This is a new thing! It includes where I got published this week, but it also includes A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF, LET’S GO…
Where I got published
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Expert recommendations for making this your best year ever (at least financially)
What got published here
“If I’ve learned anything useful about my own creativity, it’s that it doesn’t like to be scheduled or timed or optimized.”
What I’m thinking about
IS THIS WHAT ANYBODY WANTS? Does the world need another weekly thought roundup? Am I putting the subheds in the right order? Should this be a free Substack? Do we all have to do Substacks now? Is there any way to connect with people online that doesn’t require gaming an algorithm? Can a person just have a blog and not have to do the social media thing?
(BTW, go click all of those links, they all lead to fascinating essays)
(BTW2, I just signed up for Beth Jusino’s online Hugo House class on practical and realistic ways for writers to gather a community)
I want to write a longer blog post about how you can’t solve a problem until you know how to solve the problem. I used to call this “finding the key.” There’s a particular creative problem I can’t solve right now, for example, because I don’t know how to tackle it. I know what kind of result I want, but I don’t know what kind of actions will lead me towards that result.
It’s kind of like what I’ve been doing with my chess study — I knew that I needed to get better at “attacking” (I end up losing tempo and playing defense, nearly always) but I didn’t know how to “attack.” What does that even mean? Once I figured out that I needed to be studying specific middlegame tactics (like outpost squares), the whole concept of “attacking” began to clarify itself. I found the key that helped me tackle the problem, and my game got a lot better.
Anyway. Do you want a longer post on that idea, or did I just tell you everything that needs to be told?
What I’m practicing
At the piano: still mostly Mozart (K332, all movements), with a return to the Chopin Nocturne in E minor, Op. posth. 72, No. 1. Apparently it was Chopin’s first nocturne, and I didn’t know that until just now; I did know that Chopin didn’t think it was good enough to publish, or at least I believe I read that somewhere, and it only became part of the Chopin nocturne collection after his death.
I started digging back into the nocturne because L had been saying all year that he wanted me to play it for him on the first day it snowed, and I delivered. Then I decided that I could do so much more with the piece now that I’d spent nearly six months studying Mozart; I’ve learned a lot about ornaments and finger weight and phrasing and so on, and I wanted to use my improved technique to renew and re-specify the Chopin, for lack of a better phrase.
Of course whenever you try to add something new to a piece you’ve already learned, the whole thing falls apart — which means that if L asked me to play the Chopin for him tonight, it would be significantly worse (more missed notes, less overall cohesion) than it had been a week ago.
But it’s going to be significantly better, if I can keep putting the time into it.
Last night, L and Marian Call and I were talking (over videochat) about how to communicate emotion through music. I argued — probably because I remembered another musician arguing the same thing — that you can’t really communicate emotion, all you can do is create a series of tensions and releases and let the audience put their own emotional lens on the piece.
(This is, of course, different with vocal music, and with piano or instrumental music that comes with a very emotionally evocative title — the Pathétique, for example. But we were talking about piano music called “K332” or “Nocturne.” What kind of emotional responsibility do you have there?)
Today, as I was digging through the Chopin, I realized that the articulations written into the score provide the foundation for the tension/release system. I know this sounds like Piano Study 101 or whatever, but hear me out — when you play what is written on the page, even if it’s some editor’s interpretation of the music because it was composed before they invented the crescendo mark or whatever, the emotion follows.
Which means that if you’re playing the Chopin Nocturne in E minor, Op. posth. 72, No. 1, you have to acknowledge that the notes in the left hand are divided into two groups of three per measure, and each group of three is meant to be played as a connected unit. A discrete phrase. Beginning-middle end, beginning-middle-end.
That helps you decide where to put the emphasis and how to weight your fingers, which — especially when combined with the dynamics written into the score, and the various rubato markings — helps create the system of tension and release that inspires both a pianist and an audience to feel… well, as far as I can tell, whatever they’re tense about that day.
And whatever they want to release.
During my daily “creative practice” sessions: I’m composing piano music at the moment, since I’m kind of between novel ideas (and whether I’m obligated to use my daily creative practice to write a novel is another question), and right now all I can think about is How can my articulations help a pianist create emotion through specificity?
What I’m reading
I already gave you three links to really interesting essays, but I suppose I really should put those kinds of things at the end of the weekly roundup:
Is Substack the Media Future We Want? (by Anna Wiener)
Why your Instagram Engagement Kinda Sucks Right Now (by Rachel Reichenbach)
L and I also decided to re-read 1984 (by George Orwell) this week. Boy howdy.