Thursday, April 18, 2013

ElliptiGO Ad

Well, at least they're honest in stating their opinion, including the fact that they think that all other cross-trainers (are they talking about elliptical machines? human trainers? shoes?) suck.

I visited the ElliptiGO website to see if maybe there was more to this ad, like maybe they're talking about cross-trainers that suck money or electricity or something else, but no, this is it.

How interesting that they're not trying to market their product as fantastic or amazing, simply that it doesn't suck. Granted, it looks super fun, and I would love to try one, but all the same, it's a curious advertising approach.

Ad found on page 110 of the May 2013 issue of Runner's World.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Nephew Is A Lego Genius: The Organ

Prince Tuffett (the Lego genius) is 6. He has played with the Lego building system his entire life. I suppose it should not be any wonder, then, that he is so clever at building creations without any instructions.

My sister, Queen Tuffett, said that during one session of General Conference, Prince Tuffett built Aunt Betty playing the organ. These are the sorts of images Prince Tuffett would've seen on the screen:

From those images, Prince Tuffett created this:

This amazes me.

Prince Tuffett did such a great job of capturing the numerous stops and multiple keyboards of an organ. He also created me (or rather, the minifig representing me) very cleverly: when we were playing outside the other day, Prince Tuffett was pretending to be Harry Potter, and I was Luna Lovegood; hence, I am composed of Luna Lovegood's face, torso, and legs. The hair selection was also clever, because I have a Lego minifig that I built to represent myself wearing the Ravenclaw house crest. That minifig has this exact same type of hair. I had shown that minifig to Prince Tuffett the day before he built this organ.

Smart kid, no?

I also constructed a Lego organ recently, but that's only because it came with the haunted castle set (which is pretty much why I bought the set...):

Compared to Prince Tuffett's organ, mine looks rather piddling and weak. It's more like a piano with pipes coming out of it. Prince Tuffett's build captures the essence of an organ, whereas mine just exploits the familiarity of the pipes and keys.

Conclusion: my nephew is brilliant.

Stay tuned for Prince Tuffett's Hogwarts Express re-creation!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Peanut Butter M&Ms Ad

I found this ad in the May 2013 issue of the Real Simple magazine*, and it made me smile. I love a good ad.

Simple, yet effective.

*I don't actually read/buy this magazine, I just browse through all of our magazines, this one included, before putting them on the shelves at work. Not that there would be anything wrong with reading this magazine, if I did read it. Anyway.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Back in January, I went to a concert by Tommy Emmanuel, one of the world's greatest guitarists. He was astounding. What he did amazed me; I had no idea you could make a guitar do that sort of stuff. As I was sitting there, however, I had an epiphany: I am not a natural musician.

To explain: I have always loved music--always loved classical music, even. I have always had good aural retention: I like to say I have a phonographic memory (har har har). I've always been pretty good at sightreading, too, especially on the horn. But could those talents have sprung from the mathematical side of my brain, rather than, as I assumed, the musical?

I cannot just sit at a piano and play something beautiful off the top of my head. I have never been able to do this. I can bang around and make noise on a piano, or I can play some chords, but I can't just hear something and then make it happen, or hear the next chord I want to play and then play it. I can't improvise. I could learn, I'm sure. There are ways of learning these things, rules to follow and so forth, but if I were a guitar player, I would not be able to pick up my guitar, like Tommy Emmanuel does, and just play.

I've often found this is the case with musicians: some people are really good at sightreading, but can't play without music; others are really bad at reading music, but can play incredibly without it. Which is better? Is one better?

I accompanied the stake choir today for stake conference. We did 2 organ pieces and 1 piano piece. Every day for the past 2 weeks (which is when I got the music), I practiced for at least an hour, usually 2. Yesterday I practiced for 2 hours, had a 1 hour rehearsal, then practiced for another 2 hours later in the day. This week alone I practiced for 12 hours. That doesn't sound like a lot, but for someone who only runs through the hymns once or twice before Sacrament meeting starts, that's a lot. Heck, I never even practiced that much in college, and that was my major.

In addition to those 12 hours of practicing, I rewrote the piano accompaniment for the piano piece. It was way too hard as written, so on Wednesday night I sat down at the piano and went over it, measure by measure, crossing off note after note, figuring out which notes to play to keep the same chords and the essence of the piece, but in a playable (for me) form. On Thursday I spent many hours putting that music into MuseScore so I could have a clean copy to play from. Then, of course, I had to practice the new piece, which was easier than the old one, for sure, but still required practicing.

As to the organ pieces, on one of them I decided to use the bass coupler (mostly), and that worked fine. On the other, I decided to drop the left hand when things got hairy, a tactic which worked moderately well when the choir was singing, but not so well during the interludes, which required the left hand accompaniment.

There were 7 measures of that latter organ piece--it was "I Believe in Christ"--that were especially tricky. They involved an intricate fanfare on the manuals, plus pedals, going at a decent tempo, about 100 bpm. I spent a very long time on those 7 measures. Then I spent even longer on them. I played just the manuals until they were perfect, then added the pedals, then did the manuals again so my fingers would remember what they were supposed to be doing, then added the pedals again, and so on. I worked those 7 measures. It sounded great.

Then I went to rehearsal. Rehearsal yesterday was abysmal. For some reason, when it comes to the real deal, I can't perform. My hands shake like mad, my feet forget they ever knew there was such a thing as a pedalboard, and my brain gets confused at everything. It sounded like I had hardly practiced at all.

Well, today came. I played the pieces. There were mistakes, of course. I didn't play as well as I wanted to. I messed up those 7 measures pretty bad the first time around. I did better on the repeat, but I flubbed the pedals that time, so I still didn't do as well as I would have liked. I made it through the meeting though, so that's good, I suppose. I even did a not-too-bad job of covering up for the choir, who didn't come in when they were supposed to.

I got lots of compliments afterwards. Mostly people told me good job. One person complimented me on "I Believe in Christ" and said, "That sounded like a really hard piece!" I understand he was giving me a compliment, and I really appreciate it, but part of me also realizes that it's not supposed to sound hard. If it sounds like the music is hard, it probably means I'm making it sound hard, i.e. not playing it well enough: it should sound effortless.

Ironically, the best compliment I got was from a friend who said she thought I did well today, but she liked my last performance in our own ward way better. That was a double compliment because I worked really hard on both creating that music (I transcribed the song from a recording, then heavily re-arranged all the parts, especially the organ part) and performing it.

The point: I have many gifts and talents, including many musical-related ones. However, it seems that when I practice a piece, I can only get it to be so good, and then no better. I cannot take it to that level of perfection where the audience melts and I know I rocked the performance. Maybe that's why I never practiced much in high school or college, because it didn't actually show like I thought it should. But how odd to think that maybe what I thought I was is not what I am at all, and maybe it's something else that makes me strong in some areas, an overflow from others of my true inner strengths. What talents really exist anyway?

When I was a freshman in college, I wondered what it is that makes one a hornist. Is it that you do it for a living? Is it that you actively play in an ensemble? Is it studying it in college? I asked one of my colleagues something along the lines of, "What makes someone a true hornist?"

"You play the horn, don't you?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Then you're a hornist."

Maybe it's best not to wonder which talents one does or doesn't have, but to simply take one's passion and make the most of it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stake Choir Organist

I was asked to accompany the stake choir for stake conference, and I said yes. Perhaps that was my first mistake. Honestly though, while I love playing the piano/organ, I am not an accompanist. I feel like I'm masquerading at the keyboard, like I should be telling people, "Hey, I'm just the ward organist."

It is really stinking hard to be a choir accompanist. We are singing 3 pieces, two of which have organ accompaniment. Organ pieces take me about 3 times longer to learn than piano pieces, because I can't just fudge my way through them; I have to actually get the pedals right and make the hands work at the same time and make it all sound good. Then there are stop changes if you want to get adventurous. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I am not a spectacular pianist or organist. In fact, I wouldn't even say I'm very good. I am adequate. I can do it if I have enough time. I can play something that sounds sort of like what it's supposed to sound like.

I was given the music last Thursday. We are singing the music next Sunday. That is a total of 16 days in which to practice. Sixteen.

One of the pieces we sang last year, but here's the thing: last year I didn't use the pedals. I played on the manuals only, and used the bass coupler. It sounded adequate, but now I'm feeling more confident with my foot technique, and I can mostly hit the notes without looking at them, so this year I'm playing this piece using the pedals. Interestingly, one part that was very hard before (because I was jumping from a sustained bass note to a moving line, then back to the bass note) is now incredibly easy; another part that was super easy before is now the hardest part (because it uses high pedals and I don't usually use pedals that high).

A choir accompanist has to play all the choir parts perfectly during rehearsal. Our choir accompanist in high school did this. She was amazing. I was super impressed with how well she could play. Whatever our choir director asked for, she did:
  • Let's hear just the women.
  • Let's hear just the men.
  • Let's hear the bass, tenor, and alto, no soprano.
  • Tenor and alto only.
  • Play all the parts together.
  • Just second tenor and second alto, please.
  • Baritone and soprano.
  • Oh, and all these parts are on separate lines, and the tenor part is written in tenor clef, which you read like treble clef, but down an octave.
  • Play accompaniment at the beginning, then when the parts split, play the parts.
  • Play accompaniment in the left hand and the women's parts in the right hand.
  • Can you play the soprano line upside-down and backwards? It's supposed to sound like a Pink Floyd song.
Ok, just kidding about that last one. But seriously, any and all vocal combinations must be ready to go at a moment's notice. (Gratefully, all 3 of our choir pieces have the vocal parts written in one staff, like piano music--it's a little blessing.)

In my case, it gets more complicated because of the organ. We rehearse on the piano, since it's easier to play and easier to hear the notes. Then when we just run through the piece during rehearsal, with me playing parts (and accompaniment when the choir is resting), I remain at the piano, but when I come to the accompaniment, I am stuck. Do I try to play all the notes written, and thus teach my left hand incorrect notes that will probably encourage it to mess up when I'm playing for real on the organ? Or do I just play the piano as if I'm on the organ, but with no pedal, and therefore no bass note to solidify the choir? It's a lose-lose-lose situation.

I've been practicing a lot this week--a couple hours every day (yes, that's a lot for me). Thank heavens for my access to an organ. Even so, I'm nowhere near where I need to be by next week. These pieces go at 90 bpm, 105 bpm, 80 bpm... These are fast tempos for what I'm doing. I spent 30 minutes one day on 4 measures of music. I started at 50 bpm and worked my way up to 110 bpm, playing the 4 measures multiple times at each increment of 5 (55, 60, 65, etc.). Yes, I finally got it. But when I played those 4 measures today, they were just as difficult as ever, like I hadn't spent a half hour going over them again and again and again. And that's only 4 measures, in one piece. I don't have time for this.

So what am I going to do? Fudge it, as usual. Whip out the pencil (or, if I'm feeling fancy, the white-out and the pen--but I don't think I'll have time for that this time around) and write my own part, then hope I can at least learn that well enough to sound decent.

There's no fudging on choir parts--I have to play the exact right notes and rhythms because if I mess up, they mess up--but at least on the accompaniment I have one week to test and practice and figure out what I can do to make it through these pieces.

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the chapel.

* * *

P.S. I have to play congregational hymns too. Hopefully those aren't too difficult (I haven't bothered looking at them, but one of them is "How Firm a Foundation," so thank heavens for that).
P.P.S. I just bought organ shoes after reading some forum comments online about how great they are (more to this story, but that's a separate post). The post office shipped the shoes from Greenfield, Massachusetts, to Nashua, New Hampshire. In case you need to pull out a map, that is roughly a north-east direction. Utah is southwest of both those states. At this rate, I may receive my shoes by Christmas.
P.P.S. If anyone knows any good organists for hire in Salt Lake, please let me know.