Vladimir Horowitz and my piano teacher

I wish my first introduction to this acerbic little pain-in-the-backside hadn’t been through my (ex-nun) piano teacher as a child. He was presented to me as a sort of severe-faced god-being of the piano whose shoes I could never be fit to polish. Sure, he was amazingly good, but that’s not a way to make a student feel even the slightest bit interested in someone’s career. I’ve never felt an attraction to the whole “abase yourself before the superior being” thing, which is probably a huge part of why I’m not religious now. (He also looked a bit like Grand Moff Tarkin from “Star Wars” and that didn’t help.)

Then I hit my 40s and found out he was a sarcastic, somewhat out-of-control, quite probably closeted gay man who snarked off that there were three kinds of pianists in the world: Jewish, gay, and bad.

I’d like to go back and revisit his career and work, but at this point, I have other things to do musically.

Still, I hope today’s piano students are introduced to him in a less purgatorial way than I was.


In a mood

The more I do this, the more I hate keys. Give me cross-fingerings any day, even if they sound like crap.

Got a nice poetry collection

The complete works of Amy Lowell, whom I like very much. I think I would like to create unmetered “choral” works for some of them using chant notation, which is unmetered. It would be interesting to see if these can’t be written as flute solos or flute duets as well. I’d have to record myself playing in order to transcribe them since they wouldn’t be metered and instead would be tied to the words, much as chant would be.

It would also be nice to write them for voice, which is part of why I’d like to use chant notation (neumes). The sort of sound I’m hearing is a sparse one, similar to what people who sing from neumes would carry off. Three part, four part, I don’t know yet.

(I always pronounce that “noymz” in my head although I’m almost sure it’s “noomz.”)

At any rate, I need to start in on her poetry and just pick out the ones that appeal to me, and see what I can do with them. I’ve already found one called “A Blockhead” that shows promise. I feel like I should do this in a Methodical and Logical Way™, but really I don’t care and will simply pick the ones I like best.

Facial endurance

I don’t know how professional wind players, especially the ones who play really stressful instruments like oboe and brass, manage it. Even just playing my flute, I’m finding that the hardest part about it is to get all the way to the end of what I know of “O virga ac diadema” (down to 4a here) without my mouth hurting too much. I’m probably partly just doing it wrong and have to go slow to avoid causing problems, but part of it is just that my mouth still isn’t used to doing that for very long.

Practicing in snips and bits like I do, I don’t really notice it because I’m always going slowish and taking time to reset everything between tries, and then when I say, “Let’s see how I do if I start from the top,” by the time I get to where I can end it, my mouth is like I HAVE TO STOP NOW. I mean, it’s not throbbing in pain or anything, but I can definitely feel a soreness that has to be alleviated by resting for at least a few seconds.

I really don’t know how professionals manage it. I mean, these are small sheet muscles. They’re made for fine control, not for power. You can’t bulk them up. You won’t see a trombone players walking around with a ripped face. How do you build up “endurance” in them?

The Solo

For some reason, I seem to be determined to get the horn solo from “Star Wars” in good shape on the Copley F. It turns out to be easiest in Bb, which is strangely enough not the key it was written in, despite being written for horn.

It’s probably a good thing to have in one’s pocket though, just as a matter of course. It’s super-short, pretty, easy (on this instrument), and a people-pleaser. It’s like being able to play Linus and Lucy (or the Heat/Snow Miser Rag) if you’re a pianist. At some point, you’re going to be in a room with a piano in it and a bunch of people, one of whom will say, “Oh, you play a piano, right?” and then the whole room will look expectantly at you … and you can churn out a bit of “Linus and Lucy” and mollify everyone, and make the room happy in the bargain.

Oh, gosh.

I’m really liking this keyless F. I’m still surprised at how nice the cross-fingered accidentals sound, and am finding that I can occasionally hit even a nice Ab (Fnat on a D flute) with half-holing. I’m still just really surprised at how nice those fingerings sound on this thing.

I’d also like to buy a bit of fimo clay and see if I can’t make an Fnat/Ab plug for the second bottom hole. That might be a fun thing to try. I’ll get some fimo tonight and an X-Acto knife and see what I can do. Actually, I can probably test it out with some kneaded eraser first. (Meh, didn’t work. It makes a nice Fnat/Ab, but it throws off the cross-fingerings, especially in the top octave. Mulling other possibilities … )

And I’m still wondering about that right hand Bb business. I wonder if Copley could make just a top middle joint for me with a right hand Bb and no long C since I never use the thing?

Right-hand Bb touch?

I had no idea there was such a thing! Why did I not know about this earlier?!

ETA: Oh, Copley does them. Why did I not have it done?! I think I’ll ask him if he does retrofits of his previous flutes? I’d just love to have one on mine. Noodging around with my top hand hold just to free my thumb up to toss in the occasional Bb is a significant annoyance. I like my top hand hold right where it is, and I resent having to mess with it.

Old, beautiful music

The uglier things get in the present world, the more I appreciate the amazing chance of something beautiful surviving a much more horrible time in history, 800 years ago. Plagues, death, misery, war, slaughter, more than 90% of humanity entirely without rights or respect. The survival and existence of Hildegard’s music, and my playing it on a mechanically simple instrument, helps me remember that some good things survive and are remembered, even almost a millennium later.

If anything saves my sanity, it may be Hildegard’s music.


The cross-fingered accidentals (Bnat and Db) are beautiful on this thing. If he ever wanted to make a one-key chromatic version, I’d be all over it.

I’d love to test his one-key Baroque now, actually.

The tuning is different, though … It’s noticeably flat/sharp in places where the tuning on the D is easier to move around. That may just be because it’s higher.