I saw a truly wonderful movie on the plane flying home from visiting family over Thanksgiving called Golden Orchestra!. It’s a Japanese movie (original title オケ老人! Oke Roujin!) that has not been released internationally, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to see it anywhere that’s not a Delta flight in the next few months. But I still find myself thinking about it weeks later.
It’s the story of junior-high math teacher Chizuru (played by Anne Watanabe), formerly a violinist in her student days, whose passion for the instrument is reawakened after viewing a performance by the Umegaoka Philharmonic Orchestra. Later she looks them up on the Internet to find out more about them, but misremembering the name of the group, types in “Umegaoka Symphony Orchestra” into the search box instead. Seeing that they are looking for new members, she eagerly calls them up to request an audition, only to find out upon her arrival that this is not the orchestra she was looking for.
I couldn’t find any English-subbed clips or trailers on YouTube, but it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on in the clip at the beginning of this one:
Chizuru finds herself torn between the earnest-but-disorganized “Ume-sym” and her desire to join the straitlaced, elite “Ume-phil,” and her journey is further complicated by an unexpected opportunity to become conductor of Ume-sym and the arrival of a famous French conductor to perform with Ume-phil. It’s a sweet film with something to say about pursuing your passion, plus some truly funny moments with the geriatric members of Ume-sym.
I worry that with my myriad musical interests I’m naught more than a dilettante; a “filthy casual,” if you will. I’m not interested in becoming a virtuoso whose life revolves around an instrument. I play piano/accordion/harp/djembe/ukulele/ocarina because they bring me joy. But a little more practice and discipline won’t hurt, either.
Yesterday I drove almost two hours for a four-hour beginning harp lesson, which for the price was a relative bargain. The biggest appeals for me were (1) the presence of an actual teacher, and (2) the opportunity to play lots of different kinds of lever harps.
In the classroom there were about ten people in attendance and twelve harps set up, which we traded off every hour. I got to play some really gorgeous instruments, but interestingly enough my favorite ended up being a handcrafted harp by an independent builder, not a major manufacturer. It had a rich, mellow sound, and charming hand-painted details on the soundboard.
Pretty much everything the class covered was stuff I already knew from YouTube tutorials and Bruner’s book. But here was the important thing: I was in a class, and my usual getting bored after two minutes and just start plucking out Zelda songs was a definite no-go. I had to practice lifting my thumbs, holding my elbows out, and placing my fingers on the strings before playing them. Stuff that I don’t do when I get bored and start plucking out Zelda songs. And hearing ten harps playing together is heavenly, even if it’s just a round of “Frère Jacques.”
I talked to the (fantastic) teacher after class about my situation and she gave me some great advice. Wish I could take regular lessons from her, but two hours on Bay Area freeways both ways is a bit too much of a commute for me. Still, she was a great inspiration. It’s hard to be disciplined when you’re going it alone.
After getting home from work on Halloween I picked up my accordion, decided forget it all; I’m just gonna play a B7 where I think it’s supposed to be Bdim and plowed forward with trying to figure out Kass’s theme. Turns out B7 is an acceptable substitute.
Saturday I decided to start record myself practicing certain songs just to document my progress. The recordings from that day are legitimately painful to listen to, but I’m hoping that just means the only way to go is up.
I am quite enjoying the Celtic music sessions, which I attend as often as I can. I’m getting much better at the bass buttons (and physically remembering the distance from B to C—5 rows!). I need to work on the right hand, though. Mine is a lady’s piano accordion, so the keys are smaller, but my hands aren’t exactly dainty. My fingers get tangled up in each other.
And with this new accordion activity my willingness to part with it for repairs has somewhat diminished. Sure the bellows are leaky, the straps are uncomfortable, and the keyboard is uneven, but… I’m having so much fun. And I’m afraid of what the ultimate cost will be. (Perhaps I should look into getting a new one… but my current one has sentimental value.)
I need to dedicate time to practicing outside the session, though—but finding the time and motivation to has been challenging. Now that I’m back into Japanese, my attention is even more divided. Add to that the fact that a couple weeks ago a friend who reviewed the third draft of UNBoaTCfAFHV emailed me some chapters from her own book looking for feedback. Outside of all this I still have my full-time job (and I may be seeking extra employment soon) and grad school (online), and… ugh. I’m getting tired just thinking about it all.
Busy week (and weekend). A few things of note:
- I went to another anime/nerd convention with pals over Labor Day weekend and we had so much fun watching and interacting with cosplayers that we made a mutual commitment to actually cosplay in the next year or so. The next day saw us designing cosplays and trawling fabric and craft stores for supplies and materials. We’re trying to keep each other motivated because these projects could easily fall by the wayside into a pile of craft foam and broadcloth, and this in particular is something we’re pretty excited about. (We’re going to papier-mâché an exercise ball and put googly eyes on it. …It doesn’t make that much sense even in context, but the idea left us in tears with laughter and we hope when it is completed it will amuse others, as well.)
- At the above con I impulse-bought an ocarina (a gorgeous 12-hole Brio from St. Louis Ocarina’s booth), which I am currently enjoying annoying the cat with. It has a lovely full sound, especially in the low notes. Fingering is a little tricky, as is making sure my fingers are covering the holes all the way.
- On Wednesday I gathered all the acoustic musical instruments I own (accordion, harp, ukulele, ocarina), plugged in my $7 microphone I bought when I was abroad to use while Skyping my family, opened up Audacity, and played around for a good two hours. No, I am not going to be a producer anytime soon. But I had fun.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.