New lives with Bach

When I got to Symphony Space on Thursday afternoon to set up for my  NY debut concert, I got a text message from my brother telling me that he and his pregnant wife were on their way to the hospital to deliver their second baby! I was overwhelmed with joy and couldn’t help but to feel that I have such strange karma with their children.  I happened to be visiting Chicago when their first son, Timothy, was born 3 and half weeks earlier than expected. Witnessing a live birth was a life-changing experience for me that has deeply changed the way I feel about the mysterious phenomenon.

I remember after Timothy was born, the first thing I played for him on the piano was the Sarabande from Bach’s 4th Partita. I was so inspired; knowing that this would be the first piece of live music his  young ears would ever hear. Ever since then, I have thought of TImothy every time I played the Sarabande.

The 4th Partita has been living in my fingers for over five years. Since it is such a long partita, I have worked on it off and on, shelving it from time to time depending on other projects. A couple years ago, I developed tendinitis and the Partita became a rehabilitative piece for me to play(though there are parts that are very athletic.) It has  a very special place in my life because it is the only piece of music that went through the “recovery” of my injury with me.

Two days ago, when I walked on stage to perform the Bach Partita for my NY debut, I knew this would be the last time for awhile. Right before I played the Sarabande, I thought of TImothy and was overwhelmed with the feeling that there is now yet another life out there that I don’t know yet, but that will soon be a very significant part of my life. Baby Anna was born during my performance on Thursday.

The concert was over all a wonderful experience for me. Nathan’s new toy piano piece, “The Mechanics of Escapement” was absolutely amazing. Please check back in a few days; my next post will be about it.

Piano Paths?

I’ve been busy preparing for some upcoming concerts I have that are mixed piano and toy piano programs. I generally have kept the two instruments separate, but recently, people have been requesting a “mixed” program. There are also a lot of people who have suggested playing transcription of pieces with one hand on the toy piano and the other on the regular piano, or full transcriptions of regular piano music for toy piano. For some reason, I’ve never really been attracted to any of these ideas. I think the toy piano is interesting enough to stand on its own. It doesn’t always need to make some literal reference to the regular piano in order to make sense. I realize that performing traditional works on piano creates a “foundation” or lineage for the toy piano’s appearance, but I feel like the toy piano is an entirely different instrument and experience. I do find it to be legitimate on its own and the regular piano shouldn’t be justifying the worth of the toy piano or me.

With traditional piano recitals, most of the pieces are familiar to the listener, and as a performer, you kind of hope that the listener has some level of understanding towards this music so that they will have the patience and appreciation for it. However, with the toy piano, people walk in without any expectations at all. They have never had an experience like it, it doesn’t fit into any specific genre,it’s unpredictable and it piques their curiosity. I feel like they draw from entirely different energies, so it’s been challenging for me to feel a sensible flow, particularly when the program alternates toy piano and piano. I’m sure I will learn something about myself doing this too.

Spare a nickel?

Many people have asked me if I have ever busked as a toy pianist. My only real attempt at busking took place on Queens Street in Toronto over five years ago. At that time, I was performing a lot more solo toy piano pieces. I was also prepared to play some transcriptions of Scott Joplin rags, Bartok’s Makrokosmos and Stravinsky’s “Five Finger Pieces.”

I probably played for about two hours and made about $6. Though the toy piano is a strange instrument, it is kind of lost on the busy streets. First of all, it is so close to the ground, when people are walking by, they have to hunch over to see me. The only people I was eye-level with were children and people in wheel chairs. The people in wheel chairs all stopped to hear me play, but not a lot of pedestrians. The other thing is that the toy piano is not a very loud instrument. With all the noise on the streets, people couldn’t hear me until they were a few feet away. It wasn’t until then that I realized the toy piano is a very subtle instrument. There are many expressive elements, but they must be listened to with full attention.

I think this is why it’s uniqueness is magnified most in concert settings. The toy piano pokes fun at traditional concert rituals. This element is missing when busking. It was an interesting experience for me. I think I’ll try again though…maybe this time in the subway car.