Sunday, January 20, 2008

Musings on Mendelssohn

Every now and then I'm inspired by something that consumes me for several days. It either moves me to learn something new, or change my outlook and behavior. It's strange -- those two examples I linked and the one I'm writing about today are all related to music in one way or another. Which makes sense; music has been a foundation for my life. Growing up with musicians as parents (and grandparents) will do that to you.

I had a goal this year to learn and perform a new piano piece. The last few numbers I've performed in public have been in my portfolio since college so I can pull them out when asked and do pretty well. You'd think I would have those pieces memorized, but I don't. I have been so lazy. It's well past time to expand my measly repertoire.

A couple weeks ago I popped “Once” into the DVD player. There's this scene where Markéta Irglová plays a gorgeous piano piece. I was mesmerized and decided I was going to learn to play it. So I scrolled through the credits to find it was Mendelssohn's “Song Without Words.” A couple weeks ago I was asked to do the musical number in Sacrament Meeting for today. I went home last Sunday night to find the piano music for "Song Without Words" (my mom has everything). Little did I know, “Song Without Words” is an entire book filled with many wordless songs. I started playing a few until my mom said, “Which one do you want to play?” Without letting me answer she said, “I'll show you my favorite.” One of the reasons I love my mom and why I'll always need her is that if I see a song and want to know how it goes, she can sight read just about anything. I think it was “Meditation” she liked. I tried to play it but I knew it would take me more than a week to learn. So I played through several trying to find the piece from the movie. Turns out the piece is actually called “Venetian Boat Song No. 2.” I played through it all right and thought I could learn it. As I'm leaving, my mom asks me, “So what are you going to play?” When I told her the “Venetian Boat Song” she said, “That's a little haunting isn't it?”

The next day I had 5 emails from my mom, each with a different audio file from the Mendelssohn Book (I love how helpful she is). She included the one she played for me, the piece from “Once” and this other piece called “Elegy” which is what I ended up learning instead. I'll save the Venetian Boat Song for some other time. 

I've been listening to those audio files Mom sent me all week. So now that I'm in love with Mendelssohn, I've done some research. Young Felix was artistic in many areas and a bit precocious. Unlike most geniuses, he had a fairly normal and happy life. He grew up in a loving Jewish family who converted to Christianity when he and his three siblings were young, and he enjoyed a long and happy marriage. Some critics say he would have been another Bach or Mozart if he had suffered more in life, as the "tortured artist" cliché dictates. Although, nearly a hundred years after his death, the Nazis tried to discredit him, taking down his statue in Leipzig, and even going as far as forbidding the study and performance of his music. So...good thing he wasn't alive for that.

Playing the piano is one of the few things I truly, truly enjoy. I took violin lessons for several years, and I own a beautiful violin, but I remember after forcing myself to practice my violin, I would retreat to the piano, sometimes for two-hour sessions and play everything I could find in the piano bench or stacked on the sides of the keyboard. I was lucky to grow up with a beautiful baby grand in the house. I miss it. I really do. Every time I go to someone's home and see a piano, my heart aches a little. I think sometimes I stare at it, wondering if I would be allowed to play it. I've started a piano fund so someday I can afford to buy one for myself.

In the meantime, I will have to practice other people's pianos. My Grandma Durham likes it when I come and play her piano, so I went there Wednesday night to work on my piece. But around 9 PM she politely walked in and said, “Now it's time for you to go.” What she meant was it's time for her to get in bed and watch Jon Stewart. I can always practice at my parents' house in Sandy. But if I practice while they're there, I hear teaching voices coming from rooms all over the house. “Whoops, Laur!” or “E flat Laura!” or, “'re playing this tomorrow?” It's actually more helpful than annoying. This is how I learned the piano growing up. My mom gave me an occasional lesson but most of my instruction was just as I described. Yesterday I got an “Oooh!” and then silence. I didn't know what that meant so I said, “What? Isn't that the right note?” to which my mom answered, “No, but it should be.”


Saule Cogneur said...

I know of nothing more cathartic than playing music. Listening is certainly nice too, but playing brings in another element you simply can't get any other way.

I think it's one of the unspoken messages of Once. It certainly reveals a deeper side to both Hansard and Irglová's characters.

When I buy a house, a good piano is the first accessory I plan to acquire.

Hilda said...

Laura, let me know when you are performing at church (or elsewhere for that matter), I think you're great. I took piano lessons when I was younger and quickly gave up. I now wish I wold've stuck with's a great talent!

Ilene said...

You can play on my piano any day of the week. The fact that it is sadly out of tune may deter you (and the fact that we live 800 miles away).

Don't talk about lazy and piano. I can only play about five hymns and only if no one sings along.

Oh and the Spinning Song. Who can't play that one?

Perhaps I will practice some more.

Shann said...

I really wish I didn't miss church yesterday. I love good musical numbers and if Laura's name is on the program you KNOW it is going to be GOOD! I too wish I could play like you Laura...sigh.

By the way, how was "Once"? Did you like it?

Johnny Metropolis said...

Laura, I wasn't kidding yesterday when I said that was the best musical number I have ever heard. Granted I have the worst memory alive so you may want to take that with a grain of salt. Even though I thought the movie "Once" was sort of lame, I remember that song and I'm glad it inspired you.

Also, I see ads for old piano's for like $100 in the nickle ads all the time, I actually bought one a few years ago, and after tuning it it worked great. My sister has it now and uses it daily.

ThomCarter said...

Thank you for sharing your feelings about music and your family.

What great insight.

We'll Call her "Lisa" said...

HA. At least you learned hwo to play- I can only play by ear due to the messed up piano madness going on in the house.

Truly, I bet if I trid hard enough I could play everything you guys did....that you played over, and over, and over.

...Send in the Clowns, the Chopin, the Intermezzo, the weird ones carter played. All sorts of fun things.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the title of that song. I have been looking for it since I saw the movie around the same time you did.

Anonymous said...

hi, can you tell me where i can find an audio/sheet music of "elegy" and "meditation" ?


Katharine said...

I too have been searching for this music from the movie Once. I am pretty sure it is not the Venetian Boat Song but the Gondolier's Song No. 12 in F Sharp minor Opus 30/6. I have compared this piece to the movie and it matches.