Hiromi’s Place to be (easy version)

I practiced this intermittently over the weekend. Pleased with progress.
Day 1: played through slowly with hands together. Practiced the measures I got wrong (especially the parts with rhythms or fast notes). Tried to observe notations. Noticed spider hands on my last finger.
Day 2: Repeated the problem areas.  Reduced errors. Improved the rhythm areas. Tried to imbue more dynamics in the piece in parts. Felt that I achieved improvement in the rhythm and accuracy.

With my progress I went to try the Roland digital pianos at swee Lee again. This time I focused on Roland RP 401R with a bench and the LX 15,  comparing the way it feels when I play. What struck me was that my acoustic Kawai at home is in pretty bad shape. Keys stick, out of pitch and tune, the key mechanism feels off –  even stroking the piano softly I can’t avoid a loud brilliant sound. It feels a tad heavy but not in a way that I am reminded of it when I play. When I played on the RP 401R, I felt wow, my old piano sucks. The RP 401R is quite serviceable for a low to middling piano. I tried the LX 15 right after. The LX 15 seems to feel  extremely pliable and light at the standard touch. At the heavy touch setting the keys turn weird and bouncy. At the light setting, it felt too soft and I felt out of control. I enjoy the ability to express myself on the Roland. But I do wonder if Kawai Es7 is the better choice because of the heavier keys. I have a strong dislike of the sound and I felt the keys stodgy and stiffer than my lousy acoustic. I have never played on keys that heavy. I suppose the right choice for me is the Roland. I wonder why I revisit the choice so often. As if it was the piano that would make or break my interest.


On family life

I enjoyed the personal eulogies delivered by family of the former PM Lee Kuan Yew. It was interesting to subtract the politics from the old man. Of all the eulogies, Dr Lee Wei Ling’s was the most well written. She has a great voice. Nobody came close to expressing the intimacy in the family, or the heartfelt appreciation to the people who cared for her Dad. It was so distinct from her brothers and her nephews, whose version of family life felt as if he was there but not really there. (Of course, there was his job.)
In re reading their eulogies for their mom, I felt that the brothers’ eulogies were a better read than their sister’s. It felt like Dr Lee drifted away from her mom after childhood ended while Hsien Yang tried to pull their family closer.

I wonder if who was the favourite child. Were they hard to manage as kids being so clever all of them? Did they have favourite parent moments? To do activity X, ask Mama. To do activity Y, ask Papa. How do they resolve unfairness amongst themselves – is Hsien Loong the mediator? Is Hsien Yang the party organiser? I wonder how they felt when they found out about their parent’s secret marriage from a memoir. I think in normal households they would have talked amongst themselves. (“Why didn’t they say anything? An abortion? TSK!” etc). I’m not in their universe, it strikes me as unusual that as PM’s children they were “in every danger of being spoilt, indulged, and led astray”. Why would they be in more danger than other kids? I had thought that in the matter of being led astray, they would be well protected from it – having 24 hour supervision from school to home. I wonder if it could be the rationalisation for their deprived and perhaps overly strict childhood. If they had friends, I suppose they are carefully vetted to avoid trouble. Personal life must be hard for them.

They had rifts amongst them – Dr Lee said she left home once. What about Hsien Yang who tried to distance himself from his father by changing the spelling of his surname from Lee to Li? This act to separate feels as if to accentuate that he is not his father. A clean slate for his own family. At the dinner table, what do they talk about other than politics and school/work? As the single sister, Dr Lee took on more than her fair share of filial duties. Are all chinese families alike?

Piano pieces (revised)

I’m using this goal described here

1. Expect a high level of achievement with each piece. Near enough is good enough, but near enough means at tempo and with flow and with communicative intent, not a bald reading-through without any sense of what the music means. So performances need dynamics, articulation, voicing and balance, used of pedal and so forth! If this seems too big an ask you need to be looking at easier material, not at lowering your standards.

2. Start with a slew of material. Let’s stick with our hypothetical Grade 5 student. Week One of 2013, assign two Grade 5 standard pieces (meeting your student’s expectations) but also give a couple of pieces from Grade 1 or Preliminary or even P Plate Piano 3 standard, along with another at Grade 2 or 3 standard. You’ll be assigning another two pieces the next week (probably both at the Grade 1 end of the spectrum), and you need things to be moving right from the start.

3. Explain directly and clearly what your expectations are regarding each piece, particularly in regard to time frames. For a piece of music 4 or more grades below their current exam-standard, tell students they have one week to learn the piece, two weeks if there’s some catastrophe like a house fire. Make it understood that these pieces are not supposed to take a whole term to master, that the whole point is learn these easier pieces as quickly as possible and move on.

I dropped Hiromi’s Sicilian Blue the rolling melody didn’t appeal to me.
Hiromi Sicilian Blue (easy-med)

Gymnopédies 1
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 2
Hiromi Place to be (easy-med)

Gymnopédies 2
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 3
Hiromi Somewhere (easy)

Gymnopédies 3
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 4
Hiromi Pachelbel’s Canon

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 5
In The Still Of the Night

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 6
Forest Gump Theme (med)

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 7
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 8
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 9
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 10
You’d Be so nice to come home to
Let’s Do It

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 11
Night and Day

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 12
I’ve got you under my skin

Additional material?
Keith Jarett – Shenandoh

Picking pieces for piano

Picking pieces is a difficult task. I abandoned my piano studies as I moved toward Grade 8. I have lost my previous skills. I really like this article “How to Get Better at Piano” In particular I like that it says well, to play for others, I only need 3 days of practice for about 30-60 mins. I can target 7 days of half an hour of practice time, where I do some real practice and some days to goof off sight-reading with children songbooks. However, I notice that even before looking at piano scores, I’ve been putting forward unrealistic goals such as 23 pieces to complete for the year. Plus, all those initial pieces I’ve selected are above my current ability. Second, I want to enjoy my practice and to strip away my critical inner voice. I really love this advice here.

I made no progress in 25 years, until last year when I really decided to to something about it and analyze what was wrong.

1. I loved to play the piano but I hated practicing and found it terribly boring
2. I seemed not to be able to learn anything new. Which is strange as I am a good learner in many other aspects of life, and I UNDERSTAND music well, I have a good ear. But I just got angry and frustrated with myself and many times I quit practicing in anger and decided that listening to a CD is far less painful …

I learned how to resolve this from my dog. Yes, MY DOG. Because he is also a very good learner, but there are som strict rules to follow here, and if you break them you will not get any results.

First, the dog needs encouragement ALL THE TIME. If you start something new, praise him. Praise him for everything he does. Give him treats. Praise him even more. Your goal is not that the dog should do a full routine perfectly here. Your goal is to make him like the situation and feel confident.
Second, your ambitions AT THE MOMENT must be very, very low. You have your final goal, yes. But you must take this in small, small steps, so small that the dog almost certainly will succeed. You want him to sit? Give him a treat for looking at you. Give him a treat for every little movement he makes. He will try harder and harder to get his next treat, and he will see that action pays off. So he will eagerly try whatever he can come up with. Every movement in the right direction is a correct movement. First sign of an intention in the right direction is correct. Reward him. He will learn how to sit in a few minutes and he will have fun all the way. Next time it’s time for training, he will be there, wagging his tail, and being extremely concentrated.

Now, it’s easier to train yourself than it is to train a dog. All you have to do is giving yourself some mental credit every time you do something right, every time you make some kind of progress. Never mind how small, progress is progress. Don’t set up goals for your practicing sessions, just focus on your progress. IGNORE YOUR MISTAKES. They are just progress-to-come-later. And when you leave the piano, always make a short mental summary on what you just learned. Maybe your learned a new chord. Maybe you memorized yet half a bar. Everything counts. You will always find something. Maybe it did not sound as good as yesterday – well, forget about yesterday, did you make something better when you ended your session, compared to when you started?

I believe many people think you will make no progress if you lower your ambitions this much. I can tell you, from own experience, that this is not true. By changing my mindset and lower my ambitions I started to make progress like never before. I’m learning pieces that were far beyond my horizon just a year ago, and I LOVE TO PRACTICE. I leave the piano with positive feelings and so I long for going back. That is the whole key to it.

I’m going to try for 10 pieces of easy and medium difficulty. This means that the Gershwin song book will have to wait. I’m guessing (from  google images) that the Cole Porter song book is much easier.  

So far on my to learn list:

Gymnopédies 1 – 3 (easy)
Hiromi Place to be (easy-med)
Hiromi Sicilian Blue (easy-med)
Hiromi Somewhere (easy-med)
Mozart 11 variations (easy-med)
Forest Gump Theme (med)
Various songs from Cole Porter song book
– In The Still Of the Night
– You’d Be so nice to come home to
– Let’s Do It
– Night and Day
– I’ve got you under my skin

I really would like to learn jazz piano from Doug McKenzie’s youtube channel but I’m not sure that I can do it. To learn a piece by watching someone tap keys feels hard. I feel insecure without the transcriptions.

Frugal skincare?

My skin has been feeling very dry despite increasing the percentage of oil in my formulations. It’s now so oily, yet, it still feels dry. On top of that, there is a lot of separation. This is exactly what one of my aunts, who has very dry skin tells me about my formulation. The aloe and sea kelp bioferment gives a feeling of tightness to the skin. I have always been using the same formula to manage my skin. I suppose it is time to change. Bulkactives.com started to carry rather sophisticated bases. Everytime I get on the site, I want to buy a lot of hope – different kinds of hope. I usually try restrict myself to things that actually work, eg, Vit C , AHA, and so on. I don’t even buy those that are promising – green tea egcg, co-enzyme Q10, NAG, B3 and so on.  This time, I saw Ceramides and impulse bought it. I suppose where looks are concerned, I still can’t stop buying hope.

The DIY route that I took since 3 years ago, was mainly that it interests me to experiment and it is an extremely frugal way of having good skin. However, with my recent purchase of complicated skin cream bases, ceramides, I’m not sure I am still frugal. Frugality is a complicated. Is frugality finding a cheaper alternative or is it to pare down one’s needs the way minimalists do? If I can buy a high quality product a a much reduced price, certainly it sounds frugal. However, if it is buying a more advanced version of hope, is it still frugal?

Digital Piano

I have trouble setting and sticking to a budget for piano purchase. I had initially thought of spending less than SGD 1000 on one, until I played on those in that range. It felt toy like. I had to increase my budget so that the keys won’t feel toy like. Increased my budget to about four times until I read some advice online.

Does the piano you purchased feel like and sound like a piano to you?
Does it make you happy when you play it and hear it?
Will it reproduce the kind of music you like when you play the piano?

I manage to short list a few pianos and was thinking of their features. I really like the feel of the Roland HP series concert keyboard I tried on the LX15. It’s too expensive so I would go two models lower. (HP505 or 506). I could go the used route. A CLP 440 is going for 1700 (reasonable!) but the seller won’t let me try if I have no intention of buying it. I’m unsure. My choices are almost the same as this guy from 1.5 years ago. I’m not sure what he selected eventually. I would go with the HP 505 or HP506. The HP506 is not available in Singapore.

I stumbled onto this guy who bought a Kawai CA65. It prompted a rethink of my budget. Is it too expensive? Will I regret spending that much? Should I decide on a cheaper model?

“It still feels like “too much” piano for me, as I’m not that good a player and don’t play that often, so I wonder if I maybe should have spent less money on a not-quite-as-good model.”





Piano Lessons

For me, creating fuel the consuming of the end product – baking, face cream and music. All piano schools remind me of the musical The Music Man. Every school sells equipment then teach you to play the equipment. What’s the desire behind the urge to play an instrument? Does consumption of music or instruments, or the recreation of the music makes one musical?

My curiosity in piano is revived mainly because I discovered piano transcriptions online. As I mulled over, should I do it, should I not, a poetry reading by Jane Hirshfield reminded me of the gold of a good practice. She’s a zen Buddhist and talks about the practice of meditation. It led me to thinking that I should reset my mind. I managed to finish Grade 7 exams when I was 14. As I worked towards Grade 8, I quit piano. It was a relief. Piano was horrible and boring. I wasn’t even frustrated with progress. I don’t recall enjoying learning any of the pieces. I was a child and I had decided classical music was boring. I disliked finger exercises most. I did well in Bach (which I felt, was purely technique) and the impressionists (I could make it sound like atmosphere sometimes). I think I didn’t like it because I didn’t feel connected to the music. I felt like I was typing very well. I never felt successful in it. There was not a time in which I felt I executed a phrase well. Piano practice was a mental scar. It should not be. The sustained practice, the journey, of something is the real gold. The outcome of the practice could be a good or bad product for that moment. That outcome is momentary and will be re-shaped as long as there is continual good practice. It sounds cheesy and shallow – it’s not. The cheesy and shallow is just my writing skills.