Category: Personal

A Thanksgiving Fantasy; Thank you to all my Followers

I had one lesson today in the early morning.  The ubiquitous “Irving” was over and played the Scriabin Etude in C-sharp minor (Op. 2, No. 1).

My mind was running at a very fast pace dreaming of turkeys with enormous thighs and having visions Japanese sweet potatoes drowning in Vermont maple syrup.  The result was that I gave, let us say, a ‘rambling’ lesson, one in which I let my imagination loose, which caused me to use a lot of mental imagery, flights of fancy and outre analogies.  It definitely wasn’t a very ‘literal’ or scientific lesson.  But it worked.

Here were the main points we covered.


Irving spent a long time sitting at the piano and figuring just how to play the first chord.   I interrupted the process and said: too much time spent in preparation – just “evoke” the sound out of the piano.  Feel like a magician who casts a spell or waves a magic wand and a beautiful, resonant, soulful, balanced, chord emerges from the piano.  Then I said: and  incidentally, do this over and over again for every sound that wants to come to birth out the womb of the instrument.


That had an immediate and positive effect on the sound quality, both within and between the chords.  But we weren’t there yet.  It wasn’t the sound I had in my memory and imagination.  At that moment Irving happened to be doodling around with the B key on the middle line of treble clef, playing it -then listening to it.   This inspired my next flight of fancy.  I said: when you play that note, hear it crescendo after it starts.  Every note grows while it sounds.  There is no such thing as ‘decay’ or getting softer.

The great French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote: “What philosophy has lacked most of all is precision. . . (philosophical systems) are too wide for reality.  Examine any one of them . . . and you will see that it could apply equally well to a world in which . . . men . . . born decrepit . . . would end as babes in arms.”

Or, if you remember the TV series “Mork and Mindy” with Robin Williams:  they have a son together, who hatches out of an egg fully grown, looking surprisingly like Jonathan Winters.  Mork explains to Mindy that their son from this point on will grow younger and younger over the years.

I mentioned both of these things just to say that others beside me have had fantasies in which things defy the ‘arrow’ of time, or in my case, that a piano string, once set into motion and left on its own, will vibrate more and more strongly rather than less and less so.

You can also imagine a group of billiard balls, all in motion, which grow closer and closer to each other over the next bunch of seconds, until at the last moment they have come together in a triangular arrangement.   And other such ‘entropy’ defying feats.


At this point we were getting close to the desired sound.  The sound had been transformed, was lush and lasting.  One more thing was necessary, which had to do with mechanics of playing each chord.  Each time there was a chord to sound (which was pretty much every eighth note in the piece) create the chord out of its lowest note which then, figuratively speaking, opens up to the entire chord – only this has to occur simultaneously.

This is how we approached.  We began by taking one specimen chord and played it, with the pedal down, as a very slow upwards arpeggio.   We did the same again to the same chord only the arpeggio moved a little faster.  Then a little faster…

If I remember my calculus aright, if “delta t” represents the time duration of each note before adding to it the next note of the arpeggio, then, we simply let “delta t” shrink gradually to zero, at which point, though we still feel physically that we are arpeggiating, all the notes of the chord begin at the same instant.

At this point there is no longer a distinction between a simultaneous chord and an arpeggio of notes of a chord.  It is a physiological feeling in the body that the lowest note is played first and that our energy then shifts rightwards.   The listener hears the notes start simultaneously, but notices a richness to the sound.

The player has now been able to make ‘simultaneous in time’ identical with ‘sequential in space’.   The simultaneous chord retains the imprint of the note by note arpeggio.  In the calculus analogy, it like the straight line that connects two separated points on curve, which line, as those two points made to approach each other, changes its slant until, when the points converge, and the line looks like the tangent to the curve at that point.

Part of the retained ‘sequential’ physical experience is that each individual finger will feel totally in control physically of its note and each note sounds with an individual intent.   The bonus is that this is not the result of trying to coordinate the actions of different fingers.  For the feeling of the arpeggio remains, so that the body still feels a rotational change from one note to the next in the chord.  The more notes in the chord the more this rotation seeks its origin and energy from the shoulders and the arms.   In terms of our consciousness, something magical happens, it is as if the single instant at which all the notes start sounding has been expanded into lived duration.


We turned our attention next specifically to the contrasting section (when it switched from sharps to flats) where utmost anguish is suddenly replaced with great calm, as removed as possible from the original mood.

I made an analogy with a garden hose with a sprayer at its end that is held in the person’s hand, which sprayer contains a lever that makes the spray get stronger and stronger.  There is usually a strong spring in the lever that progressively resists squeezing the handle further, so that if one wants a steady and strong flow. and squeezes it for too long, the hand may grow tired and need to relax, even if just for a moment, before returning the water to the same pressure.  Without those moments of easing off the steadiness of the stream would not remain as continuous.

I wanted to have Irving feel this in relation to the keys going up and down.  The goal in this section is to act like the keys always stay down, but with every eighth note the hand needs to release and retake the keys.  The release of the keys has barely begun when a force from the arms and hands returns the keys to the depressed state.  It’s almost like when having to play the same note over and over, legato, without any use of the pedal.   We learn to strike a balance between there being just one continuous sounding note and the notes separating too far apart.

Looking around for a piano-key-like object, I seized on a pencil (it was the best I could find).   I said: this is a piano key, and, not only is it a piano key it is “Every-key”, in reference to “Everyman” (the 15th century English morality play).  I held one end of the pencil fixed, made the length of the pencil horizontal, and then manipulated the other end of it up and down.  It is like, I said, we are manipulating the same key over and over, imagining the piano keyboard as having just one and not eighty-keys, and that all we were doing was, when playing, was raising that same lever up and down.   And that made all the different pitches and rhythms.

Another way I described it was that part of the magic control that we have over time, when it came time to make the next chord sound, the keys were already down – even, already sounding.

Happy Thanksgiving and thank you to  all, and especially to Sawyer Fuller, our web master.   Save me a piece of dark meat!

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My friend Roy Doughty at Drake’s Bay

I wanted to share this recent poem (and photos) from a friend of mine, poet Roy Doughty.

Fair Fortune #59
At Drake’s Bay
4 – 8 May 2018
Roy Dean Doughty

Even on the brightest and bluest of days,
When one has the leisure to be by the sea,
And to walk by epochs of linguistic driftwood —
Those skeletons of trees, and flames, and broken ships —
Even here, where all is as it must be, because
No will has willed it to imperfection, one finds oneself
Forever keen to follow the most primitive of voices.

Down the long curve of the beach,
Where humans cease to be, is an alcove,
Enriched by the grunts of the monstrous Elephant Seal.
They remind one of what one would forget.
They present the windy spirit
With the impossible physical weight of a planet,
Which spins beyond any human ingenuity,
And silences him who would claim an angelic image.

Ah, even here, even now,
When the bay water is as calm as a pastoral mill pond,
And when the wind — mild, but keen — weaves serpentine
Patterns of sand-mist that lift the sparkle
Of the sea into the air, exhilarating the lone walker,
Even as they sting his face and eyes,
And levitate his hair.
Yes, even now, even here,
One realizes that it is not the hostility of Nature
Or the internecine battles of society,
Which most challenge one’s steadfastness.
It is not the primitive and its primordial fears
That makes one cower in the heart’s
Most prudent fortress.
It is oneself, oneself,
That cruelest and most faithful of enemies,
That most primitive of mysteries,
Who would kiss the lips of the sea
With molten words.

The sounds of waves, of winds,
Of the great sea mammals,
And of the squalling ocean birds
Reverberate against those golden cliffs,
Which hear without listening,
Which re-echo without comprehension.
And these, even these, even now,
Prompt those inner words, which have the power
To melt the mirror’s rainbow,
And to enervate that captain, who murders comfort,
People, animals, and peace,
Yet is addicted to the grandiose idea
Of his own angelic immortality.

Tell me,
You desperate wanderer by the sea,
You, who fears to brave the depths,
Why do you pit your derelict intellect
Against this atavistic human, the one who sees
The sparkle in the sand as his own primary face,
The one who always belongs to the blue bright day
And to the cool bright sparkle of the bay,
Yet has no will to command them?
Why do you abdicate the spirit of Nature within you?
Why do you insist upon being the one X-ed nullity,
Which tries to thrive beyond all death and time?

With his Memory Theater, Guilio Camilio,
Could place the entire imaginal universe
Into one small wooden room, and the patriot pirate,
Drake, sailed into this bay, which bears his name,
To repair and to refurbish,
This pale ring of cliffs reminding him
Of friendly, grandiose Dover,
His small wooden ship the one hope
His mortal body had to survive immortal enmity.
I am enamored of these things,
Which draw and quarter my poor un-doG’s body,
Pulling its too-weak flesh and weaker spirit
To the far corners of the cardinal compass points.
I am enamored of the distance between the human and the inhuman,
Between the human and the fundaments of life.

So tell me, tell me, oh sweet enemy mine,
Of what splendor do you dream, of what glory
Of galleon riches, of what artistry of thievery
And rapine?  Why do you long to give your talk
This force?  Just down the beach, your enormous siblings
Throw cool sand on their scarred and blubberous bulks.
They bellow against the reverberating cliffs,
Their warring and mating barks,
Fetching from time,
And from the cold, dark coffin of the sea,
And from the anonymity of lives spent
Pursuing an embattled fertility,
A causeless, deadly ritual of erotic violence.
Tell me, oh enemy mine, captain of history,
And of that which seethes much deeper than history,
What profit do you covet
When your thick tongue convulses,
And makes these grunts defiant of civil speech?
What solitary gain does your art seek?


Drake's Bay, by Roy Doughty,
Photo at Drake’s Bay by Roy Doughty
Photo at Drake's Bay by Roy Doughty,
Photo at Drake’s Bay by Roy Doughty
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The seminal aesthetic influences in my life

The seminal aesthetic influences in my life have been:

  • Fritz Reiner (conductor)
  • Henri Bergson (philosopher)
  • Merce Cunningham (dancer and choreographer)
  • Ingmar Bergman (film director)
  • Prospect Park (Brooklyn)

My musical self is a product of all of these,

Reiner: for me, the greatest of the great conductors.  After God,the great composers, the great conductor is the next link in the great chain of being.

Bergson, the philosopher who made me understand what time is, and therefore what music is (the art of time).

Cunningham: the dancer who showed me that abstract motion in time, articulated in space, without help of music or any other art, can by itself, reveal a profound and integrated aesthetic structure,

Bergman: for me the greatest of all film directors.  The timing and rhythm of changes in camera angle, the spatial composition of a frame, the ability to stir the greatest depths of the soul with a chance, understated motion.  I think he is one of the several greatest artists of the twentieth century.  My favorite films: Persona, Wild Strawberries, the Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly.  My second favorites – well it’s a long list.

Prospect Park: the only place rather than a person on my list.  For me, during High School, it was my Walden, where I sat and wrote juvenile philosophic thoughts in imitation of Pascal’s “Pensées” and learned the depths to which nature could stir me.

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