Monday, December 10, 2018

The Appassionata and me

A little while ago, just because I had dinner ready and Howard was not home yet, I sat down at the old Steinway and played Beethoven's "Appassionata."

Just because I could!

Well, I did not know it would go as well as it did. Aside from running through the first movement yesterday, I had not played it in yikes, 15 years. But it came back pretty easily, I have to say that.

Something is almost funny in a way. I think I play better than I used to. Which does not make sense considering I have played hardly at all in 10 years or whatever. When I went to California to see Leonard Pennario I stopped playing. I do not know what it was. I think it was that I loved Pennario and when he died I just did not want to play, because what was I next to him? Maybe it was something like that, who knows.

Who cares, at this point. The long and short of it is, I have been going back to it a little bit here and there, and oddly enough, I am a lot better. Every time I leave the piano for a few years and go back to it I am way better than I was. Another thing, it might be now that I have become a better listener. Part of that comes from listening to Leonard while I have been working on his biography. Part of it comes from working so long as The Buffalo News' classical music critic. I had to listen to a lot and listen carefully and with an open mind.

Not to brag, but when it comes to music, I amaze myself with my capacity to listen. I got better at it over the years. I can sit through entire long, long concerts and never cough or move or fall asleep. I sit there motionless but wide awake, listening, listening, listening.

So maybe that has made me a better pianist when I was not looking. Another thing, my teacher, Stephen Manes, he was great with me. Now and then through my life I have met people who, their teacher told them over and over how great they were, and they have these big egos as a result and it stunts them. Stephen never told me I was great. Heck, he never told me I was good.

Instead he worked me hard. As I was reading through the Appassionata just now, there were signs of a struggle. Faint signs, in pencil, but eloquent all the same. Stephen always wrote freely in my scores, but his writing was always very faint and in pencil and I was finding it hard to read. It was a victory when, at one point, I made out "Rich tone."

My writing was no picnic either. Mostly what I wrote was notes. The notes in the Appassionata get really high, way above the treble staff, and really low, below the bass staff. Now, as opposed to then, it occurs to me that Beethoven was pushing the envelope of what was the normal voicing of the piano. He had the hands very far apart, or else very close together high up or low down. Anyway, I would count up the lines and the spaces, and pencil in "E flat," or "C," or whatever. I seem to remember Stephen was kind of disgusted by that.

And now I can kind of see why. Often these notes are part of arpeggios or something, and you can figure out what the notes are without counting up the lines of the staff or having to write them. Well, having said that, I have to say that my old notes did come in kind of handy.

Anyway, the Appassionata. Because I can!!

I am going to get it back under my fingers and never let it go. I decided that. A half hour every couple of days to run through it, how much is that? After all...

Play the piano daily and stay sane!


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Baby, it's cold outside!


My Christmas tree is not yet up. Yet I have a Christmas song on the brain.

What song, you ask? The same song that is on everyone's brain. "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

The more you hear that it's banned, the more you keep thinking about it!

It kind of bugged me how people are suddenly condemning this song. My sister even told me last week she had always thought it was kind of creepy. All these years, she never told me she thought that song was creepy.

You know what I think the problem is? People aren't taking the melody into account. It is this sweet and flirtatious tune. As I said to Howard the other day, if you are going to go down this road, ignore the music and ban things because words are offensive, there goes half of opera.

Certainly you could kiss this duet goodbye.

We did a little research into "Baby, It's Cold Outside," because it was on our minds.

I did not know it was by Frank Loesser, who wrote the musical "Guys and Dolls." Don't say that too loudly. "Guys and Dolls" will be next on the chopping block, because of the demeaning term "dolls."

I did not know it won the Academy Award.

One more funny thing, if you look up the YouTube clip of the movie "Neptune's Daughter" which featured the song, first you see the guy trying to get the girl to stay, and then you see the girl trying to get the guy to stay.

"Neptune's Daughter" must get its name because it starred Esther Williams, the famous synchronized swimmer. A romance featuring a synchronized swimmer and the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" ...?

I had not known any of this. Well, neither does anyone protesting the song. They're going to be protesting me soon, because now thanks to them I've got the song on my brain, and just like the gal in the picture up above, it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

It's in, and it's got to come out.

Baby, it's cold outside!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fun with Early Times


A few days ago I had occasion to go through a bunch of photos. I mean, I scanned several years' worth of photos I had taken with my phone. Long story what I was looking for, but the upshot of it was, it hit me ...

Almost all my photos fall into one of just several categories.

The cat. (Speaking of categories.)


Views of Buffalo -- Delaware Park, downtown, and other locations. It is a funny thing now. Something strikes you as pretty or dramatic, and you have to snap a pic.


Wow, how the months pass! That was not that long ago.

The third category is things I am baking or have baked for church coffee hour. I did not realize I have taken so many hundreds of pictures of cakes and pastries and whatnot. You cannot have too many, that is for sure!

With which, above is the Whiskey Squash Cake I made for today's gathering. My friend Joe at church is a master gardener and he grew these mega-squashes, five or six of which I inherited. I have a way of inheriting Joe's stuff. In that picture of Jeoffry up above, of Jeoffry looking out the window, those are Joe's TUCO puzzles. Well, they came from him. They are mine now.

But back to the squash. They looked like Delicata Squash only much, much bigger. I could find no hint of how to cook them so I roasted one of them at 350 degrees while other things went in and out of the oven.

It may have stayed in the oven a bit too long, however, not a bad thing. The squash's skin was so crisp and roasted that it just fell away.

You know what I hate? The word doneness. So I will not use it here. I will just say that the squash was well done. And in the cake it married nicely with Early Times whiskey.

Ha, ha! I always laugh thinking of that. My brother George and I were once on one of our road trips going God knows where, and we went through Kentucky, and we kept seeing that the official whiskey of the Kentucky Derby that year was Early Times. We would always laugh at the billboards because all we could think was Early Times meant that you drank it at 6 in the morning.

Baking the whiskey into a cake lets you enjoy it politely at, well, early times. This cake was gone before I could taste it.

I'll have to roast another mega-Delicata!

And uncork, again, that bottle of Early Times.