Sunday, April 1, 2012


It's late, my eyes want to close, but I thought I'd write a few thoughts.
Earlier this evening we celebrated Vivaldi's and Haydn's birthdays with a concert of their music, complete with cupcakes. I played harpsichord. What's that?
In a mirrored room

It looks like a fragile piano. It's smaller, fewer keys, fewer strings, and less sound. It's best known for the sound. At first you may think you can't hear it, but it's like someone banging on a can in the other room. It has a quality that puts a little edge on the sound.
It's fragile all right! The mechanism seems ok one moment and the next it doesn't work. I have an emergency pack of tools: an emery board, an exacto knife, glue, a screwdriver, needle nose pliers, a block of wood. And a tuner. Most of the time I can make it work. And most of the time people in the audience feel they've been treated to something special. It makes my teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling of the weeks leading up to a performance all worth it.
Even though it isn't a loud sound, I'm very aware of it. It's true of any performance where you have an audience listening; wrong notes are not on the program. I'm quite sure that this instrument was played by very brave individuals and I count myself as one of them. Be careful not to rest your fingers too near the keys, or you'll hear a ping (a note sounding).  Unlike the piano, which you have to hit or strike to get a sound, it's as if it has energy coiled up inside, waiting to be touched and released. And because I'm not as diligent as a professional player/builder/tuner/repairman, one note might play with a light touch, and another might need a little force.
Tonight, in the slowest, softest passage I was encouraged to, even ordered to, play more.*  Nothing concrete, like written notes, or anything I had heard before, but... Embellish.
Here's what happens: We play, that is 2 violins, viola, cello, 2 trumpets and harpsichord (Vivaldi Concerto for two trumpets), fast, loud, soft, lots of notes, then we stop for a brief pause (second movement marked Largo) and the strings and I continue with slow, soft repeated notes and then a chord that is held (fermata) for an undetermined amount of time. During this hold, I am supposed to play something original, (this is the embellishment part) a little up and down, and around and eventually, when I feel it's enough, the other players are supposed to sense this and we all stop (rest) and then we do it again with different chords... Three times.

It's special to play something pretty that just comes out of the fingers and the moment. Waiting to play something, before the actual moment is pretty exciting, too! (Read here nervous tension/adrenalin.)  I wonder to myself: Will it happen the way I have in my mind? It's so spontaneous that I've never played the same thing twice! And there are the string players holding notes on the fermatas, waiting for me to finish so we can move on. Music making can be a voyage into the unknown. Once played, the notes are out there in the universe, never to be retrieved. It's now that I wish we could do it a hundred more times!

*During rehearsal, the evening before the concert, I was asked to embellish more, so they really had no idea what I would come up with, and neither did I!  Improv...


Go ahead! Tell me what's on your mind.


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