Journey Interrupted Update #1

One week ago today I underwent reconstructive surgery on my left thumb. I appreciate all of the prayers and well wishes I have received.

I have a pretty substantial cast on my left hand and a pin in my thumb. I will have a cast and pin for another three weeks or so.

I have taken this time as an opportunity to explore literature I never would have even considered; music for the right hand. I knew there was not nearly as much written for the right had as for the left hand, I surprised how little has been written for the mano destra. I did find an Etude by Alkan for the right hand which is from a set of three etudes, one for the left hand, one for the right hand, and then the last one for “hands reunited”. While the piano is more idiomatic for left hand only music, this Alkan etude is a marvelous piece of music. It is very melodic while simultaneously demanding significant virtuosic skills. As with the limited amount of Alkan music I have studied, I have found it to be challenging yet not from being needlessly awkward or full of un-pianistic passages. Everything fits very nicely under the hand; it just requires a good deal of skill to execute up to tempo. I have very much enjoyed the few hours I have spent with Op. 76 #2.

Yesterday I even managed to play a few notes with my left hand while working with a student on an easy Haydn Sonata. It was a bit awkward with a three pound cast on my hand but I encouraged by the complete lack of pain which is something I haven’t experienced in that hand for several months.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule #5 Prioritize

One of the greatest lessons a student can learn in the course of learning to play a musical instrument is the importance of prioritization. In every weeks assignment there are greater and lesser difficulties and higher and lower priorities. Learning to order one’s work so that the maximum is accomplished with the greatest efficiency is one of the keys to success in life. Musical study provides a microcosm where you can learn this lesson.

Each week there are some items which are critical for immediate master (recitals and contests provide these nicely) and other items of less importance. Learning to address the critical without neglecting the less important is a life’s lesson we all can revisit.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule # 4 Hard Stuff First

As a river will seek the route of least resistance, left to our own devices we will do the same. It is much more pleasant to play music which is easy from either being not very challenging or has been previously learned. Trying something new or especially hard requires much more discipline than playing a piece learned many years ago.

This also applies to difficult sections within a piece. A difficult passage may require four, five, ten or a hundred times as much time and effort as the rest of the work. If that extra effort is not made, the passage will never become as easy as the rest of the music. Unless it is attacked early and hard it will always be the weak spot within the larger work. We all know where these problem areas are; if we start with them and work on the “hard stuff first” the piece will progress evenly and quickly without the constant drag of the “hard stuff”.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



A Journey Through a Soundboard

My hand surgery is two days from now. I gave up trying to make my left hand play the piano over a week ago; it simply can’t do it anymore. I am trying to keep myself distracted from my impending challenges, but I usually fail.

However this afternoon and evening I lost myself in the smell of spruce and feel of fine wood dust on my skin as I began building a new soundboard for a customer’s piano. The hours slipped by unnoticed as I first laid out the dimensions of the new ribs and then began the peaceful process of measuring, cutting, sanding, cutting, and sanding some more. There are few more satisfying feelings than working with a chisel sharp enough to give you a very close shave as it cuts through a maple piano rim as if it were basswood. So for a few moments, as Maria Tipo played through Bach’s Partitas, I went to a place of calm and peace.

Two months ago I played a recital without any problems and now I am unable to play at all. This reminded me again how we must live our lives in dependence and submission to our Father. We may think we know where we are going and what will allow us to live a well lived life, but tomorrow you can lose everything. If after Friday’s surgery and the two months of recovery, I am unable to play in the manner I have become accustomed to, will I be able to accept it as my Father’s will? After all I have been playing for over 40 years! I was hoping for at least another 25 or so, I have my best years ahead of me. Yet, in the words of our savior, “not my will, but thine, oh Lord.”

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



The Jouney Interrupted, a Voice Silenced

This is a post I hardly expected to write. About 6 months ago I closed my 8,000 sq ft piano retail and rebuilding shop. I shrunk and moved my business back home; planning on an idyllic semi-retired life. I planned on working about a half of a day and getting back to all the practicing and performing I had put off most of my adult life. I did get started and then something happened to derail my careful and much anticipated plans. I have lost the use of my left thumb due to rapidly growing arthritis.
Surgery is scheduled for this Friday to remove the arthritis which has locked my thumb half way under my palm and to reconstruct the basal joint.

I played a recital in early February without even a hint of a problem. By the end of February I knew something very serious was happening because I had lost about half of my mobility by then. I met with my surgeon who laid out my unpleasant options: do nothing, periodic cortisone injections or surgery. The first two options would do nothing to restore the function in the hand. So there really was no choice in the matter. I had hoped to last a few more months before I had to have my hand cut open, but by the end of March I had lost virtually all movement and had to quit playing altogether. My voice has been silenced.

My surgeon assured me that this procedure has become pretty routine with good results. While that may be true, it is not routine to cut open my hand. I have much fear and trepidation as I contemplate what may happen as a result of this operation.

To say that this has been disappointing and stressful is the understatement of the year. I have learned again to rely upon my faith in God’s purpose and the Holy Spirit’s leading in my life. I will continue to write and share my experience through this ordeal. I would dearly love to hear from anybody who has been down this road themselves.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



A Fellow Traveler

Recently I was visiting with a fellow traveler in the piano world. He is one of the few people I have met in my life who has traveled a nearly parallel road as mine. He is a piano tuner and rebuilder, teacher, and has a similar education as my own. What a treat! In the course of our conversation I shared with him my experience as a church musician. His reaction showed me some of the unique advantages I had gained from my time behind the keyboards.

A little over 11 years ago I took a job at the New Life Lutheran Church of Bolingbrook as their organist. Now I had a semester’s worth of organ lessons in college and had “played” the organ for a couple of years at another church but I was no organist. But, as someone always willing to do something new and challenging I jumped in.

As time went on I quickly learned the liturgy and ran through the limited amount of music for both the piano and organ I had for the preludes and postludes. After repeating myself a few times I began to get bored with the whole process. I knew I wasn’t giving or getting everything out of the opportunity. So I decided to use the opportunity of needing a steady supply of new piano music to create a need and motivation for me to greatly expand my repertory. Rather than doing a scatter shot approach to learning new music, I decided to play through more systematically the repertory of the piano.

I started very simply with the Clementi Sonatinas and much of Anna Magdalena Bach book. I moved on to other literature of Chopin, Mednter, Debussy, Beethoven, and Bach. A funny thing happens when you set out to learn 5 – 10 minutes of new music every week; after few years, you have really learned a lot of music.

I am not sharing this to brag, but to encourage those of you with a similar opportunity and need to take full advantage of the discipline such a situation can place you under. I have become a big advocate of learning complete cycles of music. I cannot begin to explain everything I learned about music, Beethoven, the sonata, or myself after playing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas or Bach’s 48. Even if the cycle is as small as Bach’s 2 Part Inventions, learning and playing them all will give you a unique perspective quite different from knowing only a few.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule #3 Different Perspecitves

Ask anybody whose job involves a significant amount of problem solving and one of their most important techniques is to look at the problem from as many different perspectives as possible. Sometimes it is only after taking a fresh and different perspective can we find an answer.

In music learning this can take the form of studying melodic development or harmonic patterns, especially if this material had been neglected up until now. It could also mean memorizing a passage backwards, ie, the last measure, then the next to last measure and so on until the passage is learned. This is great for Bach Fugues.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Commandment #4 Thou Shalt Use Both Hands at all Times

As a young piano student my piano teacher insisted I learn each hand individually before I put them together. I found this very frustrating because I never felt the work I did with my hands individually did anything to prepare me for playing with both hands simultaneously.

Learning to play one hand at a time, with the other completely uninvolved, does not prepare you to play both hands simultaneously. All that is accomplished is the illusion that the music has been learned. However the two-handed co-ordination needed to actually play doesn’t develop without two handed work.
Now some single hand study can be useful for working out specific technical problems or developing an understanding of a complex figuration. However the time should be limited and the opposite hand introduced immediately.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Myth: A Crack in the Soundboard Means my Piano is Ruined.

Fact: While a crack in the soundboard can be a problem such as when the panel comes unglued from the ribs. Most soundboards have cracks within a few years after manufacture… you just don’t see them yet.

A single crack or gap is usually nothing to worry about, even several can pretty meaningless. If however you start getting more than 5 or 6 your soundboard is probably also losing its crown which will adversely affect the sustain and volume your piano will have.

The only pianos which don’t develop cracks in their soundboards are those with very flimsy frames which allow the soundboard to expand and contract without cracking and laminate soundboard (plywood).

A crack in the pin block is a much more serious matter. Now the piano will not stay in tune. Can you tell if there is a potential problem in the pin block?

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Myth #1: Moving a Piano Causes it to Go Out of Tune

Fact: If moving caused your piano to go out of tune, you have some very serious problems. Climate change is the primary cause for a piano to need tuning. If you moved your piano from the shadows of a room to the southern window, your piano will promptly go out of tune. It wasn’t because you moved it per se, but because you moved it into the sun! The sun is rumored to have some impact on temperature and humidity.

Back in the days when I did a lot of event rentals it was our common practice to tune a piano before it is sent out. This gave us a chance to make sure the pitch was still close to where it belonged and since the pianos were often tuned weekly this was rarely a concern. After the piano was delivered and set up, myself or one of my staff tuners would tune the piano again after the piano was given a chance to warm up or cool off depending on the temperature of the truck. We rarely did more than touch up a few strings, we did this on site tuning more for the sake of the customer than the needs of the piano.

More later on why a piano goes out of tune and why you can still need to tune it every day.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com