Friday, February 11, 2011

Stretch your right arm over your head, bend your elbow and pat yourself on the back.

That's what my choir director in college used to have us do after every successful practice, and it felt appropriate as a title. I had some big, big breakthroughs musically yesterday, and made some wee baby mental connections between art and knitting and my writing, but I don't have words for that yet, so I'll stick to just a quick recap of my day.

I had a list of 8 articles I wanted to get written for the week (the clearinghouse I work for has a list of titles they want, so I can pick as many as I need for the day.) I had been planning, originally, to simply do the research for the four I had left to do on Thursday and do the writing today, but when I got home from my volunteer activities, I told myself that if I was a good girl and got my work done that day, I'd take Friday off and go to the local art museum which is, thankfully, free. So I knuckled under, got my work done and went, as promised, to my museum.

Which is, by the way, very inspirational. I love going there because there is an energy to art that is...visceral. I sit and drink in the emotions the artists have made static. Sometimes I find music too emotionally overwhelming, because I am primarily driven by my hearing, but I can look at art all day because vision is my secondary sense, if you know what I mean. The emotions are there, but less intense--or at least I experience them as less intense--because I'm using a less dominant sense to experience them.

Anyhoo, I saw some beautiful art. There was a piece by Victor Vasarely which blew my mind--it's not on his website, but it's bright orange shading through to red squares on a lilac to dark purple background. It's like a paint color chip on steroids. BEAUTIFUL. Then I enjoyed a piece by Tara Donovan called Untitled (Mylar):

I cannot express the joy walking around that piece generated in me. It's bunches of little glittery balls, all smooshed up and for whatever reason, it made me absolutely giddy. Yes, I know I'm weird. Not news. There was a nice audio piece called "Terrain" by Julianne Swartz (the space I saw it in was much, much smaller than the one in the pictures, so I imagine if the Quicktime video would ever load, the sound would be different) that I liked quite a lot. It takes one whole room and consists of hundreds of these little speakers suspended from the ceiling that play, well, sounds, mostly; a soft, whispering susurrus, atonal wailing and occasional snippets of phrases and words. The amazing thing is how the sounds paint the picture in your mind of a rolling landscape with grasslands, hills and rain. Schmexy. Not even the squealing child in the gallery could ruin that one for me.

Then I got lost in tons of galleries that started giving me yarn color combination ideas--some of them pretty acid and wild--and I began thinking in terms of knitting as related to what I was seeing on the walls in front of me, and color and creation and all that, and I totally lost the plot for a while. Particularly as we have several installations of art that involve string (not knitting, just string. Sounds useless, but it's not) and, well, you can imagine my reaction. Unfortunately, they have those pesky docents hanging around, keeping an eye on the artworks, interfering with any attempt at yarn stealing. Bummer.

So, back to the musical breakthrough. I stopped trying to learn to play the piano about a year ago because I was having trouble understanding what my piano teacher was talking about when he taught. I took music theory (back in the dim recesses of my memory there is a phrase, "Circle of Fifths", that still makes me shudder at night) in college, I've been singing and sight reading for...more years than I care to admit, frankly, and it was still making no sense. So I gave it up, thinking I could never learn piano, there's no way to unlearn what has been learned, and the stuff he was saying was so alien I was beginning to think I'd never learned anything at all, in a musical sense. I gave in to a fit of the sulks, if you must know.

But yesterday, after I finished my work and was excited about my art museum trip today, I started thinking about dinner. Since dinner would have to be manufactured in the kitchen, which is close to my piano, I went in to noodle around while waiting for my dinner to finish the manufacturing process (roughly 15 minutes.) While looking at my Piano for Dummies book (yes, I bought a 'for dummies' book; they're very good, you should try one) I found his tip about 'chopsticks and forks', which makes no sense unless, like me, you're trying to figure out which key is what note. Suddenly, the whole keyboard just made sense, and I wasn't lost anymore on the keys!

That bit of transcendence brought me to another realization--in addition to the totally weird factoid that my piano teacher does not learn new things by relating them to old ones (heh, I just realized I might be a slow learner that taught myself to learn more efficiently without any help from a special ed teacher--how about that, I might be as dumb as I think I am after all!), I also realized that I know how this whole music thing works, I just use a very different language and mental map to maneuver through it than he does.

Suddenly, I realized that what I was having was a translation problem, not a learning problem! He and I were talking about the same cup, just using different words to describe it (heads up--ST:TNG nerd reference there.) Once I realized that, I stopped trying to think like my teacher and started trying to think like me. And the world of piano opened up like a great, piano-y flower before me. Chords make sense. They aren't just there to torture innocent piano students like me, there's a reason why they are what they are, and I already know the reason, I just express it differently. And since I know that reason, I should (in theory) be able to construct any chord I want on the keyboard without the cheat sheets provided with my books. Amazing. I have the power!

I can't tell you what a relief it is to know that my music education hasn't been completely based on lies and fabrications. Or that I'm not having a stroke and have completely mixed up my lessons so what I thought I learned I really didn't. Although the experience did highlight the reason most really serious musicians learn from one, at the most two or three, teachers in the very beginning--part of why I was so screwed up is I had over ten (TEN!!!) music teachers, in school and out, and each of them was teaching the way they learn which may or may not be anything like the way I learn. I have all the basic music theory in there, it's just in a higgledy-pigglety mess of different languages and thought constructs.

So now all I have to do is go through and translate those concepts and lessons into one, coherent language. Sounds difficult, but not really--I had at least...three teachers who spoke roughly the same language, if you follow, so I've got my little translation code right there. I can organize my new studies in music theory into one unified and coherent language, and finally, finally progress musically.

And if I ever have a kid and they want to study music, they're getting one teacher until they've mastered the basics of music theory. It will save a lot of chaos down the road.

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