Archive for year: 2014
Exodus 3:1 – 6
3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
As we come together to this holy place, to this Holy Communion we need to be ever mindful of the gravity of what we are about to do. The Bible is full of very detail instruction on how God wanted to be worshiped. These instructions included everything from what to wear to the type and number of furnishings to be present within the temple. Jesus, even took to violence on one or two occasions to clear the temple of activities which were not part of God’s instructions for worship.
While we are two thousand years removed from Jewish temple worship and Christian worship has certainly gone through many forms and transformations during these two millennium in its form and content, the call for a humble and contrite heart has not.
From Micah 6:5-8
6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
The Prelude is an opportunity to prepare one’s heart for our worship together. It provides a few moments to contemplate the Scripture readings and liturgy for the day. You are invited to sit in quiet contemplation and prayer to prepare your hearts for joyful worship. Please respect your neighbor during this time. The prelude usually starts about 10 minutes before the service and will now be proceeded with a scripture reading and commentary relevant to either the music being played or today’s lectionary.
What happens to your piano after the deep cycling of temperature and humidity we have been experiencing? This winter (as if I have to remind you) was exceptional in the unremitting cold which lasted 30 – 45 days longer than normal. Time will tell if this summer will match the winter in its extremity. But with one leg of the deep cycle completed, I think it is important to take a moment and consider what this winter did to our pianos.
The wood and felt in our pianos has lost much of its moisture; here is how some of the wood and felt components have reacted to these dryer conditions.
While wood may shrink as it dries, counter intuitively, the many holes found in the keys may also shrink causing key bushings and key pins to bind. Also the keys may deform and begin to rub on their neighbors. As the wood dries, the bond between your key tops and key sticks may break. It is not unusual for key tops to begin to lift, making clicking noises when played, or even just come right off. As your keys change dimensions, your piano’s action regulation can become very erratic; your keys may no longer be level and your hammer line (properly known as the blow) can become quite uneven.
Felt and Glue in Hammers & Center pin bushings
As your hammers dry out, you may find the tone quality becoming more “tinny” and thin sounding. The hammers will lose some of their resiliency. A less resilient hammer will bounce off the strings instead of “pushing” off, thereby leaving the upper partials more active, giving a tinny sound. It is also not unusual for the glue joint between the hammer and the shank to fail as the wood in both the hammer and the shank shrinks.
The felt in your center pin bushings will wear much faster as it dries. The result can be the center pins becoming too loose and even beginning to walk out so you can see them on the sides of the hammer shanks. If the pins walk far enough they can completely disengage with one side of the hammer shank, and then your hammers will really wobble around, enough to actually hit neighboring strings.
The most obvious effect from the drying of your piano occurs in the soundboard. As it dries out, its crown will begin to collapse. With less upward pressure on the strings, the piano will not only go “out of tune” but the pitch will begin to drop precipitously. The first to go is the low tenor, in the area just above the bass/tenor break. If you play an octave such as A1 and A2 (the second and third A’s from the bottom) on a larger piano (or any other octave which crosses the break) and it sounds out of tune, the odds are very strong that it is the upper note which has moved, not the lower.
By the time the pitch drop extends a little past A4, (the A about middle-C) the entire treble will begin to go out of tune, sometimes in a very chaotic manner.
As the soundboard continues to dry, cracks, which were invisible in the summer, will begin to open up. The glue joints between the ribs and panel may also fail. In the most extreme cases the soundboard may actually come unglued from the rim.
The most damaging change occurs in the pinblock which is located under the harp. All summer the pinblock was been full of moisture and swollen; crushing the wood fibers against the steel tuning pins. Now, after the deep drying cycle, the pinblock has given up much of its moisture content and the tuning pins and the screws can become quite loose. If an actual crack develops in the pinblock, the piano will become un-tunable and will need a new pinblock.
This is just a short summary of what our pianos experienced after the extreme cycles we have recently gone through. Feel free to give me a call or drop me a note to discuss any unusual things going on with your piano.
Commandment 2) THOU SHALT KNOW AND LOVE THY BEAT.
The most important thing in music is rhythm, the most important thing to rhythm is the beat, and the most important thing to the beat is its steadiness.
I can play a familiar melody such as Mary Had a Little Lamb, and make it completely unrecognizable by radically changing the rhythm. However, it is still easily recognizable if it is played in a serial tone row, (maintaining the melodic shape while using large leaps and wild chromaticism) but keep the original rhythmic patterns.
There are two components to a secure sense of rhythm. First you must KNOW where in the score the beat falls. The beat can be any note value assigned as the primary rhythmic motive function. You must understand where in the score these beats occur.
The next part is the “Loving”. You must have a physical sense of the beat. There is no guessing allowed in the beat. Clap your hands, stomp your feet, jump up and down, tap a foot, tap a toe, count out loud; do something to physically feel the presence of the beat or pulse.
Now put these together. Know where you belong in the score as these beats you feel come by. No matter what, you must be where you belong! If your playing is controlled by a steady, known beat, with a thorough understanding as to where you belong in the score with the beat, you will have a secure rhythm. Failure will make your playing rhythmically unintelligible.
One of the things which intervallic music reading teaches us is the correlation between the arrangement of notes on the pages and physical act of reproducing the music on the piano. The movements we make in the act of playing are choreographed directly from the score, as the notes go up the page, we play higher on the keyboard and the shapes of chords are expressed by various and uniform hand shapes. There is a parallel understanding available to us in regards to rhythm.
Musical notation indicates proportional values; two of these equal one of those and three of these equal one of those. The most fundamental aspect of good rhythm is maintaining a steady pulse. The note value assigned to that pulse is irrelevant, the only thing which matters is deciding which note value will be assigned the pulse and keeping that pulse steady. The next step would be to understand which rhythmic signs are equal to two (or three) of our pulse and which signs are half the value.
As in note reading, the ability to name the notes has nothing to do with the ability to play the notes; naming is simply for the convenience of communication between people and with ourselves, the mastery of beat numbering and subdivision syllables will never yield effective rhythm. You can say all the right numbers and syllables, but if you speak them without any reference to the beat or pulse, this knowledge will not give you the correct rhythm. And again the numbers and syllables simply provide a means of identification and labeling and nothing else.
Learning to maintain a steady pulse is something which best begins with some type of larger motor gesture than we experience with simple finger movements. Finger movements are poor pulse keepers for many reasons but primarily it is often a different finger moving for each pulse which weakens the relationship between the movement and the pulse. I have often told my students I really didn’t care what they did, tap their foot, jump up and down, shout… just do something very noticeable. You have to feel the pulse to be aware of its steadiness. I understand, taping ones foot can be unsightly in a performance setting, but it is a very effective method for having a physical action, separate from playing, to keep a steady pulse. As the student matures the foot taping will diminish anyways, learning to feel a steady pulse is just too important not to find something for the student to do.
One of the advantages of foot taping is the built in subdivision. The top of the movement represents the half subdivision.
The most complex musical notations (with the exception of some very modern scores) can usually be broken down to simple 2:1 and 3:1 relationships. Even in the presence of 128th notes; they also have a simple 2:1 relationship to 64th notes. If you assigned the pulse to the 4 beamed 64th notes, the 5 beamed 128th notes take on the same rhythmic simplicity as quarter and eighth notes. As comfort and tempos increases it is a simple matter to move the pulse to the next values, the proportional relationships remain the same.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of rhythm is the meter, sometimes strangely called the “time signature”. The typical explanation for the meaning of the two number will often go like this: “X is the number of beats in a measure and Y gets the beat.” That is pretty worthless! Yes, this information may be partly true, but it doesn’t tell us what those two numbers mean. A more succinct and accurate was of express this information would be to say: ” There are X number of Y’s in a measure.” A perfect example of why the first expression is inaccurate can be found in most compound meters notated in 3/8, 6/8 and 9/8. We most commonly count these meters with the dotted quarter receiving the beat which is a value not present in the first explanation, though it seems to imply there should be.
But neither of these explanations tells us what it means. We should think back to the very origins of music. The original musical instrument was the human voice and we had metered poetry set to simple melodies. The most effective settings were those which fit best with the alternating patterns of accented and unaccented syllables and whose cadences matched the punctuation of the poetry. The meter reflects this poetic patterning. Each meter is made up of accented and unaccented beats, which when text is present, and well set, is reflected in the organization of each measure of music.
So back to our original idea. You must know and love your beat. You must know in the musical score the location of your beat. We can add to this in time the relative importance of that beat to all others based upon the meter of the music. And Love is a feeling, so you must feel your beat; it has to have a physical reality to you.
1) THOU SHALT NOT KID THY SELF.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius gives his son Laertes the advice to above all else to be true to himself. Honesty with one’s self is a lifelong process. In the world of music practice it can begin with the simple step of writing down how much you practice. Even if you never total the time or even give it a second look, you have established a measure from which to judge your efforts.
Goal setting is critical for any endeavor. If the requirement is to have a piece up to tempo by a certain date, you can break down the steps necessary for the accomplishment. If these intermediary steps are not met, you must be honest with yourself that the larger goal is in danger and likely not to be met unless additional effort is made. If a secure memory is the goal and little has been committed to memory a week before the deadline, don’t kid yourself, a secure memory is not likely to be the outcome.
We will bear the complete responsibility for our success or failure for the vast majority of our life. While as a student, it is easy to be dependent upon your teachers to order and plan your work and goals. However, you are a student for only a short time and will have to order and plan your work for decades after your student years.
While it helps to record our activities so we have a written record of what we did, rather than relying upon a faulty memory, we can learn so much more about the practice of practice with just a little thought and planning. If you treat your practice as a scientific experiment in learning, your learning specifically, over time you will make significant gains in the efficacy of your work. I was motivated to learn about cognitive psychology because of my very slow learning and poor progress as a young student. What I learned allowed me to improve my practicing and learning efficiency by orders of magnitude. I have been a slow learner and a fast learner, being a fast learner is much more fun!
The last thing we want to happen is to become neurotic about our record keeping and cease to enjoy this journey of discovery, so only keep those records which you find helpful in your understanding of what you did and the results your efforts yielded. However, keep in mind it is easier to have too little information than too much. Sometimes your data may only point to an interesting observation but because you failed to collect enough information you cannot know for certain. So at first try to collect as much information as you can and after you have a better sense of what you need to know to reach your conclusion you can begin to focus your collection more closely.
Here are a couple of examples of how we can do some very simple experiments, with ourselves as subjects, and our learning styles/habits/procedures as the point of query.
When starting with a brand new piece of music we are immediately faced with the task of figuring out how to approach its unique problems. It is often suggested that you begin by playing through the work. This helps in getting a sense of the structure, common musical patterns, and areas of difficulty. Assuming you have done whatever you feel necessary on this issue, we can begin at the beginning.
With your very first page of music you have several choices as to how to handle the music. Will you play it from beginning to end before repeating it? Play it half way? Phrase? Line? Measure? How many times will you repeat your chosen unit before moving on? How do you know which combination of all these variables is most appropriate for you today with this particular piece and its unique problems? While cognitive science can give us some general guidelines as to capacity of our short-term memory, the effects of repetition, recencey, latency, etc. on how we move information from our short-term memory to our long-term memory the application is more art than science. Only with careful self-observation can we become aware of what may be our particular needs at a specific moment.
So try this experiment with a multiple page piece which remains roughly consistent in difficulty throughout.
On the first page, play the first unit of music, whether it is a phrase or line. If it takes longer than about 15 seconds, play a shorter unit. Play it three times without speeding up and observe your progress. Do you feel you are at least familiar with the music now? Play it a fourth and fifth time. Did you make any more significant progress? Continue this process throughout the whole page. With each unit observe at what repetition point you felt your progress slowed, that is the point further effort started yielding less improvement compared to earlier efforts.
On second page of music double the length of material. If you were playing one line, play two; one phrase, this time do two phrases. Now compare the results with the first page. Do you still have the same sense of “familiarity” as you experienced on the first page? Did the progress in learning increase or decrease? Are beginning to notice a “sweet spot” in the repetition count before your improvement slows?
On the third page, treat the whole page as your unit.
At this point it is probably becoming quite obvious which level of breakdown allowed you to absorb and retain the most information. So far we have addressed two possible variables in our practice, the length of material and the number of repetitions. How long of a section we work on and the number of repetitions we find most useful are impacted by your understanding of music theory, technical demands relative to your technical abilities, and your focus and attention.
Continue working through the whole piece using the unit size you found most advantageous. When you have completed the work one time, put it away for a day, you need some time for this information to be processed and the time will give the slight variations in repetition and attention to become less of an issue for the next part of the experiment.
On the second day, repeat the entire process using the section length you settled upon on the first day. Observe the progress you make per repetition. Has the “sweet spot” moved? You will no doubt find yourself speeding up some now, try to keep this under control. Playing faster by definition will make the music harder, which introduces another variable to our experiment. We are looking to see how quickly we can absorb new music, not how quickly we can speed it up… yet.
So, at this point we are beginning to get a sense of how many repetitions it is worth doing before moving on to the next section at the very earliest stages in the learning process. For your own understanding of the learning process it is a worthwhile exercise to use the rejected breakdowns on two other pieces to better understand why they did not work as well and what their inherent weaknesses were for you. However, just because they were inappropriate at this early stage does not mean they will not be useful later on.
You should make a notation for your records of the following: composer, work, relative difficulty for you (was it below your current ability, comparable to recent works, or harder than what you have been playing), selected working unit length, some type of note about the density of the music (more dense usually means smaller units), average or range of repetitions which yielded the best results, and also observe if you found that after a certain number you actually got worse.
Since for most of us, our musical aspirations exceed our ready technical equipment, we inevitably spend a fair amount of time working on increasing our tempos, sometimes by very large margins. There is a school of thought which says we should not attempt music which is significantly above our current playing ability. I think the answer to this is very subjective and very dependent upon the personality of the individual. Some people may find challenges which take long hours of effort, with no certainly of success very discouraging. However, I find life quite boring without multiple skill bending projects going on simultaneously. This next experiment may prove more useful if you of the later group, but I think even if you are more comfortable with less difficult challenges you may find some useful understanding here.
Now that we have worked through our piece at least twice and as many as four times with the chosen breakdown unit, we have become quite aware where is the hardest material. Nothing will ruin a piece faster than a difficult couple of dozen measure which always lag behind the rest of the music in performance. So in keeping with Rule #4 of Practicing: hard stuff first.
We first must find a base line tempo, a speed we can play the passage with no less than a 95% success rate. In all likelihood, this will a much slower tempo than you image it needs to be. Record this tempo in your notes. After we find the speed which we are just able to play successfully, we need to find a tempo which is “easy” to play. The primary, if not the only determinate of difficulty is speed. If you played the section at the rate of one note per hour, you would certainly find it easy, no matter how dense the music was. If you had ten minutes to play a note, I dare say it still would be easy. We are essentially looking for a speed which is slow enough that we can think about everything we are doing and yet fast enough we don’t take all day to get through it once.
A funny thing happens when you start looking at some of these numbers in how they relate to other human activities. In weight training a similar procedure can be done. When doing a new lift, athletes will look for a weight which they can lift only once. Eighty percent of that weight however will yield them a weight which they can lift 7 – 10 times, which is often a repetition number they are also looking for.
Eighty percent of your maximum successful tempo will often yield you a speed which is near that sweet spot of slow enough to study and think and fast enough to repeat often. Your results may vary some, I would only use results slower than 80% though, never faster.
Now for the experiment. Play through your passage at this tempo. Make sure the unit is short enough you can get through it in 30 – 45 seconds. It is important that you remember in detail what you did so that you can learn from the experience. After successfully playing through the passage move your metronome up one standard notch. (I will discuss standard metronome numbers vs. smaller increments at a later date.) Continue to move the metronome up with each successful completion. If you start making mistakes, repeat the speed. If the mistakes continue, slow down 2 – 3 notches and continue to move up the tempo once the problems are fixed. Observe what happens as you approach your baseline. Do you find a sudden increase in difficulty or do you roll right past it? Continue raising the tempo until you find the number you can’t move past. You can check this by slowing down a couple notches and trying again. If you continue to fail, you have reached your limit for the day. If you can, continue to move up until you fail again, this will probably mark the end. Record the numbers which you had all of these experiences. Again put the music away for the day.
The very next day repeat the entire process, however this time the proceeding’s day top speed becomes your new baseline. Again, start at no more than 80% of that number and work your way up the metronome. Observe and record if you experience a sudden increase in difficulty and your final speed.
Do this for several days. After you have 5 – 7 days worth of data what observations can you make? Which days experienced the largest increase in tempo? How much slower was the progress in the later days? If it helps graph the numbers, over time you will start seeing some very predictable results.
The next stage would be to repeat the entire process on some new material, however this time start at 70% below your baseline and observe the results. There is a flaw in this approach however, by starting slower you will be assured of having more repetitions before you reach your baseline… or will you?
As a final stage start at 50% of your baseline. Do this with two different sections. In the first section go up one notch at a time and in the second go up two notches at a time. There can sometimes be very different results, a lot will depend on other factors such as the difficulty of the music.
There are many other experiments which we can do at various stages in the learning process and by applying just a dash of scientific method can teach us a lot about how we learn best. Hosting practice camps during summer months can also give you the opportunity to show your students how to learn how they learn.
In the quiet, dusty corners of the social media world there is a site called: “You must be from Bad Axe, Michigan…” with around 1700 members. Most members are old Bad Axe natives who like to keep up with what is happening in their old hometown. Every once in a while someone will share a photograph, memory, or comment; that is until the recent passing of Mr. Ervin Ignash. The site erupted with activity after that, it seems everybody had a fond memory of Mr. Ignash’s tenure at the Bad Axe schools, his service and dedication had spanned generations and touched thousands of lives with his fairness and equanimity. This prompted an even a more intense and detailed conversation about others in the community who had shaped and impacted the lives of so many from our fair town.
What proceeded was a very long thread (still growing) listing dozens, if not hundreds of local business men and women, doctors, lawyers, and pastors who had worked and yes thrived in Bad Axe for decades. We reminisced about the days of the “drawings”, candy stores, 5 & 10 stores, cruising town (that didn’t take long), the Fair, and so on. What follows is something I shared with the group and I hope you might enjoy it as well.
“After Ted Rapson’s and other’s recent walks down memory lane, (felt so good it hurt), I came to a realization which I think has been slowly growing on me since my parents moved back to Bad Axe to retire about 8 years ago; Bad Axe really was a great place to grow up. My family moved to town in 1970 and I moved out in 1980 and couldn’t have been happier; off to the big city and the world beyond! I settled in another oddly named town: Downers Grove, IL, just outside of Chicago, (well, farther outside than Bad Axe is from the lake) I have 60,000 neighbors in Downers Grove and another 1,000,000 just in the county, about the size of Huron County. I can drive for 2 hours and still be stuck in the Chicago area.
I leave at every opportunity I can. I take poorly paying work way out in the country, hours away, just to breath the air and listen to the quiet.
I could never earn a living in my chosen field in a town such as Bad Axe, but I have found my heart and soul never left after all. My children have lived longer in Downers Grove than I did in Bad Axe, but they have no special attachment to this town. How could they? It is no different than any of the other 100 suburbs around here. When your high school is larger than Bad Axe’s entire population, you can go 4 years and make few friends. But when you go to school with the same kids for years… everybody will at least know your name not to mention your brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and parents.
If you walk into a store here, you are one of 10,000 customers for the week and you almost never see the same employee twice, let alone learn anything about them. I try to patronize the small retailers here, but every year there are fewer.
I know Bad Axe has changed a lot since I left and will never be the same town many of us grew up in back… you know… then (however many decades you wish to admit to). But I think we had a sense of community and family which is impossible except in the small towns of the USA.
If I am destined to live the rest of my days away and only visiting on occasion, I am very thankful for the few years, many experiences, and life influencing people I met in that little town up in the Thumb.”
We never fully appreciate what we have until we have it no more; whether family, friends, prosperity, or a true home town. It took me over 30 years to learn that lesson. Thank-you Bad Axe for being, well, Bad Axe.
Sentimentally and respectfully
Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended (1630)
by Johann Heermann 1585-1647 tr. Robert Bridges 1844-1930
Traditional tune: Herziebster Jesu (1640)
YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/RkI838hBO9M
1. Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
2. Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
3. Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
4. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.
5. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.
Isaiah 53 3-7
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
(A number of Lutheran hymnals use a translation written in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth which begins “O dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken?”[)
Johann Heerman was born in Raudten (modern day Rudna) in Silesia which is wedged between modern Poland and the Czech Republic. He was the fourth son of a middle-class Protestant family; none of his elder siblings survived beyond their childhood. As a thirteen year old child he was sent to a nearby town to further his education. His health proved too fragile and he had to frequently interrupt his learning to return home to recover.
During his early 20’s his patron (for whom he was tutoring his children) took him on a tour of Europe and Heerman was able to spend time studying in many capitals of Europe. He eventually settled in Chobienia, Poland and began work at the Lutheran congregation in a role we would call the assistant pastor today. The senior pastor was in poor health and died days after he began his duties. That Fall in 1611 he married Dorothea Feige, the daughter of the mayor of Raudten.
However, life in the 1600’s was generally short and brutish. By 1613 the Plague was ravaging the area, in 1616 a fire nearly destroyed the entire town and Johan’s wife died childless in 1617. He remarried the next year and eventually he had four children we know of. A few years later Johan once again fell ill and never recovered his health, though he lived another 25 years. By the 1630’s his community fell victim to the 30 Year War and was plundered by Catholic armies repeated over the next decade. Survival was tenuous at best, by the 1630’s his health was so poor he was unable to work.
Despite all of the hardship Johan Heermann endured throughout his life this poem shows he still understood his dependence upon God for salvation and his gratitude for the underserved mercies of his salvation.
The first two stanzas ask a questions which are answered in their final verse. Jesus, what did you do to deserve this? Who brought this upon you? The answer is: O most afflicted, I crucified thee. But God interceded for my salvation, which I did not deserve.
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