April 13, 2004

Musical Reflections

I haven't done nearly enough musical blogging recently. Thanks to my recent addition to Lynn's blogroll at Reflections in d minor, I have been inspired to share some of my musical background.

I play keyboards: piano, organ, and synthesizers. I also know a little bass guitar and can sing passably. I am trying to teach myself drums, but I don't practice consistently enough (I only have a practice pad) to be making much progress.

My parents brought me up in a house full of music. My mother and older sister both played piano as early as I can remember, and our stereo was on a fair amount (not quite as much as the TV, but enough to make a definite impression).

I started taking piano lessons in 1976 from a neighborhood teacher before I quit in frustration in 1979 or so because of my lack of progress. A few years later (late Summer of 1983, to be exact) I saw a video of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's rendition of Fanfare for the Common Man from their Works tour. Seeing Keith Emerson playing the GX-1 synthesizer got me real interested in playing keyboards again, so I spent the next few years teaching myself how to play once more.

I acquired the classical works that Keith Emerson covered and tried to teach myself how to play them. I also memorized a couple of Bach's preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier and most of Fuer Elise by Beethoven. Enough to play to impress my friends and have some fun.

In my senior year of High School, my parents bought me a Korg DW-8000 synthesizer for Christmas. I still have it, and it is a real gem -- very fun to program, especially for Emerson-style leads.

In the Autumn of 1986, as a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, I read an article in the student newspaper about a performance of the silent movie The Phantom of the Opera over Hallowe'en weekend, to be accompanied by an improvised sound track on Piet Visser's gigantic tracker organ in UT's Bates Recital Hall. The article had a picture of the organ.

I said to myself, "I have to play that organ."

So I impetuously walked into the office of the music building and asked if I could play it! They laughed and directed me to the Professor of Organ, Frank Speller, whose teaching studio was conveniently located across the hall from the office. I hung around outside the studio for about half an hour until Dr. Speller concluded his lesson. I introduced myself and boldly asked if I could play the big organ. He laughed and asked if I had ever played organ before.

Not seriously, was my answer. And that was fudging things a bit!

Well, to make this long story shorter, I faked my way through the Bach WTC Prelude in c minor by memory on a piano, and Dr. Speller welcomed me into his studio.

Just two-and-a-half years later, I was performing Cesar Franck's Piece Heroique, Buxtehude's Praeludium in g, and L'Anglais' Epilogue from Hommage a Frescobaldi (Pedal Solo) on that very organ.

And how I got from there to where I am now is another, utterly boring story.

Posted by JohnL at April 13, 2004 10:18 PM

Never got to try an organ. I would imagine that, especially with some aggressive pedal points, you can get a pretty good workout.

If I ever win the lottery, I'm planning to buy a harpsichord myself.

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at April 14, 2004 01:53 PM

I was wondering how to play Fuer Elise. I love the song so i wanted to know how to play it. All I know is the begining 9 notes. So if you could help me with the rest i would very pleased thank you

Posted by: Justine at May 16, 2005 07:04 PM
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