Saturday, December 31, 2016

Merry Christmas, and happy new year (almost)!

Yesterday I posted my first recordings, which includes my interpretation of the Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. posthumous, by Frederic Chopin. I thought it would be fun to write an analysis of a this particular song, especially since it has so much in common with the Chopin piano concerto in F minor.

I believe this song was written in 1830, when Chopin was just twenty years old. He was at the height of his performance career--his piano concerto in F-minor was also in the works at almost exactly the same time. Now, later in life Chopin flat-out refused to perform in large public concerts, and even at this time he disliked it, despite the necessity of establishing himself as a premier musician in Paris.

Here is a recording of Arthur Rubenstein--one of the greatest pianists ever to walk the earth (and now sadly deceased for thirty-four or so years)--playing the Chopin F minor concerto.

Also, here is my video, which includes the nocturne (yeah, I'm not as good as Rubenstein, and probably never will be).

This piece shares a number a striking similarities to the F minor concerto. My favorite reference is at 1:24 in the Nocturne, in which this beautiful phrase seems to twirl like a couple dancing under moonlight. Chopin evidently liked this theme very much, and used it in the concerto. Note these points: 1:57 and 5:45 of Rubenstein's video.

Another one I like very much is the scherzando (joke) theme that comes up in at 1:57 in the Nocturne. Notice the similarity to 26:30 of the concerto.

And the scales at the end of the Nocturne, particularly 2:56, seem to echo the second movement (for instance, 17:30 in the concerto). I'm actually learning this second movement to perform in May with my piano teacher playing the orchestra part arranged for piano. I'll definitely post a video of that performance ...

Well, this is the end of my spiel. If you have feedback on either the blog or the video, please comment, either here or on youtube.


Friday, December 30, 2016


This is a post relating to my first youtube album, a video consisting of my own recordings of Claude Debussy's Prelude No. 8 (the Girl with the Flaxen Hair), Frederic Chopin's Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp Minor, Rachmaninoff's Moment Musical No. 5, Op. 16, Franz Schubert's Impromptu in C minor, Op. 90 No. 1, and Frederic Chopin's Nocturne No. 13 in C minor, Op. 48 No. 1.

For those seeing the blog first, the link to the recordings is here:

A little about the recording of each piece:

When I was working on the Debussy, I often found the piece sounded aimless, as if without direction. I had to work very hard to avoid exaggerating the long pauses between phrases and making sure my rhythms were correct.

The Chopin Nocturne in C-sharp minor is my Mom's personal favorite piece.  This beautiful song was written in 1830, as an accompaniment piece with his second piano concerto. For the music geeks reading this, they will notice significant relationships in the themes of the concerto and the nocturne. Actually, I'm working on a detailed analysis of the connections between this song and the F minor concerto; I plan to publish it soon.

This Moment Musical is the first piece by Rachmaninoff I have learned. It's part of a set of six moments musical, each one a tribute to an earlier form. This particular one is a barcarolle, which means "boat song." I really love the rocking motion of this piece, but the chief difficulty is in layering the complexity of the singing voices in the right hand and rolling triplets in the left hand--which are often rhythmically staggered.

I first started learning the Schubert Impromptu in C minor last winter, almost a year ago. I had mostly finished it by May, but never put the finishing touches on it. But when I started planning this set a few weeks ago, I decided to pull it out of mothballs and finish the darn thing up. It was quite difficult, recording for ten minutes at a time, trying both not to make a mistake and at the same time show the singing qualities unique to Schubert's music. This is one of my piano teacher's favorite pieces of music. Many thanks also to my Dad, and to my sister for turning pages for me and providing precious feedback.

But the Chopin Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 No. 1, is my personal favorite of this set. It is the most difficult of the five, both expressively and technically. This piece has also taken me months to learn and perfect, especially the last section, when all hell breaks loose and the world seems to crash in on itself. When Chopin wrote this, his relationship with writer George Sand (Aurore Dupin) was beginning to unravel, and his tuberculosis was beginning to get the better of him. But he was not finished yet, as we can see from this explosive night-piece that begins as a lone singer, develops first into a choir singing from the depths, than into passionate outpourings of inner turmoil.

To say this road has not been easy would be an understatement. But God has given me the strength and knowledge to overcome the difficulties in these beautiful pieces, and share them with the rest of the world.

Merry Christmas, and a happy new year!

God bless.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Here's another post.

I'll keep this one brief.

I just wanted to say a quick word about something I've learned lately.

This might be obvious for some, and for others it may be irrelevant or completely opposite to how their minds work.

But I've found that when I give myself time to actually work on ONE or TWO projects at time, without very many interruptions, and without spreading myself thin across too many other things, I can get far more done in a short time than when I spread myself thin over months of trying to attempt too much at once.

Case in point: Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor. I just undertook this piece a few weeks ago, and already I feel I've made significant progress without screwing it up (and yes, I have screwed up pieces before--the third movement of Moonlight is stuck in a very frustrating limbo for me right now).

But the Chopin seems to be coming along very well, despite the reputation this piece has for being, according to concert pianist Murray Perahia, "one of the hardest songs in the repertoire." Honestly, I'm not entirely sure why I feel as though I am directly composing this piece, like it's my own work.  If I keep making the same amount of progress on this piece that I have been over the past week (during which I have worked on it almost nonstop), I will finish the "rough draft" within another few weeks! It feels as though God's giving me a Christmas present.

This may be my last post for a little while. Very soon I plan to post several Youtube videos of songs I've recently finished--two Nocturnes by Chopin (C minor, Op. 48 No. 1 and C-sharp minor, Op. Posthumous), the Prelude in G-flat major by Debussy (aka The Girl with the Flaxen Hair), and Moment Musical No. 5 in D-flat by Rachmaninoff. Over the next few months, I will finish my other pieces--the first movement of Mozart's Sonata K.576 in C minor, Bach's Prelude and Fugue No. 2 (also in C minor), the second movement of Chopin's piano concerto in F minor (I'll be performing that sometime in May with my piano teacher playing the orchestra part arranged for piano), Chopin's Grand Valse Brilliante in E-flat major, Op. 18, and of course the Ballade in G minor. I look forward to sharing this music with you!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hello Readers.

Have you ever had to do anything that was really hard, and frustrated you at every turn?

That's the boat I'm in right now--I'm plugging away very, very, very slowly at my pre-calculus course. It's insanely frustrating to work with--intense, complicated problems that I often get wrong.

The worst part is when I get super emotionally involved in my work-- I have to grade my own problem sets. There are few things more discouraging than finding I screwed up problems that took me twenty or thirty minutes of hard work to solve. Some days I just want to throw the textbook across the room.

This has been my situation since January of last year, when I finished Algebra II and went on to pre-calculus.

I am very grateful for winter break, but I still dread the day when I have to take of pre-calculus again--perhaps the bane of my very existence.

But then my Mom--who is also my teacher--told me to look at math like a piano concerto. She insists that finishing pre-calculus and moving on to calculus will keep doors to whole career paths open if my career as a pianist doesn't happen. You know, I thought then, she's right.

She suggested I write a blog post comparing the many skills required to solve pre-calculus problems like graphing a sinusoid curve, finding roots of complex numbers calculating the distance between a point and a line, etc. to the years of experience and many skills required to learn, say, a piano concerto. I liked that idea, and since I love to analyze anything I can get my hands on--I decided to go right ahead.

I picked a movement from one of my favorite concertos of all time, the third movement of the piano concerto No. 3 in C minor by Beethoven. This will most likely be my piece for my senior year recital at the National Federation of Music Clubs recital in spring 2018 (so I have plenty of time to learn it!). Here's a recording I particularly enjoy, by Krystian Zimmerman. The third movement is at 28:37, unless you want to watch the whole thing, which I highly recommend. :)

I'm not going to go into a minute-by-minute analysis of the piece, which would be tiresome to all but the most dedicated musicologists. But, among other things, this concerto requires solid scale, arpeggio, chromatic and octave technique. Many times, the pianist needs to balance a dense, rolling accompaniment with a singing melody.

I've heard many people say that calculus is easier than pre-calculus, which at first didn't make any sense to me. If these problems I'm doing now are hard, what will calculus be like???

In the same way, learning pieces like this can be as daunting as taking on a calculus course.

But then, I thought, what if I were to break it up?

Calculus is only hard because of the pre-calculus necessary to solve it. And, in the same way, once I've learned the individual skills by themselves--the scales, the arpeggios, the octaves, the balance, the interpretation--it's like the pre-calculus in calculus. It takes years of experience to build up to repertoire like this, just like in math, one goes from beginning arithmetic to fractions to algebra to geometry to pre-calculus to calculus.

This particular concerto is not as complex or long as, say, Rachmaninoff's or the Tchaikovsky concertos--to which one might describe as the linear algebra of music. But nevertheless, it is still very difficult in its own way, and attempting this piece requires the endurance and many skills comparable to solving calculus problems. So, perhaps I can look forward to my schoolwork this coming winter. It's a welcome outlook, I think.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Third post.

This one's about the artist--

All artists, not just painters. But also musicians, writers, dancers, moviemakers, actors ... the list goes on. If you're one, you know what I'm talking about. Artists are the people who express themselves in any way they can. Not all artists can master or even appreciate all kinds of art, but we tend to know each other when we see each other.

Think about it. If you're a professional artist, then you make most--if not all--your money off of other people who love to see creative talent showcased for their own enjoyment, and are willing to pay for it. If you're an amateur--which means you do it because you love it, not because you are trying to make a living--then you dedicate hours, days, weeks, months, years of your life to this special pastime. Doing this art-form in whatever way you feel is both an outlet and a source of energy. And often, it takes more than one art-form to fully express emotions.

So why are we artists? What inspires creativity?

First, I believe art comes from our Creator. Our God created the entire universe--all x-billion light years of it. He is the source of all feeling, of all light, of all joy. When he made man, he endowed humans with a piece of himself--no other species on earth can even come close to the intelligence, emotional power, and depth of human beings. We were made in God's own image. Our capacity to feel, think, and love on a scale unseen in any other life form ever seen comes straight from God. In order for our smaller art to exist, it had to come from a larger, infinite one--God's art.

God is a sculptor. Just look at your body--what it was meant to be was perfect. Satan has twisted God's creation, and in the process ruined a great many things. But nevertheless, the brightness of God's creativity still glows in every molecule, every photon, every quark, every tiny building block that is too small for us to see. His hand is like a tool--he carefully fashioned everything we see, and everything we don't see.

Also, artistry is one of the best ways to advance God's kingdom. In this day and age, especially, when the world is inter-connected as never before, we artists can touch millions with a single work that glorifies God. And that's the thing Satan is most afraid of. Any way he can discourage, stifle, or destroy an artist with potential, he will. And he does it in multiple ways. The easiest method he uses is to cause an artist to lose sight of the ultimate goal--advancing the kingdom of God and glorifying Jesus in everything, instead becoming focused on themselves. This is a pitfall that many fall into from time to time, including me. I become too focused on praise others give me, and not on the praise others give God.

But when an artist is steadfastly focused on God, Satan's power diminishes dramatically. His next tactic is to suck away an artist's time--life becomes so hectic that there's no time for creativity. This one is particularly frustrating to deal with, because the artist will feel stifled and helpless. Many people I know desperately want to be a writer or a musician, or once were--but now life has gotten in the way, and they do not have time to pursue their avocation with the pleasure and abandon they once did.

And when these fail, Satan will directly attack the artist. Anything he can do, he will do. Criticism so heavy that it's barbed with discouragement. Death or suffering of a loved one. Or perhaps an attack on the health and/or life of the artist. And these attacks can be devastating.

So what can man do against such reckless hate?

God is the only way out. Go to Him every day. Walk with Him every step. This closeness with God is something every Christian should long for--I know I'm not perfect, and often I forget. But when storms come, God's rock is our salvation, and He is what will anchor us, and He is what will fuel us and provide the strength and inspiration for another day!

If you're feeling stifled or discouraged, take hope and trust in the Lord! Satan's greatest fear is of anything God does that rips souls from his clutches. If you have always wanted to paint or be a musician or a writer, but have never had time to learn ... do it now!!! I cannot stress it enough. It's never too late to start. And if life seems to be going fine for you, and everything is going right--then please, please, PLEASE take this time of peace and prosperity as an opportunity to encourage others! The church of Christ is one body, and everyone should support the other.


"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”--Isaiah 40:31