Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hello readers.

It's been far too long since my last post. Life was busy, and has been getting busier--up until this very morning. I've been very busy harvesting the fruits of the projects I've been working on. This week, I had a Spanish final, two AP tests (English Language and Composition, and World History), a Piano Festival, and then finally this morning an audition for a piano scholarship. I may not have distinguished myself greatly, but nevertheless it was a great experience, if tiring.

This morning's audition was very challenging for me. I played three very difficult pieces, though they were still on the low end of the difficulty spectrum of my peer's repertoire. There was some good and some not-so-good, and I was incredibly fortunate to be adjudicated by two amazing and very honest internationally-recognized professionals. They had plenty to say about all my pieces, mostly criticism but a few very encouraging bright spots. It was really hard to read and take, especially as most of the things they talked about I had already tried to integrate into my pieces, but nerves had erased.

I did think, though: If life really was "everyone's a winner," then there'd be no reason to grow and become better. We learn from our weaknesses and criticisms, painful though they be. We recognize the best, and aspire to be like them--but at the same time, we also need to remember that they, too, are not yet perfect. Even masters can have places they need to grow--Chopin was terrified of large crowds all his life.

At the same time, if we are always being criticized, it will almost always become detrimental. Lifting weights is good, but doing too much will cause injury. That's why we should be careful how and when we open ourselves to criticism, and to what kind. Do we really want to work for months to go to a competition that has a hundred contestants, but only gives vague, general comments? In my mind, these kinds of competitions are worthless for all but the very, very highest--for people who have crossed the threshold into the "80-20 rule", where growth comes ever slower--there's less to learn, and eventually one even starts pioneering and breaking new ground. Subtlety becomes the order of the day. But while 100 percent is not possible for anyone, some do get to the 99.9 percent range--and that last .01 percent keep subdividing into .001 and .0001.

This is where I want to be with my music. It may take another 5 years, it may take 25 years, it may take 55 years. But this is what I aspire to grow into. And only by doing the exercise, taking the criticism, lifting those weights, and finding joy in every step of the journey will that happen.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post No. 9.

This one is an analysis of my originally-composed piano concerto. I'm going to publish this post in conjunction with the one about my novel. Like A Killer's Storm, the piano concerto has been a very long process. And, like my novel, it's had its moments of despair and triumph.

The work began as a three-movement concerto, last January. Over the spring and summer I wrote more movements--a scherzo movement, a funeral march to replace the original middle movement, and completely-rewritten first and third movements. But ultimately I was dissatisfied with all of them. They all seemed fake, like aimless film music. I tried to redevelop it into the style of Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2--which meant bringing it down into one long movement and piecing in material from the old movements.

I thought I had something good here--so I sent it off to the YoungArts scholarship competition in hopes of winning a couple thousand dollars. I had high hopes, and I even think there was something about my application to YoungArts in my first blog post ...

But I didn't even make it into the finals.

Maybe I thought too highly of my own talents. It was kind of a shock.

The truth is, I think still have a ways to go as a musician and composer. I've been writing music for about fourteen months, and I've learned so much along the way. But it takes more time than that to achieve mastery of the art of composition and hope to actually compete with the other musicians.

Now I've come back to the concerto--in some ways, it feels connected to my novel. Now, let's be clear--this song is not a musical realization of A Killer's Storm. But it does have chapters or sections that reflect the classic action-adventure story plot.

Each section (or chapter) is labeled with an Italian expression marking that reflects the content of the music and describes how I want it to be played. The structure goes something like this:

1) Largo Maestoso Appassionato, which is Italian for "slow, majestic and passionate." The opening bars are kind of like a dark battle. As Ryan would say, an "orc-war march."

2) Allegretto, which means "at a brisk tempo, but slower than allegro." This is the first ray of hope in the dark opening--this is the scene when the hero first steps up to challenge the evil villain.

3) Adagio Cantabile translates to "moderately slow and singing." In a movie, this would be a tender relationship scene, during which we get to know the hero's friends, allies, and 'love interest.' Just as this is the time when a story will more deeply develop the character, I develop the opening motifs into a theme that has been apart of this concerto since the day I first conceived it.

4) Tempo I/Quasi Marziale means "return to the opening tempo, like martial." The hero has made his big decision to go face the villain, and marches out to meet him head-on. The pace and tension rise as the chapter progresses. This section further condenses the love theme, then expands it again, building it up into the core motif of the entire piece--all the while, the piano is thundering continuous octaves in both hands.

5) Allegro e molto con fuoco means "Lively, and with much fire." The battle is driving full-force. Like an action movie, the music rushes from one theme to another, as though in a car chase. The scene builds into a thunderous cadenza for the pianist--albeit quite a long and difficult one. Even I would have trouble playing it if I were to learn it, which I don't have the skills or time to do at this point.

6) Meno Allegro. This means "less lively." This section is actually directly from the revision of my first movement, though at a slightly slower tempo than written initially. Again, this equates a relationship and character-driven scene, a retreat from the conflict into a safer place to rest and regroup. In tactical terms, this is a victory for the villain, and the hero has lost an ally and dear friend. He wonders if it's even worth fighting any more. As I once heard at an OCW writer's conference, it's the 'dark night of the soul.'

7) Adagio Resoluto means "moderately slow and resolute." The hero doesn't give up--he can't. Not when so much depends on him. So he calls his scattered allies back and forms a plan for one final attack.

8) Tempo de con Fuoco is "at a speed that's with fire." But this is not a return to the con fuoco theme, but instead a sped-up rehashing of the very first theme. The villain is enjoying his spoils, and believes that he has won. But then he sees that the hero was not defeated as hoped, and is now coming out of his hole to defeat him once and for all. Enraged, he sends everything he has against the hero's small resistance. But the hero is clever, and he gains the upper hand in the battle--hence the tonal shift from C minor to E-flat major. And then the hero and the villain are fighting hand-to-hand in a precarious position. Stakes are high--the winner of this fight will swiftly win the battle. And then the hero strikes down his enemy and the war is won. He and his friends celebrate and step in to fill the role that the villain had before, only now with justice and solid leadership.

Thank you for reading. Now you should go listen to my concerto--the link to musescore is https://musescore.com/user/8661166/scores/3203586. And when it goes live on YouTube soon, I will add in the link to that too. Hope you enjoy!

Thanks for praying, everyone! Then, now, and every day in the future. And I'll make sure to do the same for you.

Post No. 8.

Prayer works.

I'm living proof of it.

Over the past two-plus years, I've been working on my novel--tentatively titled "A Killer's Storm"--it's about a teenage-storm chaser named Mick Riddle, who has a history with a drug dealer named Harry Marquam--the man killed his father, and in retaliation Mick had busted him and stolen boxes containing secret information. Now, almost a year later, Harry wants to escape his dealings with a worldwide crime ring, but they do not wish the same for him. Upon forced interrogation, they learn of Mick's theft. So, using a newly-developed hallucination-inducing drug, they brainwash Harry into helping their chief assassin to track down Mick and retrieve the critical data.

This novel has been through so many revisions and drafts that I've lost count. And sometime last spring, I got discouraged with it and put it away. I gave it to so many people, and only two have gotten all the way through it--my brother Ryan and one or two writer friends. Now, people are busy, I know that much. But when a year passes, I began to get the feeling my novel just didn't have the guts or merit to compete with everything else people do in their lives.

So I gave it up, and started writing poetry over the summer. And all through the fall, I thought about it occasionally--and never could get back into it. It was just a big, ugly mess--the characters didn't interact the way I wanted them too, I rambled on for pages and pages of storm-chasing narrative without moving the rest of the plot forward, the motives and logic behind a lot of the plot twists wasn't very strong.

But, unknown to me through all those months, the story was churning inside the deep recesses of my brain, curing, aging, growing riper and stronger. My wonderful mother encouraged my poetry side more and more, and assigned me her old college books on style and voice for school. Then, over Christmas, she asked me to give her the latest edition of my novel to read. I thought about refusing. After all, I hadn't touched it in months.

Then she sent out her Christmas cards, along with a letter. Talking about me and my writing. And I swear people started praying.

In the space of a week and a half, all the simmering that had been going on my head burst out into some fifty- thousand words of rewritten material. And now I think I might actually be able to make the story work. If anyone reading this is interested in being a beta reader, reading the whole thing, and giving me feedback, please let me know in the comments or by email.

And thank you, everyone who's been praying! I'll be sure to do the same for you!

"Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven."--Matthew 18:19