Friday, December 30, 2011

Dreams at Home

Whenever I'm home at my parents' house, I dream more. I'm sure I dream many dreams while I'm in my own apartment, but for whatever reason--my mind is more free, or the sounds are different in the quiet of the woods, or perhaps I sleep differently--I remember my dreams more often.

The other night I dreamt that I was teaching my usual Aural Skills class (one might call it a 'musicianship' class for those who snicker at the word 'aural'), but instead of my normal class of 15 attentive students, I had about 50. They were packed in like sardines. And instead of my normal classroom with piano and staff-lined wipeboards, I was stuck in a chemistry classroom, complete with a periodic table. Not helpful. My students continue to pour in, line the walkways between seats, fill up the doorway, and spill out into the hall. I try to teach the few students who are even paying attention, but it's hard without even a piano. My course advisor leans in the doorway to check on me, unphased, and I give him a look of death. A few students get up to leave in boredom, and most of the rest check their phones for text messages.

Thank goodness my teaching situation is far better in real life. I don't ever want to have to make up melodic phrases based on the element numbers of the noble gases.

Now I return to the quiet of home to play piano, eat some christmas cookies, and await the coming weeks of meetings and exams when classes resume.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Vassar music nostalgia

Ah, the holiday memories keep a-comin' back to me. I love nostalgia!

I recently listened to the recordings of my senior recital from undergrad, which was about seven years ago. I listened to the pieces without making judgments about the mistakes I heard. I didn't say, oh, that should have been voiced differently; I wish the clarinet had come in on that entrance. Okay, maybe I heard those things but that's not what came to mind.

What I thought was, where did those ideas come from? Thankfully they haven't stopped so far, I think I'm doing something right.

It all seemed so easy then. I got over 30 people together for rehearsals of chamber works! I'm sure some of them couldn't make it to every rehearsal, but we all lived on campus, so we're all within 15 minutes walk of each other with not much else to do but geek out about music. Gosh, if I ever get money to just give away, most of it will go to the music department at VC to thank them for letting me have so many key permissions.

Vassar was an institution rife with hidden wonders. I had access to multiple harpsichords and a portative organ! I had a key to the percussion room where I could experiment on the vibraphone all by myself, for hours. I remember that day so well, I was in heaven. I had faculty play piano on several works and I didn't have to pay them.

I wrote a piece scored for friggin' six voices, harpsichord, vibraphone, cymbals, and bongo drums! That was pretty awesome. Probably won't ever get performed again, but I am so delighted with the ideas in that piece. Never say never, I suppose.

I can hear some things in the music that I still love to work with today. Rolled chords. Using tonality in unexpected ways. Long pedal chords. Minor 9ths.

Some ideas I now know came from direct sources, perhaps a little more subconsciously buried at the time. Ryuichi Sakamoto's 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' is in there. Anuna's Irish choral harmonies are in there. There's even a snippet of an Aural Skills exercise that we had to memorize for class. Wait–I remember doing that intentionally, that was clever.

I can hear my professors (especially Richard Wilson) telling me to put an eighth rest in the music here...and here. I'm thanking him now for it; he taught me more than I realized at the time.

And some of the music I have no idea where the rhythms came from and how I decided to do what I did. These are moments almost like looking at oneself in a recording and not quite recognizing your face.

Things are different now, though I'm back in school, this time as a doctoral student and not an undergrad. Access to instruments is more limited at a giant institution. Though talent is certainly better. Recordings sound crisper and are so much more easily available; I can remember having to take my recital, recorded on some undefinable size black tape, to some department on campus and have them convert it to a CD for me. Concert opportunities are probably greater. I've gotten to check off some major dream items off my list: living in Europe! Having an orchestra play my piece! But my writing time now seems somehow limited, and I am an 'adult' in the sense that I have part-time jobs, responsibilities to teach, worries about how to pay for rent during the summer (any suggestions?). I still live by the academic schedule but holiday breaks are no longer my playthings, but my time to do work.

There was a holiday semester in Scotland, singing ancient carols with a Scottish choir at some embassy (France, maybe?) and playing the harp; my year not so distantly past in Iceland, where Christmas was more about some bright lights in the window to banish the darkness, and gatherings of friends with lots of food (and drinks, of course). A snowflake-making party in Pittsburgh, PA. It's really incredible that the best memories about the holidays don't involve any commercialism. It's time for me to write my annual holiday "cover song", perhaps this year will be "Baby, It's Cold Outside" as it just dumped quite a lot of snow here in Boulder, though yesterday it was 60 degrees.

I can remember the snow falling so beautifully on a silent campus. Most of the kids had gone home for the holidays but some of the music majors had exams on the last possible time before Christmas break began. I walked to the Chapel one dark snowy night. The doors were open but the building was empty. Large silent Christmas trees (real pines!) were lit up in white twinkly lights all around the old stone building. I played Christmas songs on a grand piano, lit only by tree lights, and sang for my art gallery boss. A concert for one but beautiful moments for two.