Sunday, May 12, 2024

My Pianopacalypse

This blog is called "Racing Stripes" and usually it's about running/racing. But once in a while, it's about "stripes". In this case, the stripes I am referring to are the black and white stripes of the piano keys. If I had to guess where my zebra love comes from, I think it's because they made me think of pianos when I first saw them at the zoo on a subconscious level. 

Ever since purchasing my new Schimmel grand piano in January, I have been obsessed and addicted to my instrument. On average, I have been spending over an hour a day playing, and sometimes more like two hours a day. Most weeks I spend more time playing my piano than I do running. Running is part of my daily routine and I enjoy it, but this piano has my soul now.

My biggest piano inspiration is Tori Amos. I've been a huge fan since I discovered her at the age of 15. Her music reaches into my soul. I have all of her song books (piano sheet music) but I've only ever attempted about 10 percent of it, with most of it seeming to be too daunting. 

With the new grand piano, I have been playing primarily by ear-- a talent that I naturally have and never learned from anywhere. I've discovered that when I play by ear, the music comes out much better than when I read from a book. Usually the books offer a different version of the song and it's not how I perceive the song. This opens up a new world to me because I can play the actual song, but also make it my own.

I occasionally write my own songs (like the Boston-themed "It's Raining Unicorns") but mostly I enjoy re-making my favorite songs to show how I interpret them. I enjoy putting my own unique spin on something that I already find artistically amazing. 

Running has taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. When I want to achieve something, I will work tirelessly in pursuit of that goal. This is how I was able to take my marathon time down from 4:46 to 3:15 and my half marathon time down from 2:00 to 1:29. Keeping that in mind, I realized I could apply the same discipline to the piano. 

For most of my life, I have sat down at the piano and played for fun without actually "working" at it. I would occasionally devote an hour here or there to figuring out a song by ear, but I would never perfect it, and then I would move on. But I've come to the realization that I can play almost any song I want if I put enough time and effort into it. I am not a classically trained pianist (I've only had about two years of lessons) but I have enough skills to make almost any song sound like the actual song. (When I upload the video to YouTube and they tell me that I am uploaded Copyrighted material, I am super flattered!)

Of course, to really do justice to a song, singing is required. That's when I came to a similar realization about my voice. Aside from three years in high school choir, I've never had formal vocal training. But I can carry a tune and sometimes sound decent. And anything can be trained! So I have started working on my voice too with vocal exercises and experimenting with various ways to sing certain songs. 

Combine my new-found confidence of knowing I can do anything I put my mind to with a natural ability to play the piano by ear, and BAM - I can actually make some interesting cover songs. I can actually play the songs that I never thought were within my reach. I wish I had discovered this earlier and spent more time really honing my piano skills instead of just tinkering around here and there.

I'll share three of my favorite pieces here. 

Yesterday I recorded, I Can't See New York, by Tori Amos. This is one of my all-time favorite songs and the fact that I can play it is a dream come true. If you would have asked my last year at this time if I could ever really play that song, I would have said no way. I listened to the beginning of this song over and over until I was able to match all the notes. I probably spent about 25-30 hours total on this one, including practicing the vocals. This song carries special meaning to me and it came out at a point in my life when I really needed it.

The next song is Gold Dust, also by Tori Amos. I see these two songs as twins. They are on the same album and I like them equally, but in very different ways. I recorded this one last February, before I had the new microphones. (I had received feedback from the 70+ crowd that my voice was inaudible with the old microphone).

Other Tori songs on my YouTube include Jackie's Strength, Reindeer King, Purple People, and Famous Blue Raincoat.

Just two years ago, I discovered the depth of the band Placebo. I had only ever known one of their songs from the late 90s, but when they released the album Never Let Me Go, it opened up a whole new world of all their songs. I have three of their songs on my YouTube channel, with the latest being Sleeping With Ghosts. Their music is pretty easy/quick to figure out on the piano, the fun part is deciding how to play and sing it. I like to bring a new mood to their songs.

I also have the Placebo songs 20 Years and Song to Say Goodbye on my YouTube channel. I have a long list of songs to learn and put up on YouTube. I need to retire from my full time job so I can spend all my time on this!

Thanks for watching, reading and listening. 

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