Tag Archives: piano

The Art of Hearing

Every time that I feel like I had a rough pipe organ Sunday, without fail, a very sweet elderly lady comes up after the church service and tells me how much she appreciated my playing. Different lady each time, but it happens without fail. Every time. This odd bit of trivia got me to thinking today – We all hear music differently.

My brother-in-law loves to quote lyrics as Facebook responses. Pretty universally, stuff I don’t know. Whatever he’s quoting is not part of my Internal Song Book. Let’s just say that our musical tastes differ wildly. I still kind of like that he leaves the quotes though. I figure music’s music, and I’m all for the thrill it brings people, no matter what the lyrics are. (Besides, I love a good rhyme.)

Whoops – almost passed it. There’s my point.

My Internal Song Book is made up of the poetry of Lorenz Hart, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Fields, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter. Our great American tune poets of the 20th Century. Same deal, I figure. Much as I don’t live in the musical world that Brother-in-Law does, he’d need a map to navigate my musical landscape. I don’t reply in kind with my own lyrics, but it’s fun to think about the confusion I could create if I left a response in Porter-ese –

Brother-in-Law – Went to church today. I never sing the hymns.
Me – “I hate paradin’ my seranadin’ as I’ll probably miss a bar …”


Brother-in-Law – Poker game tonight with the boys.
Me – “I don’t like crap games with barons and earls …”

True, he’d probably ask what the hell I’m talking about. But he’d get it. That is, he wouldn’t know exactly why I love that music, but he’d know exactly how I love it.

Perhaps then, music is, if not the universal language, a universal understanding. It’s one of the few things we all get. It’s one of the few things that for all our differences in taste and experience, we understand the love of it.



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Beauty is Pain

A post in which our hero prepares for the coming season.

I am here, Friends, on a folding chair next to the organ bench. I’m on a folding chair because my back hurts. My back hurts because it’s Fall. Not following me? It’s a keyboardist thing – sitting on a piano and organ bench most of each day for a week … you get the idea.

The Fall season kickoff is upon us. The choir I accompany is starting up again, and I have two new groups to choose, organize, and direct music for. (Handbells! Ding-dong.) Besides, I want to have some really special organ solos for a few of the special days coming up. Yesterday alone, I went over and over two pieces from Bach, and repeated several others multiple times from a Bach son, Beethoven, Haydn, Elgar, Mozart, Rutter, some guy I can’t remember the name of, and several hymnodists.

To give you an idea of the volume of music coming up, I counted. (I know, childish.) I currently have 27 pieces of music on deck, many of them lengthy pieces by old masters. It’s a lot. But, do let’s be completely honest. I love playing and learning new music. I even usually enjoy practicing. And sure, when you’re into the music, all ills fade away. Even during rehearsal.

And you learn the tricks. You pace yourself. You save bookwork/writing/arranging for later in the week because you know your back will bother you and you’ll want to sit in a chair instead of on the bench. I have a few favorite places I like to sit outside on the church campus to take a break (pictured). In my previous vocation (musical theatre), I tried to always remember that to me, the biggest part of the job is providing people with something beautiful. I think of my job here at the church the same way. Art and beauty are important, and often, we don’t get quite enough of it nowadays.

But, I have to tell you … I’m leaving at noon today, taking two days to relax, and I’m not sitting in a chair that doesn’t have back support until Sunday morning!

You have a great day too!


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Tales from the Organ Loft #1

Sunday, as most readers know, I can be found on the organ bench at the most awesome church ever, St. Luke’s in Saranac Lake. You should visit. It’s Episcopal, which I think is awesome. (Especially being someone who has seen every episode of The Vicar of Dibley and Clatterford.) And our Rector, Mother Ann is awesome. Seriously historic, gorgeous church. Awesome. And we have a pipe organ, which is also awesome.


It had been a busy week, and I managed to catch a cold besides. So I went in feeling a little wonky to begin with. For this particular Sunday service, I was switching off between the organ and piano. I had half of my music stacked on the piano, half on the organ. Somehow, I got the music to two of the hymns reversed. (You totally see what’s coming, don’t you?)

At the piano, I play the intro verse to the first hymn. Nicely, I might add. The congregation stands up two lines in, just like clockwork. Bless ’em – half of them must have already known I was making a mistake. I play a beautiful build up into the final into line, and we grandly cadence out of the intro verse. The procession is waiting at the back of the church.

And no one sings. No one walks down the aisle. I stop playing, stand up, look directly at the church full of people, and say, “I’m playing the wrong song, aren’t I?” The congregation, potentially the sweetest group of people I’ve ever met, a group that would never want to embarrass anyone or call attention to a mistake, doesn’t make a sound. Instead, they silently nod their heads, “Uh-huh.”

St. Luke’s is often so sweetly English, it out-Englishes England.


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It’s Official

It’s Summer, I mean. Officially. I got my first fly bite today.

Hey, thanks for hanging in, Friends! I know it’s been a week. As I had mentioned, a super-busy one. Sitting in the piano/conductor chair for The Sound of Music has been a great joy! Super fun to be playing with such fine musicians, and for a lovely cast. One more weekend, over there in Lake Placid. If you come see the show, don’t be afraid to come down to the pit afterwards – I love visitors!

And, in big news, I am the new organist/pianist at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Saranac Lake! Awesome! Very, very historic church, lovely grounds, super nice people, awesome pipe organ. I’m thrilled. This trial go ’round is for six weeks, and then we talk about whether I seem to be a good fit. Suffice it to say, I’m going to be doing a lot of practicing!

Around here? You guessed it. Gardening. Exhausting, sweaty, buggy, wonderful gardening. I considered writing a four-thousand word blog post about it, but seeing as a picture paints a thousand words and all that bunk, here’s a few snaps from just a few minutes ago.

One of this year’s new beds – the annual & herb garden. I decided it would be neat to just mix everything up together. A little weird that I planted all the herbs willy nilly with pansies in-between them? I think it’s awesome!

This big spot alongside the road is going to be the sunflower garden – giants in the back and shorter ones in the front. I’ve always wanted a sort of sunflower forest, so I thought this would be fun. That was a lot of tilling! The soil out there was rock hard!

Last year’s perennials coming up nicely!

And, the standard photo. I figured that since I’ve used this angle out the window facing the cabin a few times, it would be nice to see what I see out the window as the seasons pass.

You have a great day too!


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In Search of the Perfect Pit

I don’t know if it’s the same for “civilians,” but for theatre folk, the orchestra pit is a mythical place.

Okay, heck. I don’t even know if the actors even think of it that way. I just know that the musicians do. It’s a little clubhouse. The temple of a secret society. Dark. Usually cramped. A little room all its own for the musicians. No one else ever goes there. You can imagine.

Of course, that mythology grows more shallow or deepens with the depth of the pit. A pit that’s just a flat space in front of the first row? Not so much. There’s still some magic there, but it’s minor. One of those pits that is dropped six inches or so, maybe with rails and curtains around it? Considerably better. A pit that’s sunk a foot or two? Not bad. Not bad at all.

Pits have gotten deeper over the years, as audiences have become more fond of TV and film, and no longer want to see the musicians. I think the perfect pit would be about four feet deep. Deep enough to hide, and to consolidate the sound, but shallow enough to still be in the room. Oddly enough, in a 20-year career, I’ve never played in a pit like that. Used to be, most of the Broadway pits were like that, about four feet deep. You just caught the tops of the musicians’ heads as you watched. You can see it in pics of older shows. Nowadays, they’re nearly buried in the basement.

I was recently asked to sit in the piano chair for The Sound of Music in Lake Placid. I thought it might be fun, and I also remembered that they have at least some kind pit at the Arts Center. It’s usually has the cover over it, bringing it up to floor level, but I knew there was some kind of hole underneath there.

With my score in my hot little hand and The Lonely Goatherd in my head, I visited the Arts Center website to check the tech list and see if I could find out how deep the pit is. (Yeah, I’m obsessed.) One foot, six inches. Ah, well. At least we’re in the moderate mythology range. Meanwhile, I continue my search for the perfect pit.



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Dishwater Day (and Weasels)

It’s another dishwater day, Friends. Today’s entry will be a little bit of this and a little bit of that. You know … much like the the bottom of the sink after you finish washing up.

The big news today? A weasel. A baby, I think. Perhaps just a small, local variety. No doubt though – it was a little weasel/ermine sort of thing. Still had it’s white coat, but the dark fur was on its way. Oh, I didn’t mention that it was in the RV?! Yep. Came out of an open cabinet while I was sitting here typing, saw me, and went back in. I went to look for it in the cabinet, got a skitter and a glimpse, and went to get the Hav-a-Heart trap. And when I got outside? I saw something move under the RV. A tiny weasel. Same coloring. Pretty sure it was the same dude. I think we might have had a family under the RV once I skirted it, and now that I am taking the skirting off … Well, perhaps there’s a hiphop tune there somewhere – “Weasel in the House.” To paraphrase Cindy Adams, the notable columnist from my previous home, “Only in the Adirondacks, kids. Only in the Adirondacks.”

At any rate, the critters are abuzz today. The red squirrel is outside in a tree trying to steal bird food, the chickadees are having a party in once of the spruces, and I saw a few chipmunks this morning. They live under the piles of salvaged logs from the old house.

Still working in the Tinycabin, recording piano arrangements for the freelance gig, due Monday. A few songs will be a few days late. (Can I help it if we had a beautiful weekend and I had to take two days off?) Following that, I have another piano gig, accompanying several musicians at a competition. The place will be crawling with musicians and teachers – Needless to say, I am getting some of them fancy VistaPrint biz cards this week. Evidently, I’m in demand.

The rock garden border is done, I’m roughing up the grass – seems like miles of it – overseeding last year’s crop, and going back over it with the aerator. Almost done with … the side yard. Only. No big. It’s hard work, but I kind of like it. And meanwhile, since that side of the property is now roped off, I’ll have a surprise when I open it back up – my rhubarb and lupins are over there growing away. The grass that is coming up from last year – I swear there’s something in the ground in the Adirondacks. It is so bright green!

That’s the news today, Friends. You have a great day too.


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Express Train to Wonkyville

Hey, friends! I hope you’ll pardon the incoherence of this post, if indeed it needs pardoned.

You see, I started my Chantix prescription this morning.  I need to quit smoking – for good this time. The stuff has totally got my head spinning. I’m really feeling quite wonky.

I had an awesome Winter Carnival weekend (due in large part to our local police, who don’t get thanked enough).

Saturday morning. Starting positions for the parade back up Route 86 for quite a ways. Which we forgot about. After about ten minutes of sitting bumper to bumper in the Route 86 Parking Lot, we were getting nowhere fast, and we needed gas. Turned around, grabbed some petrol in Gabriels, and went to Saranac Lake via Bloomingdale.

During our turnaround, we witnessed a lady stopped in the middle of the highway, on the wrong side of a steep hill … taking pictures of the mountains. Cars quickly braked and lined up ten deep behind her. Another person – Wrong side of a hill, no shoulder, walking the dog. At the time, the two incidents were alarming, but they’ve faded into “amusing” in the post-Carnival haze. All told – We got through the Dale and met friends for the parade, on time.

Sunday morning took me to church to do some ivory-tickling, and then across the street to another church (it is called Church Street) to warm up for the Fifteenth Annual Winter Carnival Baroque Concert. Lovely concert in the lovely Methodist Church Sanctuary. Some amazing musicians, including Elaine, our orchestra Concert Mistress – amazing – on the Cinema Paradiso piece. I only squeaked a little on the clarinet during the march, and Joey and I shook the classical crowd up a little bit with our showtune/hoedown/swing/kitchen-sink four-handed piano duet.

Monday was rest and a dinner party with another group of visiting friends – got back at 11pm … way past my bedtime! Tuesday is Chantix Side Effects Day. Wonky.

Ah, well. At least I have an excuse to lie down for a while.


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