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.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Let's play, "Stump the Pianist" - AARGH!

Sometimes it's nice to see the pros struggle and have a hard time with something, isn't it? It's ok to admit it - I've been there myself.  Well, in today's post I'm going to let you in on the secret to why you all haven't heard from me in the past week or so and it all has to do with the fact that I have been banging my head up against the wall this whole time, attempting to memorize one passage of a cadenza that I'm supposed to be performing in a month or so.  Yep, you read that correctly...I have been brought to my knees by about 23 measures worth of music.  So what's the deal?  By the middle of this past week I truly believed that I had tried everything I knew to try.  I had good fingerings in my part, I had marked the way I wanted to distribute the notes between my hands so I wouldn't be fumbling around in the inner voices, I had marked in all the accidentals, I had practiced slowly, a little more slowly, insanely slow, absurdly get the picture.  I was actually starting to think that there was something wrong in my brain, that perhaps I had had a traumatic moment in a past life with this cadenza and it was coming back to haunt me.  It was the most bizarre thing and although it may sound kind of funny to you now, it really was terribly upsetting to me at the time because I had simply run out of ideas on how to fix it and you know how it is...the clock was ticking!

So what did I do?  I thought of practically the strangest thing I could.  I decided to rewrite the entire passage into its enharmonic equivalent.  Clara Schumann or an editor had written this troublesome part of the cadenza with the key signature of three flats, so either E-flat major or C minor but the music is really in A-flat minor, ending in C-flat major.  In order to be in that key then, Clara or editor had to add tons of flats.  They are all over the place - invasion of the flats!  Even though I was a bit embarrassed to think that something so trivial might be messing me up, I decided to ignore the fact that I was rolling my eyes at myself, and I sat down and rewrote it with the key signature of five sharps, for G-sharp minor.  After about 30 minutes I was done, went downstairs to the piano and read this new version through slowly, savoring the newness of it all.  When I reached the other side, I almost wept, partly out of joy, but also out of disbelief that something so trivial could actually work. 

I never cease to be amazed at how the brain works.  Most of the time I think it is a brilliant organ but at other times I think it is the most fickle, bizarre beast such as in this instance.  Oh well.  I'm glad that I've got it figured out now and that the cadenza is now the "proper" key, at least according to my brain, that is.


  1. Funny? Not exactly! Being stumped like that is very frustrating. And with a deadline, no less!

    Glad you found a great solution. Congratulations!

  2. Good one, Erica. GREAT one, in fact. If my new site were up, I'd link in a second. In a nanosecond.

    Is why I have ENORMOUS respect for those oligodendrocytes and how they work. Gotta keep 'em guessing -- that's the trick. I'll have to steal this --= usually when I have a tuff time with a passage, I just play the damned thing in double octaves, then in fourths and then....


  3. Thanks Gretchen and Robert. I'm glad I found a solution too...I was really not a fun person to be around last week before I came upon this solution. And for all of you who read Robert's comment and wonder, "What's an oligodendrocyte?" like I did the first time he mentioned them to me, here's the definition from

    "Oligodendrocyte: A type of cell in the central nervous system. The oligodendrocytes surround and insulate the long fibers (the axons) through which the nerves send their electrical messages."