Cotati Accordion Festival 2017.

A supportive friend accompanied me to the Cotati Accordion Festival this weekend. It was my first time and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The atmosphere alone was worth the price of admission. Everyone was there because they loved music and wanted to have fun with it, and it showed. I also bought a tiny handcrafted ceramic chicken figurine that reminds me of the children’s book character Minerva Louise and it gives me great happiness every time I gaze upon it.

I left my accordion at home for this one, but maybe not next year.

Thoughts on noodling.

“I should really sign up for lessons” is something I say a lot. Currently the only musical instrument I play that I’m taking lessons for is the djembe, and I can see the difference in how I play that vs. how I play piano, accordion, folk harp, and ukulele. The last time I took piano lessons was 2004, and I stopped accordion lessons in 2012 when I left the country. Since then I haven’t really pushed myself on either instrument. I used to be able to do scales on the bass buttons on the accordion, for example—now at the Celtic music sessions I mostly oom-pah (or oom-pah-pah) the bass in a very vanilla, uninteresting way. I’ve never had a teacher for folk harp and ukulele, and my experience with them has been pretty much messing around plus the occasional YouTube tutorial. I can’t tell if this is helping me develop my self-expression or holding me back. Maybe both.

Thing is… lessons are expensive, and I’m not exactly rolling in dough. Djembe is a group lesson, so that one’s affordable, but for everything else it’d probably have to be one-on-one. For the unusual instruments it’d be even more expensive (and I’d probably have to travel).

Dunno, just something I’ve thought about as I’ve plucked my harp and strummed my ukulele this week. Guess I’ll just keep going my own pace till I find opportunities and means to learn from real people.

On a related note, the Cotati Accordion Festival is coming up, and while that’s a bit of a drive for me it’s still something I intend to check out.

Quick update on progress.

I accomplished a lot in the past week but I’m kind of in a rush, so just a few quick things:

  • I went back to the Celtic music session yesterday with my accordion and did a lot better (though still not amazing; but hey, practice really works!).
  • I may have a lead on a harp teacher, or a harp community, at least!
  • I have a passable third draft! Just need to find time to get down to the copy shop and have it printed and spiral-bound.

Accordion disappointments.

Last Tuesday night I excitedly and painstakingly transcribed the chords for the extended version of Kass’s theme I got all excited about a few weeks ago. It was 11:00 and I have neighbors, so I didn’t pull out my actual accordion; I just used a crappy keyboard from when I was a kid with the volume turned way down to confirm them. I’d had trouble in transcribing it previously, but discovered that I had just been failing to recognize diminished chords. Once I got those in there, I thought I had a pretty faithful transcription.

And then Wednesday morning I pulled my accordion out and made a horrible discovery.

My accordion does not play diminished chords on the left hand.

It has six bass rows—counterbass, bass, major, minor, dominant 7th… but whatever the sixth row is, it’s not diminished. (I think it may be augmented?) Based on my limited knowledge and preliminary Internet research, this seems to be nonstandard. That row is supposed to be diminished chords. I can’t even fudge a diminished chord with another key’s dominant 7th since my accordion’s dominant 7th bass buttons play the root.

I’ll have to ask about this when I take it in. Unless a reader with accordion knowledge happens upon this blog and has an idea of what’s going on here?

Facing my suckiness.

I took a leap today and brought my accordion to a local Celtic music session that welcomes beginners, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

Everyone was friendly, but as soon as the music started I found myself staring at the most eighth notes I’ve ever seen in my life (this group seems to like very fast jigs and reels). I ended up not playing most of the songs, and leading one very awkward rendition of “The Ash Grove” that I kept forgetting was in G, not C. My sight-reading is crap—and let’s face it, my accordion technique has gotten SUPER rusty.

I spent most of the session with alternating feelings of determination and immense shame that I’m not as good at my instrument (instruments, actually—I’m not particularly good at any of them) as I want to be. I tried to avoid wallowing in the fear that I’m destined for mediocrity. (That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.) At any rate, I was pretty embarrassed at how much I couldn’t do.

And yet, at the end, people came up to me and expressed hope that I’d return, and that they’d be able to hear me play more. Bless them. Now I have an accordion case full of sheet music to practice before the next session in two weeks.

And then I’ll call the accordion repair guy, promise! I just need the accordion for another month or so. Hopefully it won’t deteriorate any further till then… but it did last forty years in a garage before it came into my hands.

Meanwhile I need to tend to my novel. I depart to visit my friends in less than a month, and those rewrites ain’t gonna… rewrite… themselves.

Accordion, video games, and cleaning.

A dear friend is coming to visit for a few days this week, so I spent much of the past week stressing out about cleaning et cetera. Nothing like an impending houseguest to make you look at your place of residence and realize oh crap, this place is a dump! (It’s not actually that much of a dump. But it does need to be vacuumed.)

So that hasn’t left much time for pursuing creative endeavors (and I’m not expecting to make a whole lot of progress by next week, either). But I did retrieve my old accordion from my parents’ house today.

I started playing accordion in 2010 but stopped in 2012 when I left to live abroad for a few years. Before my departure I took it in to a local accordion shop to have it examined, and while the technician was impressed that it was in such good condition (it had been sitting in a garage for 40 years before it came into my possession) she recommended that it be worked on before being used to any great extent. It would have been several hundred dollars’ worth of repairs* so I put it back in its case and put it in a closet, where it remained until I returned in 2015. Even after that I only pulled it out sporadically, not wanting to cause any more damage until I had the money to spare to fix it up.

Then I started playing Breath of the Wild and heard Kass’s theme, a pleasant little accordion ditty that made me want to stop in the middle of playing and listen to it for a while. And then it made me want to grab an accordion and try to play it by ear.

Video game music has had a big influence on my since I was quite young, actually. I remember thinking the credits theme from Super Mario World was one of the prettiest things I’d ever heard. (And that was back when video game music was still chiptunes that drove my mother up the wall.) When I was in fifth grade and took up clarinet in band I would hang out with my friends after band practice and try to play the ocarina songs from Ocarina of Time. And one of the first songs I learned to play on the accordion was “London 3” from Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. A very large portion of my music library is music from OC ReMix (which I’ve been following/lurking on since 2004) and other video game covers and rearrangements. Despite never having successfully finished Chrono Trigger or any Final Fantasy game, I have a special fondness for the music of Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu.

So Kass’s theme is next on the list, though I really should look into that accordion repair. But right now I need to focus on cleaning the kitchen.

*Still cheaper than getting a new accordion, which run in the thousands of dollars for a well-made one.

Practice and confessions.

The performance for my West African percussion class is coming up soon, and we’ve doubled down on rehearsals. It’s getting pretty intense, but I really enjoy the group I’m in. Everyone’s been kind and welcoming, and it turns out several of them are artists or musicians in another way. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me.

Outside rehearsing, though, Breath of the Wild continues to be an addictive time sink. I intend to practice better self-control this week.

Impulse buys.

“Ukulele” was not originally on my How I Will Go Bankrupt list. I thought it would be too similar to guitar, which I did try some years back when a used one made its way into my hands but ultimately gave up. I was used to instruments that had a keyboard or at least a somewhat chromatic or diatonic layout that I could play around with and improvise on—and necked instruments seemed inscrutable. I never learned anything past C major, G major, and F major. Also pressing down on the steel strings nigh shredded the fingertips on my left hand.

Yet this weekend certain circumstances came together—namely, that (1) my tax refund is coming soon, (2) I’ve been watching a lot of Steven Universe lately, and (3) I found myself at local music stores staffed by friendly people who showed me that the ukulele is not as intimidating as I’d feared.

Now I own a little soprano ukulele, and I’m kind of in love with it. As an acquaintance of mine who plays told me once, “you can’t not be happy while playing the ukulele.” It’s true.

Practice.

Realized this morning when I woke up that I’d missed my self-imposed deadline (Saturday) for a weekly post. I could pretend that I’m giving up self-imposed stress for Lent or that the calendar week ends on Sunday, but the truth is that I simply forgot. Last week was not fantastic for me—Murphy’s law in full effect plus lots of stressful commitments all running together. I barely got in any harp practice time, let alone writing. Though I did stumble upon this useful TED-Ed video, “How to practice effectively… for just about anything”:

The “wham line” of the video for me is probably this:

“Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.”

When I practice harp, or piano, or any other instrument, I more or less sit down and pluck  (or plunk) out whatever I feel like. I guess there’s value to improvisation and playing by ear, and it’s how I discover new things. But I’m not reinforcing important basic skills. I know at least my finger independence is pretty underdeveloped, not helped by the fact that my fingers and brain seem to have some odd quirks that limit my coordination. (The most annoying and visible one is that if I make a motion with one hand, I unconsciously make the same motion with my other hand, just weaker. Oddly I haven’t tried Googling this until just now–turns out it has a name: congenital mirror movement disorder.) I’m sure I’m unintentionally cementing bad habits in my brain, too.

Additionally, I feel I would do well to remember these four tips from the video:

  1. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize distractions.
  2. Start out slowly, or in slow motion.
  3. Use frequent repetitions with allotted breaks.
  4. Practice in your brain, in vivid detail.

New goal: to get through Volume 1 of the self-teaching book I have (Pamela Bruner’s Play the Harp Beautifully!) by the beginning of summer.

Adventures in un-ickying.

Tried un-ickying my goals this week and ended up writing a list of musical instruments I want to eventually learn how to play, ranging from the tin whistle to the $2,000 Array mbira (seen in this video). Retitled the list “How I Will Go Bankrupt.”

My harp’s still in the shop. They say they’ll need to contact the manufacturer and get parts, which means I’ll probably be harpless for a while yet. I should focus on my other, functional instruments.

On the writing side of things, I finally compiled and sent my responses to my friend who critiqued my second draft. Now I need to start looking toward Draft #3, which I’m determined will not take four-and-a-half years like last time.