I thrive best under last minute pressure. There is no one who has worked with me before who can tell you differently. There are eighteen days to go to the concert. I know this because of my amazing friends who have taken to texting me with the countdown every day.
Preparation for this concert has been drastically different from the recital last year, largely because it includes the Dream Orchestra, and also because some idiot decided to put original material on the program.
It’s often said that practicing the piano is the loneliest instrument, which is why I began rehearsing with Michael Sushel months in advance. Many friends have commented on the cost of doing this (including Michael), but it is the same amount said friends pay for therapy, and since these rehearsals are a little like therapy, it all balances out, and we’re all equally broke.
The training, however, with Michael and my teacher Heewon, has been invaluable. To get beyond just being able to spit out the notes and going for interpretation instead, has been eye-opening. The two of them have different approaches to the same goal. There became a point with both of them that the kid gloves had to come off because I’m not 15 any more. If something didn’t work, I didn’t need the comments sugar coated, I just needed to know what needed fixing.
If you read earlier blog posts, you’ll find out that I was working diligently on evening out my 16th notes. They are relatively proficient now, except this led to another problem. The notes were so even, that I had not concentrated on where they fell in terms of phrasing, or, as Michael puts it, on the strong or weak beats. Now all of a sudden, I was having to listen to the metronome in the car, with only the strong beats clicking, and having to figure out what needed em-PHA-sis where. Something new to unlearn every day. Heewon says I have been landing too harshly on the 1st note of every passage instead of the downbeats of the phrase. And, btw, concur all… I am playing ahead of the pocket.
Enter Daniel Suk. While having lots and lots and lots and lots of meetings and phone calls with Daniel, I had not played for him live. I’m not really sure watching me on youtube does the trick either. So finally, he came over to my parents’ house where I practice (as a side note, my parents are about to throw me out along with the piano) and we started working on the music. Daniel has a strongly studied and practiced understanding of music and composers. I had posted on facebook that he had told me to play a passage more “Rachmaninov”, but that didn’t convey the true message. It was, instead, understand where Rachmaninov was in his life, what he was recalling, what he is writing about and dig in and then play.
Daniel arrived to a rehearsal with Michael Sushel and me and ended up giving all his notes in Italian. (I’m kinda glad I took crash Italian my last summer at UCLA now.) But what got accomplished was almost indescribable. But interpretation went to the next level – as now it became how phrasing, tempo, dynamics, everything, were going to be interwoven with the orchestra.
I have always liked working with people who know more than me. They make you run faster and work harder. Training with Heewon and Michael has been just that and more.
As I write this, the final original piece, “Concerto in Crayon” is just about to be completed. It isn’t a concerto, by the way, but it sounds good with the alliteration. If you haven’t heard the story, this piece is based on my nephew Kai, who loves to draw. He has a fascination with arrows, volcanos, pirates, and even guns. While there is another original on the program, which is suite from a film score years ago, this was the first time I have really written anything with a blank canvas.
I’m not going to lie, I love Pixar scores, and while before I really made an effort to create something that I was sure was new sounding… using weird dissonance and atonal passages (you’re hear some of that in “The Norwood Affair”), for this one, I’ve just said I’m going to write what I want to, and hopefully it doesn’t sound like anything already written. (I am pretty sure I heard something that reminds me of “Finding Nemo”).
In “Crayon”, a simple melody at the beginning represents Kai sitting down to draw, with the occasional chromatic augmented 4th runs serving as him crossing out whatever he just drew. He sketches on to create a battle with his theme coming back in a minor key to portray him as a grown up hero in war as he attempts to rescue the princess. (I’m not sure he actually draws princesses because he’s still in the age range where girls are yucky I think).
I was asked to write a lot of percussion in – and I did… maybe too much… so much that we’ll be needing help from some audience members. So everyone please practice counting to 4, so if you’re called on stage you’ll be ready. I’m also using the piano as a true percussion instrument, with one passage where there is drumming on the strings. (Please don’t spill this to the theatre, as I haven’t told them I’d be doing this to their piano yet.)
Yes, I am still eyeballing the money… and chasing sponsorships. (So if anyone knows anyone. Ha).
The concert math is pretty appalling with the Dream Orchestra organization ultimately bringing in less than $2000 of a $32,000 budget after Daniel at our first meeting said he'd bring in 400 people and I'd bring in 400 people. (400 x $25. Huh). He tells me later that he didn't say they'd all be paying. But I brought in 500 and his portion of the house of very sparse. When he walked around complaining that he wasn't getting paid for this, I geniuinely was able to laugh.
I am however truly grateful for all the support I have gotten from friends and family… and for all of you trekking in from out of town for the show… from San Francisco, Phoenix, San Diego, Albuquerque and New York. It really does mean a lot…. And for everyone locally taking the time out of your schedule.
Thank you everyone for your support! See you in (ask one of the people who sends me the countdown) days!