Life According to Piano

Getting to know you

My husband and I saw the movie Julie and Julia last week, and it started me wondering what would be a comparable project for a piano player? Like: me?!

I’m leaning toward learning all the Beethoven sonatas. I’ve previously performed maybe 5 of the 32, and have a passing familiarity with all of them of course. But I have never actually been “hands on” with every note of every sonata. Of all the piano repertory projects I can think of (all of the Bach WTC, or all the Chopin preludes or, more scarily, etudes, for example), Beethoven’s sonatas speak to me more. At least this autumn they do.

So, here’s what I’m thinking right now, and with any luck you won’t notice or comment on this, so if (ah, let’s be honest: when) I dream of throwing in the towel on it, you’ll neither notice nor comment then:

11 days for each Beethoven sonata comes in just over a year. I considered a month for each one, so I’d have a chance to really develop some facility with all of them, but that becomes a 32–month project, and I really do not have it in me to make that kind of commitment. But around a year, I think I can keep my word on that.

Greenwood Tree: coda

To me, true silence is settling down into a stillness that vibrates so intensely that it contains the universe in seed form — all song, all life, all possibilities: not manifest but completely present in the silence. Inner silence is our birthright, our nature.

Many people meditate to cultivate the experience of inner silence; I do too. I cannot give you a meditative experience because only you can give that to yourself. But I can create music that is born in the silence in my own heart, and you will recognize that silence because it is native to you.

Outside my meditation practice, I have many doorways to silence — actions or moments during activity that call me back to my true nature. At the top of my personal list: 

• soaking up the beautiful vistas and sunsets here

• coloring!

• dreaming in the shade of a “greenwood tree”

• music!

Especially the music on this newest CD Under the Greenwood Tree.

So I hope you decide to give this music to yourself and your friends, because it has been my privilege and pleasure to offer it to you.

Greenwood Tree, part 3: recapitulation

First, some news: my new CD, Under the Greenwood Tree, is back in stock at CDBaby.

And, since the temporary “out of stock” situation was a sort of glitch (a happy one, but still a glitch), I’m extending the “new release”  discount pricing for multiple copies another full week, until midnight, Sunday October 18. So now is when to stock up on those extra copies you will want to give away to friends and family.

Under the Greenwood Tree is filled with music that is both intricate and still, music I call a doorway to silence.

On Under the Greenwood Tree, the piece that is most calming for me to play, the one that settles me down and smooths out any wrinkles in my heart, is the newest one, Love Like the Earth.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I was not anticipating this piece: I thought the music for the CD was completed several months before I created Love Like the Earth.

Love Like the Earth came to me because I was wanting to hear a particular sound: chords with the kind of voicing that Beethoven used, a voicing that is not well suited to our modern pianos (an essay for another day!). Once I heard those chords, the very opening of the piece, I understood what my heart wanted to hear: something rich, full, warm, and very grounded, always present, always supportive; constancy, strength, kindness.

Greenwood Tree part 2: Development

In William Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It, the character Amiens sings the following words:

“Under the greenwood tree, 

who loves to lie with me

and turn his merry note 

unto the sweet bird's throat —

come hither, come hither, come hither:

here shall he see 

no enemy 

but winter and rough weather.”

I first read those words when I was invited to compose the incidental music for a production of As You Like It. This text was one of the songs I needed to set, and I was immediately struck by the words of the refrain. What a blessing that is: “no enemy but winter and rough weather”!

A few summers ago I created the music for what became the title track of this CD. For a while a version of Under the Greenwood Tree existed that included my long-ago theater setting. Ultimately I took out nearly all of my theater music, keeping only a brief quote at the end of the piano piece. But to me the piece still carries the meaning of Shakespeare’s words, even though the music that accompanied those words is no longer included.

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