Saturday, March 18, 2017

The languages I know and how it helped me navigate melodeon/diatonic accordion videos

This is a somewhat random post, but yesterday I read a post in Spanish and responded. The diatonic accordion is wildly popular in Latin America (as well as the piano accordion). They like the three row accordions and they like it tuned wet. Probably my least favorite combo, but that is for "me" to play, Ms. East-Coast-Suburban-Urban-White-Woman-Raised-in-Iowa. If I were in Mexico or at a Mexican festival, I would love it as it's taking in the culture.

Anyway, it made me realize, I have been able to follow and understand a lot of posts. I'm a native English speaker, obviously. I have an undergrad degree in Spanish (my Masters is in Educational Administration). I married an immigrant from Croatia and we raised our children hearing both English and Croatian. Our oldest son is fully bilingual (in speaking) and our younger son (and myself) mostly understand it, but respond in English. When we visit Croatia I can get by - ordering food, going to the market, asking for help, etc, but I wouldn't consider myself even conversant... just could survive and listen a lot and nod! :-) That artwork at the top? Says 7th Croatian Competition for Accordion.

So, it happens that a lot of posts about diatonic accordions are in English (because of the UK), Spanish, and Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian - all which are understandable to me. Because written French and Italian are somewhat kind of similar enough to Spanish, I can pick out some of that too. The one regular language I cannot decipher much unless they are crossover words in English is German. Of course, what is my dominant cultural heritage? German. GO figure it's the language I can't decipher without help from Google translate.

Accordion music, though, has been popular all over the place. Here's a great video sharing some of that history:

In other news got a good night of sleep and my cold symptoms are lessening (though my son has it now), so hopefully I can get in a good practice today. I might delve into some of the new material that has been sent to me too. We'll see how today goes.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Head is above water and I'm here

The last little bit has been a rocky road. This "fun stuff" my destresser stuff, was too much to add in the last 9 days... OMG, it's been 9 freaking days!

So what has been up? Writing it all out might help me process it all. First, I have my normal work stuff which keeps me busy. And my second job work which had quite a bit in the last little bit more than usually as things are finally moving faster and foward there. Add in that I was in a show as part of work and there were rehearsals and practicing on my own as I didn't want to be the person who messed up as I did in rehearsals (OMG - I had two nightmares about that). And as always, homeschooling my son, teaching my older son to drive on Fridays, cooking, etc.

And then, quite literally, a day after that variety show happened successfully (and was great fun!) I started to get sick on Sunday. By Sunday evening I was super congested, super exhausted, and had a terrible sore throat. I attributed some of it just being exhausted - the nightmares weren't helping! Monday, I was achy and tired and napped twice during the day briefly - and for the first time in my life, I had no voice! Boy is that annoying! Tuesday, my voice was back (yay!) and many of my heavy symptoms were lighter, but by midday I started to develop a fever and by evening, it was significant. Wednesday, I felt quite a bit better and decided to stay home another day from work. By 3 pm I was getting antsy (a good sign), so I did minimum work in the kitchen - I cleaned a few pots and pans, decluttered the counter and made a meal in the electric pressure cooker. Oh, and a couple of lessons with my son for learning. Those other days my husband dealt with more of the learning, all of the snow/ice cleanup  and laundry and dishes, etc. I had no energy or desire to pick up the melodeon. I felt it would just discourage me instead of encourage me.

Today, Thursday, I was itching to get out of the house and to work and it was a productive day, but long as I had evening meetings. I came home about 8:30 and I was starving and getting pretty exhausted. I ate. Thanks goodness for leftovers! And then I came upstairs to spend time with my family. Of course, a minute or less after going upstairs, my hormone ridden son threw an epic fit about saying he had wanted to watch a movie and Sven, my husband, hadn't understood he had wanted to watch a movie. Yes... that was what the fit was about - for real. That burned off my last bit steam and took away any joy left for the day. I was completely sapped and zapped. My son was still so mad at us, he didn't want either of us to read to him tonight which is the first time in his nearly 12 years - and as a child with autism, giving up a ritual on his own is a big deal. 

My only take away from that is that I'm proud my husband and I kept our calm and stuck to our guns and didn't give in to his tantruming. Kiddo calmed down fairly quickly on his own, but he is currently still crying himself to sleep.

That is when I decided to steal a bit of time to play. There was no joy in it. I'm exhausted, but just making the time to play after several days away from it was in itself soothing. It was grabbing some me time once again.

I haven't been to the melnet site, or to my email associated with this blog for more than a week. I'll get to that tomorrow.

It hasnt' been 10 days though since I practiced a wee bit. Thanks to the Streb (what a joy to play on) I got a couple practice sessions at work in break times between work and rehearsals last week. It was short and it made me realize I need a different set of headphones or an adaptor for the port, but I did practice with the volume just turned down low. That was awesome! (even though I was walked in on by someone of our organization and I was still embarrassed!

Attached are some photos of our act in the show, which honest to goodness, now feels like 50,000 years ago. It's been a very, very long few days here. I don't like share pictures of me, but I do it because I need to get over that crap and accept me for who I am!!!! So below are me and my colleagues presenting "Be Our Guest". We are all dressed as exaggerations of ourselves. I work with children and I tend to wear petticoats and full skirts for festivals and holidays because the kids love it when I have fun and dress up. The kids decorated my skirt the week before too (if you're wondering why I have scribbly drawings on my skirt).

And less than 12 hours after the show, the work must go on. One of the classes I work with made dog toys from donated materials to give to a shelter.

PS. I chose this illustration because it has a robin and snow. Kind of like now. We had our only significant snow this Monday/Tuesday in mid March, just as, quite literally, the earliest spring trees started to bloom; killing probably all the cherry blossoms and kind of making pointless the Cherry Blossom festival in DC this year. Maybe they didn't want to bloom for Trump?

Monday, March 6, 2017

The good and the bad

Since I'm an optimist and like to get the bad out of the way to end on the good, let's start there. So, the bad is that I've been insanely busy. This past week I put in between my full time job, my part-time job, homeschooling, and teaching my older son to drive, I spent nearly every second of my available time which means very little practicing. Means I barely had time to try out the Streb sent for me to use for a few months too! Tomorrow is my day off for my full time job, so I'll have more time to practice tomorrow!

The good, while I was stressed all to heck and super busy, I found I wanted to grab the melodeon to practice and it does act as stress relief.  On Saturday morning, I had three things super looming over me to get to before noon and before I went to the take my son out driving and grocery shopping for the week, I said, "Give me a few minutes to play the melodeon so I can relax a little bit." So, as bad as I am and will be for a long time, playing is serving a crucial purpose - stress release!

Today I received another gift of music from Wally too. I haven't had a chance to open it fully Wally, but thank you! It's shocking and amazing and so generous.

And today I stole an hour at the end of the day to practice. Probably not the best to practice between 8:45 and 9:45, but that is what I had available to me.

I ran through all the pieces I am learning (about 5) and decided to show the second piece I'm working on as it's a march and marches are a Theme of the Month of melnet - maybe I'll put my feeble attempt up as it progresses as, hey, it's a march! Then, I tried the last piece I'm working on which is a reel. I can play it a tiny wee bit better than what I recorded here, but not much better as I have to slow it way, way down to try to get left and right hand to work together.

Friday, March 3, 2017

More progress on separating hands and out for delivery!

Two days ago (didn't have a chance to practice yesterday) I had another small step in a listener's ear, but a huge step for me! I had another micro-step in being able to do one thing with my left hand while doing another with the right hand.

In some new exercises in the Pignol and Milleret Method book there are eighth notes in the left hand basses and quarter notes in the right hand melody.  For the first time I was able to do that - I could lift my hand off the basses without simultaneous lifting my hand off the right hand melody. Of course, it didn't come automatically or every time it appeared in the exercise, but that it even started to happen was a gleeful moment. It means that my brain is beginning to build up connections which allow my hands to work more independently. Yes, this middle-aged brain can still learn new tricks!

I think it helped that it was earlier in the day too - when I'm fresher. Most of the time practice is after a long work day and dinner and a bit of family time - basically, I'm usually practicing when I'm at my worst, not best! When I practice a bit later today, I'll be curious if I can still do it and if it gets better and easier.

In other news, the silent melodeon is out for delivery for today. It got shipped in the UK on March 1st and will be delivered to my house on March 3rd. Before I continue about that - first a comparison about mail. This package from the UK is taking 2 days to get here - door to door. I had a priority mail package sent to me from Minnesota last week. It was mailed on February 22nd and expected delivery was Feb. 24th. I got it on February 28th... When someone pays for priority shipping, they are paying for faster delivery over 1st class mail, but that package got here at 1st class mail timing and that is just wrong. I have no complaint about mail taking days to get here - OK. fine. but if you pay for faster delivery, having it take 6 days is not acceptable.

OK, back to the silent melodeon, the Streb e-melodeon. I can't wait to try it out. Like, last night I could have used it. I got home at 8:30 pm. I had been away since 9 am, so I hadn't seen my family all day. My son and husband were watching a movie together, so I didn't want to disturb too much. Now, when my son watches a movie, he half pays attention as it's not a new movie, so we talk and chit-chat about the day, so talking is OK, but playing an instrument in the room would not be. Yes, I could have left the room to play, but I hadn't seen my family all day. These are the times the e-melodeon will come in useful. I could be there and practice. So practice didn't happen. By the time movie was over and spending a bit of time and reading a book to my son, it was 10:30 pm. I almost went to practice, but I was afraid practice would suck as it was now bedtime, not play time.

So, gleeful!!!! Today is the day! Too bad I have to work today too.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Overdue updates, a new development, and generosity

Has it really been 5 days? How is that possible? Business!!!! I have had several really long work days and with the weather being unbelievably seasonally warm too, more 'blog time' has been spent outside too. But, it doesn't mean I've quit! Nope! I'm plugging away.

First, let me talk about practice and developments. Practice has been more sporadic as my time has been more sporadic, but they have been good practices with seeing improvements nearly every time I sit down to play. I have decided not to move on to the next section of the method book yet I decided to  just keep going back through the tunes and exercises I have already started so that they start to feel less strained and approach even their lento tempo on the recordings. It feels a bit less horrible - not good, but less like random notes being played on a page.

The new development actually has me almost giddy. There has been a lot of discussion on melnet about how to learn and how to play the melodeon. I totally get the thoughts and feelings on this too. The melodeon is a folk instrument. It's meant for dance and singing along and for a showing emotion.  It's a music to be felt deep in the soul to be "good" really. I've posted some really, heart felt, deeply felt - either in joy or sorrow pieces. The players might not be feeling sorrowful or joyous, but their music expresses it.

Like these two in an off the cuff moment. They play off each other and let the tunes evolve. It's just a joy to watch and listen to.

I didn't grow up in that tradition or learn music in that manner.Maybe there is just less of that overall in much of the US? (I grew up in a mostly rural-ish part of the country - but as an adult I've always lived in or near large cities). I learned in school, on a classical instrument and I was to strictly play what was on the written page and to follow the director for tempo, etc.

There was a jazz band at school, but the French Horn is not ever used in a jazz ensemble (though I did get to play on one piece and got to go to state as there was an arrangement for horn... but it was still all on paper.)

And I think I'm a German deep in my soul and to top that - a mid-westerner through in through in my behavior - don't let loose -follow the rules - don't show emotion. All scripted music.

So, that has been how I've been approaching picking up the melodeon because that's how I know how to approach music. People on Melnet tell me to noodle around on the box. That leads to nothing. The melnetters who grew up with hearing the music and experiencing this instrument as a folk instrument are probably dying inside or wanting to throttle me for wanting to make this folk music into a classical, strict, style of playing. I get that, but I cannot undo my nature or my more formal learning on an instrument (despite huge gaps in learning).  The notes on the page work for learning and introducing new tunes to my ear -hearing it and seeing it written out gets it in my head. BUT... I do have an inner voice that does want to break free. More on that in a minute.

Anyway, one of the five pieces I'm working on in the method book is a catchy tune. I found myself this morning humming it, but not as it's written on the page, but how my inner composer is feeling how it could be played. In my head, the basses compliment the melody - it's not in the traditional um pa steady rhythm, but instead are stressing certain tones and notes. Just now I thought of it again, and the tune in my head sounds differently with stresses elsewhere in the piece.

This is a huge development for me. I am feeling the music specifically for this melodeon and it's off the book. It feels heartfelt in my head. It sounds fun! Yay! Now, there is no way in hell I can play that tune that is running in my head as I stink at this instrument as a beginner, but I"m feeling it differently for pieces that "stick".

And that might be a problem for the one piece especially that is not working well at all. I don't hear that song in  my head - it's either not interesting or not natural sounding or something. And I've decided that if I don't particularly like a piece, I shouldn't play it or practice it! There will be other pieces that go over the same skills I can work on that I do like and do feel more natural and will therefore be more interesting and easier to learn.

So 'by the ear' learners. Take heart. I will break free from the page too - somewhat, in time, within my comfort zone.

And now, generosity and how it comes at a time when I need it.

I had a hard Sunday this past week. I don't like it when my work doesn't feel "good". Not so much for me, but my volunteers. I want their experience working with kids to feel good and to be rewarding and when it's not possible (usually do to too many kids at one time), I don't feel good about it. 

Monday was a really good day, but it was a very long day. I had hoped when I got home I could practice... this in itself in interesting. I wanted to practice. because even as horrible as it is to listen to myself right now, it is a stress reliever. I look forward to it. However, I got home at 10 pm. Read to my son before he went to bed, and then it was nearly 11 pm. Too late! I was feeling a bit deflated, but then I saw there was a package for me. A package from Wally from Minnesota, Walleye on Melnet, I discovered. He had sent me a book of tunes for the diatonic accordion. I even recognized most of the names that provided the tunes. I felt dumbfounded... another gift - just because. I did choose to play the melodeon because I found that the group on melnet were so generous with helping new people learn and that it was a true community built around the playing (and restoring) of melodeons, but I didn't expect this generosity of materials and I'm really touched and I can't wait to dive in more.

Then I checked my personal email and I had two messages - one for tracking info from the UK and a message from Steve Rouse who makes the Streb e-melodeon. It was a note saying he sent me an older, loaner e-melodeon just to test it out and to use as a silent melodeon. So on those 12 hour work days, I can practice at work too without bothering anyone for a midday break. I had put myself on a queue for buying a new instrument a week or so ago. The queue for these hand-made electric melodeons is 12-18 months long. That he is lending his older one to me, is breath-taking generosity from Steve. 

Honestly, there is so much generosity, I need a list:

  1. Scott Bellinger - spent his time with me helping me choose an instrument.
  2. Scott Bellinger allowed a like for like swap of CF Hohner Liliput accordions so I can get it faster.
  3. Scott Bellinger threw in a soft-sided carry bag and free shipping to send the two instruments.
  4. Sean sent me the Pignol and Milleret Method book - just needing to pay for shipping.
  5. Playandteach has answered so many of my questions and even answered one by doing a tutorial on a skill just for me on a youtube video.
  6. I was sent two books via Amazon from an anonymous person.
  7. I was sent a wonderful tune book by Wally.
  8. I am being sent a loaner e-melodeon by Steve where I just need to pay for shipping.
This has all happened in the last two months. That is incredible. I am a giving person - always have been, but I'm not used to being on the receiving end of such generosity. I'm deeply touched and I promise it won't go to waste.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A silent melodeon

I don't like being heard while I horribly work my way through anything right now. It sounds horrible to me. It has to sound mind numbing horrible to anyone else. I find that I don't play out at home if anyone else is around. I'm more tentative. and where and when I can play is also limited.

It's a bigger problem at work. I would use break at work to practice for 10 minutes, but not if I can be heard anywhere. I thought today I might be able to, but our front area is on 16th Street in DC - cars, pedestrians and windows on our building everywhere so I couldn't hide. The back area has picnic tables, but again, people! There are nursery centers that use the play area and even if they were inside, they have windows and could see me and, people park in the back to come inside too.

My office has a door, but no room is sound proof enough. I would drive my colleagues nuts or invite comments and the snickers behind my back. Who wouldn't? It's awful!

Sure, you can say, "get over it"! It's not going to happen. I don't want to be heard by strangers and colleagues for sure. Home it's fine if my husband hears it (he's being unbelievably supportive) and my son just goes to his room to block me out. This is only OK if someone's not watching a movie or my son isn't doing some learning for homeschooling.  I can't really go to another room or another level because besides this one room, all other rooms are adjacent, over, or under one of my mother-in-law rooms. I don't want to invite criticism or interest or questions from her either. I just want a space to feel safe and quiet, without needing to disappear and that is the large family room which is over the garage and not near anything else.

When my son was taking piano, we bought a Yamaha Clavinova. That piano is digital, but plays and feels like a piano - weighted keys, etc. My son could put on earphones, or tun the volume way down low when he was practicing.  It was great and the piano is not nearly as annoying to listen to as the accordion while practicing. Believe me! 

So I looked to see if there was such thing as a digital accordion. Getting a silent or near silent melodeon would allow me to increase practice time by a lot - maybe double. And right now, anything to get me past this horrid early beginner stage sounds fantastic!

Creating an instrument that can do this, in theory, sounds simple enough, but you still want it to play like a real accordion. Meaning, all parts moving and feeling relatively the same as if air were passing through the reeds. You would want to be able to control the volume by bellow movement, etc. If it doesn't have these features, it makes it harder to move back and forth from the digital to the traditional melodeon and I want to be able to do that. It's why we bought the Yamaha Clavinova 15 years ago. It plays like a piano in all respects - unlike an electronic keyboard. 

So, is there something like this? Yes. There are basically two options - the Roland FR-18 and the Streb e-melodeon.  There is sort of other options, but that involves building something myself - not going to happen. And there is the option of getting a box with no reeds (I guess just for practicing fingerings with bellow movement to get it coordinated well?), but without any sound at all, it wouldn't help me realize I'm doing something wrong with notes.

Just as I was thinking about all of this, a Roland FR-18 came available for a very reasonable price.

It's advantage is that it's midi, so you can wear headphones and be silent and it has a lot of voices. It's affordable-ish even new and you can then play in any key which has advantages to having more music easily available. But other than that, I cannot get jazzed by it. It's big, heavy, and you need an amp to play out if/when you want to play without headphones. But the worst for me, is that it sounds like the accordion you think of when you think of bad accordion music. It has other sounds too, but again... reminds me of just bad music. (my personal opinion, of course) The Roland piano accordion is what Weird Al Yankovic plays. Need I say more?

Here's a sample. The kid is actually playing great, but it's the type of sound I just don't like:

Here is a demo of the instrument with many voices from Roland:

And on top of that, I've heard it's not very easy to go back and forth with this and a traditional melodeon and being able to do that is precisely what I want to do.

Then there is the Streb. This looks like a melodeon and is called an e-melodeon. It is also midi, but there is a built in amp and loud speakers in the body of the machine, so, it's easier to take and play like a traditional melodeon. And it too can be played in any key. It has fun sounds too.

Just listen to these:

Sounds like a melodeon. Which I love that sound.

And here is Helena playing her Streb. Again, sounds like a melodeon:

Clive has several great videos:

Clive does some interesting things with it too - strings! (and organ, etc... I didn't attach them all.)

I love it. Like love it and it is affordable as far as melodeons go. The only downside? They are handmade and there is a year wait to get one. I put myself in the queue. Not to replace the traditional melodeon, but to supplement it!

Oh but if I could just sound good! Today was an ok day of practice. I practiced about 90-100 minutes this evening at home... but everything is just horrible - though I feel and sense progress. I'm just not some late blooming prodigy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Good day, bad day, good day, bad day next?

It's like that game you played as a child with a daisy like flower - he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not. He loves me! That is how learning feels recently. A horrible day - a great day, horrible day, great day. Today was a great day.

I didn't do anything different, I just started going through the pieces again. I even started a new one and it started to come (horribly, but recognizable) almost immediately. Muscle memory, head memory. I don't know. We all know it's true though. Sometimes stepping back, giving it some time is all that is needed to make forward progress. Today I had forward progress - significantly.

I am also realizing things about myself. I'm super self-conscious about playing and practicing and bugging people with practicing. I said on melnet today that I don't know if it's my personality (probably) or the years of being told listening to me practice was like listening to a dying cow when I practiced my horn in my early years.

Plus, I like to be with my family. We have this habit (which I love) of being together but doing different things. My husband will be playing chess. My son watching a movie or doing something on his iPad and my working or writing something all in the same room. We can tune each other in and out as we wish. But with practice... I sort of dominate the room. I could go to other rooms, but it's not as convenient and some of it then interferes with my mother in law's spaces and I definitely don't want to deal with snooping, irritating, etc.

I am highly thinking of getting a midi diatonic accordion just for being able to practice. It is more for me than anyone else. I don't play as well or as boldly if I'm worried about bugging people - or even as long. I had my accordion with me all day yesterday at work, but there's nowhere to go and I don't want to play and annoy people. And, if my older son wants a go at it, he can practice too as headphones will make it silent anywhere!