I posted a video! First time in public in quite awhile.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
Yesterday was the final day of the run of [Title of Show] at Iconotheatrix. It was a tremendous experience to be onstage with the very talented student cast.
I don’t really have a lot to say, because I would just end up repeating myself over and over and over, but honestly, this was the most fun I’ve had in quite awhile. For those who are unfamiliar, the pianist in [Title of Show] is an integral part of the cast. All of the characters are based on the creative team who developed the show, and the pianist is based on Larry Pressgrove, who helped as music director and orchestrator in the original productions of the show.
As a result, I not only played the piano, but interacted with the actors on several occasions, even delivering a few lines (which I haven’t done in years). I was in the full view of the audience, which meant that I had to be invested in the show the whole time.
But what that meant was that I got to watch this show every time. And this show was cast in a particularly interesting way. All but one role was double cast, but they didn’t alternate in a group. Instead, the collection of performers was slightly different in each performance. On top of it, the actors were encouraged to really interact in an organic way. They had to listen to each other, and really play together.
As a result, the show was significantly different at each performance. While this is not the ideal for every theatrical show, it is definitely unique. The audience genuinely enjoyed each performance, though sometimes it was because of the actors and other times it was the script. Regardless, it felt novel and exciting and a constant delight to be involved.
I want to thank the Iconotheatrix team for bringing me on board and the cast for welcoming me and for working so hard to pull of this rather challenging show.
The other fun thing about [Title of Show] is that it contains a really deep dive into musical theatre nerd territory. Given its meta-realism, there is a song about winning a Tony Award (that’s dismissed as obvious pandering), and the legendary Sutton Foster is name-checked.
But the song “Monkeys and Playbills” is literally constructed from a list of flop Broadway shows. I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about shows. In fact, I have a list of somewhere upward of 800 titles that I’m trying to listen through. But nearly every title on mentioned was new to me.
The show is aware of its own rather nearsighted perspective on Broadway, but it’s built into the show. And it’s clear from the writing that it comes from a place of love. I was worried that my guests who were less theatre insiders would be turned off, but everyone I spoke to enjoyed the show. It definitely repays deeper study and rewatching.
The last thing I want to mention regarding this show is how close it hits home. As the director said to the cast before every performance: “This is our story.” Despite its specificity, it’s really the story of every artist trying to be original and stand out and make a living.
A musician friend of mine who came to see the show told me afterward that he felt incredibly inspired after seeing it. It makes you want to walk out and try your hand at something ambitious that might be a glorious failure.
Before I began playing this show, my favorite songs were “Die, Vampire, Die” which is about standing up for your creative voice, and “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” which is about finding your audience and letting them spread the word, rather than try for broad appeal.
But there are two other powerful songs that stand out to me now. The first is “Part of it All” which is the two main characters sharing their dreams of success. Everything from seeing the external signifiers of success (“a view of our billboard floating high above Times Square”) to the validation of others (“Part of a night to stare at your/super awesome Sardi’s caric’ture”).
When I dream of what a future as a successful artist, this song really hits home. Of course I want to be artistically validated, working on projects that interest me and fulfill me. But the external validation is great to imagine too. To be recognized on the street (unlikely for someone who wants to have his back to the audience) or be known by reputation—these are attractive dreams.
The other song that really hits home is “A Way Back to Then.” This song, sung as a kind of montage underscore by Heidi, is a lovely feature for solo voice. Of course, it’s told from the perspective of a young girl, but it is essentially about the joy of rediscovering your love for your work.
Sometimes, in the midst of a long day of rehearsals, or a slow week of teaching, it feels like I’m riding on sheer momentum. That I’m doing this work just because it’s what I do. But I genuinely love my jobs. I get excited by all kinds of things, especially seeing my students grow, and getting to explore new topics and tasks at the keyboard or with my students or casts. This song reminds me of how exciting it can be when the art takes over.
I think it’s because of these songs that I’m coming off of this show with a lot of artistic momentum. The next few weeks are very busy for me, but I’m excited for what’s coming.
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.