My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Well-Tempered Pianist: exploring a pianist's life through music

A few years ago, at the age of 40,  I found myself struggling to "make it" as a professional musician. I seem to have always found distractions in my life to keep me from whole-heartedly pursuing what it is I truly love the most so this wasn't a complete change or anything, but that didn't make my mid-life crisis any easier to deal with.

After school, I got married. 
After getting married I was a music-minister's wife and my role was by my husband's side (at least that was my excuse.)
After he left church work and was pursuing his doctorate I had to bring home a salary to support us.
After he got his first teaching job at a university, I got pregnant.

You get the picture.

When our daughter got to be old enough, I dropped the mom excuse and earnestly attempted to piece together a musical career, through collaborative work, teaching at a local university, and then as a practice coach. Nothing really worked out for various reasons. Door after door closed. I took at it as personal rejection when in reality, I think it had more to do with me always finding excuses to not keep at it.

Then I hit 40. I felt utterly disappointed in myself. Music is my passion. Music is my religion. Music is quite simply me and I had let it slip out of my hands.

A few years before I had told myself that someday I wanted to have learned all 24 preludes and fugues from Bach's second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. I dreamed of being able to sit down and play through all 24. That would be my all I would need to die happy and feeling like I had done something. 

It took a while, a couple of years I believe, but I did just that. I got them all learned. But then that wasn't enough. I decided I wanted to perform them all.  But who wants to sit and listen to all 24 at one sitting?  Or two sittings? That's when my Well-Tempered Pianist series popped into my mind.  

I decided that I would put together 6 recitals. Each one would feature 4 preludes and fugues and I would intersperse among them pieces that meant something to me from throughout my musical life, The series would be my musical autobiography.  

I'm now near the end of my second presentation of the entire series and I am so very thankful that I've been able to do this and that people have received it with such interest, acceptance, and excitement.  In between pieces I've been taking a few moments to walk the audience through my life and to connect the music I'm performing with the most significant points in my timeline. That too has been enlightening to me although I have to admit sometimes it's been a bit distracting to talk about an aspect of my life that meant a lot to me and then have to perform. I often find my mind and heart dwelling on what I just talked about and see the colors and sounds I normally associate with a given piece of music change into something I've never quite considered. In spite of some surprises in that way, it's been incredibly rewarding, especially since the audience has been receiving it so well too. Each recital finds me talking with audience members for quite some time afterwards, answering questions, hearing their own stories...it's been a tangibly reciprocal series of events.  

As for my mid-life crisis, I'm still in the middle of it. The recital series didn't fix that little problem. But it did remind me that even though I may not be able to support myself as a professional musician, I am a pianist with a very musical soul and people want to hear me and hear the music I have to offer them. That is enough for me...for now.

I highly recommend musicians do something like this if they think it might be of interest to them. So often I think we don't think the audiences want to know about who we are; that we are there to serve the music and that is all. What I'm finding, however, is that at least in this part of the country, in this atmosphere and culture, the personal aspect is appealing as well and encourages more of a conversation between performer and audience. 

For those of you who might find it interesting, here is a listing of what has been on each program. Please excuse any discrepancies in formatting.

Recital I: At the very beginning

Prelude and Fugue in C major
Beethoven's Für Elise
Clementi Sonatina in D major
Prelude and Fugue in C minor
Bartók Sonatina
Prelude and Fugue in C# major
Mozart Sonata in C major, KV 545
Prelude and Fugue in C# minor
Selections from Schumann's "Scenes from Childhood"

Recital II: A musical life in San Francisco

Prelude and Fugue in D major
Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66
Opening to the slow movement of Ravel's G major piano concerto
Prelude and Fugue in D minor
Dvorák's Slavonic Dances, numbers 1 & 2 from Op. 48 (sightread at performance on purpose)
Prelude and Fugue in E flat major
The Swan from Saint-Saën's "Carnival of the Animals" (I used to play cello too)
Prelude and Fugue in D# minor
Selections from Debussy's "Children's Corner"

Recital III: College living

Prelude and Fugue in E major
Debussy's L'isle joyeuse
Prelude and Fugue in E minor
Hwaen Ch'uqi's Souvenir 
Prelude and Fugue in F major
Rachmaninoff's Prelude in B minor, Op. 32, no. 10
Prelude and Fugue in F minor
Selections from Satie's "Sports et divertissements"

Recital IV: From the Golden Gate to the Alps (about my months working as a restaurant pianist)

Debussy's 1st Arabesque
Prelude and Fugue in F# major
Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby
Prelude and Fugue in F# minor
Beryl Rubinstein's concert transcription of "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess
Prelude and Fugue in G major
September Song from Knickerbocker Holiday (performed with my husband, baritone Tadd Sipes)
I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' from Porgy and Bess
Johanna from Sweeney Todd 
Prelude and Fugue in G minor

Recital V: Marriage, becoming a mom, and more

Prelude and Fugue in A flat major
Ravel's Jeux d'eau
Prelude and Fugue in G# minor
Finzi's Eclogue (performed with organ instead of string orchestra)
Prelude and Fugue in A major
Gounod's "O divine redeemer" (performed with a student I collaborated with and taught)
Sorenson's "In this hour"
Prelude and Fugue in A minor
Radnich's arrangement of "Hedwig's Theme" from Harry Potter

Recital VI: Looking ahead

Prelude and Fugue in B flat major
Selections from Schubert's "Wintereisse" (performed with my husband, baritone Tadd Sipes)
Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor
Tiersen's "A song from another summer" from the movie Amelie
Prelude and Fugue in B major
Pärt's Für Alina
Prelude and Fugue in B minorHough's transcription of "My Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music






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