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

Tag: Scriabin

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.

basil toutorsky. . .

Basil and Maria Toutorsky's home on 16th St., Washington, D.C.

I started playing the piano when I was three in China trying to imitate my Aunt Anna, a piano teacher. When my father was finishing his doctorate at the University of Chicago, he sent for my mother and me to come to America. We were living in Peking with his parents until the end of World War II. We travelled by freighter for three weeks, arriving in California. Then we took a train to Chicago, five days sitting up in a train, eating sardines on saltines for our meals. Our first home in Chicago was located in the cement basement of a house belonging to a Chinese family who kindly took us in. When he graduated, my father got a research position at the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington D.C. and we moved to a 2nd story apartment in a small house in Berwyn, Md.

Piano was important everywhere we lived. We had an upright in the Chicago basement which I would practice after I had started the evening’s rice to cook. In Berwyn, we also had a piano. That’s when my parents found a piano teacher named Mrs. Cortez to give me piano lessons. We stood by the highway and took the Greyhound bus to Washington, D.C., then took the D.C. Transit bus to 16th Street for my piano lesson. Sometimes my father would drive us there, reading scientific papers in the back of our old black Ford while he waited for me to have my lesson. Soon, Mrs. Cortez suggested that I take lessons with the Professor instead. She was a student of his as well, her teaching room right off the reception room filled with sumptuous furniture.

Before leaving Russia, Professor Basil Toutorsky was a renowned pianist and friend of both Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin. He was also one of the nicest persons I had and have ever met. He took me under his wing for about four years from the time I was eight to when I turned twelve. The architecture of the house on 16th street made it a landmark in Washington. Click studio to see the outside and imagine what it must have been like for a Chinese kid to have piano lessons there. Inside, there were twenty-two grand pianos, placed two-by-two with keyboards that ran from one end to each other. Some were coved together as matched pairs in room after room.  We spent many hours playing four-hand pieces together, either on one piano, sitting side by side or on two pianos where we could see each other over the music desks.

By osmosis, this early routine of playing with Professor Toutorsky gave me a deep sense of music and rhythm. He taught me laborious hand and finger exercises that gave me strength and independence. I played a lot of technical exercises: Czerny, Cramer and lots of scales: chromatic through the circle of fifths, natural, in parallel and contrary motion. I later learned that the finger exercises were known as the Leschetizky method. To this day, I owe the development of my technical ability, ear training and musicality to Professor Toutorsky.

me, at the age of twelve, at the piano in Toutorsky's studio

He was also one of the few adults who showed me humor and compassion. One year for my father’s birthday, he recorded me playing Beethoven variations and encouraged me to say “happy birthday” on the ’78 rpm record that he put into a paper sleeve.

When I was twelve, he took me down to the Cosmos Club, an exclusive place where concerts were attended by Washington’s society elite. It was the first time I played a few notes on a nine-foot Bosendorfer grand piano. The tone of the Bosendorfer’s bass notes made a lasting impression on me. Later, I compared its tone to many of the instruments that I played, looking for that elusive and rare depth of sound. He also planned my first recital to be given at his home. As a momento, he showed me a photo of a music lyre in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and then with my assent, had the image of the lyre made into a gold pendant, engraved on the back with my name and date commemorating my”First Recital”.

first recital pendant

To this day, I am ever so grateful to this gentle man who gave me so much technical and musical training so magnanimously. My parents underestimated what he did for me. I don’t think they knew what Leschetizky method was. For sure, they didn’t realize how much Professor Toutorsky cared for me. Nor I for him.