On Prokofiev’s Toccata

this post is part of the hackneyed devices series that chronicles my fall 2017 solo Prokofiev tour. enjoy!

Playing with form–or, in the case of the Toccata, perverting it altogether–assumes great importance in this piece. The toccatas (from Italian tocare, meaning literally “to touch”) of Bach’s and Scarlatti’s time were strictly studies of keyboard technique, pieces that could only be played on keyboard instruments. Bach’s infamous organ Toccata and Fugue in d minor, for example, also epitomizes the original purpose of toccatas as improvisatory, cadenza-esque pieces, something to whip out as the equivalent of an encore. Though unmistakably showy and technique-driven, toccatas symbolized a freedom at the keyboard not afforded to other forms.

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On Prokofiev’s second sonata

this is the first post in the hackneyed devices series that chronicles my fall 2017 solo Prokofiev tour. hope you enjoy!

“Prokofiev follows sonata form like a train schedule.”

Like any train schedule, however, unforeseen delays and detours may interrupt it, and Prokofiev’s take on sonata form in the Second Sonata is no exception. Indeed, “interruption” is the main counternarrative running through the work, as argued by YSM Prokofiev scholar Rebecca Perry–brusquely unfamiliar material interrupting main themes, seemingly inconsequentially, that assume great significance as the piece progresses.

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On travel inconveniences

[POI: My little brother arriving a full day later than planned to the Aspen Music Festival due to the questionable efficiency of Delta Airlines]

“You seem like you’re hyperventilating rn 😂😂😂” – my brother

He wasn’t wrong. I was hyperventilating, pacing around the piano, already dripping with sweat from practicing (it’s averaging 90/day here in D.C.). He was under that most aggravating of travel mishaps, when there’s absolutely nothing one can do except wait and wallow. Delayed flights, lightning, and miscalculated fuel aside, my little brother was more than physically trapped en route for a day–he was psychologically stranded.

A year ago, I was also trapped on a FlixBus from Paris to Prague. It was the second one of my 24-hour odyssey-gone-wrong, a bus that arrived five hours late to scoop me up from a Brussels transfer station. Watching the sun rapidly dip “goodbye” under the spiky pines of German forest, my tongue was like sandpaper, my stomach gaping. I was supposed to arrive in Prague eight hours ago, around the time I also ran out of food and water. I barely remembered blowing my mentor a kiss after her Paris recital, from which I dashed straight to the midnight bus, too excited for the champagne to reach me. Strange, isn’t it? How time warps, the way it constricts and dilates. What if I never make it to Prague?

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On mimi

[POI: bitching about most everything at BeOne in Baltimore, scarfing down scrumptious Korean favorites]

Our server rattles off menu recommendations in Japanese to Mimi, who sits across from me, her pixie cut streaked with blonde strands the color of hay. Six years ago, when we first met, her hair grazed her shoulders and she worked nothing short of black magic at the piano. That, and her sarcastic cackle, remain ever the same.

“What did she say?” I ask.
“That we’re cute, but good luck finishing what we just ordered,” Mimi translates.

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On parental expectations

[POI: an invasive mother, dressed in unflattering coral, cornering me for intel on the college application process at a house party]

Two years after I ED’d Columbia, a cloud of skepticism still clung to every Thanksgiving and every birthday. Why didn’t she choose HYP [the gilded acronym of Harvard-Yale-Princeton]? Columbia is always ranked lower than HYP. You have no chance of getting into Yale RD, so why not just EA it? Yale breeds all the men of rich Upper East Side families that you need to bed, then marry ASAP. The mere thought of their daughter not applying to Yale was so frightening, so repulsive to my parents, that I roamed the thick oaks of suburban Maryland for three nights after banging the front door shut, screaming that I wished nothing more than to never have been their child.

All this came flooding back, not stinging and smarting the edges of my brain like it once did, but dull, more numb, like nerve endings that have evaporated into smoke, when yet another Chinese mother interrogated me about her daughter’s college applications.

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On previous piano teachers

[POI: discussing performances at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage]

My little brother performed at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage a week ago. My father decided to play his quintet’s (gorgeous) rendition of Schumann’s E-flat to accompany our après-dinner scoops of Talenti blood orange. The performance was livestreamed–in impeccable HD, as my mother noted no less than four times–and archived here, for three whole years.

Three years have also passed since a piano teacher of mine–let’s call him Dr. M–died. I remember the evening precisely. I was sitting in my freshman dorm room, procrastinating on Instagram (old habits are born early, it seems). I scrolled past an old nemesis’ photograph of herself, at the piano, the lighting a muted, comforting amber. She and I both studied under Dr. M–she exclusively, I partly. The caption was strange, almost eerie–half-obituary, half-flowery, cliché-d gushing about x inspirational person of the day. Only after a few screenshots and some virtual scoffing to a mutual friend did I abruptly realize it was 100% obituary, for Dr. M. Continue reading “On previous piano teachers”