nos. 4 & 5 | On relief

we made it–the last leg of hackneyed devices, in Columbia and Paris. thank you for following along. what a journey it’s been.

If you judged how my Paris performance would go based on the performance track record leading up to it, one of your eyebrows might hang suspended while your upper lip might purse in doubt. D.C. was haphazard at best, an exercise in containing the panic long enough to emerge whole. Princeton was unexpectedly marvelous, albeit pretentious and gray. Toronto was exhilarating, alien, and exhausting: 24 hours sprinkled with a hyper-eager audience, cotton-candy sunrises at 34,000 feet, scrumptious octopus cassoulet, and the genesis of a cough that would persist for three weeks. And Columbia? Less than ideal, aside from a movingly-supportive audience: the creaking piano more resistant to Prokofiev’s razor-edged, acidic sound than French gastronomy is to change; the muffling floral-patterned carpet resembling a dried-out Upside Down.

The red-eye to Paris was similarly frustrating, as the cough’s force seemed to tear my body at the seams, and sleep remained infuriatingly elusive. The restlessness was both a reflection and a curse of my mental state. It was an ominous and degrading mix of feeling as if the whole world weighed upon the next five days, and a massive urge to not give a shit.  So what if everything falls apart? harmonized menacingly with you’ve worked your bones to the ground for six months, you can’t afford not to care now. 

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no. 3 | On gratitude…

my apologies for the silence lately–struggling to balance midterms and music does not lend itself to creative output. nevertheless, I wanted to include some bits & bobs from the past two weeks, as they have been filled with gratefulness, which is the theme of this post.

here, I also share the third stop of my hackneyed devices fall 2017 Prokofiev tour, in Toronto. related posts in the series are at the end of this one.

Since I wrote you last, life has been an odd yet powerful mix of the familiar wrung in unfamiliar ways: a pianist I’ve admired for a whole decade (and counting) playing in a way that she has never played before, and maybe never will again. Stepping off the plane into fresh, polished Toronto, a city just quirky enough to cast a warmer glow on the comforts of English speakers and herb-encrusted French fries. Watching another passion project, one that melds music with fashion, play out right in front of me, surreally, with all the eeriness of déjà vu. I hope you enjoy my ramblings about the above + more below.

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nos. 1 & 2 | on performance anxiety

this post is part of the hackneyed devices series that brings you along on my fall 2017 Prokofiev tour. I hope you like it.

Before I left for D.C. and Princeton last Friday (the 13th, no less), before lugging a full-to-bursting weekender on the subway and mustering a half-hearted “hello” to the bus driver, I felt wholly severed. From my body, from the music that would rule my life the next 48 hours. Even after fifteen years of studying piano, it still strikes me just how many costumes performance anxiety can slip into. Sometimes, it may be something as feathery as a stomach flutter: quiet enough to go unnoticed, just disquieting enough to lace my hands in ice, turn them as unforgiving as wood. Sometimes, it is so mercilessly crippling that the very prospect of stepping out of bed is excruciating, and the voices that taunt you swell into a cacophonous, deadly chorus. Other times, there are nightmares, and these are the most heartless of all.

Since I was 10, I’ve had a recurring performance anxiety nightmare. It goes like this: I walk onstage. For some reason, there are thousands of attendees, silent as a catacomb. Before I take my first bow, they begin screaming in unison, clawing up at me, hurling a random medley of things at me, shouting, “what are you doing?” “You shouldn’t be up there!” I never stay unconscious long enough to see what happens next, because my mind, so treacherous in its tenacity, spares a stroke of remorse and startles me awake, usually fighting a lump in my throat.

Every week before a performance, every year, for the past ten years. Like clockwork.

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On silver cobwebs

[POI: conducting a beets&noodz interview, where Sein, our interviewee, spent four minutes gushing about her idol, violinist Janine Jansen]

“I became obsessed with her playing, her strange posture, the clothes she wore…” Sein’s voice trailed off, like fog dissipating at dawn, as I drifted into the small well reserved in my mind for pianist Martha Argerich.

Argerich is peculiar. The only thing the world knows for sure is that we know nothing about her. She eschews time-space; tracking her down for even a five-minute phone interview is a herculean task; expecting her to follow through with engagements is almost comical–Argerich cancelled as many concerts as she played last year. Her physical persona, too, creates an aura of being shrouded in mystery: a cobweb mane of silver hair, once an inky, fathomless black; dark skirts that billow like fumes when she walks, or when she thunders away at the keys. She is perhaps the only figure in the world that is so notoriously beloved yet so notoriously inscrutable. (When former President Obama conferred her Kennedy Center Honor last winter, he pronounced her name wrong. Twice.)

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On current piano teachers

[POI: waking up to a “sorry, Cindy, I accidentally took the keys to the car in the garage” text, leaving me no choice but to cancel my morning with my piano teacher.]

Today, I’m missing my piano teacher–let’s call her “E.”–more than usual. It was supposed to be very straightforward: greet the doorman. Tap E.’s doorbell (just once). Place a customary can of jasmine tea leaves in her palm. Attempt to play piano for her. Afterwards, crunch on salad (her) and inhale some pastries (me) at Kafe Leopold. Instead, a key mishap left me at home, one hand clutching Prokofiev scores, the other angrily schmearing avocado on toast.

I met E. by accident. After a previous piano teacher (not this one, rest assured) decided it was worth my mother’s money to yell instructions from her kitchen, fifteen feet behind me, I quit. In a snotty voicemail, the woman blurted out a name in a teary garble, saying, “I think she would be great for her.” My mother shepherded me from house to house, suspicious woman to suspicious woman, trying to figure out who was supposedly so spectacular for me. Some appointments ended in disaster (potential teacher: “Okay, dear, now you can ask any question you’d like.” Me: “How old are you?” Mother [stammering]: “We’re leaving, thank you, goodbye”). Others, like anything J. Crew, simply didn’t fit.

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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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