Grade 6 exam update

One of the nice things about living in the future is how much better some aspects of it are compared to pass. I submitted my performance exam on Saturday and the results arrived back at 4am this morning. I know for the future that sleeping is better than waiting.

Anyway. The result was a DISTINCTION.

Most of the exams I did as a kid were the practical exams by the RIAM, and the last one I did was 35 years ago. So I had no real idea how rigid the ABRSM would be. They were reasonable I think; the feedback was sensible, it highlighted the issues I knew about (but eventually cut my losses about. The lowest score was 26 marks for Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s one hit wonder. The highest was full marks for Elissa Milne’s introductory jazz piece.

I see a lot of discussion on how the performance grades are easier or dumbing down. I don’t really agree. You have the extra piece. And you have the utter trauma of the recording. It must sound seductive, this idea that you can try as many times as you like to get it right. But it means getting four pieces right every single time. I’ve played in public, and I did the practical exams up to grade 5 when I was a teenager. The experience of creating a valid, acceptable, compliant with the rules film was really tough. I live in an apartment with triple glazed windows. Nevertheless I had films wrecked courtesy of:

  • a helicopter
  • a bunch of extremely irate Belgium drivers stuck in a traffic jam
  • a processing of 10 police cars with their sirens blasting
  • a significant number of motor cyclists who appeared not to have any sort of silencers attached to their wheelmobile.
  • a stag party singing Sweet Caroline at the tops of their voices.

It’s really frustrating when you have got through the 4 pieces reasonably cleanly and the film is destroyed owing to circumstances outside your control.

And then there were my own mess ups, centred mainly on CPE Bach but on occasion, Elissa Milne departed my fingers in a less than elegant manner. As it was the last piece I scheduled, those occasions were both times when I had played each of the other three pieces faultlessly.

In short, this was deeply, deeply stressful in a way that no other music exam ever has been.

And I’m going back for more. I will skip Grade 7 and move straight to Grade 8 as I need it for the ARSM which is to follow that. My target date for this is end of next year and I will work to the 2025 syllabus rather than the 2023 as the repertoire list is okay for that. Before I start preparing those pieces though, there will be a short holiday from exam syllabus music.

Practice Diary 20240601

I play the piano, that’s what I do. And I am sorry for my neighbours at the moment, unless they like the same four pieces, then they are on clover.

It’s been a good week for the practice in terms of actually doing any. I now for the first time in a while have an 8 day streak again. Hopefully i will make that nine tomorrow.

Most of the work has focused on the grade 6 pieces. They vary between being tantalisingly close to being ready and completely screwed up. I don’t understand that last part. I’ve been playing 2 of them more or less correctly for the last 3 months. The other two, well one I took a four month break from but it’s generally okay these days. The problem is Solfeggio which varies between being 100% perfect and otherwise being a hot mess. Currently, I am in performance practice which is where mostly, I say my piece introducing the pieces (sometimes) and then play them all. I want to be used to playing them as a performance. But now and again I have to break off and work on a couple of sections of Solfeggio. That’s frustrating because while I feel like I’m not improving, objectively I am. But I cannot play all four pieces cleanly in a single shot.

This is somewhat annoying because I was supposed to be 2 months into Project Grade 8 by now, and a ickle bit of the way into ARSM (Brahms, you see….). There isn’t one place where things go awry all the time, there are several that occasionally cause problems. Mostly, I think, it is glitches not in my fingers, but in my brain. As I’m playing from memory, because I can remember faster than I can read (although that really isn’t a big deal for anything other than CPE Bach), it leads to some wry entertaining moments for me. I think part of this is hormonal; I have not had a period for nearly 3 months now.

Aside from that, there were dips into the Rachmaninoff but in truth I need to do some prematch analysis on all four of the Grade 8 pieces and also find a teacher for that and the diplomas. I am not sure I have the chops to push through those on my own.

I came across some discussion about pass rates for the FTCL during the week. I’m focused on ABRSM at the moment but in general their diploma repertoire lists overlap; one comparison I saw suggested that the FTCL did not require an essay of types. I’m not sure yet how I feel about that but basically since I would probably choose mostly the same rep for both, it won’t matter until I am close to considering doing the registration. It being the last of the three diplomas, it’s not going to matter for the guts of ten years, if even then.

But there was one comment which I cannot find substantiation for that typically, the FRSM had a pass rate of around 50% and the FTCL had a pass rate of around 30%. Whether I do one or the other, I intend to do Chopin Sonata no 3 (it’s currently on both lists) plus something else (check the goals list for options) and maybe, I won’t be too focused on the diploma by then but still go for the piece.

In other news, it transfers that for ARSM, the Fauré Barcarolle I mentioned in the context of Lucas Debargue’s latest album and recently acquired sheet music is on the repertoire list.

The way I work it is as follows, crazy as I am, is that once I am working Exam X pieces, I will start finalising the choice for X plus 1. For ARSM, if I get Grade 6 submitted any time soon (CPE Bach willing), I will start seriously working on the next four pieces (and not just the Rachmaninoff), and also start planning the repertoire for the ARSM. Now it seems, there are two pieces from my TBL list lined up for that. After that, I’ll probably tap Rach’s preludes and then I have some serious work to do to find some Bach or Scarlatti that appeals.

Piano transcriptions

Ben Laude’s piano channel is absolutely worth your time. He is a loss to ToneBase’s piano channel in general. Anyway, he posted this lately:

Top ten Mind-Blowing Piano Transcriptions – Ben Laude on YouTube

I really got back into buying sheet music when I came across some of the piano transcriptions done by Vyacheslav Gryaznov (and I’ve started seeing them turn up in exam lists for the more challenging grades and diplomas). I like the idea, because it fights against some of the received wisdom I had when I was a child that you had to play things properly. That being said, my list would have been different (and is probably already different from the list I made yesterday while I was listening to.

  1. Valse-Fantaisie by Glinka/Gryaznov
  2. Erlkonig by Schubert/Liszt
  3. 7th Symphony by Beethoven/Liszt
  4. Dance of the Blessed Spirit by Gluck/Siloti
  5. Prelude in B Minor by Bach/Siloti
  6. Adagio from the 5th Symphony by Mahler/Tharaud
  7. Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov/Noacke
  8. Star Spangled Banner – Rachmaninoff
  9. Laudate Dominum – Mozart/Olafsson
  10. Adagio Symphony No 2 by Rachmaninoff/Trifonov for 2 pianos.
  11. Masquerade Waltz by Khachaturian/Nakajima

I bought Gryaznov’s transcriptions on the foot of something that isn’t listed above – the Italian Polka by Rachmaninoff. It, too, is a great transcription in its own right. I’ll probably never be able to learn it.

Ben’s list did not include anything from Alexander Siloti and I think that’s a pity. Certainly, they may lack of the fireworks of the Flight of the Bumblebee but the Prelude listed above (originally in E-minor I think) is utterly stunning, no matter who plays it.

20240421 Practice Journal

I didn’t practice at all for the last days. It’s the longest I’ve gone without sitting at the piano since sometime in December, and I’d like to say I have good reasons. But “good” is subjective.

On the plus side, I did buy a tripod for the camera, and some sort of a mic which will probably struggle with the sound of a piano. I did that 7 days ago.

For myself, I’m sorry. I’ve been tired, and I’ve been getting home late from work. And I’ve been wondering what the point is about this and a lot of other things. I’m tired of online discussions about the piano – many of them seem to be either far too superficial (Is this piece of Rach too hard for me; I can’t sightread) or too deep.

I’m tired of YouTube. It’s got fantastic stuff hidden away but what it is pushing is utter crap about self improvement. I’m wondering if it is worth the monthly subscription I spend. It probably is because instagram’s sponsored posts are running at around 2/3rds of what they push to me. It certainly isn’t what I have followed.

I’m very close to being ready to submit the Grade 6. I have no idea how that will go either because I made the bad mistake of reading piano teachers asking if it was really necessary to comply with the instructions of ABRSM around being able to see the pedal – I’m sorry but I am not a piano teacher, I don’t have one, but I really cannot see why you’d even ask this question? ABRSM went to the trouble of recording a video for you.

So I need to go back to practice and see how that goes. I had started June by Tchaikovsky (although one of his nocturnes is around distracting me at the moment – I need to check if it is in any of the music books I own. Could be.

I will get to the piano shortly – I will set up the tripod then and we might see abut a youtube video later. Anyway. Have a good week. I have a couple of other pieces to write so this practice failure on my part might not be very noticeable to my 1 or 2 readers.

Contemporary Music – why?

Last night, to get to a wonderful rendition of Bruch’s first violin concerto, I had to sit through a work called Feast During a Plague by Sofia Gubaldulina. I’ve never heard of her but with Bruch and Prokofiev on the menu, I had filed the piece under “how bad can it possibly be” and bought the ticket anyway. The other two pieces were worth the ticket price. This was not. In answer to “how bad can it possibly be”, the answer is truly, unequivocably awful.

Apparently some people – I don’t know who, whether they really exist or how high they were – have called her the world’s greatest living female composer. I have no idea why. I really have no idea why. I don’t know how the orchestra suffered through it and I believe they have to again tonight in Charleroi. For the first time in my life in a concert hall, with a high quality orchestra on the bill, I heard an audience boo a performance. This is highly rare. If they got applause, it was for suffering through this piece.

I loathed it. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of much atonal output anyway – I think it’s self indulgent trash for the most part, and this was utterly devoid of a melody. It had some structure yes, but who cares when ten minutes in you’re wondering when the torture is going to be over. When you see her name being mentioned in sentences with Shostakovich, it’s the sort of stuff that makes me vomit. Shostakovich – whether you like him or not – wrote singable melodies. The second movement of his second piano concerto is a truly beautiful thing (if not the rest of it) and in one of his Jazz Waltzes he has given us a truly amazing short work whether you hear it played by an orchestra or a piano or two (there are a fair few transcriptions around), it is wonderful to listen to.

There is a recording of this Gubaldulina work somewhere on YouTube where at least one of the ten commenters described it as “lovely”. It is anything but. It is unmelodic, harsh discordant mulch with too much running around by the percussion crew. We use the world “lovely” to describe Rachmaninoff’s 18th Variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. We use the world “lovely” to describe Puccini’s arias. We do not use the world lovely to describe self indulgent atonal compositions that should not ever have the indulgence of being performed and imposed on a paying audience who would not pay money for it if it were the only work on the bill. I cannot imagine that this is the Gewandhaus’s best selling album by any stretch.

From what I can see, the audience hated it. They were fidgety from about 10 minutes in, and shortly afterwards, they started chatting. There was a large group of bored teenagers in who loathed it. We have one of the top violinists playing Bruch like an angel afterwards but this nonsense lost a bunch of young people. Orchestras need young people. It’s why the hell we have concerts of computer game music all of which is better than this. It’s why we have concerts of Hans Zimmer’s music.

I understand the need to schedule new music. But for the love of god, if that new music is atonal please don’t schedule it with Bruch, or Prokofiev. She might have been a contemporary of him and Shostakovich but it’s no wonder they are known and she is not so much.

I love the BNO. I love the Henri Leboeuf hall in Brussels. I’ve been to some stunning concerts there. But whoever programmed that needs to explain why they programmed that with the Bruch and Prokofiev. It was an awful, awful choice, completely counter to the beauty of the other two. It didn’t complement them. People left that concert hall at the interval (as they do for Bartok symphonies).

Contemporary music doesn’t have to be like this. At the end of the day, if you want to play atonal crap, you have to accept that not a lot of people want to listen to it and without an audience, what is music anyway? Meanwhile, people like Ludovico Einaudi are selling out major arenas as did Ennio Morricone.

You might judge people for liking that simplistic crapola and not being sophisticated to recognise the true genius of Feast During a Plague. But there is a reason that when people are asked who their favourite composer is, it isn’t this that they are answering. Nothing from the atonal world comes close to matching a Bach or Mozart.

This was not music. I never again want to hear it.

20240327 Practice Diary

I missed the weekend because I was in Dublin, to see Maxim Vengarov. I know he plays the violin but still….

Anyway, the practice was daily except Sat and Sunday so I broke my streak. I’m struggling. Really struggling to get further than about 15 days in a row. But all that days I have missed in March so far were travelling days.

So where are we: quick look back at last week. Okay. The fingering accuracy problems which were a major feature of last week are not such a problem this week. I’m inclined to think they are hormonal and I probably should track them as such in my practice journal. This leaves us with a review of what I got up to since I last posted.

  • CPE Bach Solfeggio. This is going pretty much okay. It is still below concert speed but it’s increasingly accurate at higher speed. I love my metronome. I’m still surprised at how much better I got on with this rather than his dad’s Inventio in E major. I may go back to that at some point in the future.
  • Mendelssohn Gondollied 19b no 6: this is great actually. I play this and think, yu know, six months ago I couldn’t play this at all, and I wondered if this whole Grade 6 idea was batshit crazy for someone who is otherwise very decent at non-classical stuff.
  • Rebikov Fallen Leaves No 3 Con Affizione: I think of all the would be and were broken relationships since I was 13 and this is rightly afflicted. It’s mostly stable, I’m happy to record it
  • Milne Indigo Moon: After moaning a while back that I couldn’t really memorise this, the finger work is mostly sound, it sounds great when I get it right. I get it right 80% of the time and for those people who drop into my Tonic stream from time to time, it seems to be very popular.

I played other stuff this week at various times, sometimes when I am tired or lost and also because I passed through Brussels and Dublin Airports and touched pianos in both airports. This week that included the Waltz Opus 30/15 Brahms, the A major setting (by Brahms himself). Currently stuck on the opening piece as I shape my fingers to it, but I love it and I think it will be a useful building block to 118/2, the other great expression of unrequited love I think. From the Celtic repertoire, there were the following pieces:

  • Blind Mary (O Carolan)
  • Gracelands (Cunningham)
  • Gaelic Air (unknown, sadly)
  • Eamon A Chnoic
  • The Foggy Dew
  • Kimiad (based on Stivell)
  • Voyage en Irlande (Bensusan).

All pieces that I love. I also touched Exodus, Scarborough Fair, I dreamed a dream from Les Miserables, and I think that was about it for the late night session last night.

For my next trick I need to start booking grand piano time a bit more frequently, and then I also need a tripod for my phone so I can film the exam submission by the end of the month. I’m really pleased about this.

Talking about the journey

One of my bucket list items has been to go to Verbier, and I am thinking of trying to make it happen this year. There are two or three concerts I’d like to go to – Alexandre Kantorow’s solo recital is one because that I would like to see.

By the way:

Alexandre Kantorow and friends celebrate their teacher’s time in France

I start off with Verbier because well, another bucket list item but which felt unattainable was grade 8 piano. And somehow, this is now realistic.

I love pianos. I’ve played piano in one shape or form since I was 8 years old. The world is full of people who are much better than I will ever be at this stage. The world is full of people who started learning at the age of 64. I’m better now than they are ever going to be.

But I wouldn’t be here without some hard thinking about a year ago and it boiled down to this: the work schedule I had would not allow me to do another university degree. It simply wasn’t possible and to be frank, I didn’t see the point any more if the outcome was to be more intense and constant exhaustion. In 2022 and 2023, I was constantly stressed and exhausted. So things were going to have to change.

So I started wondering about going back to music lessons and to see what I might yet be able to manage on that at this stage of my life. I looked on line and found Canada’s RCM and its extensive list of pieces. I have to confess, I didn’t realise it was in Canada until after I had selected some pieces for Grade 6 that looked doable. As far as I could remember, I had done up to Grade 5 in Ireland.

When I figured out it was Canadian and not UK system, I went looking again for a British one as I assumed there would be exam centres here in Belgium. This is how I discovered ABRSM had these performance grades that you recorded and uploaded. Also, they allowed me to prepare 4 pieces and avoid some of the other skills that I didn’t really want to try and structure according to their syllabus. I play by ear, and I play a rhythm instrument as well. I wasn’t totally worried about that.

But I had to do Grade 5 theory or prove I had done it in Ireland before. I figured it was easier to just do the Grade 5 theory rather than search remotely for proof I had done RIAM. In any case, I don’t think I did Grade 5 with the RIAM in Dublin, but with the Leinster School of Music which isn’t on the list of accepted alternatives for ABRSM. Doing the exam was a good idea.

It was really interesting. I learned a lot. I learned that I could still remember most of the theory covered up to Grade 4. What I didn’t know was really interesting and helpful. It covers a lot of how I think about music. From my point of view, obligation or no, being aware of Grade 5 theory is a good thing and I haven’t excluded doing further theory grades. For now I’ve been working on the performance grades.

I play the piano almost every day – if I miss a day it’s usually because I am travelling. To that end, I can now play pieces by Mendelssohn (dream come true), CPE Bach (love the piece), and two other composers that I didn’t really know before I fished them out of the syllabus. It’s really great.

The benefits though have not really just been musically inclined. I think the simple decision in April last year to start working towards something that a person I used to be has pushed me back into being some of the person I used to be, someone a bit more comfortable in myself. It took a long time and I’m really only starting to see the benefits now. My self esteem was still rock bottom in January; but these days, I think about those moments when I fly through CPE Bach – and I learned that incredibly quickly. I learned it in 6 weeks to be honest and now it is in polishing mode. I can’t quite believe it to be honest.

In the journey, it helped me to move around changing other parts of my life so that I could manage stress more effectively. That I could realistically think about learning some of the lots of sheet music I own. I go to more concerts. I’m thinking about going to a master class in the local conservatory. My resting heart rate is down. I’m sleeping better and some other health indicators around stress are also better.

I still have a lot of things to fix both musically and personally. But genuinely, making room for the exam one of my colleagues thought was crazy has changed my life.

Love of my life

I bought this when I was about 15 years old.

Love of my life
1980s edition of Rach 2, reduced for 2 pianos.

That wasn’t today or yesterday. In fact, it was about 35 years ago and I bought it in a music book shop in London. I would give anything to find it again but I suspect it doesn’t exist. In my memory, it was a branch of Oxford University Press but it was, above all other things, a dream world. It had floor to ceiling drawers with mysterious labels. Ladders to get to the higher drawers. Middle aged men having heart attacks as I searched for Rachmaninoff’s name on the drawers.

I wanted two things. This and something else called Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Both of them together were too expensive, so after some no doubt annoying humming and hahing in the shop, I chose Rach. I’m not going to say Rach 2 has always been my favourite piano concerto but I hadn’t heard Saint-Saens 5 by then and Rach 2 is currently my favourite piano concerto.

You can tell this is an old edition. It doesn’t have the standard pic of Rach on the front of which most of the Boosey and Hawkes editions of his concertos do. Also, it is extremely grubby.

I didn’t really realise how grubby it had got until I looked at it today. I took it a lot of places with me. I sat in cars, on rugs, at picnic tables, analysing it, listening to Julius Katchen’s iconic recording and picking out bits of it. We got that from the Great Composers back in the day, on cassette and I recommend it. It’s a tragedy he died so young. The tape lived in my Walkman for most of my teenage years except when I was listening to Jean-Michel Jarre.

One of the girls I knew at choir said the coda was very hard and I would never learn it. She didn’t know it was a coda but the notes were small and there were lots of them. My music teacher did not want to know about it. It’s not like there was an orchestra handy where I grew up. I’m not going to say I was actively discouraged but I definitely was not encouraged.

Looking back, I think this was a pity. Claire Huangci says she learned it at 14. I bet she was encouraged. It’s standard repertoire. There are any number of renditions of it on YouTube. God I would have loved YouTube as a teenager. I just had The Great Composers partworks in cassettes. I learned the opening chords, before I bought the sheet music, from the accompanying magazine. I think my mother donated those magazines. I may regret that now.

I started learning it the summer I was 17. I was doing exams; I had worked my tiny little heart out on chemistry French and maths for two years; I had 2 weeks off before my exams would start and at that point, I didn’t think there was much I could do to improve further my chances in the Leaving Certificate in 1990. I scored two As, 4 Bs and a C back in the day when that meant something (old woman shakes fist at sky about the simplification of the maths syllabus amongst other things) so I probably wasn’t far wrong on that. I knew my theorems and I was the first person in years to do the chemical equilibrium question at my school and I got it 100% correct. I’m not bragging here. I’m about to explain that what I engaged in for the study break was the greatest torture known to a family in Ireland whose piano was in the same room as the TV.

I started learning the second movement of Rach 2. It was in E, a key I preferred to C minor in general (this is still the case). I used to get up, have breakfast, fill a pint glass with Ribena, the sugar filled version, put it on top of the piano, open Rach 2 somewhere in the middle and repeat a few bars endlessly. I must have spent 5 or 6 hours on it on occasion. I have a very fuzzy memory now but I’m certain I had had afternoon practice sessions which lasted 4 hours or more. I cannot imagine the focus I had that allowed me to decipher the notes (sight reading is not my strongest point although it has improved lately), and get myself to a point where I could play around the first – well this is the question. If I look at where I think I stopped, I got about 4 minutes in before I hit the polyrhythms for which I had no help at all and never navigated. But I really didn’t realise it was that far. I almost definitely got about a minute and a half in. There are some notes in the script – not many because mostly I tend to put in things to help to get the rhythm right and after a few years of RIAM and the Leinster School of Music, I have a horror of notes on my script (so I’m totally out of sync with most musicians, it seems) and everything is carefully in by pencil.

Why are we talking about this today? Because I have heard people learning Rach 3 on Reddit and Rach 2 on Tonic and I realised, if they are doing it, why can’t I? I am sure I wrote a bit about some of the people learning Rach 3 and yet I cannot find it quickly. So squirrelled away at the back of my head is that I would pick up the piano concerto again. The same movement – I love it – and start seeing if I could reawaken the memory of what I was able to do when I was 17 years old, drinking Ribena by the pint class. Today, I took it out and looked at how godawful grubby it is. I have the Henle Urtext on my iPad as well but there is some sort of emotional connection between me now (better sight reader and with some tools to deal with polyrhythms) and a girl with a crazy unrealistic dream in a house in the middle of rural Ireland.

I cry tears for that girl sometimes. She had a lot of life before her; I know now what that life included and a lot of it didn’t include a piano which is perhaps a shame.

I can’t still play the first 4 minutes. But I can – almost at will – play the opening page without fault and I can make it sound heart breaking. There is something about I play that which is absent in how I play Mendelssohn, for example. You can pick up senses of it in the Rebikov that I play with affliction when the mood takes me. But the heartbreak in these notes by Rachmaninoff is on a different scale.

I should be learning other exam stuff. I can’t even say how far I will get with this piano concerto this time. It’s mostly way above my skill level when you look at the piece as a whole. But I am now 50, and I can do what I like and what I like at the moment involves pieces of the greatest piece of piano music ever written.

Chat ideas

I have blocked my right ear lately – I know this is too much information and yes I have drops and yes I enjoy the absolutely awful sensation of them. Nevertheless, the last time this happened I wasn’t playing the piano.

So practice today has been pretty challenging as only one of my ears is working.

I had some empathy for Beethoven and I am terrified about losing my hearing.

On the practice front, it has been mixed these last two days. I dropped out of Platinum back to Gold on Saturday night in the Tonic Community. Not a disaster but currently I am second which means I will be probably on my way back up on Saturday. The issue here is that I won’t have a piano on Sunday, Monday and most of Tuesday. So I don’t even have to guess but I’ll be staying exactly one week in Platinum again. Last week was the lowest amount of time I spent playing in quite a while.

Mostly today was marked, in addition to half deafness, to having the craziest memory issues that I’ve had. They kind of started on Sunday at some stage, so that the two main pieces that I know more or less by heart were just into roadblocks on occasion. Milne is almost ready though so out of the 4 exam pieces, 3 of them are usually under reasonable control so only the CPE Bach remains to control. That has been challenging with a memory that is just laughing at me.

I will see Alice Sara Ott in concert on Thursday this week (so yeah, I may run out of practice time and not make Platinum after all).

On Reddit there is someone learning Rach 3. He’s 6 years younger than me and he has always wanted to play this. I get the motivation; I want to do it with Rach 2. It’s likely to be a 10 year project if I do it. There are bits I want to have a go at in both it and Rach 4. But I need to do effective planning skills and decision making and I give a pretty decent chunk of that to work. That pays for all the music I buy. And will pay for my grand piano when I buy it. I should blog about those dreams again. I don’t regret letting that last one go but at some point I will want to buy one.

And there are some opening themes in Brahms I that are talking to me at the moment.

It’s 1040 on a Monday night. Really, I should be in bed. But I worked from home today and that disrupted my view of myself and my little world. I did get to practice at lunch time though which was nice.

20240217 Practice Diary

Another week has rolled by and I have done various things, that matter to me, if not to the wider world.

I went to my local stationery Mecca and picked up another 2024 planner. Into this I am now writing a few words daily about the practice, and tracking the pieces I play each day especially of the ones I want to play for an exam that seems far away in my mind but which was pencilled in for 6 weeks’ away. So that’s not looking great.

I’m having some memorisation problems with Mendelssohn and Rebikov. When I get the Rebikov correct, it is absolutely gut wrenchingly beautiful to play. I haven’t yet played it on an acoustic piano but I have a one in ten chance of getting it right when I play it. The same is true of the Mendelssohn. I know every part, can restart from multiple places but I rarely get a clean run through. This is frustrating because I have known to play every part of that for about two months now. I can’t remember when exactly it went clean for the first time. Neither piece is consistent.

I gave this some thought yesterday after 30 soul destroying minutes. There’s a fingering issue in the Rebikov which is improving every time I play. For the Mendelssohn, it’s a pure memory issue. I’ve seen a lot of discussion on practice lately and the advice, in the best way of things, is completely contradictory. You see advice to focus on one particular aspect of playing, to avoid mindless repetition when setting up practice points. You see advice to practice until you can’t get it wrong, but not to repeat infinitely. This is completely contradictory.

So the advice isn’t really helping. I will confess though that over the past month or so, these pieces, together with the Bach that I set aside, got the bulk of my time until this week. What I think I need to do is to do one single run through of both every day, warts and all, so that I don’t forget everything about them. But they will not form the bulk of my practice for the next week or two. I want to finish CPE Bach’s Solfeggio and find tactics to get past the shaky points of memorising E Milne’s Indigo Moon. I like the piece enough, but I can’t see myself playing it too often after the exam. Apart from that, I will start looking at some music by Clara Schumann as Tonic has a related challenge coming up and then I will be starting Cyclopes by Rameau and June by Tchaikovsky before the start of the summer. So much for the planning.

On the Milne piece, it has moments of sounding lovely, it has moments of not sounding like a human being is playing it at all. I have most of it memorised in pieces; the fitting together is catastrophic, there are pieces where I need reinforcement. I am questioning whether I want to learn it by heart at all and if it would be safer to keep the sheet music with me. I have not found a story to tell with this piece of music and with a name like Indigo Moon it should be possible. You wouldn’t know it but there is a gondolier in my minds eye, along with the canals of Venice when I play Mendelssohn.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the CPE Bach is coming along a lot faster than I really expected. It’s not anywhere close to being ready for The Audience to hear it (just some poor victims tuning in on practice streaming) but I pieced it together yesterday – this is way ahead of schedule and can now work through both pages. It being the weekend and not late at night, I have the opportunity to do some metronome practice. This is demonstrating to me that I will have a lot of problems bringing it up to a consistent speed without constant metronome practice as I try to ensure the piece fits together coherently. But despite the fingering misses (and this tends to be where I come a cropper), I really enjoy playing/practising this piece.

The sheet I have calls for Prestissimo. I am a long way short of that at the moment.

I think the only other piece I touched regularly this week was JS Bach Prelude in C Major from WTC I. In truth, I love the piece, I love how it sounds when I get it write. But because it is so easy to ready, it is beyond difficult to memorise; It doesn’t get the time because it was really only something I picked up because the Invention in E Major was causing me so difficulties. It eventually goes into the 40 pieces list which is running behind.

One of the things I need to make more time for also will be technique, especially some scales for the pieces I am doing next year. D Flat Minor is hanging over me with the nice Mr Rachmaninoff. So I will add that to the list that I have being tracked and we will see how that goes.