Music is Alive!

bike_rider_girl_w_helmetAnd I am so excited! It really is almost like riding a bike, except I don’t  ride a bike anymore. I don’t even have a bike, but I do have a piano. The only thing is that it’s been at my brothers’ family’s home since I left for grad school in 2005. During grad school, I rarely touched a piano. And during my six years in Taiwan, I think I played a piano four times while there, and just a couple of times during my summer visits home. There was an opportunity to have my own piano in Taiwan as reported here, but that didn’t work out.

In my former life, playing the piano was almost a daily event. At various times, I was a music director in a church, a K-8 school music teacher, and a piano teacher. After ten years away, someone asked me to be a rehearsal accompanist for one area of a state-wide choir. I wasn’t too worried about accepting because initially, all I would be doing is playing each sections parts for them. Still, I was curious.

But I didn’t want to just go to my brother’s house. I wanted to go to a church and pull out some of the music and see if I could really do the kind of playing needed for following a director and supporting a group of singers. So, after lunch today, I went over to my parents’ church, pulled out a book of music, and sat down at the piano.

piano_1Yes, there were starts and stops, places where I had to work over some rough spots before playing confidently, but within an hour, I was playing well enough to realize that with practice, I could still be a competent accompanist. And it really raised my spirits. I had forgotten how good it feels to move my fingers across those keys. Now, I’m really looking forward to September 15–the night of my first rehearsal with the group. And it is rumored that I might be picking up a couple of piano students.

I am delighted that after a 10-year hiatus, I will be making music again.

The One That Got Away

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome days, you would never imagine the things that actually happen. Like Tuesday. It started out like a “normal” day. I wanted to go to one of our neighborhood restaurants for a coffee while I worked on the textbook project. This particular restaurant is half way around the corner of the block from our apartment, so Dave and I headed over there to get me set up for a couple hours.

Along the shops on that side of the block is a lot of parking, mostly for motorcycles. (Motorcycles in Taiwan is a blog post or three all its own, but not now.) As we turned the corner, and walked toward the shop, we noticed something unusual in one of the “parking spots.”

  • instead of motorcycle, motorcycle, motorcycle,
  • we saw motorcycle motorcycle, PIANO

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYeah, I wouldn’t believe it without a picture either. And I know you can only see one motorcycle in this picture, but there was another one parked right next to that one. You can see a traffic cone in the street in front of the next shop, as well as other things you often see on streets outside of shops.

Now, back to the story. As a former piano teacher who has been in Taiwan for five years with no piano, I was slightly intrigued. Dave was less so, but it was fun to dream for a few seconds.

Dave went home, and I got settled into my work, but thoughts of that piano out there kept popping up. So I thought, “Why not just ask the restaurant owners if they knew anything about it.” (As an aside, these are the people who rescued the dog that we adopted from them.)*

Well, they didn’t. They were as surprised as I was to find a piano out there. The wife started talking to people and quickly located the owner in the midst of supervising the loading a truck. Apparently, they were moving. After a couple minutes of Chinese conversation, my friend turned to me and asked me if I wanted the piano. I was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t seriously thought about this possibility; suddenly, there were many issues to consider.

  1. Our apartment is on the 4th floor.
  2. We would have to make room for it in the apartment.
  3. The piano wasn’t in really good shape (due to large fluctuations in humidity and temperature), although the key action was decent. And it was not terribly out of tune. (Yeah, I checked.)
  4. We’d need to have someone come to service it at some point.
  5. I hadn’t had time to quilt or do much of anything “fun,” so how would this be any different?
  6. Dave would think I was nuts. Oh wait, it’s probably too late for that.

The two of them talked some more, and I think I was asked four or five times if I wanted it, not impatiently, but with excitement, and I kept saying, “I don’t know.” The owner was willing to GIVE it to me. So I finally said, “OK, I’ll call Dave and see if we can figure out how to do this.”

They put a note on the piano that it was taken, and I called Dave. He’s so awesome. He  just gets his tape measure, measures the elevator roughly, and then heads back over to take a closer look at the piano. In the meantime, the husband of the restaurant team, Karch, started doing some measurements as well, and writing dimensions on a chalkboard that was on the wall of the porch to their shop (the same porch our dog had spent her days on).

When Dave arrived, he took more measurements and said it would be tight if it was possible at all. He looked at ways that some parts could be removed to gain an inch here or there. He went back home with the measurements to check the elevator one more time. While he did, I had visions of ten minutes here and there, moments when I could sit down and lose myself in music like I used to do. In spite of the fact, more can be done in longer periods, having the opportunity to sit down at a moment’s notice was quite appealing.

He returned with the verdict. In his words, it was “frustratingly close,” but no way without putting the piano on its end, which wasn’t a particularly good idea. Besides, that was if we figured out a way to get it that far.

In the end, we had to say no to the piano. But the good news is that I realized if I even dreamed about it for a few minutes, it opened up other possibilities. For example, I’ve been putting off quilting because I don’t have a “block” of time for it, but maybe I can set things up that even ten or fifteen minutes can provide a restorative interlude in the busy days.

It was also a reminder of all the people who have been so thoughtful to me and my husband. This is just one example of the many kindnesses the people of Taiwan have given us. Even though I’m returning home next summer, Taiwan will always hold special memories of generous and kind people.

***************

*And here she is.  🙂

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 191 days to 60!

Three of My Favorite Things (Hu-Kou Old Street, Part II)

Taiwan 008In my last post, I talked about the first half of our day trip to Hu-Kou Old Street in Hsinchu County. Now, it’s time to cover the amazing set of circumstances that were part of the magical aspect of the day. Our coffee destination was a lovely shop, Vanilla Garden. It was charming, and I was excited to have a cup of coffee, one of my simple pleasures of life. Our day had been so lovely already, and the anticipation of coffee was inching the day to near perfection. So imagine my surprise to discover, as I peered in the window as we approached, that there was a piano on the left wall just inside the shop.

But that’s not all! To the right, on the counter were stacks of fabric and quilts in various colors and patterns. Quilts were displayed on the wall behind the counter. The couple who owned this quilting and coffee/restaurant business had a daughter who studied piano. Her piano books were stacked on the piano, a cozy place for exploring music. Overall, the shop was magical, with coffee, a piano, and quilts all in one place. I just took it all in.

Taiwan 036It didn’t take long to get an invitation to play the piano. It had been about four years since I had played the piano on any kind of regular basis, so I was a little rusty. And excited. And there was an audience. My mind went blank. I couldn’t quite reach back to the memories of the songs that used to be my go-to’s. I tried a couple, but I ended up making mistakes, forgetting what was next, and just generally having a difficult time. I wasn’t comfortable trying to sight-read any of the daughter’s music either. Then I thought to try the one piece I had composed a few years prior. It took a minute, but then I had it. I was able to settle in and do a respectable job. And it felt good to play again.

After I finished the song, we wandered very slowly past the quilts and past the kitchen area toward the left where the seating area was. More quilts were displayed on the walls here as well. Imagine sitting down to have coffee with quilts hanging on the walls around you. OK, maybe that doesn’t excite everyone, but I was sure one happy camper. I was in awe of the amazing colors and details. I marveled at the craftsmanship while waiting for our drinks–coffee for me; tea for Mei-Hung.

Taiwan 039Taiwan 043

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Taiwan 045When our drinks were brought to the table, we were also treated to free mango cake as a “thank you” for my music! Delicious!

Knowing that I would be having knee surgery the next year during winter break, I did a little fantasizing about how cool it would if I could come and hang out in this Hakka village, specifically in this shop and live with quilts, music, and coffee for a week or two. As I get ready to do some quilting next week, this post was a good reminder to take time for these things that bring me joy and well-being. More importantly, this post has made me realize that I can eventually turn my Vanilla Garden fantasy into reality. It may not be in a shop on Hu-Kou Old Street, but I certainly bring those three things (and more) together in one place.

All in all, an amazing day, which I have thought of many times in the last few years. I smile every time I see these pictures, and I thought it was time to share them and my memories of that day.

The link below is another blog post that has more pictures of the shop.  http://blog.sina.com.tw/sophiaday/article.php?pbgid=70313&entryid=583262

Musical Animals (Musical Themes) and Unintended Consequences

ANIMALS IN MUSIC

I’m back with another group of songs based on a theme. This time the theme is animals, selected by Willow. You can check out her blog here. Others who are participating in this thematic scheme include Johnny, Bear, and Eva. Check out their selections about animals and their other themes.

There are many mentions of animals of all kinds in music, and it took me a while to think of how I wanted to approach this theme. After a little thinking and exploration, I decided to go for a variety of critters. So I have two mammals as well as one bird, one amphibian, one reptile, and one fish (although the fish might be pushing it). I even have insects, a whole swarm of them.

As I was putting the final post together, I noticed that the majority of the songs had such high energy. Not all animal songs have such high energy; many of them are more mellow, much like Wildfire below, but I gravitated toward high energy. Also, I’ve had some very interesting insights while working on this post, which I’ve written about after the links to the songs. I hope you have as much fun listening to these selections as I had putting them together.

I’ll start with the mammals

Uganda Kob (male) in the Queen Elisabeth Natio...

Uganda Kob (male) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lion Sleeps Tonight (The Tokens)

Wildfire  (Michael Martin Murphy)

The Insects

DirkvdM orange insect 2

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flight of the Bumblebee

A Bird

Bird - Duck - Mallard

Mallard Duck (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Mocking bird (Carly Simon, James Taylor)

An Amphibian

Description: Golden Toad (Bufo periglenes) †. ...

Golden Toad (Bufo periglenes) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)

A Reptile

English: White-headed dwarf gecko in Dar es Sa...

White-headed dwarf gecko, Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crocodile Rock (Elton John)

A Fish

A Giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) take...

A Giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barracuda (Heart)

The fish also get an honorable mention above in Joy to the World above:  “Joy to the fishies in the deep blue sea.”

SURPRISE! THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF PARTICIPATION

When I started this blog, I never thought I’d be posting about music. These thematic challenges intrigued me, and I started participating, not realizing that there was something more basic going on. This activity was calling to me at a deeper level. With this second of my musical posts, I think I understand this tug a little better.

For many years, the piano was a major part of my life and my career. Now, between graduate school and my time here in Taiwan, I have been away from the piano for nearly ten years. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve sat down at a piano since coming to Taiwan. Two of those times were last summer when I spent time at the home of my brother’s family. They have my piano there for my nephew to use, so it will be there for me someday when I return. I was rusty sitting down to play, but even in those two sessions, I could tell that it would come back with a little work.

I’ve been aware of missing music in my life. I’ve tried a few things, like online radio, reminding myself to turn on music, finding a few songs I like to sing along with, but somehow it doesn’t fill the void. There are moments when it feels like I’m almost there, but it doesn’t last. Maybe it was that I wasn’t really engaged with the music the way I have been in the past. But this activity of finding songs and building a narrative for them around an assigned theme is different. It engages me on many levels, and the deadline keeps me from putting it off.  If I put it on the back burner, I lose out on the opportunity. Until I can spend regular time at the piano again, exploring music in this way and posting the results is helping me reconnect with music, to be surrounded by it again, in a new and powerful way.