At 11am I had an engagement at Vista del Monte, to play in their "Pinegrove" building. It was the usual crowd of nine or ten people, so it felt more like an intimate music salon than a public performance. The last Friday of every month I go to Vista del Monte again, except I play in their "Fernbrook" building. There I usually have a crowd of twenty to twenty five residents and nurses watching me.
I played my usual repertoire of Debussy, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, and others. The most exciting piece I played today was Un Sospiro by Franz Liszt. I have been working on making the arpeggios exhibit hairpin dynamics, so it is nice to be able to perform what I have improved on. I have also been working on making the melody sing, instead of playing all the notes with the same volume. All in all, playing at Vista del Monte today was rewarding. I was proud I was able to play without making too many obvious mistakes, and that I was able to play through Beethoven's Pathetique without any practice.
Later in the day at 3:30pm I went to Alexander Gardens by the Mission to play for the residents. It is a little bit different playing there because I am placed behind the piano, which is located in the corner of the room. It's location makes it easy to hide and focus on playing, rather than sporadically thinking about who is watching me. I played the same pieces at Alexander Gardens, however since it was later in the day at a second home, I had a little bit of residual practice from Vista del Monte. That helped me play with more proficiency to put more emotion into my music.
I went to the Californian (formerly known as the Convalescent Hospital) today to play dinner piano music in the dining room. They have an amazing piano to play on, but it is not what you would expect when I say amazing. It is simply a console upright piano. However, the key action is perfect for my fingers since I have a light touch. It feels lighter than most pianos, especially Yahamas and Steinways, and has a crisp sound. However, since it's strings are so short some of the piano sound you would expect to hear is non-existent, and it is difficult to record with my cell phone microphone. One thing I have learned recording with my cell phone is that it only records certain higher frequencies, and leaves the lower ones out. As a result, a lot of my recordings sound sub-par, even though in person it sounds nice. Any sustained frequencies are cut short, and it all sounds incomplete.
I started out by playing Chopin's Nocturne 19, which is especially beautiful. I suggest you play the youtube video I included to hear Vladimir Horowitz play it.
I continued with Beethoven's Pathetique, afterwhich I played Aria by Bach followed by it's first variation. I also played a tune from a videogame, a piece called Aerith's Theme, from Final Fantasy VII. That is usually a hit with the seniors, and they are always amazed when I answer their question, "Where did that come from?" with, "It's from a videogame I used to play!" I stuttered a little on the third movement of Beethoven's Pathetique, but I do not judge myself too harshly when I do since I usually only practice newer pieces to me. I played the second movement of his Pathetique well, in my opinion. It was the first piece I learned as an adult that gave me a strong emotional response. I remember the harmonies as being pleasing to my ear, and because of that I enjoyed learning it a lot more than other pieces that have stronger dissonance. Usually dissonant sounding pieces are a little difficult for me to make sense of right away, as opposed to a piece like Beethoven's Pathetique which makes more immediate sense.
The Californian is a nice place to play because I do not have too much pressure to perform, since everyone is eating dinner while I do. They give me a nice meal afterwards, today being a hamburger and tater tots. Everyone is appreciative of me playing and give me nice compliments. The staff there is friendly and always helps me set up without any trouble. Also, I love their piano. To anyone acquiring a piano, I'd say a console upright is not so horrible for your first instrument. It doesn't have the key action of a typical upright, but it's nice.
I went to Villa Riviera at 1pm today to play for the residents. The highlight of today's performance was that I was able to play Un Sospiro by Liszt without too many mistakes. I also played the first variation of Bach's Aria, and also did not make many mistakes. I have issues playing Bach sometimes for performances because he can be very quick and technical, rather than free and impressionist sounding like Debussy. Debussy has his technical moments, like in Doctor Gradus ad Parnasum, but in pieces like Clair de Lune and Reverie, I do not feel like I have to focus as much on aspects such as fingering. With Debussy I focus on dynamics and feeling, whereas Bach wrote his pieces for a harpsichord which has no dynamics. In Bach's pieces using different fingers on different keys can disasterously interrupt long sequences for me. After stuttering while playing Bach, it is difficult for me to jump back to where I was playing unless I have every starting point at every measure memorized. The way I combat the difficulties in performing Bach's pieces is by forcing myself to perform them, even if I know I will make a mistake while playing. All that matters is that my current performance of it is better than the previous, and I am getting more experience playing for others.
My Villa Riviera crowd is usually small, at least compared to homes like Wood Glen Hall and Heritage House. Tomorrow I am going to Wood Glen Hall to play for around twenty residents after they finish eating dinner. I am sometimes nervous before playing at Wood Glen Hall, because it is a large room I play in and the piano is a giant 9 foot concert grand. With such a large, high class Steinway, I feel intimidated to get an amazing sound out of it. Sometimes it gets too loud for me and my playing slightly scares me, which is not good because then I start missing notes and playing hesitantly.
Monday I am playing at Heritage House, and I am looking forward to that. I will prepare Chopin's Nocturne 19 as well as Beethoven's Pathetique and a few of Chopin's preludes. Then on Wednesday I am going to the Buena Vista Care Center to finish off my performances for the week.
I went to Wood Glen Hall today at 6:30pm to play for the residents. I spent some time today beforehand practicing Clair de Lune so I could perform it for the seniors, which was something I was looking forward to. I was also looking forward to performing Chopin's 19th Nocturne, a piece I want to get much better at performance wise. Currently I can play it fine on my own, but I am not so familiar with the notes that I can play it without thinking. It would also be nice to know how to play another Nocturne in addition to Chopin's Nocturne post hume that I play. The crowd at Wood Glen Hall was friendly and spoke often with me inbetween pieces. I got a chance to speak a little about Erik Satie, a French composer who wrote the famous Gymnopedies that are used in many films. Unfortunately, I do not know very much about him other than his reputation at the Paris Conservatoire and his composing history, but that is enough to talk about in the short amount of time I have before I play something else.
There was an embarrassing moment towards the end of my performance though. I felt confident after playing Clair de Lune without much hesitation, so I thought I would attempt to play the first movement of Beethoven's Pathetique, without practicing it all week or weekend. Even though I was able to play it at Villa Riviera on Saturday, the environment at Wood Glen Hall was much different and the slightly added pressure made it more difficult to remember the beginning passages. I stuttered while playing the grave section after the descending scale, and then when I tried to recover by skipping the grave section altogether after that, I forgot the notes in the right hand while the left hand was playing alternating eighths. I decided to call it quits then and announce to the audience I was not so ready to play Beethoven's Pathetique 1, to which they chuckled. I ended my performance with Elton John's "Your Song" and thanked the audience for coming.
I felt good after playing at Wood Glen Hall, and got my usual boost of endorphins after performing. Wood Glen Hall was my first non-regular performance opportunity six years ago, and it's always been fun entertaining the residents. I like when I'm finished and they walk up to me to shake my hand, and tell me they appreciated my visit.
I was nervous today before going to Heritage House, but that is because it is the home with the most amount of seniors watching me play. The Buena Vista Care Center also has a lot of seniors that watch me play, but I get less nervous there because the piano is facing away towards the wall, so I can not see them while I perform.
I practiced a lot of Chopin earlier today, especially his 19th Nocturne, so I would be ready to perform it at Hertiage House. I was able to play it decently - I did not make too many mistakes, and when I did, I was able to improvise a pause or added interval to make the mistake sound natural. I was more relaxed playing today compared to the first time I performed at Heritage House, which was nerve-wracking then because I was not anticipating to entertain thirty-five people. I have adjusted my practice schedule accordingly, and now playing at Heritage House is much more enjoyable.
Heritage House has a nice, wooden baby grand piano which has a nice feel to it. Most of the time while playing I am concerned about my fingers slipping off the keys due to the sweat on them. In reference to that, I played Clair de Lune, which can be quick in the middle section, and that always scares me because of my sweaty fingers. Thankfully, I practiced it for an hour earlier today, reviewing the muscle memory in my fingers so I can play on autopilot.
I always feel accomplished after I play at Heritage House because of it's increased difficulty level, which is one of the main reasons I like going there. It is also a nice facility, and the seniors watching me enjoy my playing. I have been told I have a certain fan who likes conduct from the audience as I play, which shows my music is engaging people.
I went to the Buena Vista Care Center today to play for the residents, and had a surprisingly easy performance. The last time I played there I was nervous about performing for a large audience, even if I was facing away from them. Today there was a little less pressure because I only had to perform for 45 minutes compared to the hour I stayed previously. Earlier in the morning I practiced Chopin's Nocturne 19 again, this time remembering where I stuttered while performing in the past week. There were a couple of sections that still have me second guessing when I am playing for people, as opposed to when I am practicing by myself. For some reason the pattern of the left hand still feels tricky, even though I have played it thousands of times. It probably happens because I am still in the beginning stages of performing it, and when I think of this, I am mad at myself for procrastinating what should have been an easy addition to my repertoire.
I went through my usual pieces, and I expected this because I am in the middle of learning the difficult "Suggestion Diabolic." At certain homes I will play Un Sospiro, and I plan to play it at more homes as time passes, but for now at unfamiliar homes I will stick to my regular repertoire. Liebestraum 3 is another piece I hesitate performing at times because of it's speed, but I think I am going to push myself and include it in more of my performances.
The experience of playing at Buena Vista was enjoyable, and the staff and residents really enjoyed the music. The activities director was singing softly while I played "Your Song," so I think my music made some people happy.
I had a surprise phone call today, from the activities director Carolina at Vista del Monte. She asked me to come in at 11am even though I was not scheduled to. I was excited, and confident that I would be able to perform well since I have been performing all week.
I arrived at Fernbrook in Vista del Monte at 11am, but I only had time to practice piano for an hour beforehand. I practiced Un Sospiro, because I am motivated to be able to play it well for people. I remember when I started performing the first movement of Beethoven's Pathetique, and how I always played it at every retirement home I went to. After doing that for a year, I got to a point where I could play it without practicing too much. Hopefully I will get Un Sospiro into my finger muscle memory so I will be able to perform it similarly.
I used to play at Vista del Monte for forty five minutes at a time, but recently I have increased that to an hour. It is a challenge for me because my mind can wander when I start getting tired, especially if I am playing pieces that are on autopilot. When I am in the middle of an "autopilot piece," I start thinking of random things, such as what I have to do for the rest of the day, and my next meal, so if I play for too long, I can completely lose focus of what my fingers are doing. In that case, when I "come to" and find myself playing a quick piece, it is jarring and that is when I make mistakes. Thankfully that was not the case today and everything went great.
Every other Monday I go to Alexander Gardens to play for the residents. This Monday was not that different from other Mondays, except for some reason I felt motivated to play with more emotion at Alexander Gardens than I usually do. I have incorporated Un Sospiro into my retirement home repertoire, and today I included Liebestraum 3 as well. I was able to play Liebestraum 3 all the way through without forgetting whole sections, which can happen easily if I am not feeling confident that day. I have gotten better at improvising a little if that happens though, a skill I could have only learned by performing often. I was proud of myself for also playing the first movement of Beethoven's Pathetique, especially with the amount of vigor I put into it. As soon as I have the time I will go through my retirement home recordings to pull out some pieces I played well that day. I do not have too many professional sounding recordings at the moment, but I will be sure to upload them soon.
My playing at Vista del Monte started out great. I played Chopin's Nocturne Post Hume, and everything was sounding nice. I then continued with his 19th Nocturne, which also sounded nice albeit one slight mistake at the end of the 2nd page. I misplaced one of my fingers, which I depend on to continue the passage. Instead I skipped to the top of the 3rd page and tried not to make it too obvious.
I then attempted the first movement of Beethoven's Pathetique. It did not go well, because I apparently forgot the section after the Grave. I can play the first 4 measures fine, but then I have problems remembering the remaining chords in the right hand. I had an unprofessional moment where I stopped playing, apologized to the audience, and then continued with the steadily opposing right and left hand section. After that moment I felt a little silly, so I continued in a less serious manner and completed my performance with less gusto than I usually do. Overall though, it was a fun time, and their piano is a nice Steinway, so I cannot complain.