Saturday, March 20, 2010

Compin' it up

I have no witty line to open up this blog post, and I have no apologies for taking three months to write it. Time is moving in weird ways for me, simultaneously compressed and expanded. Once again, rather than try to be poetic ('cause I'm not sure that's ever successful), I'll just give you a run-down.

1. This isn't a specific event, but I do feel that I need to start with the backdrop. Which is this: little town out on the prairie. You know that, right, since you've read previous posts. But if you haven't been here, you don't know it. You don't know that 20 or so miles east of here there is some sort of climatological-geographical boundary that REALLY makes this the prairie, and that is never more obvious than when you are driving the two-lane Hwy 28 between the months of November and March, and the wind blows a little bit, and suddenly the half-inch of snow that just fell looks like that scene in The Empire Strikes Back (except there generally aren't space monsters to capture you, and the closest mountains are about a thousand miles away).

Yeah, so, Little Town.

On the Prairie.

Either element could act as an isolating factor in and of itself, but here, you have both. This hasn't been a particularly easy winter for me, and I've felt, you guessed it, isolated. On many levels -- isolated with only minimal colleagues, all of whom are overworked, isolated with few friends, fewer musicians. Don't get me wrong, there are some great people here. And they're all married, and can only hang out once every two months.

Also, I think this week is the first time the sun shone since September. I might not be exaggerating. I was beginning to feel like the girl in that story who lives on the planet where it rains all the time. Luckily it is spring (at least according to the equinox) and I can already feel my spirits lifting.

2. The upside of having a sucky social life in a town where there's one above-average Italian restaurant and pretty much nothing else is that I was getting a lot of practice in, for a while.* We won't speak of the last two weeks, though (more on that in #4).

*After adjusting to my job, that is. I think I give too much of myself when I teach here -- I always come home exhausted, and it will be, like, only 7 or 8 p.m. Hard to practice then when you feel wiped out. The two months before my recital I made myself practice then because it just had to happen. Usually I was able to somehow find a second wind.

3. Speaking of recitaling, I did just that. I played 8 recitals in 3 states in 3 weeks. That was fun, exhausting in a different way. (Ok, but surprisingly, not as exhausting as my teaching job.) The thing that was most difficult was having not so much practice time for the last leg of the 'tour,' when I was in Utah. I need about 5-6 hours a day, consistently, to give a solid performance. When I was there, it was only about 1-2 hours a day. So some things were not as clean as they could have been. But that's live performance, I suppose. One thing that pleased me a lot on this tour is that the Paganini vignette in Carnaval came together 4 days before my UI recital. I'd figured out how to practice it. I mean, I'd been practicing it all along, but one specific technique I'd forgotten about. And then I remembered it, and then I could play it (which is good, since Paganini is a bitch).

4. Now it is the season of Studying for Comprehensive Examinations. That's what I've been doing this week, and oh yeah, it's spring break. So I'm not in New Mexico at the MTNA conference (with many of my friends) because I have a crap-load of books and articles to read so that I'm prepared. I was feeling good about my research until Wednesday, but in the last three days I feel I've fallen behind. Two more weeks until they start. Here's what I'm researching:

A. The History of the Nocturne. I feel like I've conquered this question pretty well. What pleases me so about it is that it will be the rough draft of the first chapter of the DISSERTATION. I like this, two birds-one stone deal.

B. Winterreise, the amazing song-cycle by Schubert. Also amazingly depressing. Also, I didn't have insomnia this week until I started intensely studying this work in depth, although I'm sure the two events are unrelated.

C. Analyzing the Mozart C minor Fantasy (K 475) using CPE Bach's treatise on the true art of playing keyboard instruments, and specifically the chapter on improvisation. I have been given other articles and books to assist me, and speaking of SMALL and ISOLATED, the library at my school has none of them. I invoke the Gods and Goddesses of InterLibraryLoan to come rapidly to my assistance, so mote it be.

D. A practical question on piano teaching, which I like (since I've been doing it for 12+ years and since it will continue to help me): a student comes in with a piece by a composer you don't know much about/haven't played much of. How do you prepare?

E. Choose a composer, any composer, and write about his/her contribution to the piano repertoire. What makes it significant? How does it stand in relationship to the other literature? Use lots of examples. I, of course, am going to choose, wait for it ... Brahms! Bet you didn't see that coming.

As you can see, good questions. I am learning a lot. I like my questions. I need 5 more weeks of spring break and no students so I can fully exhaust all possible resources in my research. Well, that ain't happening, as comps start in two weeks and one day. Plus students return on Monday. I think if they aren't prepared for their lessons I'm kicking them out.

Happily for my tastebuds, comps begin the Monday after Easter Sunday. You can see where this is headed. BRUNCH! You might recall that I was somewhat disappointed in last year's brunch, having built up expectations from the previous two years of Devotay's delightful buffet. Making your way through this current post to here, you will have surely realized that in this town, there is no brunch. (OH THE HORRORS.) I eagerly anticipate whatever is on Devotay's menu, especially if it is related to one or more of the following: mimosas, bacon, chocolate.

Alright, my eyelids are drooping. This is a good sign.