Saturday, June 30, 2012

HIATUS? PERHAPS: Music-life...Life-music...

       So, it’s six degrees of everything in my life these days.  I’ve met and begun to work on my record with an incredible pianist named Mike Garson. Yesterday, at the end of our conversation (and without knowing anything about my blog) he spontaneously said he was going to send me his own recently recorded tribute to Rachmaninoff as a possible interlude for the record...which reconnected me to blogging and the desire to write about my journey as an artist.  It is strange to post this and see the last date of entry, reflecting how time passes like a wisp while you are deep in it.  I will fill you in posthumously, lest these six months go unmentioned, so much has happened in regards to my musical journey.  For now, back to Mike Garson and present day...
         Talking with him about music, has thus far, meant talking about life.  Music-life.  Life-music.  I can just hear him say, and me agree, that we are the music and the music is us.  There is no separation of the two.  Yep, that’s the scary part!  But also, it’s the experience I am wanting more than ever to expand on, to know when it’s said and done I moved more completely to that state of being, that authenticity.
         We also talked about the reality that to find a truth you often must go through a thousand lies.  I want to stay centered and true.  Be me.  Sing me.  Allow myself to be revealed, rather than forcing an idea of who I am or want to be.  Because let’s face it, I certainly could list a few people I’d like to be, and therein lies the trouble.  I am not them, and the lies of that comparison would kill my dream.  These are the looming clouds of thoughts I sometimes find myself under that lead me to doubt and disturbance.  They are the lies my own shadow tells me.  A thousand shadows to get to the light.
        This brings me to ponder layers of sound.  Now, more than ever there can be layer upon layer of sound.  When does one stop?  When is it done?   Beware, I say to myself, of falsely believing a sound is there to elevate the song.  Rather pause and ask, am I craving it or creating it to hide that I can only be partially seen under a veil of sound.
        The question of whether I actually know myself, let alone what I’d like to say, has been riding shotgun in my life these last couple days.  And by that I actually mean, that that question is being held to my head by my own deceitful fears like a loaded gun.
        In talking with Mike last night, I have been drawn out of that rabbit hole and into a new realm.  Amazing what a difference it can make when someone you instinctively feel you can trust tells you it’s ok to say “I don’t know!”
        What’s funny, is that it actually isn’t as if I don’t understand’s just, well, like a broken record in my head...sometimes you just need someone to shift the needle to stop the skipping.
        Do I know myself?  That’s the beauty of the journey!  We both agreed, it can also be a scary part of the process, the art; whatever you want to call it.  It’s what being an artist demands.  Sometimes it feels like walking through hell, like darkness, or actually, like being invisible to myself.  Others are talking, listening, having an experience of me but I am in a self-built house of mirrors and cannot see!
        I spent today in my favorite place...the place that feels like poetry.  All my thoughts had an antique, comfortable song to them.  I spoke with friends who like to use words too.  I was reminded how much I love words, poems, films, songs, ideas, painting...ah yes, painting...
        To close I’ll share this, on my birthday I was excited to see the documentary on Gerhard Richter.  To see the process he goes through in creating a painting, hoping to feed my own coffers of reference and inspiration.  He begins.  A blank canvas.  Colors in bold patches set the tone.  Slowly sliding his glass over the colors, with consideration but without expectation.  Again more color, more sliding the glass creating new lines and images.  Pausing.  Getting a sense for it, for where the piece is headed.  More of the same.  And then...stop...he is stuck.  Frustrated actually.  The piece is not indicating it’s finished but he has no inclination of which way to go.  He steps away for a day or so.  He returns.  White!  The entire piece is then covered over with white!  All those colors glimmering under white.  It’s beautiful, perfect and complete!
        I sat in the theater, in awe, anxiously on the edge of my seat.  How could he do that?!  Realizing the trust he must have in himself, no, not in himself, in the art!
        May I endeavor to allow my songs to be white if they so choose!

Listened to whilst writing (amongst others)
Concerto No. 2 in C Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18: II. Adagio Sostenuto

Friday, January 20, 2012


     In the final, yet least suspected blow, I watched two documentaries (which I would highly recommend, see below) one about the life of Beethoven and the other a detailed, enthralling view into the making of a Steinway.  I watched in awe.  How amazing and divine, almost super human the music of Beethoven was.  How could he write that music?  Piano Concerto No. 14 and so many others.  The other film, such beauty in the making of a gorgeous instrument; a Steinway piano.  Ahh, during this documentary all the brilliant pianists running their fingers along the keys like air.  
     In retrospect I can see I had two minds whilst watching.  One in total awe, reveling in the joy, the music, the wood, the craftsmanship and the everyday people whose lives had happened upon this path of becoming craftsmen in their one piece of the Steinway puzzle.  The other mind, slowly building the dreamy yet dreaded ‘what if’...what if I could play like that?  What if I hadn’t quit?  Look at how amazing they are, how they understand the instrument.  I’m so far away from that, I’ll never get there...yep, you know me a bit by now...that old, dark voice.  When given just the smallest crack in my guard, slips into my mind and consumes me.  Sabotage complete.
         I didn’t intend to fall off track and into the abyss.  It started slowly, yes, I had these little annoyances, these little moments but I was still committed.  However, by now my Saboteur knows me well enough to be more cunning than just stopping the flow all at once.  No, that would be too obvious to my acute awareness of it’s ways and thus never work.  It must close the valve slowly so that I don’t notice until it’s too late. 
         Thus, all those elements I told you about happened and little by little I lost my inspiration.  Lost my desire.  Torture bled into Destruction. 
Destruction Phase 1-no writing at all as weeks pass.
Destruction Phase 2-behaving like the crazy girl from my youth rather than the woman I am becoming.
Destruction Phase 3-taking a ‘day’ off of piano practice and letting it bleed into way too many days to speak of (after all, my Maestro might read this!)
         I felt terribly frightened that I again was failing at something I set out to do.  And I felt alone and misunderstood in both matters of the heart and of human being.  It got dark, I will not lie.  The shadow of regret was on me like a blanket now.  Layer upon layer, not only the elements I’ve shared but the infinite sub-particles each of those elements creates.  A spiderweb of fears.  I didn’t want to quit but I wondered if I’d have the strength to get up and play!  Get up and live! 
         It seems strength lies waiting for me to call on it.  Hoping I will call on it.  For here I am; I am still writing, I am still pining some, I am still playing and I will still love.  There lies strength underneath this rock of woe.  The rock I used to pin me down with heaviness of thoughts.  Thinking is no stranger to me but I am done thinking for now and will just roll on. 

Documentaries: (both viewable on Netflix Instant Play)
In Search of Beethoven
Note by Note

Song While Writing: (click on song to link)
Daniel Barenboim plays:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


         I have been remiss.  I have thought of writing many times.  I have begged to a voiceless sky to feel inspired.  I have been in a sort of tornado of self-destruct.  It’s difficult now to go back and retell what it was like while in it, but I will try.
         Here’s what I remember...
         I remember being so alive in the process of writing these entries.  Sharing my experience and hearing that it had in turn inspired you.  I remember feeling like I can do 'this' and wherever it might lead in the end would be enough.  The journey is enough.   I felt the inspiration to write as deeply as I felt the inspiration to play.  I wanted to write you everyday!  And then I remember the thought that decided writing everyday was too much and would overwhelm you and who am I to share everyday like that?  So, innocently I decided to limit my entries to once a week.  Note the official stopping of flow, dressed in a faux-logical costume of usual mind chatter!  For it has been many weeks since I’ve written and I have been the worse for it.  Sabotage Phase 1 complete.
         Whilst I had decided not to write too much, interesting other things happened.  Things which contributed to this perfect storm of said self-destructing tornado.  Not least of them being the all too familiar, saboteur tactic of becoming enthralled with an utterly emotionally unavailable man.  Perhaps I should write an entry titled “Sleeping with an Unavailable Man Will Break Your Heart”...perhaps, I will.  Well, wait, heartbreak is a bit strong.  I’d like to be more clear and honest here, he didn’t break my heart, in fact, if anything I broke my own heart.  Life, after all, is often a mirror of that which lies under the surface of my psyche.  I could’ve known better had I wanted to but, well...this is evidence of the dreamy me, the one with the fiery passion that wants to ‘become the music’ and break all the rules.  The one that quite possibly views stability as death by boredom.  The creator of the revolving door of men who show up in one way, for one thing.  Keeping me distracted just enough.  While I am left trying to reconcile how it could be over before it really even began and that maybe, the tender kiss he placed on my neck that felt so sweet was simply that, and meant nothing more.  
         I am reminded of the power of self-deception.  There is no void that can be filled by anyone other than Self.  
         Sabotage Phase 2 complete.  
         Stiff upper cut...

Songs While Writing: (click on songs to link)
Billie Holiday 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


         My shoulders are tight, my back is tight, something feels wrong.  I am frustrated.  What is it?  Is there stiffness in my body while I’m playing?  Maybe it’s the new piano.  Old and with broken keys but new to me.  The keyboard sits very tall and instead of a proper bench I sit on a lovely, yet not so comfortable stool that feels precariously high.  I will talk to Mario about it tomorrow during my lesson.  Right now all I feel is tight and frustrated.
         Today, there is an undercurrent of nerves, an anxiousness...a perception I should be somewhere other than I am, farther along perhaps.  The subtle thought, or maybe fear that I’ll never get there.  I’ll never be able to play like that, like him, like her.  And there it is, my old friend Impatience.  Familiar and wearing me like a favorite old sweater, rearing it’s ugly, manipulative head again.
         Why would I think I’ll never get there?  That makes no sense, if I keep going of course I’ll get there, I’ll get somewhere anyways.  Alas, I know why I think that, it’s a commonplace of the mind...the trick is will I believe that thought?  Today looks to be an uphill battle but tomorrow is my lesson and I want to have a full page of the new song done, Clementi’s Sonatina in G Major.
     “Some days it will just be like this,” I think.  So, I decide to just keep practicing.  
     It’s now the end of the night, and though not totally free of frustration, I’m slightly happy to report that some breakthroughs were made.  When I started the day I felt I couldn’t get a phrase to remain in my head, but by bedtime I had almost the first section solid, only a few bars to get tomorrow.  I didn’t give up.  I didn’t avoid practicing.  I tried my best.  A simple concept indeed!

         As I’ve been writing this I’ve been listening to Lang Lang perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 Opus 18 I, II.  The album was a gift from Evan Frankfort, a dear friend who helped set me solidly on the path of believing in myself as an artist, and produced my album All These Things.  When he heard of my blog, he graciously sent the album right over, for inspiration I’m sure.  Thanks Evs!
         Of course, in keeping with the theme of the day, my first thoughts when hearing it were something like, “Oh my God, I’ll never be able to play that!  Who do I think I am?  It’s way too late in life to try and learn.  I’ll never be able to play with that intensity.  How does he do that?  I wish I hadn’t quit.  What if I hadn’t quit?  I should just quit now.  No, I won’t quit but certainly should set my sights lower."
         The Concerto No. 2 plays on repeat as I write to you of today’s struggles.  It won’t always be about struggles but I firmly believe in the power of sharing the bad with the good and the healing that can come when we know we’re not alone in the ache of it all.  As this journaling comes to a close I feel my heart soften and my shoulders loosen from the vice grip they’ve been under all day.
          I start the song over.  I close my eyes.  Such beautiful whilst ominous opening chords.  I love the sound of gentle strength, foreboding but drawing me in.  Stronger, stronger, stronger...and then the strings join in, oh my!  I take a deep breath and sink into the music.  I am lost in it.  It takes me places far away.  As the music washes over me so too does hope, and my dreams are rekindled.  As is the desire to play...anything at all.  Suddenly, impatience has given way to the excitement of not knowing where this journey of mine will take me and that makes me feel truly alive.  
         Because when I’m not trying to get anywhere I get everywhere.

Songs While Writing: (click on song to link)
Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor Opus 18
Clementi: Sonatina in G Major (and all 6 Sonatinas)

Sunday, November 6, 2011


         All of life seems to be leading to the practicing of patience these days. Perhaps, it always has been but I am only just now opening my eyes to the importance of learning how to attain it.  Discovering ways to nurture and breathe into it.  While I have always known I lacked patience, I seemed somehow resigned to that fact, as if this ‘never enough’ and ‘hurry up’ way of life were a curse I could never be free of.  Never considering that patience is a virtue, an art really, one can actually develop.  Funny, simple concept indeed!
         These new thoughts have begun to spider web, brought on by a decision to master the piano, branching out into my life in ways I could not have imagined.
         I have the most incredible maestro for a teacher.  His name is Mario Merdirossian and we have been studying together for just about 6 mos.  He says the most incredible things when he talks to me about how to play.  He watches and listens and can hear the slightest hiccups in my playing so as to explain how and why to correct it.  Gems of wisdom, I hang on every word!  Taking it in, watching him play, showing me how the wrists must move, how the shoulders and arms are relaxed yet have weight, how the pinky finger needs to strike the key in a precise way or it will always be weak and so many, many other nuances I know are building a strong foundation.  One that will allow the ease and grace I want to embody when I play.
         This day my arms were tired, my shoulders were tight.  It just didn't feel good and I was beginning to get frustrated.  “Tension Comes From Anticipation,” he said.  It clicked the second he said it.  “Wait, let me write that down!” And so it is, pinned on the bulletin board which sits on my piano, reminding me to stay in each note.  Not to be ahead in the next phrase or in what’s coming up.  Not to think but just to be, let my fingers play each note led by the wrist and the arms.
         I have suffered under a lifetime of unrealistic expectations.  Imposed by self, by an egoist mind that would have nothing but perfection in every area. Always looking for ways my life or I fall short.  Ever building the ‘if this then that’ mentality, forever robbing me of the moment.
         And here it is, in the piano, I’ve found a place to practice letting it all go.  If I want to play like Mario one day I must learn to have patience.  I must allow that today I am where I am and it is enough.  I must sit down to practice at the level I am today, for no amount of thinking about it will make me better.  It will only come from the doing of the thing.  Mario says that if I find myself distracted at the piano I must get up and walk away, take a break, come back and only play when all my attention is in the keys.  It’s better to play for 15 minutes with absolute focus than 2 hrs with a distracted mind.
         Tension comes from anticipation.  Anticipation comes from the fear of not knowing.  In the piano the fear is will I play it perfectly?  No room for mistakes.  Will I be good enough?  When will I be good enough?  In life, the fear comes from a lack of faith.  What will happen to me?  How will I make ends meet?  Will I succeed?  Will they like my music?  Will I find love?  Will love find me?  Will my loved one heal their illness?  Will my dog be ok?  Will my child be happy?  Will my marriage survive?  Will I survive...whatever this is?  All these things in life that distract me from the present, that all have such importance, more importance than the moment or so I believe.  Ah ha, tension comes from anticipation!  I see! It is such in life too!  And so, I have begun to practice being in each note.  Not in the next note or even the next phrase but, giving each note importance and letting the melody unfold with grace and beauty.  As with the piano, so too in life.
         Rather than spending time anticipating today (a fancy word for being in the future) and thus causing tension, I endeavor to have faith, to let it unfold with beauty and ease.  Life has a way of being more full and awe inspiring when I let it happen rather than trying to determine and decipher it using my small mind that could never imagine such grace.  Already this journey between the piano and I is showing itself to be one of the soul.  And I feel grateful to bid adieu to unrealistic expectations dressed in costumes of anticipation.

Sonata for Piano No. 12 in F Major, K. 332: II. Adagio
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performed by: Carmen Piazzini

Suite Bergamasque, L 75: Clair de Lune (Orchestral Arrangement)
Composer: Claude Debussy
Performed by: Mostar Symphony Orchestra, Tibor Bauer & Ilmar Lapinsch

Thursday, November 3, 2011


         I was 7 yrs old when I started playing the piano (rather than banging on it with a baton because I liked the sound it made, never minding the chips it was making in the ivory keys.  Sorry, Grandma and Grandpa!)  I studied the Suzuki Method with Helene Hancock, a magical silver haired lady with a grand piano in the living room of her beautiful Craftsman style house down the street.  I would walk down the hill for my lesson every week.  I can still remember the smell of her home, a sweet top note with tobacco undertones.  And the feel; cozy and warm, the air calm and thick with serenity.
         Twinkle Twinkle Little Star...the first song I remember in Book 1 of a 4 Book Method.  I loved it, I did.  It is true however, I often would have to be forced to sit down at the piano to practice, but once I did you couldn’t get me up.  I could pause here and write of just this one topic...that of perfectionism from such a young age.  Wanting, no needing, to be perfect at once.  No patience or latitude given to myself for less than perfection.  Mixed in with an uncanny way of ‘picking things up quickly’ and resting on my laurels....for 40 years it seems!
         Towards the end of my playing, there was a girl who had her lesson right before mine, she was learning Joplin.  I wanted to learn Joplin too!  I was half way through Book 4 and then Joplin it would be...only I never got there.  I had a friend studying with another teacher, she was getting to learn Popular music, why was I learning this Classical?  It didn’t matter that I liked it, that it soothed me and brought me to focus, a seed of self doubt was planted.  Actually, nothing mattered, because teenage life was getting too big and I wanted it all (didn’t quite realize you had to actually do something to get it) and sure, didn’t I have it all once the boys, booze and other sundries came along?
         I studied with Helene for years, until I was 13 to be precise.  I had many recitals.  My memory of them is I’m sure, slightly twisted and dark of course.  They were usually at Cal Tech in some Grand Hall.  I just remember the feeling of not being ‘as good as’ the other kids.  They were like those prodigy types (or so I imagined,) how could I live up to that?  Thus the mind would begin; comparing, contrasting, no mistakes, no mistakes! Then of course, there were mistakes.  Little flubs, missteps of my fingers because my mind was in the way.  I had not yet understood that there would always be mistakes in life.  They are a necessity of growth.  They are to be honored, not pushed under the carpet of my mind.  I’m sure I sometimes performed well but that wouldn’t really have mattered for it had already begun, my shadow had already started eating away at my loves.
         And so, I quit.  My Mom got tired of forcing me to practice and in my myopic vision it was cutting into my fun.  The thing is, the music that was in me, the piano, the singing, writing and love for it didn’t quit.
         The road to regret was born.

Songs While Writing: (click song to link)
Francoise Hardy "Un Homme Est Mort"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


This is for you Mom. As you read and are able to see the beginning workings of that which you support with all your loving heart. I learn more and more to make choices but of course, still remain your quite particular daughter who sees in the most intense detail. I will write a story to post by days end.   In honor of it being 11-1-11. But I must first sit at the piano. No writing, no nothing until I've been at the piano. Because I am visiting your house I hope you will hear today the progress I've made. Playing on my childhood piano at your house takes me right back to that young age, the age you remember well as you had to force me to sit down and practice but then force me to get up when it was time for dinner.

Could it be I am learning to channel those little Jilly forces? That force of nature who so violently would kick the back of your seat as you drove for who knows what reason...just had to get it out I guess. Those forces who, left un-channeled took me to dark places and swirling for answers I could never find outside myself.

The journey is just beginning. Yet I feel my fingers alive today, ready to learn and stretch. Ready to take over for my brain as they must when playing the pieces I aspire to. Funny it's the fingers, the wrists, the arms and shoulders, the body that play. The mind is only used for the learning and then must be let go...the answer was there all along Mama...

The piano is where I let go of my mind!

I love you dearly,