 in E minor. According to Wikipedia, this was the first nocturne Chopin wrote, but it was only published after his death.

The challenge of this piece comes from the interlocking polyrhythms in the two hands. The overriding motive is triplets in the left hand vs. regular eighth notes in the right. In the second half, this is expanded to trills and ornaments as complicated as 11:3 in one measure.

The mechanical challenge for me with this piece was to get comfortable with large stretches in the left hand. My teacher showed me how to stay close to the keys and use the flexibility of my hand to help connect places when it’s too messy to do with the pedal. It’s really fascinating, and I have noticed my hands are significantly more flexible than when I began this.

Well, this is a lengthy post, but I hope it gives a good idea of what I’m working on. These pieces have been really fascinating, and I hope to be able to take this new knowledge on to other pieces. It’s been delightful to play and I hope the recordings next week go well.

Busy Few Days

Thanks to my faithful reader for reminding me that I’ve been lax in posting on here. It’s been a busy few days and I’m still recovering. I’m not sure I can coherently reflect on what’s going on in my life. I feel like I’m still running ahead of things, and I will finally have some recovery time this week and weekend.

In the meantime, here’s what’s going on:

  • Last weekend I saw “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” at Fourth Wall Theatre Company. There was a lot to reflect on, and I hope to do so more at length soon. My main impressions: an incredibly compelling show and an excellent cast and production. I highly recommend it.

  • My students performed a concert last night, which was well-received. I’m glad to have a first performance behind us, and a second one coming soon. We sing at the football game next weekend, and then we have been invited to Men’s Choir Festival at Sam Houston State University in a few weeks.

  • I’m preparing for a trip to visit one of my options for graduate school. That will be next weekend, after the football game performance.

  • Teaching is going well. My students are progressing as expected, and even ahead of my schedule.

  • I’m continuing to practice piano and prepare for my graduate auditions. I’m also assisting a friend with his college voice lessons. I’m generally trying to do more

I thought I would get less busy when my last show ended! But between this and a social life, I feel barely able to stay on top of things. I already feel sleepy.

Seriously, though, I intend to get back to writing somewhat regularly around here very soon.