Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Memorizing music

I don't seem to have written about a book I discovered last year called By Heart: the art of memorizing music, by Paul Cienniwa. (Memorizing the spelling of his name is a bit of an achievement in itself!)

This has been the most helpful book I've come across in a long time, in terms not only of memorising music but also of memorising text such as poems and sections of Scripture, something I've done for a long time.

I've memorised music in the past - a long time ago, in fact - but nothing ever seemed to stick for long. With the help of this book, I've been able not only to memorise several pieces (none of them long, but that's not the point; you need to start somewhere), but also retain them. Yes, you have to do a bit of revising when you come back to them after a month or three, but you have to do this with text as well, at least until it's so embedded in your brain that you'll never forget it.

I've just revisited the pieces I learned this year, three by Christopher Norton from his Rock Preludes book, and three Preludes by Bach, ones that I've known for decades, since I first learned any Bach, but have never memorised. I had to start from scratch on each of them, because even though I could play them fairly well, I had no real idea of what notes I was playing. Which is the case for many musicians who rely on sightreading to get themselves through the day.

One of the Bach Preludes, number XV from the first set of 24, has always delighted me. I don't know what it is about it, but there a some bars that just feel like a taste of heaven - to me. No doubt there are bars in other Preludes that do the same for other pianists. Anyway, having revised this today to the point where I could comfortably play it again, I played it with my eyes shut. I have a feeling that I read in Cienniwa's book that he doesn't recommend this, but I can't find a reference to it. He does say that printed music gets in the way of your communication with your audience. I remember that.

However, I played through the piece, eyes shut, and found that instead of seeing notes on the page, I was visualising where I was on the piano and what my fingers were doing. This may not be unusual, and in fact, when I've gone back to the printed music after having learned a piece the notes often seem not quite where they are in my head anymore. It's the same with text. Once it's learned it becomes part of something in your head, and you visualise it differently in the brain.

At my advanced age it's great to be able to sit down and play something without the music in front of me. It's an achievement after all these years of feeling that I just couldn't memorise, and an encouragement to go on and memorise other music. I began one of Prokofiev's sonatas a few months back, but struggled greatly with it. I think I got about two pages into it before I had to give up. However, I've begun a work that's just as long in the last couple of weeks: Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Though it appears simple at first sight, he seldom does the same thing twice: harmonies change on repeats, and not only do the time signatures shift, but even within those time signatures, there are shifts of the main beats.

I've got the first section mostly under my belt, the one where the main theme is introduced, and have begun the second. It might take all of next year, but I'd like to get it so that I can play it from memory, even if it's only for my own satisfaction.

Mostly Paranoid

Watched Shawshank Redemption again (or most of it; missed a chunk near the beginning) the other night. Must be the third of fourth time. It's intriguing that a movie that takes so much time over its story is so watchable. The acting is detailed and strong, but it can't be just that. And it can't be the story, because once you know the ending, you won't forget it.

We've also been watching Paranoid on Netflix. A British/German co-production about an investigation into the seemingly out-of-the-blue murder of a young female doctor in a playground full of children - including her own.

Three detectives are on the case: Nina, played with verve by Indira Varma, switching from sane to slightly crazy at the drop of a hat; Bobby (Robert Glenister), well into middle-age, and with a tendency to panic attacks; and Alec (Dino Fetscher) the youngest of the three: likely to go off full-throttle, but also capable of understanding Nina (to her surprise), with whom he falls in love.

Their German counterparts (the reason for the murder turns out to be in Germany) are Christiane Paul (Linda) and Dominik Tiefenthaler. Linda has some issues of her own, which aren't revealed until the last episode; otherwise she's sane - running a household of boys with ease - and sharp, and delights in Skyping her British colleagues.

Like all British detective series, it relies greatly on character. Sometimes there's almost a bit much character here: Bobby gets himself involved with a woman, Lesley Sharp, who's is the key witness to the first murder, and she's forever trying to bring him into a calmer place, being a Quaker. But in general the interaction moves the story forward, because, being a relatively small town, detectives and suspects are interlinked by existing relationships.

It relies a bit too strongly on coincidence, and sometimes the weather changes without warning, mostly for effect. I know that in Britain, in winter, day can turn into night fairly quickly, but here, at more than one point, it does it in seconds. And, as so often in thrillers, people manage to get from A to B between scene changes, even though another character has just spent a great deal longer getting there.

Small quibbles, and never quite as bad as some of those US series where the detectives are always at the right place at the right time, usually after the computer whiz kid has done a few clicks on the keyboard. Considering how many serial killers they present in some of these US series, and how regularly they're dispatched, it's a wonder there are any left. And why do US serial killers almost always kill women, rarely men? Peculiar.

Enough: watch Paranoid if you get a chance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the tearoom

A post from the past - not entirely dated in what it says. This item first appeared on Bloggerwave, probably in early 2007. 

The tearoom – the one where only the men go – is a place where unpolitical correctness reigns. And so do strong opinions. And shared stories, made more alive by kinetic retelling.  
It’s the place where grassroots thinking exists, and where all the liberal left-wing PC stuff seems to have barely made a dint. What it’s like for these men outside is another matter; in the tearoom opinion is at its most forthright. 
The anti-smacking bill, for instance, got a clobbering, and lots of witty remarks about what the men did or didn’t do to their own children, or had done to them. For the most part it wasn’t nearly as bad as Helen Clark and her cohorts would like to think. Most men these days are not given to smacking their kids with any degree of regularity. 
The stadium issue, here in Dunedin, gets aired almost every other day – because something turns up in the paper about it every day, and the newspaper is shared around the room in section (after the one who always reads it first has had a go). Opinions on the need for a new stadium are both pro and con, and strong in both directions. But everything is seasoned with good humour, and no one comes to blows over any of the issues.
But I think the matter that surprised me a little today was when it was announced that the Privy Council had deemed David Bain’s first trial to be a mistrial, and therefore his conviction was overturned. What it will mean for Bain in reality is another matter. It seems unlikely the police will let the matter lie. Someone who was convicted of murdering the other five members of his family early one morning isn’t likely to be let go scot free, whatever the Privy Council states. 
The tearoom, almost to a man, is convinced that he was guilty anyway. Why? There’s no obvious reason.Even those who’ve read Joe Karam’s books on the subject are still not convinced of his innocence.  
I was surprised because I’ve never believed that the case was as cut and dried as the police made out. There have always been flaws in the whole thing, and there’s absolutely no motivation for David Bain, a mild-mannered youth, to suddenly strike every one of his family down in a few short minutes. Only one other man in the room felt less comfortable with the general verdict, and he’d actually known Bain at school. 

There was talk about all the compensation Bain would get – the millions! One wit said, Well he could pay for the new stadium with all the money and then, instead of it being called the House of Pain, it could be called the House of Bain.  

At the time, the Labour Government brought in a bill to stop parents smacking their children. It wasn't as popular as the liberals made out. Helen Clark was the Prime Minister at the time. 
The Dunedin Stadium cost the city a fortune, and is still costing. It's never paid its way, and was the dream-child of people who didn't take responsibility for the cost. 
David Bain was accused of murdering his father, mother and siblings but the evidence was circumstantial and he has since been freed, and, very recently, paid the relatively small sum of $1 million, mainly to cover his legal costs and such that have accrued over various trials and re-trials. NZ is still very divided on his guilt/innocence. 
The House of Pain was the name for Carisbrook, which was replaced by the Stadium. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Treasures old....

Back in 2006/7, when I was out of work for some months, I was persuaded I could produce some income by writing blog posts for various sites. According to the site owners I would make piles of money and probably never have to go to work again. Yeah, right.

However, I did write a lot of blog posts, including ones for a site called Orble, where I had two blogs running consecutively. Both of these blogs mysteriously disappeared a few years ago, and no amount of inquiry to Orble elicited any response. Thankfully, I'd kept the posts from one of the sites - - relating to issues I had with my prostate in the late 2008-early 2009, because I wanted to write a book using them. (The book eventually got published as Diary of a Prostate Wimp, available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle as well as other devices.)

I did make some cash out of these sites, through Google Adsense, so they weren't entirely wasted.

Another site, Triond, where I also made a small amount of cash (they paid monthly, rather than waiting till the payments had built up to US$100) also eventually went into some kind of AWOL status, and refused to respond to enquiries. Dozens of bloggers wrote to them but they just ignored us all.

The problem with these sites gradually disappearing off the Net is that you lose all the blog posts you've written - unless you're very good at backing things up. I wasn't that good, but early on I tended to write the posts offline, in Word, and then upload them to the blog. Which meant I had copies of them.

I've been sifting back through my old files, and have discovered a fairly large wad of posts, some good, some not so good. In order to give the better ones a new lease of life, I'll add them to this blog over the next months/year. I'll note on when and where they first appeared (if I actually have those details) so that you don't think you're reading totally new material. Not that it would matter: there's an awful lot of recycled material on the Internet!

Just another little project....

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Spare me from 600-page books

I started off the year with a bit of a bang, aiming to read at least one classic this year. The Brothers Karamazov got the short straw, and while I found there some longish moments in it, when Dostoevsky seemed to go off on some tangent (and I don't mean the Father Zossima passages, which are excellent), I still finished it, because there are many wonderful stretches of writing in it. I don't know how many pages it is, because I read it on Kindle - the paperback version I'd had since I was a teenager was falling to bits, and I didn't think to check the number of pages before I threw it out. Anyway, the print was ridiculously small in that edition - for an older person.

I also read Dickens' Our Mutual Friend during the year. Another whopper, also with many byways included, a number of them tedious, and some of them downright silly. Of all the Dickens books I've read this has to be the one that balances some of his best writing with some of his worst. The satire is often superb (the nouveau riche people, for instance); on the other hand some of it hits you over the head with everything Dickens can find. The love story is all over the shop, as well. However, I still finished it, though there were some skimmed moments.

You can tolerate the length of classic novels because you know they were written for an age when reading was something that people did in the long evenings, an age when there was no TV, movies, radio, Internet. But when people produce 600 page novels these days, there had better be a darn good reason for it.

I do quite a bit of reviewing for our local paper, and I got not one but two 600-page novels to deal with recently. The first was The Nix by Nathan Hill. Honest reviewers have said that it's just too long in spite of its wit and satire. I understand it was originally over a 1000 pages. Thankfully that version wasn't published. But the version that was published tried my patience. I finished it, but only by skimming increasingly as I went along. Hill allows himself so many interruptions and authorial reflections and back stories and side stories and streams of consciousness and I don't know what, that the story, such as it is, almost gets swallowed up by all the malarky going on in the writing. There's no doubt the man can write, but perhaps next time he should commit to producing a couple of hundred pages that are really page-turning; just as a challenge, maybe,..

And then came Under a Pole Star, by Stef Penney, also at 600 pages. I got about 200 pages into this, a book that seemed to be about exploration in the Arctic, and seemed as though it was going to be interesting because of that. But for some reason Penney decided that we should have access to her main characters' sexual lives - at length. In the 200 pages I read, very little of this sexual information was relevant to the story; certainly not in the detail we were given. I'd no sooner skim a bit than they were at it again. The exploration seemed continually to be taking a back seat. I'm assuming her two main characters eventually got together at some point in the book. They didn't look as though they were going to remotely get there when I stopped reading, and handed the book back to the Book Editor.

I'm puzzled why publishers think that books have to be long these days. Even the lightweight romance I've just finished (again, for review) was heading up to 400 pages - at least there were fewer words on each page because there was a lot of dialogue. 300 to 350 pages is a good length for me, if the book isn't a classic that's been around since the 19th century. Obviously editors no longer do the job of cutting out swathes of unnecessary material.

I've just remembered that I also started to read, this year, the 571-page Here I am, by Jonathan Foer, and the 560-page Sport of Kings, by C E Morgan, and didn't finish either of them, for various reasons. How many trees are cut down to provide these tomes?

When I was doing a writing course back in the 80s I was asked to write a short story for an assignment (and it was a short one). And then, in the next assignment, was asked to cut it in half. I thought: impossible! But no, it's never impossible. You just have to be willing to let go of a lot of 'stuff' that really isn't as relevant as you first thought. And it teaches you to be concise as well.

I'm not saying that writers must reduce their novels down to the bare bones, Readers Digest-wise, but surely their editors could persuade them that maybe a 100-150 pages of their 600-page book might be cleared out of the way, so that real story could find its feet?