Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Johann Sebastian BAH!

Today's post starts as a journey into inanity, but then veers back to the land of the highbrow.

Ok, my compulsive need to read has lead me down the road of actually reading stuff about "celebrities." I blame too much Gawker and just the fact that I live in New York for making me dream about making "socialite" Tinsley Mortimer cry and the vicious glee I displayed in that dream. It's kind of involuntary too. Nevermind trying to study something. Crap like that never stays in my head. It's random tidbits of trivia that always get lodged in my brain.

Anyhow, the term "frenemy" keeps popping up. Especially in regards to the crackhead, Stockholm-syndrome, PR-produced antics of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. (Random digression: So I was chillin' with some college friends a little while back and we were thinking back to the college days when one of them blurted out, "Remember on time in class when you said, 'What the hell happened to Lindsay Lohan?? One minute she's in 'The Parent Trap' and the now she's got BREASTS!'?" It took me a while to remember that moment, then I chuckled and said, "Oh yea. That was pretty funny.")

I myself have a frenemy. You guys might know him. Maybe not. He's chill and does great stuff with music. You know him? Johann Sebastian Bach? Yea that mofo. Me and J.S. (that's what all of us who are really down with him call him) got some history.

(That's right Star magazine. Take note. "Because like, you know? Bach threw a drink at me and hit me...that's not cool...but like no, he didn't. Like we're cool. People just need to stop spreading lies. BE ADEQUITE." Ok, ok...I'll lay off of making fun of Lohan.)

You see, I used to take piano lessons. Now in Korea, learning how to play the piano used to be pretty standardized. It didn't matter if you took private lessons or learned at a huge piano tutoring hive, the text was pretty much the same. So you'd start out with "Bai-ell" (probably, Bayer) to learn the basics. Then the next couple of books were a collection of exercises by "Che-reu-nee" (Czerny), starting with 100, then moving down as it got progressively harder. You weren't shit until you got down to Czerny 30. Seriously, we used to brag.

Kid 1: Hey, you know how to play the piano?
Kid 2: Yea, of course.
Kid 1: Well, I'm Czerny 50.
Kid 2: Oh yea? I'm Czerny 30.
Kid 1:...Oh..oh yea?? Well, I'm playing Sonatinen too! Which one are you on in that?

Now, when you got around to the Czerny books, that's when you got supplemented with others. The most basic and universal supplement was the blue, thick Handel book filled with finger exercises. That's all they were. Different ways to go up and down the scales. It was what you always started your practice and lessons with.

Then there was the Sonatinen book, which was usually orange and white with well...basically rinky dink Sonatas. Not rinky dink as in bad, but you know, for sort of sinking your teeth into with Sonatinens by myriads of composers before you moved onto real Sonatas collections. Basically, after Sonatinen, it was up to your teacher's discretion what you did in the Sonata area. My piano teacher had me move on to Mozart Sonatas.

Then...there was Bach.

Now don't get me wrong. Contrary to what the title of this particular post says, Bach is actually one of my favorite composers. However, we definitely had our difficult period when I was taking piano lessons.

I'm not the best ivory tickler. But my mom wasn't pushing me to learn because she wanted me in Julliard or something. Sure, it would've been cool, but her thinking was more that I should have some kind of skill. Oh, and she also wanted me to play in church. Yea...she really should have predicted that one not working out.

Besides, while I love music, I loved making music come out of the piano and how the music sounded. I hated the idea of playing for an audience. I could never do recitals. I had to play "Pomp and Circumstance" for a graduation. I wanted to die.

My piano teacher was the deacon's daughter at my mom's church. She was awesome. Now *she* played in church. In fact, she went on to college to be a pipe organ major. Which is so cool. If anything, I wish I had the tenacity to stick with my piano playing to move on to the pipe organ (Man, I'd play the shit out of Pachelbel's Hexachordum Apollinis). I love instruments. People know this. I have intense instrument jealousy over all the instruments I can't play. People, I will be your best friend if you play a dobro or a harpsichord or any instrument.

I remember for one Easter how my mom's church put on Handel's Messiah. My mom dragged me along since my piano teacher was going to be at the organ for this one, but honestly, even though I acted like I didn't want to go I enjoyed every minute of it. Years later when I was back in Korea during one of my breaks in college, my piano teacher invited me see a German pipe organist play. After the performance she said, "Sorry she played such...hard pieces. At least she played 'Sleepers, Awake' at the end. You were probably happy for that." I shook my head and meant it when I said it was damn awesome even when she was playing some of the crazy modern arrangements.

But back to Bach. Before the actual "Bach Inventions" book you get a practice Bach book with little Bach songs in it. I didn't like it that much except for "Arabesque." That's one of the few songs I can actually play well (besides "Plaisirs d'Amour") because I played it so many times.

By the time Inventions rolled around it was pure hell. The Handel books only sin was that it was tediuous. I mean you were doing scales over and over again. Czerny was just something you had to get through. It wasn't great music but it was all about technique. However Bach Inventions? A combination of tedium and technique that made you want to rip your eyes out like "Event Horizon" because you did not want eyes to see that book.

You have to understand. Bach is all counterpoint. That's what the Invention was about. Because not only did you learn different playing styles in regard to rhythm and finger, but thanks to the Baroque filigrees and and whatnot Bach kept adding to the basic tune, in the course of playing one song you were practicing 10 different versions of a tune.

Again, I love Bach. Love listening to him. I made myself learn how to play Toccata and Fugue in D Minor because I loved pounding away at the keyboard for it. Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor made me terribly sad that I didn't learn how to play the violin. For an English assignment I brought in a tape to play "Erbarme dich" from the St. Matthew Passion while I did a Friar Lawrence monologue after learning Romeo and Juliet had died.

But show me that damned ochre/burnt sienna Inventions book and I will chuck it across the room with venom.

Here's Heifetz playing Chaconne. The second half of the Chaconne is directly below.


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