Micah, the Pianist

After a quite long hiatus, I’ve been getting back into piano performance for personal pleasure (say that 5 times fast…), revisiting some old pieces that have been on the border of my ability for some time, having decayed to a certain point, but never completely lost.

I’ve got the piano tuned (first time since I first got it a few years ago!) and the damper pedal adjusted so the dampers aren’t contacting the strings “even when it’s lifted”, which was resulting in tones that decayed quickly into their harmonics (“wrong pitches”) that lingered, muddying the sound until everything sounded indistinct. The dynamic range of this instrument is still nowhere near where I’d like it to be, but otherwise it actually sounds good (ignoring some mildly harsh harmonics… it is a spinet after all: shorter strings means they have to make them thicker to get the same pitch).

I’ve been playing the same old repertoire that I’ve never lost, but also revisiting a couple of Poulenc Novelettes that had fallen just out of reach (I’ve never entirely stopped playing the C Major one; it’s one of my all-time favorite piano pieces), and a couple of Samuel Barber’s delightful Excursions. I’m rediscovering the bluesy one, and finding it much easier to find the feel for it than I did back when I was preparing it for my sophomore concert at CSUS ten years ago. Guess I’ve managed to mature musically since then, even though I haven’t been playing seriously in, like, forever. I’m also working on a Bach fugue, and of course some ragtime (Joplin and Bolcom) and frightfully fast novelty pieces (Confrey: “Kitten on the Keys” and “Dizzy Fingers”).

While I’ve been working on these, I’ve picked up some recorded performances of them from Amazon on MP3 for reference. I’m amazed at how poor they are. The Barber’s the worst: the only performance of his stuff you can get on MP3 is John Browning’s, and he’s really pretty atrocious. He plays the fourth one about ten times slower than he ought to, and he gets the rhythms completely wrong in the blues one. Oh, but I found it on a Horowitz album just now—that’s bound to be better. There, downloaded! Hm… definitely better, but still mostly sucks. He’s pretty much lost on the blues one. Though he’s pretty dazzling with the fourth excursion, which always reminded me of bluegrass and banjos. 🙂 Horowitz improvises it a little in fairly nice ways, though there are a few abrupt tempo aberrations I find a little strange.

I’m pretty sure these two albums were the only references I had back at CSUS, too; I can recognize some of my own poor past choices from them—it’s no wonder if I wrestled with the blues Excursion with references like these! I’ve ordered a CD from Daniel Pollack, but I’ll have to wait a few days to find out how that one sounds.

Meanwhile, I also got a couple performances of Poulenc’s Novelettes, both of which have serious flaws. Cazal’s is technically accurate, but lacking in emotion; Parkin’s has beauty, but some significant errors. Unfortunately, I spent about a week “repairing” my version of it to match the Parkin version (in his trills), only to later realize that he was in fact doing it wrong.

I’ve decided to go ahead and put up some of the MP3s I have from my CSUS performance from a decade ago, including the Barber Excursions. They don’t have ID3 tags, and you may need to turn the volume up to hear them.

4 thoughts on “Micah, the Pianist

  1. Chris

    Hey MIcah… thanks for the mp3’s. You should really make some newer recordings. I enjoyed these, but the cassette tape distortion detracted from it a bit!

  2. Micah Post author

    Yeah. It was recorded digitally, but then transferred to tape, and then transferred to my computer ages ago via a simple RCA hookup from my battery-powered walkman. So the sound definitely suffers. Plus the piano tuner didn’t tune the piano before the concert, and I had a cold, so you can hear me coughing (that ain’t the audience).

    I got passable results experimenting last night with seeing whether my laptop’s mike could grab from my piano, so when I’m happy with the work I’ve been doing lately, maybe I’ll put some new stuff up. It won’t be great, but at least it won’t have tape distortion.

  3. Mars Saxman

    Glad to hear you’re back into the piano-playing business! What kind of piano is it?

  4. Micah Post author

    Eh, it’s a crappy Acrosonic console. But it does the job, and it was free.

    Actually, as nice as it is, I’d very much like to get myself some decent electronic gear, so I can actually get back into composing. I mean, yeah, I could compose piano music, but I don’t actually listen to piano music (except, as above, when I’m listening with an eye (ear?) to improving my own interpretations). I envy you with the Music Machine 🙂

    I’m thinking of investing in a solid (but fairly inexpensive) MIDI controller keyboard, and Propellerhead Software’s “Reason” software rack. Have you played with that at all? It seems like a much cheaper alternative to buying a crapload of quality hardware? And do you have any recommendations for a good MIDI controller keyboard? I don’t need 88 keys…

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