mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Bach

unseen hand of the universe . . .

Olive 1jpgAfter an intense holiday week preceded by months of preparation, gift-buying, gift-exchanging, wrapping, decorating, shopping for food and cooking immense meals, it’s all over now. Whew!

What, I wondered to myself, will I do now to simplify my life, renew a sense of purpose and find fulfilling things to do?

Well, I needn’t have wondered. The Universe has provided the following ideas and symbolism:

1. For my birthday a couple of days ago, my daughter, C. gave me a framed picture of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” superimposed over an upright PIANO and beautifully framed in cherry wood!!  (You might have noticed it’s also the poem/theme of my blog.) Okay, I get that one–which is not to shortchange my enjoyment of playing the piano and listening to music. I made a shortlist of composers I’d like to play: Alkan, Bach, Scarlatti, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin.

2. The mail on New Year’s Eve delivered the White Flower Farm Catalog filled with unusual annuals and perennials. Ever since my ankle injury and recuperation, I’ve been thinking that working in the garden would be good therapy for me AND would also benefit the benignly neglected growth in our garden filled with climbing roses, wisteria, peonies, iris, montauk daisies and other perennials.

Last Fall, I met a wonderful Chinese family who sold incredible dahlias at the local farmers market and also met the zen-like bearded father of the clan. He and I good-naturedly kidded each other about who was older (I said I could tell my kids were older than his were; he claimed he got a late start, etc.) Anyhow, I wrote to them volunteering to help out when the weather gets better and received a warm reply back. It might have been because I also promised not to speak unless spoken to. Fiveforks Farm is the name of their gorgeous FLOWER CSA, a unique concept rather than a CSA for farmers market vegetables!

3. Yesterday, I realigned my Facebook page and was inspired to reconnect with people I’d lost touch with long ago, all of whom responded to my “friend” requests with alacrity and interesting news (thank God.)

One guy that I contacted was someone I’d known since high school, lived in the same town while our children were growing up and whom I rediscovered when HIS DAUGHTER “liked” one of my Facebook photos. Turns out she and my daughter C., were “friends” and classmates in high school. Long story short, we emailed each other last night and he said that only yesterday, he had mentioned me to his grandchildren while they were learning how to use chopsticks, relating an anecdote when he had used chopsticks for the first time at my house when we were in high school. We’ve been out of touch for years so I’m thinking this particular coincidence illustrates that there is indeed something in the ether surrounding this reconnection somehow.

4. Last but not least, I received an email from MeetUp that the New Earth Book Club with 94 members would be closed down unless a new organizer (willing to pay dues) showed up. This is a group I joined just when I broke my ankle and had not managed to attend any of the meetings nor had I met the previous Organizer. I was impressed that over time, there were almost a hundred people interested in reading about how to live with more meaning, to read spiritual and other interesting books and to discuss them together.

It was as though the Universe said, “here you go,” when I wondered how I might meet some new people nearby with similar interests. So, I paid $19.95 to keep the group alive until February 3rd. I sent a message out suggesting a group (re-grouping) meeting in January sometime before the February deadline to see how many, if any, were interested in getting together to re-invent, re-name, re-organize, organize or give it all up, but only after we’d had a chance to decide for ourselves what the future might bring.

This morning, I received an enthusiastic response from a group member who not only reinforced a desire to continue the book group, but offered HER RESTAURANT as a potential meeting place! I’m excited about the possibility that the book group might be reborn. If it is, maybe people will be drawn to books by some of my favorite writers: John Tarrant, Red Pine, Paul Coelho, Gary Zukav and that crazy Zen guy, Alan Watts.

So, to say that a lot has happened in a couple of days would be an understatement. But there’s a little more.

Yesterday in the post office, after I filled out a customs label to Canada for a pair of earrings I was returning, a woman in front of me in line jumped back from me, exclaiming, “WOW, your aura is so STRONG!” I got a kick out of that and asked her what color my aura was. Then, a woman in front of her asked what color her aura was too! It was kind of a hilarious scene in that crowded post office!

In fact, the plain hoop earrings that were too small for me were being exchanged for another pair in the shape and design of an Ouroboros–the serpent eating its own tail, symbolizing the constant recreation of oneself and one’s life. Haha.

Oh, and while I was driving to the dry cleaners yesterday, a great blue heron flew right over my car overhead as it headed for a nearby lake.

I guess the Universe has made its point, wouldn’t you say? It’s definitely in charge, not me, so straighten up, follow its lead and stop questioning what you can’t know until it appears.

As disquieting as this chain of events might appear, I find it oddly and incredibly comforting somehow, don’t you?

sunset on my birthday after Christmas in Dennisport. . .

sunset on my birthday after Christmas in Dennisport. . .

 

 

 

 

 

watershed . . .

"Joy" planter, a gift from C. last year with new growth . . .

“Joy” planter, a gift from C. last year with new growth . . .

Sometimes the term, “watershed” is used to describe a moment when things “before” and “after” are markedly different: water shedding in different directions. In hindsight, it feels to me like this “watershed moment” has been coming on for some time, a long time it seems. Without going into detail, it’s more of a holding than anything else for me which then manifests itself in all kinds of outer events, actions and ideas: like downscaling Christmas from a huge extravaganza to a very modest (almost nonexistent) one.

For whatever reason, I have begun to understand that I wanted to compensate for shortcomings that occurred (for all of us in one way or another) in my childhood or young adult life. Neither of my parents was around much in spirit even when they were present, and I think that I took that ball and ran with it with my own daughters. Whatever my parents didn’t care about nor did for me, I did for my kids. In spades. Now that I am still active but moving a bit slower, I’ve taken stock and it seems it’s time for me to discard that mode and live a much simpler life.

That doesn’t mean that I’m bored or unhappy. It just means that so much of the energy, time and resources that I have applied to “helping” my kids is probably too much both for their sakes and especially for mine. I want to live simpler and formulate a routine that gets me outside to take walks when the weather permits, to clean up the garden and to tend the many plants that have suffered through a Darwinian phase (“survival of the fittest”,) which, laughably is what I think I am doing for myself right now (to survive as fit as I can.)

I’ve already begun last week to cull through my vast music library of CDs, reorganizing them by pianist (Richter, Argerich, Hewitt, Lewis, Gould, Pires, Tureck, Haskil) and by composer (Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky) and listening a LOT to music that I have known so well growing up and which I got away from listening. For example, I remember listening to Khachaturian violin concerto and Shostakovitch 5th Symphony a lot when I was in high school. Now, I play my favorite music aloud on speakers, or use earphones during football games on TV. Talk about multi-tasking: I still manage the remote for the ads that come on the Patriots game while listening to Schumann or Scriabin via the earphones in my head. A little disorienting but not bad.

More than ever, I feel that music is truly the great mover that endlessly nourishes the spirit. No matter if one is rich or poor, with someone or living alone, there is nothing like music to elevate mood, enrich perspective and to just keep company with us, each and every day. A pianist who had dinner with us on Saturday suggested some early recordings by Sviatislav Richter (Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Brahms 2nd with Erich Leinsdorf.) I loved listening to them–thanks to I-Tunes. The technology of being able to search I-Tunes, purchase recordings, copy them to a playlist is so facile it amazes me. I had the Leon Fleisher Brahms recordings but have now added these two Richter recordings to my music library–what a revelation they were! He uses pedal a lot in his Bach recordings and I also listened for the first time to some Brahms sonatas he recorded that I’m unfamiliar with.

In parallel, I’m experimenting with a piano list to practice and learn new pieces, an idea to practice a new program every 3-6 months, or maybe in a year’s time. Although a little arthritis is showing up in my left hand, the rest of me, especially my brain and ear, still seem to be intact, at least, most of the time.

Anyhow, this is a monumental watershed for me in the beginning of December, a time, when I’m usually projecting to spend DAYS preparing for the holidays. Now, whatever happens, happens. I feel a little sad to give it all up, but not as sad as I might have expected. And I have discovered that honesty compensates for all the things I thought I had to do to make other people happy.

Now, I can let them find their way while I follow my own path “not taken” as much as I might have up to now.

A new day. A fresh start. Let’s see what little leaves grow from last year’s box of Joy.

new growth in last year's "Joy" planter . . .

new growth in last year’s “Joy” planter . . .

to do list . . .

ball mumsSome might consider this hiatus of waiting for surgery and then recuperating from surgery to be a time of waiting. Not so, I say to myself after returning from my pre-surgery exam yesterday.

Last night, for some reason, I found it hard to fall asleep and so my mind wandered around and about to take stock and to reflect about what I want or need to do with my time. First of all, I’ve gone through the exercise of putting my affairs in (better) order, talking with my daughters and husband about how they may help each other after I’m gone and going through what I would like each of them to have and also feel free to swap at will. Who knows, I might last a long time after this, but that very intimate task is done, at least a template is in place and can be tweaked every so often. That’s a big load off my mind.

So last night and today, I’m thinking about what I would like to take note of during this chunk of the year while I’m getting back on my feet. Here’s a to-do list that I’m thinking about right now:

1. Be sure to hydrate (drink lots of water) and cut down on bread, butter, potatoes and sweets so that I maintain the weight I’ve lost so far and don’t hapzardly gain a few pounds. Eat more fresh salads with the yummy dressing that I make up ahead of time (garlic slices, olive oil, Marukan seasoned rice vinegar, fresh lemon juice, a little sugar). Handful of mesclun and baby arugula, sliced large fresh mushrooms, ripe pears, marcona almonds, goat cheese. . . like that. It’s so easy to fall back into eating heartier (and higher calorie food) just because it’s tempting to do during this fallow period.

2. Read about recipes and preparations for ramen noodle broth; fixings and condiments; same for soba noodles. Read my Japanese Farmhouse Cookbook, Momofuku and Ivan Ramen Noodles to introduce new dishes into my cookery menus; cold salads and condiments on the side. I love to cook and while I’m slightly limited now, I can still reframe and renew the ideas I’m used to cooking and slowly introduce them into the mix of what we eat.

3. Read lots of books that I enjoy, not what I think I should read. I still have “War and Peace,” “The Tale of Genji” and “Remembrance of Things Past” in the bookshelves, the bindings still tight. I mean, I know I should read “Anna Karenina” but her plight is somewhat dated and I’m not interested in swimming in such deep literary waters. I’d rather dip my reading toes into more enjoyable fare: perhaps Mona Simpson’s new novel that is due out in mid-April. I am still catching up with Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America” anthology of short stories before I venture towards her new book, “Bark,” which, in the NY Times Book Review sounded like an extraordinary effort towards using puns around the word “bark”–which, if you must know, don’t interest me that much. Lydia Davis, who won the Booker prize for her short stories last year is a writer from Northampton nearby and fun to read every once in awhile.

I used to love to read mysteries and may embark upon re-reading some of the Georges Simenon mysteries which I heard were being re-printed; fun to read about Inspector Maigret and his wife while he solves crime all over Belgium and France. I also enjoyed the Dorothy Sayers series of Lord Peter Whimsey mystery novels. Maybe when I try them out again, they will seem dated, but we’ll see.

4. High on my list is to play the piano with my wheelchair drawn up to my Steinway piano named “Victor.” There’s tons of Bach that can be read without the use of pedal ( my right ankle is gonzo right now.) One of the oscar-winning documentaries was a half-hour film called “The Lady in Room 6” which is about the oldest living Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz Sommer, who died at the age of 110 two weeks ago. In it, she can be seen joyfully playing Bach Inventions on her Steinway upright piano. She has enormous hands and plays with a calm and sprightly musical aspect. While she was incarcerated in the camps, she took it upon herself to learn the complete Chopin Etudes, very difficult pieces for a pianist. I figured if she could do that, the least I can do now is to learn some new repertoire myself while I’m recuperating. So that’s an inspiration. Take a look at the film if you want some perspective on how nothing matters except love and music.

My own piano to-do list includes sightreading pieces and excerpts from Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II, Inventions, Italian Concerto, Fantasie,  French Suites, English Suites, Partitas; Chopin concerti; Brahms concerti; Beethoven sonatas, Rachmaninoff Preludes; Scriabin Prelude, Op. 11, number 11. It might be good exercise for me to play everyday at intervals and use my back, arms and hands.

5. I have four big balls of Noro yarn left over from three vests that I made for a family up in Minneapolis. I think I’ll use a new criss cross pattern to make a piece of some sort for myself to commemorate this happening in my life–something nice to look at and also to keep warm in while reminding myself how lucky I will be to survive this Spring of 2014. It will be fun to figure out how to do it out of the remaining yarn that I have to work with. I gave the spectacular multi-colored vest with patchwork pockets to one of my daughters last weekend. She looks terrific in it and although in my mind’s eye, I thought I would make it for myself, it’s too colorful for my little brown wren personality so it will be perfect for her to wear when she’s teaching her French classes. When she returns next week for a visit, we’ll take a photo and post it.

That’s as far as I have gotten today. Little by little enjoyable things to do. That’s one of the lessons I am learning too: to be more patient, to take care of myself as only I can, and to enjoy something each day.

the sound of music . . .

Xmas 2005-Spring 2006 583_2_2This post is not about the movie, the play or the book, “Sound of Music.” What it is about is what happens to the human spirit when the sound of music is heard live, in person, in the presence of the music being made, heard and then falling away.

A few days ago, I received an email from some old friends of mine with whom we had lost touch. We would say we would get together soon but somehow never managed to. You know how that goes. In any case, they wrote to me to ask a favor. A neighbor of theirs was planning to celebrate an 88th birthday for their father who was visiting them from out of town. It turns out that 88 is also a magic number for the number of black and white keys on a piano keyboard. The birthday celebrant loved classical piano music, and my friends wondered whether I would play some pieces for him as his “birthday gift.” They also wanted to make a gift of some sort made out of old piano keys, which G., my husband who is a piano restorer, brought over to their house yesterday to play around with.

In the meantime, we had to hustle because it turns out that the favorite piece of this classical music lover was Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.” If you are familiar with it, you’ll laugh out loud like I did because:  a) it’s very difficult; and b )it’s written for piano and orchestra. Undaunted, G. found a reduction (simplified) version of the score at the Holy Cross music library aided by a piano friend who is on the faculty there. Even with the score easier to see, it is still hard to read and play, given that it is written for five flats!

This is Tuesday and I’ve put together a tentative program according to the Juilliard model (baroque/classical/romantic) in that order: Bach, Scarlatti, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Practicing yesterday, I noticed that although I hadn’t played or practiced in quite awhile, that I felt both stronger and freer while going through the pieces.

This afternoon, G. will tune the piano that hasn’t been serviced for awhile and meet the fellow who will be congratulated on Thursday evening, although he probably doesn’t have an inkling of all these surprises in store for his birthday.

Thursday evening: The party was a hit! Chuck spoke about the first time he heard the Rachmaninoff Rhapsodie on a Theme of Paganini when he was twenty years old in a church during World War II. His relating the story after I played the piece brought the experience full circle–and so I did a reprise of it for him. When I asked him if there was any other piece he’d like to hear, he shook his head and said that he was happy with the program and with hearing the Rachmaninoff piece live. Now, there’s a rarity–someone who is satified and knows it.

What a great treat to be able to play this music for him! I’m grateful for the invitation to participate.

little piano players . . .

Josie at 15 months old with me, Christmas, 2011

My daughter, M., was telling me yesterday about her experience playing Bach at the piano with her daughter, J. on her lap. J., who is going on two-and-a half plinked around on the keys, and when she finished, M. clapped, to which J. beamed a huge smile and then wanted M. to play the piano some more. This description seems like a good model for how to introduce a young child to play music.

As a pianist myself, I have been commenting for some time now that J. has perfect ‘piano hands’–wide palm, long fingers, born to play the piano. If she relishes the playing AND the applause, that’s a good sign, don’t you think?

That got me searching for and finding some truly adorable and impressive Youtube clips of little asian girls playing amazing piano that are inspiring to watch, whatever our age!

Here are a few that I hope you’ll enjoy watching:
1) an amazing 5 year old playing Bach at a sprightly clip:

2) my favorite 8 year old, because she looks so charming and plays so musically:

3) and last but not least, aimi kobayashi at the age of four and in 2008, playing in Moscow:

I hope that these little piano players fill your day with wonder and the sound of music!

fun . . .


Fun. What a weird word. I mean, think about it: f-u-n. It sounds like an asian noodle–like in “chow foon” or something. Okay, I’ll stop fooling around and talk about fun. The reason I’m having a hard time doing it is that fun hasn’t been a big part of my life. That might sound like an odd thing to many of you but I have to admit it’s true.

I’ve always been fairly serious, even as a child. Overloaded with responsibility at a very young age (5), I don’t think I ever questioned the somewhat sober tone that permeated my growing up. I just did my homework, or assignments or chores. I was obedient and spent a lot of time by myself. Too much stimulation otherwise. So today, when someone asked me what fun meant to me, I was a little at a loss.

But, by the end of the conversation, I decided that it might be a good idea for me to explore the possibilities of having a little more fun. I grew up with music and as a teenager I listened to a lot of music, all the time (Ernest Bloch “Concerto Grosso,” Dave Brubeck “Take Five,” Bela Bartok “Concerto for Orchestra,” Glazunov violin concerto, and on and on.)

I’ve gotten away from it, I don’t know why, but when I went into the Apple store the other day to get a small Sandisk removed with tweezers from my Mac Pro laptop, I looked at and bought a small silver square “Shuffle.” It’s an MP-3 player and I dragged a few pieces of music on to it from my I-tunes. I am listening to it with earphones right now while the World Series is playing on TV. I didn’t think I’d like the concept of music that would play randomly one clip after another (being the slightly OCD person that I am,) which is also why I didn’t spring for the “Shuffle” sooner.

But as I type this post, I laughed out loud when a Bach Goldberg variation (played by a terrific young Korean pianist named Minsoo Sohn) was followed by Eva Cassidy singing “Fields of Gold.” Get it?

Now, that’s fun!

playing it “Bach’s way” . . .

Sometimes I go on music playing binges. Right now, it’s listening to Rosalyn Tureck playing the Well-Tempered Clavier Preludes and Fugues of Bach. She was born in Chicago in 1913 and died in 2003. Glenn Gould, the infamous piano interpreter of Bach hailed Rosalyn Tureck as the only pianist that he revered, which she acknowledged graciously since she never achieved the stardom that he did emulating her playing style. Here are excerpts from an obituary that appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian, written by Jessica Duchen and published Saturday 19 July 2003.

“You play it your way; I play it Bach’s way.” Addressing the indomitable harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, the equally indomitable Rosalyn Tureck, who has died aged 88, made one of her most famous and characteristic statements. For JS Bach was the composer to whom this strong-willed, demanding and fearsomely intelligent American keyboard player dedicated her life, both as performer and scholar.

She was born in Chicago, the granddaughter of a famous Kiev cantor; she related, with great pride, her father’s tales of a carriage, pulled by eight white horses, taking her grandfather on tour for the high holy days. Her main teachers were Sophia Brilliant-Liven, Jan Chiapusso and Olga Samaroff (the American wife of conductor Leopold Stokowski) and, for harpsichord, Gavin Williamson.

Her talent showed itself early, and she made her public recital debut in Chicago at the age of nine. When, at 16, she auditioned for the Juilliard School of Music, New York, she startled the panel by offering to play most of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues from memory.

Shortly afterwards, she settled on her future direction during a strange episode in a Juilliard practice room. While working on a Bach fugue, she blacked out for a short time; she came round with an inner revelation that she needed to create a different type of keyboard technique specific to the playing of Bach. Her teacher told her it was a wonderful, but impossible, idea; in response, she changed teachers. She never stopped perfecting this apparently elusive notion.

Tureck’s pianistic style, which (unfairly enough) was a huge influence on the more celebrated Glenn Gould, was uncompromisingly rigorous, intelligent and full of attention to detail: she took, for example, great care over the appropriateness of ornamentation. But what always convinces the listener is the compelling, incandescent, almost evangelical spirit that shines through that detail. She was hailed as “the high priestess of Bach” – and that is how she will be remembered.”

She was the “High Priestess of Bach.” If you have not had a chance to listen to her Bach recordings, you are in for a treat. I introduced them to one of my daughters who wrote back that she had two words to describe her listening experience: “Hubba, Hubba.”