Lessons from Golden Orchestra!.

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.

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A harp lesson.

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.

Cosplay commitments and ocarina shenanigans.

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.

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.

Breathing wildly.

My friends are amazing. They stood outside a Toys ‘R’ Us at 8:00am in the cold the other week on the day it was rumored there’d be a fresh supply of Nintendo Switches and picked one up for me (I had other engagements at the time). After paying them back and picking up a copy of its most prominent game I proceeded to spend an embarrassing amount of time last week in its world. I don’t think I can add anything to the praise it’s gotten. It’s a fantastic game and I’m really enjoying it.

Problem is, I can easily sink three or four hours into it without even noticing. And that means less time for all those “terrifying creative endeavors” I keep saying I want to pursue.

I voluntarily took Thursday, Friday, and Saturday away from it, mostly because it was Holy Week and I wanted to focus my attention on that. But after spending another four hours playing it today, I realize how valuable taking time away from it is. Saturday I got in practice time for both ukulele and harp, which I rarely have the attention span to do. A little regular self-denial would do me good, I think.

I’ve been neglecting writing, though. I intend to make time for that this week, as well.

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.

Seeking community.

This week I had the chance to go to a rock and gem show with a dear geologist friend, and half the enjoyment was watching her getting excited and talking about all the rocks on display. She met several folks with the same interests and made a few new friends in the few hours we were there. Her passion is gemology and jewelry making (I own a few of her pieces, gifts from various holidays past) and she has a real talent and good artistic eye.

There is tremendous value in community, as I was reminded watching my friend today. It’s soul-enriching to meet people who love the same things you do and want to share in the joy of them. I suppose that should be on my goal list this year—to find communities for my own interests. SCBWI meetups, local music groups and classes… it’s all a bit scary for a shy person like me. But I think complacent isolation makes the fear and self-doubt ghosts seem bigger, and limits my growth.

Also: got my (fixed) harp back! No excuses for not practicing now.

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.

Keeping it up.

Wanting to remind myself of how serious I am about writing, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators this week. It’s something I’ve been looking at for a long time, and with this second draft finished and revisions underway I feel like I could get more use out of the resources it offers. That is, if I can concentrate and apply myself enough. Maybe one day I’ll have the money and the body of work and the confidence to attend their New York conference.

I’ve also taken in one of my aforementioned folk instruments, a little lever harp, in for repairs. A couple of the levers have gotten buzzy and I’ve been using that as an excuse not to practice. Sending it in is not only to remove that excuse, though; it’s also to remind me how much I enjoy it. Somehow, even with how I’ve been slacking at practicing, not having it in the house makes me miss it, and more resolved to keep at it once it comes back.

My self-discipline has been lacking recently, even at work. I need to watch less TV and remember where my passions lie.