jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)
Ack. Sat down at 12:30 to read my book for half an hour, ended up buried under cats until nearly two. My entire schedule for the day has been thrown off.


The thing about learning the viola is that at this point it's all about getting to Carnegie Hall: that is, doing the same damn thing over and over and over again in the hope that eventually the muscle memory will stick. It uses effort and brain but not creative-brain, which is what seems to be more burnt out. So it's easy to put in an hour and a half of viola practice every day, but inordinately difficult to get through even an hour of (fiction) writing or revision.

The other thing about learning the viola is that I don't have to smash any of my awful pots. They come pre-smashed. This is sort of the nature of performative arts: you have to keep doing the same damn thing over and over again, but on the other hand there's (for me anyway) not the pressure to make it Absolutely Perfect In Every Particular.

I am, as it happens, horribly precious about my pots stories. I'm pretty sure that before I can really get anywhere as a writer I need to let go of that. I have little to no idea how to go about it.

("Just do it!" AHAHAHAHA yes. It really is just that easy. And it's just that impossible, too.)
jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)


I got out my cello this morning and tried some of the viola stuff I've been having trouble with.


By which I mean, I am so much better at cello than at viola.

By which I mean, eight years of lessons followed by a two-decade hiatus beats three months of lessons.

Which shouldn't come as a surprise, and yet.

The trouble, of course, is that I'm more interested in playing the viola. Largely on account of portability, but that's still a reason. So... I guess I push on through the fumblefingers and wandering bow and completely losing my place in the music and on the fingerboard.

I just hope it takes less than eight years. (I'm still shooting for two.)

In the meantime I can break out the cello to remind myself that it does get better. I hope.
jazzfish: an evil-looking man in a purple hood (Lord Fomax)
This week I have run headlong into a bunch of things I can't do.

Cut for whining.

viola )

writing )
jazzfish: Randall Munroe, xkcd180 ("If you die in Canada, you die in Real Life!") (Canada)
ABOUT fourteen years ago I fell into a career path of software testing and tech writing. I'm good at both those things and they paid well (better than minimum wage, anyhow), so I kept doing them.

It took me a long time to realise that being good at something that pays well doesn't automatically translate into enjoying it.

long, historical, and of limited interest )

I'VE BEEN out of work for coming on four months now. I've spent the time trying to figure out who I am when there's nothing I have to do.

I still have very little idea.

long, introspective, and of limited interest )
jazzfish: Two guys with signs: THE END IS NIGH. . . time for tea. (time for tea)
Mm. Seems like the grey is starting to get to me. I feel uninspired in general, and I don't have work to blame it on this year. I am just Not At All Interested in finding xmas presents, or posting to LJ/DW, or doing much of anything except possibly curling up in the bath with a book.

Viola proceeds, better than I'd been afraid and also terribly. My fingers are slow and tend to land in the wrong places on the strings, and frequently on more than one string at a time. This isn't a problem yet but will be eventually. More worrying is that I have no idea how vibrato will possibly work.

Also, I'm learning to read alto clef. This is causing me fits because the strings and notes for viola are the same as on the cello (an octave up, but whatever, that's 'the same' for my purposes), and alto clef is a whole step (again, plus an octave) higher than bass clef. Which means I see a note on the centre line, and think "D, no, wait, C." Repeat for all notes. My sightreading is for shit. This might be a problem except that, as above, I can't get my fingers into place fast enough to sightread anyway.

It's exceptionally frustrating because I *know* I can do better than this. I'm just not there yet.

I had hopes that I would sound not-terrible by the end of 2016. It's possible that I may be able to sound not-terrible by the end of 2015, though I still won't be as proficient as I'd like. Ha. I doubt I'll ever be as proficient as I'd like.


Oct. 30th, 2014 08:31 am
jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)
Cripes, this has been sitting in Notepad half-finished for days now. *thumps self in head* Get it together, you.

Satyrday turned out well: we had a few people over to mutilate pumpkins. I made one that looks more or less like this Totoro face, although I didn't use toothpicks and could stand to have made the whiskers bigger. [personal profile] uilos carved a couple of crows on a tree. Other art included a mockingjay, Trogdor, Night Vale, and a ferret. Good times.

Afterwards there was going to be boardgames, but we had an unexpected allergic reaction instead, so we panicked for a bit and then watched The Court Jester. I had forgotten how slow the first twenty minutes of that movie are: opening-credits song, opening exposition, "You'll Never Outfox the Fox," more exposition and setup, Danny Kaye singing a lullaby. Thankfully it picks up quickly once the real Giacomo shows up. Also I should stop describing her as "Young Evil Angela Lansbury," she's spoiled and selfish, but she's also been dealt a terrible hand.

On Sunday a couple of guys came over and we played a short scenario of 18OE. This is a complex train game that encompasses the whole of European railway development. Because we played one of the 'short' scenarios (France/Spain) we were done in around seven hours (including setup and takedown). Good game. Looking forward to playing again at some point, and hopefully knocking a couple of hours off the playtime with familiarity.

Since then I've had a second viola lesson, and determined that my left arm hurts partly due to new muscle usage and partly because I was holding the viola wrong. This is good news: means I won't have to quit because my stupid muscles/tendons are too screwed up to bend properly. At least not yet: a couple of years ago I strained my wrist (lifting luggage) and it's been acting up lately. Not sure what if anything I can do for it. Will continue & see.
jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)
The past month or so I've been musicking.

It's a little weird to realise that I am deliberately choosing to practice. Not a lot: half-hour a day, 4-5 days a week. But still. Turns out, not being forced to do something makes it more likely I'll enjoy doing it.

On Monday I took my cello to a highly-regarded luthier to see if he could find a way to stop the horrible buzzing it makes when I play low notes, and also fix up anything else that looked like a problem. We spent about twenty minutes going over the whole thing. He identified a couple of things that I knew were problems (strings, bow hair), one or two things that I'd suspected were problems, and a few things that I hadn't noticed but were pretty obviously problematic when he pointed them out.

The thing about cheap cellos (and this is not an expensive cello) is that they cost about as much to fix as the expensive ones. Oh well. It's less than a new cello would run, and it'll be nice to have it in good shape again.

In other news )
jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)
When I was a kid I took cello lessons for eight-plus years. (I'd wanted to learn string bass, but they told me I was too small. I suspect that Katie who was a head taller than me had asked first, and they didn't see any use for two bass players in the elementary school orchestra.) I guess I got decent at it. I placed into various regional orchestras, played in a couple of quartets.

Thing is, my technique was good, but I had no emotional involvement with the music at all. "Louder", "softer and a little slower," "more vibrato," and I followed my teacher's instructions to the letter and never developed any musicianship of my own.

I don't know. It was just something I did, something I'd always done and had gotten good at through sheer repetition. Plus I'd made a decent number of friends through quartets and string camps and such, which for me in junior high wasn't anything to sneeze at. Still, by the start of junior year of high school I was ridiculously overcommitted with things I either actually enjoyed, like Shakespeare troupe, or felt more pressure to stick with, like Boy Scouts. It was a relief to say "I have to cut something, and it's cello."

So I put my cello aside for two decades. I mean, I hauled it around Blacksburg with me, and at one point I must have bought a music stand and a tuning fork, but there have been far more years where I didn't take it out of its case than otherwise.

The last time was right before I moved to McLean, eight-plus years ago. I was maybe on to something then: something had clicked, or changed. I had the beginnings of a sense of the music. I also had several massive life upheavals and crises, from which the dust never fully settled, so I never took the time to go anywhere with it.

And now I seem to have some time on my hands, and I may as well see if I want to keep hauling this thing around with me. So I've been trying to get in half an hour of practice a day.

Verdict: I am terrible. No great shock; after twenty years anyone's skills would atrophy. Two weeks in and I'm at about a second-year level. I can play the pieces in Suzuki book 1 without sounding too terrible, and can fumble my way through most of book 2.

The real problem is that I realised last week that my posture is also terrible. For at least the last few years I played, I was sitting wrong. Holding the cello in the wrong place, too far down and at a weird angle. No wonder I slouch so much; no wonder I always hated playing higher than fourth position. It's a miracle I could bend my arm to find the notes at all.

Correcting my hold means that eventually I'll have an easier time playing harder pieces... but in the meantime all my instincts, for where to put my left hand and where to draw the bow, are wrong. Result: notes are flat and screechy and wobbly and generally unmusical.

Learning those things correctly is going to be awful, weeks and months of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Lightly Row and Go Tell Aunt Rhody. Stuff I thought I'd already paid my dues for years ago.

Oh well. Either it will be worth it, or I'll get a few bucks for an old cheap cello in poor condition.

I *would* like to be able to play the Bach cello suites someday, though.
jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)
I have a short list of things I intend to (try to) do every weekday, mostly to keep me from spending a week straight on the couch with the internet.

How'd I do this week?
  • Exercise: 4/4. Not much exercise, just a set of 10-15 pushups, but still.
  • Chores: 4/4ish. Several subitems, some of which are daily. I got most of them.
  • Straighten/organise something: 4/4. Tuesday and today I took a load of stuff to the Salvation Army, Wednesday I got the office mostly usable (another day or two will see it 'actually usable'), Thursday I hauled a large load of recycling downstairs. Other potential tasks for this item include 'reshelve the small games so they won't fall over' and 'shove things around in the spare bedroom.'
  • GO OUTSIDE DAMMIT. 4/4. I expect this one will get harder as the rainy season sets in.
  • 30 mins cello. 3/4, skipped Wednesday on account of spending several extra hours downtown that day. ...cello wants its own post, I think.
  • Write. 2/4 and that's being generous. This story is staring me in the face and I am terrified of it.
  • Read something not on a screen: 4/4. This one's easy, I just have to do it. (Almost missed Tuesday, due to losing several hours to coverage of the teachers' strike.)
  • Be sociable: 2/4, and that only because I had something semi-scheduled for Tuesday anyhow. This one is going to be tough. I count being sociable as not only doing a thing with a person, or spending time talking/on chat/whatever, but even just emailing to reach out to someone. Still harder than expected.
Not so bad. I'm enjoying the sense of having enough ... not just time, but mental space, to do things. I feel much less crushed by the weight of what I should or need to be doing.

Now to attack this %&$ story again.
jazzfish: artist painting a bird, looking at an egg for reference (Clairvoyance)
A month or so ago, while I was staying at Stephen and Shondra's, I broke out my cello. Tuned it up, surprised myself by still being able to do that much. Played a few songs. Determined that I'm at about a second- or third-year level. My fingers still know where first position is, and with only a little time they find second through fourth alright. I can't shift nearly fast enough to play anything for real, though.

I was never a very good cellist. I practiced (not nearly enough), I took lessons for many years, I played in orchestras and quartets, but I was missing something. Partly it was the practice. More of it was a lack of any kind of soul to my playing. I always secretly suspected that you could program a robot to play the cello as "musically" as my teachers were telling me to play it. Notes, dynamics, tempo, it's all reducable to digital eventually.

Point of the story: that night, in the middle of a Gavotte from Suzuki book 2 or 3, I shocked myself by actually playing the dynamics (volume changes) as written. Not because they were written, but because I could tell, for the first time in my life, that that was how the piece was meant to sound. I'm no longer remotely in practice, and who knows if I'll have the time or inclination to play once I'm moved in, but I seem to have some sort of intuitive grasp on the nebulosities of music now. I'm honestly not sure what to make of that.

I took a semester-long photography class in high school. It was easily the single coolest class I had. Playing around in the darkroom is its own reward. More than that, though, there was the sensation that I could draw a box around a scene and have it be Art, have it evoke an emotional response. I even shot a couple of pictures that succeeded in that goal.

But it's not something I've ever understood. I look at pictures other people have taken, and I catch my breath. They're just that damn good. I know it's all in angle, and lighting, and subject matter, and focus, and frame, and I still have no comprehension of how they work.

Case in point: this photograph. The post is worth reading, too, but the photo caught me for unrelated reasons. It's beautiful. The light, the positioning. I could take a thousand pictures and get that lucky once-- and maybe, maybe, recognise it and not throw the picture away with the other nine hundred ninety-nine. Technique, yes, but more importantly knowing how to apply it. Seeing the photograph that will be, and saying "This is good."

Words are easy. I know how to make them do what I want. I should; I've been busily surrounding myself with them from the time I was five.

Yet I can't explain it. I can't tell other people, "This is how to write." Words about words fail me, as do words about music, or photography.

Ultimately the world is analog, after all.


jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)
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Adventures in Mamboland

"Jazz Fish, a saxophone playing wanderer, finds himself in Mamboland at a critical phase in his life." --Howie Green, on his book Jazz Fish Zen

Yeah. That sounds about right.

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