Sibelius and Trees and Winter Dreams

Rowan_tree_20081002bI was never very knowledgeable about “serious” music. but I do recall a few years ago a program on public radio about piano pieces by Jean Sibelius that intrigued me, that made me say to myself, “I wish I could play”. He wrote a song cycle about trees. I don’t have any specific recollection about what these pieces sounded like. And perhaps it was merely the idea, that someone from snowy northern Europe would write about trees, that I found attractive. Today I sat wondering what five trees were so honored by Finland’s most famous composer. I was curious enough to look it up and I found that the five trees are the rowan (mountain ash), pine, birch, aspen, and spruce. Sibelius did write about other trees. But these were special, and all familiar to me. The rowan is another name for mountain ash. Its brilliant red berries are sought our by birds as a food source. People eat them too, in jellies, liqueurs, syrups, etc. The rowan has many legends and mystical stories attached to it. The most famous of these piano miniatures is The Spruce. Since winter is so long and lonely, here in MN as well as in Finland, I may as well look it up. Maybe try to play it.

Music on the Farm

Musical instruments on this property: two acoustic pianos. The one in the barn has survived dust, mice, and fifty below temps. Electronic keyboard. Two piano accordions, one a ladies size with mediocre tone, and a beautiful sounding 12 bass. Button accordion that plays in C and G. Two mini button accordions. Standard drum set. One hundred year old bass drum from the community band. A bass horn that looks like a Sousa phone but has another name. It’s missing a mouthpiece. E-flat melophone shaped like a French horn but it has valves, not keys. 3 clarinets, one Albert system. A collection of trumpets including one played by my grandfather for silent movies. A boehm flute. Violin that belonged to my grandmother. My dad refinished it once and it’s due for another refinishing. Soprano and bass recorders. Some odd Czechoslovakian flute. Pan-flutes, a gift from my uncle. An Egyptian drum I gave my brother for Christmas. Two melodicas. I quit playing them because too many people asked, “What do you call that instrument?” Guitar got from Green stamps (remember those?). My grandmother’s ukulele. A tonette or two. Bucket of basic rhythm instruments such as tambourine, maracas, castanets, sleigh bells. Wind chimes. I’m sure I’m forgetting something….oh yes…the old washtub bass……

My Uncle

My uncle died in Chula Vista two weeks ago. Soon all his worldly goods, in three or four boxes, will arrive in the mail. Rather sad. He was an artist. He made jewelry and played baritone, French horn, and piano. His profession was teaching industrial arts. He had stubborn ideas about music and only liked jazz, and composers such as Shearing and Oscar Peterson. He didn’t like ordinary, predictable chords, which he called “churchy”. Once he took a correspondence course from some midwest Scandinavian college in theory or arranging or some such subject. He proceeded to make the chords interesting and received back his paper, from an instructor named Olafson, all marked up in red and the words NO! NO! NO! scrawled across the page.

Don’t Look At Your Hands…

Posted On April 17, 2010

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Every erstwhile piano student, even those of us who quit, remember that the ideal in piano playing was that you really shouldn’t continually be looking at your hands.  But it’s hard not to peek.  This because even more of a problem when one reaches bifocal age.  You now can’t surreptitiously glance at your hands; you have to move your head in an obvious manner, which looks ridiculous.  I just found this really helpful article on the subject.